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5 Ways to Improve Ball Control

Coach Dennis Ikogho from ESPZen Soccer School shares his tips for ball mastery.

We’ve all been there. The ball is fizzed in to you at pace and you struggle to control it with your first touch. Or perhaps you struggle to control a lofted ball from up high. Ball control is among the basics of football – do it well and you don’t even have to be the fastest or strongest player in the field to dominate the game. Just ask the likes of Andres Iniesta or Lionel Messi.

In our new series helping the common footballers improve their performance, we speak to Coach Dennis Ikogho from ESPZen Soccer School on how to improve your control of the ball.

Juggling exercises

One of the key fundamentals of ball mastery involves juggling the ball. It’s not just to show off freestyle tricks but it highlights your ability to control the ball in motion. “If the ball comes from any direction, you must know how to receive it. This drill helps you focus on a lighter touch to balance cushioning and control,” says Coach Dennis.

  • Hold the ball at the height of your torso. Release it over your master foot and use your foot to kick the ball up and return it to your hands at your hip level.
  • Repeat the exercise for 30 seconds with your master foot.
  • Next, do another 30 seconds but this time, make sure that your master foot juggles the ball twice before you kick it back up to your hands.
  • The next 30 seconds, have your master foot juggle the ball twice, and then have your weaker foot juggle the ball once, before you kick the ball back into your hands.
  • Lastly, juggle the ball twice on your master foot, and then twice on the weaker foot before receiving the ball in your hands again.

Ball shuffle

With the ball between your feet, pass the ball lightly between the insides of both feet while making a skipping motion. Do at least 30 seconds of this though 1 minute would be best if you can continue controlling the ball.

“Ball shuffles aid in your balance and ensuring your touch is light. There are some players, like Iniesta, who can shuffle and move the ball quickly to evade a tackle or change direction. This drill helps you get used to moving the ball under you quickly,” says Coach Dennis.

ball control - ball shuffle

Toe taps

Keep the ball stationary on the ground. Have the base of each foot touch the top of the ball lightly in the climbing motion. Keep up the exercise for a minimum of 30 seconds and if possible, for a full minute.

“Toe taps are important to strengthen your legs and maintain your balance with the ball. This exercise also gets you to be more aware of the ball’s position relative to your body,” says the Coach.

ball control - toe taps

Dribble minefield

One of our favourites. This is a freestyle drill that gets you to dribble and improvise with the ball. Ideally, you should do this on an open floor/field with cones randomly placed in a small area. Dribble the ball across this space, ensuring that the ball doesn’t touch the cones. Get used to changing directions and using all parts of your feet to move the ball and help the ball move in different ways.

If you don’t have cones, perhaps you could practice dribbling at home while avoiding furniture – just like how we all did when we were kids.

dribble minefield

“Try to dribble with your laces, the inside and outside of the foot. Get used to touching the ball with all parts of your foot. This is an excellent drill to get you to be more aware of your surroundings. And when you’re confident, try to look up and not stare at the ball too much as you should use your periphery vision to be aware of the obstacles in front of you,” shared Coach Dennis.

Dribble in a straight line

Dribble the ball from one point to the other, and turn back to the original spot. Ensure that you have at 10-20 metres of space between both points.

“If you’re up for the challenge, place cones in between both points and dribble and weave through the cones. Up the speed of your dribbling to challenge yourself when you get better,” said the Coach.

Special thanks to the good people of ESPZen Soccer Schools for working with us on technical training tips. If you’re keen to sign up for classes, they have classes for kids and adults. Follow our Insta-stories for updates as we take you through each week’s classes.

Finally, a big thank you to The Cage at HYFA for allowing us to shoot on their newly relaid 11-a-side turf. Do visit The Cage if you’re looking for a pristine pitch to play on.

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