In soccer, ideally you want to try to get to the ball before it bounces and control it out of the air. If the soccer ball bounces, it’s tough to read where it’s going and then defenders can also win the ball. It’s best to go to the ball and try to take the air out of it – meaning get a touch on the soccer ball before it bounces or touches the ground. As a soccer player you want to attack the ball.
If you want to get better at soccer then you’ve got to train on your own and spend time with the ball. This means everything from dribbling to juggling to hitting the ball up against a wall. In this section let’s take a look at controlling the ball out of the air.
The High Ball
To start, kick the ball high in the air and control the ball with the top of your foot – this means the laces of your shoe or the instep of your foot that you use to shoot with. Use the top instep area (just below the laces) to deaden or cushion the ball and take the pace out of the ball. When controlling the ball, act like there is a defender behind you, rushing to steal the ball, and shield the ball with your body while you’re controlling it or taking it into the space a few yards.
Controlling the Ball with Your Thigh, Chest, Head
Next, after you’ve mastered the instep control, try kicking the ball really high up in the air and controlling it with your thigh, chest, and deadening the ball with your head.
Essentially, you’re trying to re-create a goal kick or keepers’ punt when you kick the ball high into the air. Exaggerate the height of the kick to make the actual event, when you’re doing this in a real game, all that much easier.
As with your feet, when you control the ball with your thigh, chest or the head you want to control the ball out in front of you, and not right under your body. The controlling touch should be done with purpose, so ahead of your or to the right or left. Imagine your controlling the ball into the space away from an opponent or to set yourself up for a pass, cross or shot on goal.
Check out this chest trap and control by Zidane. See how he protects the ball with his body after the chest trap.
How high up in the air can you kick the ball and still control it with your foot, thigh and chest? Can you really boot the ball high in the air and still control the ball with your foot, thigh and chest? Over kick the ball higher in the air than you ever might see in a game and see if you can still control the ball.
Deaden the Ball with the Head
Taking the air out of the ball with the head is a useful skill that can be used when trying to control a high ball. As the ball hits your head, the front area near the forehead, pull back a little bit to take the pace off the ball.
However, there’s no need to kick the ball too high if you’re going to deaden the ball with your head. Don’t over do it when working on heading the ball since it’s something you don’t do as often as controlling the ball with your foot or other parts of the body. And, of course there’s no need to get a headache when training – just practice deadening the ball with the head a few times in a set of training sessions that are spread out.
Inside of the Foot
After that, try to control the ball to the side with the inside of your foot. Steer the ball to one side just after the ball bounces with your right foot a few times and then your left. You’ll need to wrap your foot around the ball right when it’s bouncing back up into the air off the ground. The key is to time this, control the ball just after it bounces. Once you’ve got the hang of that, see if you can do a Cruyff turn as you control the ball after it bounces.
Soon you’ll become accustomed to controlling and shielding the ball with either the instep or inside of the foot, but repition is the key. The more you work on it the better you’ll get.
On the Run
As you get better at this, kick the ball into the air ten or so yards away from you so you have to sprint to meet the ball before it bounces. As you further improve, try to juggle the ball once or twice back up in the air before you deaden the ball and control it. Can you juggle the ball for ten yards or even twenty? Challenge yourself. Kick the ball away from you, run to meet it, and then juggle the ball five times.
Over Your Head
Another good test for your control is kicking the ball over your head and turning to control the ball. Kick the ball over your head and turn to find the ball in the air and control it into the space, maybe dribbling off at speed for a few yards. As you progress, can you kick the ball over your head and then back over again, almost juggling the ball over your head. See if you can do this ten times.
What can of series of progressions can you develop that involve different aspects of control? See if you can 1) kick the ball high into the air, 2) juggle the ball twice with your instep, 3) kick the ball over your head and back, 4) and then kick it back up high into the air again, 5) control it with your chest, 5) and finally kick it high up into the air again and control it with the inside of your foot to one side.
Again, when training on your own or doing any drill, do everything at a good pace so it’s similar to a real game. Imagine like you’re playing in a game when you’re practicing. Imagine there’s a defender trying to take the ball from you.
Change of Pace
After you control the ball, the key to escaping pressure is change of pace – so control the ball then break away at speed. And this is also about planning ahead and thinking about what you’re going to do next. Asking yourself, where are my teammates, where are the defenders, what part of the field am I in, am I near the sidelines or in the middle of the field?
Keep this in mind when you training on your own, what are you going to do next when you get the ball. Know what you want to do with the ball before you get it.
Cut the Defender Out
Another aspect of first touch and control is cutting the defender out with the first controlling touch. This means controlling the ball past the defender, juggling the ball over their head, or a controlling first touch to the right or left of the defender.
This is where you think about how the defender is closing you down, are they coming in too fast? Are they giving you the space in front of you or to the right or left? Ideally, you want to control the ball and go past the defender. So, this means you attack the ball and go past the defender as you control the ball away from the defender.
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