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Technique: Ball Control
Gain the Advantage
By Dean Wurzberger
Head Men's Soccer Coach,
University of Washington


Controlling the ball is a key skill for the effective soccer player. Youth players should spend lots of time working to perfect the skills of collecting low balls that arrive on the ground as well as high balls that arrive in the air. Like most techniques in the game of soccer, these skills should first be practiced in "easy" situations for the players. Easy situations mean lots of work in individual practice with little or no pressure from opponents. These "isolated" skill practices will build player confidence and help get them ready to bring the skill into the game situations. Ultimately, all the skills in the game of soccer must be put to the test in a game environment where the players must react to what they see and execute successfully under pressure of time and space. Successful performance in the "real game" is always the desired end product.

Players and coaches need to be aware of the two basic methods used in ball control. The first is called "wedge control" and second is called "cushion control".

  1. Wedge Control: Here the player uses the ground to assist them in controlling the ball. The most common type of wedge control is done with the feet as a ball arrives in the air. Using either the inside or outside surface of the foot, the player uses his/her foot to "wedge" the ball into ground just after it hits the ground on a bounce and then controls the ball in a desired direction. The entire execution should ideally be in one "fluid" sequence of movement with the ball being "swept away" under control while setting up the player's next pass, dribble or shot.
  2. Cushion Control: This type of control emphasizes using the various parts of the body to "cushion" the ball to bring it under control. The most common type of cushion control is done using the inside, outside and instep of the foot. For balls arriving on the ground, the cushion technique is done by withdrawing the foot as it makes contact with the ball. For high balls that arrive from the air, cushion control emphasizes the foot meeting the ball before it bounces and withdrawing or cushioning the ball so it drops skillfully at the feet. Like wedge control, the ideal execution is one fluid movement which brings the ball under control while setting up the players' next pass, dribble or shot.

Three practice ideas:

  1. Individual skill work with a ball
    Players juggle with ball and play a high arched pass away from themselves. They then move quickly underneath the high ball and control it using one of the above methods. You may want to work specifically on just one method (i.e. "wedge control" with the inside of the foot) and get some concentrated repetitions just on that technique. After some success, you can then work on wedge control using the outside of the foot. This same progression could be then used for "cushion" control with the instep. Other techniques to be practiced involving the control of high balls would be cushion control with the thigh, chest and head.
  2. 1 v. 1 + 1
    This practice organization has an attacker playing against an opponent with a support player in behind who serves balls into the attacker. Service to attacker can either be passes on the ground or balls sent higher in the air which will challenge the ball control of the attacking player. Ideally, the attacking player should be challenged to control the ball with skill (under the pressure of the opponent) and then dribble past the defender to a designated area or marking line. Later on a goal with a goalkeeper could be added for the attacking player to control the ball, beat the defender on the dribble and then shoot and score.
  3. 4 v. 4 game (with special rules)
    Two teams of four play against each other with two goals and goalkeepers. Play is started by the goalkeeper rolling or throwing a high ball up to the forwards (first on the ground then in the air), who must control the ball and then play to beat the opponent. No defenders can interfere with the first throw from the goalkeeper to the forward, but after the attacker's first touch, play is live and the game begins. Keep normal score.

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