Development of juggling skill in training provides four important benefits that money can't buy, these being

  • touch
  • balance
  • agility
  • soccer specific fitness

Touch

top level players feel the ball through the shoe, and know at every moment what part of the ball and what parts of the foot are in contact. The player learns to project, mentally, down to the surface touching the ball, foot, thigh, chest, or head, and learns to feel where the ball will go next based on the last touch. For example, it's easy for you to toss a basketball back and forth between your right and left hands, even with your eyes closed. Your mind is in your fingertips. Why shouldn't practice make it easy for a player to "toss" a soccer ball between feet ?

You must encourage juggling in order to develop touch, because touch translates into better results in matches. With good touch, players will weight their passes more accurately, have an easier time beating opponents with attacking moves, and be more successful at holding the ball against pressure, all because of improved touch gained by juggling.

Balance

 When you juggle, touch on the ball is half the battle, the other is in controlling your body. Being able to make rapid, quick, micro adjustments with all the large and small muscles is a requirement for successful juggling, and players with better balance are the ones who can move to their right but keep their balance to shoot the ball to the left, just inside the post. (There's no kidding about the value of balance. I have a player this year who trains 4-5 hours a day as a competitive figure skater, and she's finished in the top ten nationally the last two years. She has incredible balance and agility, and in this year's state cup final, she took on two defenders and beat each with a quick lateral move to the right, then finished with a goal to the left post. The keeper had no
chance to go back the other way.)

Agility

Balance's natural partner, like balance in motion. The ability to change directions quickly. As juggling increases balance, it does improve agility somewhat, especially for those players who work in group juggling exercises where movement and control mix together. Like this one:

Groups of two, juggle four touches, loft a pass half height (chest high) to partner and move to new location 6 feet away and prepare to get ball back. Partner does likewise.

Soccer Specific Fitness

Sure your players can run a long way in the Cooper test, but do they have the leg development, balance, abdominal and lower back development to check back to the ball, kill a hard pass, turn and make an attacking move to goal, and repeat this 50 times a match ? After they do this 20 times, do they still have both the fitness and the touch to be successful ? Juggling is fairly aerobic, especially if you do it in a group with movement, and helps accomplish development of those little muscles that wear out quickly in matches if not conditioned, like hip flexors and lower back muscles. Kids with underdeveloped hip flexors have absolutely no speed at all late in a game.

Improving Juggling Skills

A daily home program is the basis for success. There's no one best program, and variety helps make it fun. One example:

Individual

  1. 100 touches, right foot
  2. 100 touches, left foot
  3. 100 touches, both feet working together
  4. 100 touches, thighs working together
  5. 100 touches, head
  6. 100 touches, all surfaces
  7. Run juggle 44 yards, repeat. Keep the ball up as you jog, then run.

With a Partner

  1. Partners with ball, keep it up with heads
  2. Partners with ball, keep it up, all surfaces
  3. 4 or 5 touches, loft pass to partner at 6 feet, check away 10 yards,return.
  4. 4 or 5 touches, loft pass to partner at 6 feet, do a push-up (press up in UK)

With Groups of 3 to 5

  1. Keep it up with heads
  2. Keep it up, all surfaces
  3. 4 or 5 touches, loft pass, sprint lap around group, return to position
  4. Line of players face 1 solo player. Player at front of line starts underhanded serve to the head of solo player facing line, sprints to become new solo player. First solo player heads back to front of line, sprints to end of line. Keep it up with heads continues.

Coaching Points

  1. For all exercises, don't count a touch if control is lost before a second touch is accomplished. It can't be 1, drop, 2, drop. It has to be 1, 2, 3, 4, drop, 5, 6, 7...
  2. Ask players to read the ball through their boot, and to know, with every touch, which toe touched the ball and what part of the ball it touched, and how hard.
  3. Players will have more success in a relaxed attention posture with slightly bent knees, head up, arms at a comfortable distance to provide balance.
  4. To get in more touches in time available, ask players to recognize when they are just about to lose control of the ball, and to let the ball drop beside them, instead of getting in just that one extra touch that knocks the ball away 5 yards. In the time it takes for them to walk 5 yards, another player can get 10 or 20 more touches accomplished.
  5. With groups, keep the numbers small so everyone gets lots of touches.
  6. Keep records, have competitions, have tests, and give small awards to recognize accomplishment.

Fun Anecdote

There is a soccer book that describes the author's visit to a NY Cosmos game in the 70's.  The author wrote that Carlos Alberto stood in the penalty area, and Franz Beckenbauer stood in the center circle (restraining arcs for purists). Beckenbauer juggled the ball for 10 or 20 touches, and then made a 40 yard lofted pass to Alberto, who took the ball out of the air and began juggling it at the penalty spot. After a while, he returned it to Beckenbauer, who continued as before. This went on for a long time, showing great skill in an amazing display. If only all players could do this.