Often viewed as a showy or flashy skillset with little relevance to the actual game of soccer, the benefits of juggling a ball are often overlooked. Although you are not likely to ever juggle a ball for a sustained period in a game, the various touches and techniques used when practicing juggling are some of the most useful and important skills in soccer. For example:
- Ball control
- Using different parts of the body to control the ball
Juggling is a fantastic way to enhance fundamentals on your own, with minimal equipment and space needed. In team sessions, a coach will rarely instruct players or teach players to juggle the ball.
However, if you really want to excel at the sport, you should be trying to add extra sessions to your weekly schedule, dedicated to personal skill development.
Juggling exercises are the perfect way to squeeze in a 10-minute skill workout if you are busy, or they can be incorporated into a larger workout.
We’ve all seen our soccer heroes juggling the ball, often using a personal flair to spice things up. This can give off the impression that juggling is a very difficult skill. The good news is, that in its basic form, juggling is quite straight forward.
So how do you juggle a soccer ball? Essentially, it is the act of keeping the ball in the air, without letting the ball touch the floor/ground. You can use various body parts to do so but you shouldn’t “handball” or break the core rules of the game.
Juggling a soccer ball tips;
- Body Position: knees slightly bent, head leaning over the body, feet shoulder with apart. The player should be light on their feet, or on their toes to enable quick movement.
- Start by dropping the ball from your hands toward your feet.
- Kick the ball upward (ideally about chest height).
- Wait for the ball to drop toward your feet and repeat the above step.
- Use backspin to keep the ball close to your body.
- Alternate what foot you’re kicking with.
- Use different parts of the body to control the ball.
- Establish a rhythm.
We will now look at these basic steps in a little more detail. As you progress with your ability to juggle the ball, you should begin to use different parts of your feet, different body parts, and attempt to juggle in set patterns (we will look at some of these also). As with all individual-based drills, it’s important to set goals and targets.
How to Juggle a Soccer Ball: Tips
1. Body Position
- Stand on a flat surface
- Stay on your toes or be light on your feet – whichever you are more comfortable with.
- Slightly bend your knees for balance and optimal movement.
- During the exercise your head should be pointed slightly downward, keeping eyes on the ball at all times.
- Particularly for beginners, the accuracy of juggling may be poor and you may spend some time moving around trying to keep the ball under control. The most important factor here is to be loose, agile and mobile enough to do so.
2. To Start
- Start by dropping the ball from your hands toward your kicking foot.
- With your body positioned as described above and staying light on your feet, you are ready to kick the ball and start to juggle.
- If you are a more advanced player, try starting with the ball on the ground. You can use a variety of “flick-ups” to get the ball in the air – then begin to juggle.
3. Kicking Technique
- Kick the ball upward, to about chest height. Ensure that each kick is light and controlled. This prevents wasted movement and helps establish control over the ball, as well as setting a rhythm/tempo.
- The ball should come off the top of your foot, often referred to as “the laces”.
- When striking the ball, lock your ankle and point your toe upward. This gives you the best chance to strike a controlled accurate kick. It is also the best way to get backspin on the ball.
- To begin with, you can practice single juggles. This helps you to get the right power, accuracy, and technique of a juggle.
- Once you are comfortable with this, the aim should be to continue juggling the ball multiple times in a row, without the use of your hands.
- Instead of catching the ball after you kick, wait for the ball to fall back down naturally and repeat the kicking technique outlined above.
4. Use Backspin
The correct amount of backspin will help you to keep the ball close to your body, making consecutive juggles a lot easier.
- Lock your ankle, point your toes upward, and kick the ball with the top of your foot in a forward scooping motion. This will cause the ball to travel upward with some backspin.
- Be careful not to overdo the backspin causing you to lose control of the ball or kick it against your own body.
5. Alternate Feet
It’s important to use both feet when juggling. A player who is strong on their “weaker” foot, always has an advantage. At first, it may be difficult to incorporate your weaker foot, but once you begin to improve, having an extra appendage makes juggling easier. It allows you to make up for a misplaced kick or regain control whilst staying balanced.
- To begin with, take your first juggle on your dominant foot but the second with your weaker foot. Initially, all you need to do is perform one juggle with your weaker foot.
- Once you are making controlled juggles with your weaker foot, try alternating juggles from your stronger foot to your weaker foot.
- Patience is key here, as is technique.
- Once you are comfortable using both feet, you can freestyle your juggling order, switching from right to left as you please.
6. Use Different Body Parts
Using different parts of the body to juggle has many benefits:
- In a game, a ball can come at you from any angle or height so it’s important to be able to use different body parts to control the ball.
- While juggling, it takes a lot of skill and control to get the ball to different areas of your body. Therefore, this helps improve a player’s control over power, accuracy, and first touch.
- Overall coordination is enhanced.
- A player’s balance is crucial when juggling, particularly when using different parts of the body. Practice can only improve a player’s core and balance.
Here are some of the body parts you should be involving in your juggling routine:
- Make contact with the ball when your upper leg is perpendicular to your hip.
- Connect with the ball just above your knee, on your thigh.
- Avoid making contact with the angular part of the knee. It is almost impossible to control the ball with this part of the leg.
- Relax your neck until the point of contact.
- Keep your eyes on the ball.
- Connect with the ball using your forehead.
