Helping our players to build a connection with the ball is a crucial part of coaching. But it requires more than simply teaching techniques in isolation. Ball control encompasses a range of skills beyond an individual’s first touch or their ability to dribble past an opponent, and can be exhibited in a variety of ways. Below, we examine these attributes in more detail, and explain how, by coaching skills such as movement, awareness, and retention, we can deliver effective ball mastery sessions.

In This Article

Appreciating the Importance of Individual Possession

A key component of ball control is individual possession. We often associate ball control with dribbling and getting past players, but there are many more ways to beat opponents in 1v1 scenarios.

Individual possession can mean things like using movement to get away from an opponent or create space, receiving to quickly play forward, using your body to shield the ball, and scanning your surroundings in order to remain calm under pressure and make good decisions.

PDP’s 1v1 Practice for Dealing With Pressure is especially useful for helping players to develop these crucial skills.

1v1 Practice: Dealing With Pressure

  • Begin with a defender, an attacker, and a server.
  • Set up a goal behind the defender. The attacker starts with their back to both.
  • The server passes the ball into the attacker, who attempts to face forward, beat the defender, and reach the goal at the other end of the playing area. 
  • The defender tries to win possession and drive forward.
  • All three players rotate at the end of each turn.
Session organised in groups of 3 players with gates to dribble through. Each player rotates after their turn – server becomes attacker, attacker becomes defender, defender becomes server. Alternatively you could work in sets of 3 before changing roles. The white line is advisable as a start point so players have space to come short or run in behind.

Controlling Possession as a Team

Ball control is about more than ball mastery and manipulation. In fact, its positional and movement-based components mean it feeds directly into team play — enabling us to help players develop their skill on the ball within a range of small-sided games and exercises.

Three-Team Possession and Transition Game

This practice is designed to help players stay composed and keep the ball under pressure, develop their awareness of both opponents and teammates, and move the ball quickly and accurately:

  • Assemble three teams within a playing area. Two work together to keep possession, while the other presses to win the ball.
  • When the defending team wins possession, they swap with the team that just lost it.
  • By making the playing area tight, we’ll hopefully see short, sharp passing, as well as lots of turnovers and transitions

In addition to ball manipulation and appreciation of space, this practice helps players to work on defensive skills such as pressing, defending in groups and when outnumbered, and transitioning after gaining possession.

Blue and red keep the ball off green. If green intercept the ball (off red) they would join with blues to keep the ball. You can reward teams with points for passes, or points for winning the ball back in a certain time period.

Pressing and Possession

This simple Pressing and Possession Practice is great for helping players to develop their awareness, in and out of possession, their composure on the ball, and their movement to receive the ball and support teammates.

  • Begin by dividing a square playing area into four smaller squares.
  • There are three teams: two attacking, and one defending.
  • Pass the ball to an individual in one of the attacking teams; their teammates join them in their smaller square in order to help them keep possession; one of the defenders presses to win it back.
  • The attackers, having kept the ball, play it to a member of the other attacking team (perhaps after a designated number of passes), and the sequence is repeated (in a different square), with a different member of the defending team pressing.
  • The defending team gets a point for winning the ball back. Teams swap after the defending team reaches a specified number of points.
  • Importantly, the out-of-possession attacking team must move and find clear lines in order to provide support to the team that has the ball.
Coach serves a ball in. Players must support their team mate inside the box as quickly as possible (3v1). Green defender accelerates out to press and win the ball 1v3. They get a point if successful and the next ball is served in. Could add goals for defenders to shoot in when winning the ball. Can incentivise reds to make ‘X’ number of passes before moving ball to blues. If successful, the next green defender comes out to press.

Applying Representative Design

Isolated exercises with a ball — for instance, kick-ups, or a dribbling practice between cones — certainly help players to improve specific areas of ball control, though we should perhaps encourage these activities away from training; in our sessions, we can utilise ‘opposition’ players and other environmental factors to provide learning experiences that are more authentic to the game of football.

“I’m a big believer in positional and directional games,” explains PDP Co-Founder Dave Wright. “They give players an idea of height, width, and depth, and help them focus on receiving shapes. Pressure from opponents also provides opportunities to attempt a variety of passes. Players learn skills in a much more realistic way.”

Controlling Possession & Switching Play

An example of an exercise that develops ball mastery within a realistic setting is the Switching Play practice:

  • Start with an attacking team and a defending team.
  • The attacking team aims to keep the ball before playing a penetrative pass in order to get to one end of the playing area and score a point.
  • The defending team scores points by winning possession and switching play into zones along the side of the pitch.
  • Teams swap after a set period of time, so that they can each work on different elements of maintaining and using possession.
Wide channels in place for both teams. Game can be adjusted for different playing numbers from 4v4 to 11v11.

In this practice, players develop skills such as movement to support teammates, both between and beyond lines; different types of pass and passing combinations; decision-making, particularly regarding when to hold possession and when to progress the ball; scanning and awareness; and securing the ball in moments of transition.

Image Source: Canva

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