- Slightly bend the knees and use your arms to generate momentum and posture the upper body.
To practice, try to perform consecutive light upward headers.
Use of the shoulder to strike a soccer ball is not the most practical skill to have but occasionally it may have its uses. Using shoulders while juggling definitely has benefits regarding your judgment of the flight of a ball, as well as your balance. As the shoulders are not flat and have a relatively small surface area, it is difficult to control a shoulder strike.
- As the ball approaches your shoulder, tilt your head to the side, watch the ball as it comes down, and gently shrug your shoulder upward to initiate contact with the ball.
- The top of the shoulder, where it is most even, is the best area to make contact with.
- Ensure that you do not make contact with the ball using your arm.
- It’s not important to do consecutive shoulder juggles, so concentrate on bringing the ball back under control after executing one.
The use of your heel in soccer is often high risk, high reward. In some cases, it can get you out of a tricky situation or demonstrate a beautiful piece of skill. However, when it goes wrong, it comes across as being wasteful. Using a backheel in a juggling routine improves spatial awareness and acts as a great practice for in-game, first-time backheels.
- Position yourself so that the ball is dropping behind your legs.
- Bring your heel up gently, creating a 90-degree angle between the upper and lower parts of your leg.
- Make contact with the ball using the back of your heal. This is a hard surface so there is no need to generate too much force.
- Ensure that you connect with the center of the ball for accuracy. The heel is a small area of the foot so it can be hard to have a lot of control using it.
- Aim relatively high with your heel kicks, giving yourself time to adjust your body position in order to control the ball again.
- It is not important to do consecutive heel kicks while juggling.
The chest should be used for overall control or to cushion the ball back into your juggling routine after an inaccurate touch.
Establish a Rhythm
Once you are versed in each of these steps and are comfortable juggling the ball using a variety of techniques, the key to mastering the art of juggling is to establish a rhythm. In this instance, what I mean by rhythm is a measured emphasized pattern with particular touches or movements.
I have outlined some nice juggling combos and fun drills below, so check out some of these useful patterns to practice.
13. Maradona 7
The Maradona 7 is a juggling pattern named after the famous Argentinian, Diego Maradona. It involves 7 touches of the ball.
- 2 x consecutive juggles with the feet (1 with the left, 1 with the right), followed by:
- 2 x consecutive juggles with the knees/thighs (1 with the left, 1 with the right), followed by:
- 2 x consecutive juggles with the shoulders (1 with the left, 1 with the right), followed by:
- 1 x header.
Here is a demonstration of the Maradona 7. It’s more difficult than it looks, especially using the shoulders.
14. Soccer Tennis
The concept of this game (as you would assume) is the same as tennis:
- Set up a net at a height that you’re comfortable with.
- Create 2 square/rectangular sections either side of the net. These are the zones of play, with one section allocated per player.
- Begin the game by serving – kicking or heading the ball into your opponent’s zone.
- The opposing player must return kick, head, knee, shoulder or chest the ball back over the net.
- The ball may only bounce once inside the zone.
To make things more difficult, you can add some more rules. For example:
- You may only take a certain amount of touches.
- Volleys (before the ball bounces) are not allowed.
- Adjust the size of each zone.
- Adjust the height of the net.
Or, try playing doubles. This is a great game to improve your skillset and it’s a lot of fun.
15. Juggle with a friend
Again, this is straight forward but very beneficial.
Quite simply, stand across from a partner and take turns juggling the ball, passing the ball back and forth. The aim of this drill is to not let the ball touch the ground.
Some extensions to this drill are:
- Set targets for how long you can keep the ball in the air.
- Isolate certain body parts and practice using only these to juggle. For example, juggle the ball using only your head or feet.
- Set a limit to the number of touches each player can take.
16. Juggle Circles
This is the same concept as above but is intended for larger groups.
The players should form a circle and try to juggle the ball amongst each other, without letting the ball hit the floor.
To really spice things up, try adding multiple balls.
Here’s a unique perspective of a Bayer Leverkusen juggling circle.
17. Juggling Tips
As a rule of thumb, it’s always important to set targets in order to achieve meaningful progress. When juggling, start off basic, slow and easy. Work your way from single juggles, to multiple, to using different body parts, to practicing the more advanced juggling drills mentioned above.
Take light touches, always be in control and don’t kick the ball too high (unless you are doing so intentionally to make things more difficult). Try not to rely too much on your dominant foot, and persist on practicing using different parts of the body.
For the days when you don’t have time for a full practice session, dedicate 5 or 10 minutes to juggling. Every minute adds up, and you are sure to see benefits to your game.
How much time should I spend practicing juggling? There is no perfect answer to this. There are many aspects of the game that need to be practiced, so it depends on what you are hoping to achieve. If you aim to improve juggling and the skills involved in juggling, try spending 10 minutes per day, 5 days per week juggling.
What footwear should I wear to practice juggling? You should wear whatever shoes or cleats that you practice and play games in. That way, the skills being practiced will feel more familiar in a game or training session.
What’s the best way to measure progress? Quality of touch and control are hard to measure but are aspects of juggling that you should feel or notice improving. Other ways to measure progress are:
- Set targets for a number of consecutive dribbles.
- Time yourself juggling.
- Create a set pattern for juggling and practice perfecting this pattern.