Ball control

Ball control is one of the most essential skills in soccer - a poor first touch and the play is usually over for the attacker.

How to control the ball

There are two types of control: trapping and receiving. Trapping usually means stopping or settling the ball at your feet. When trapping the ball, the most important part is to stay on your toes. It is harder to adjust to the ball when you're stiff or flat-footed. Keep your hips open, facing the direction from which the ball is served. Cushion the ball by withdrawing your foot just before the time of contact.

Receiving or "directional control" means directing the ball into space, away from the body. Receiving the ball into space is useful when you are being marked. Try to make contact with the middle or top part of the ball away from your marker. Good footballers can settle the ball into space, even when under pressure.

Techniques for controlling the ball

Inside of the foot

The inside of the foot is one of the most common ways of trapping the ball.
For starters, make sure that your hips are facing the teammate who is serving the ball. Keep the weight on your toes so you can react and be prepared to adjust to the pass quickly. Ideally, you want to contact the ball with the arch of your foot. Cushion the ball by retracting your foot at the time of contact.

Outside of the foot

This technique is used when receiving passes that are not directed to your feet or when the ball is coming from the side. You should contact the ball using the area on the outside part of your shoelaces.

Instep trap

This technique is useful when the ball is falling from above. Don't just wait for the ball to arrive, instead try to remain on your toes and quickly adjust to its trajectory. Cushion the ball using the area of your shoelaces. At the moment of contact, withdraw your controlling foot by bending the knee and ankle.

Thigh trap

The thigh is useful when you want to trap the ball as it's falling. Make sure to position yourself properly, before you try to trap the ball. Adjust your thigh so that the ball is directed downward. If you don't retract your thigh, the ball will just bounce off.

Chest trap

The chest provides the largest surface area for trapping and receiving the ball. To trap the ball with your chest, stretch out your arms and arch your back slightly. You may also have to bend your knees or jump in order to align your chest with the height of the ball.

Sole of the foot

The sole of the foot can be applied in tight situations, for example when controlling the ball while you are being marked. Make sure to use your foot that is further away from the marker. Put your foot on top of the ball with your toes raised slightly above the heel. Using the sole of the foot, you can roll the ball to transition for a shot or dribble.

Drills for practicing control

Drills for receiving the ball

Start by placing two cones approximately 15 meters (16 yards) apart. Stand at one cone, with your back towards the other cone. Flick the ball over your head, then turn and control it as it falls. Make sure to stay on your toes and adjust quickly before the ball hits the ground.

Drills against the wall

Stand about 3-5 meters (10-15 feet) away from the wall. Kick the ball against the wall then trap or receive it as it comes back. Get used to checking to the ball instead of waiting for it to arrive. Practice trapping with different parts of the body such as the foot, thigh or chest. As you get more comfortable, start serving the ball harder and harder.

Controlling the ball under pressure

Time and space

It's important to know how much time is available before you try to control the ball. Sometimes, a quick one-touch pass or shot might be the better choice. If you find yourself lacking options or being closed down unexpectedly then you've probably made a poor decision. For example, there's rarely time to trap the ball when you're in the opposing penalty box, so you shouldn't attempt to trap it there.

The advantage of controlling the ball is that it makes your following touch easier. When you trap the ball first, you can then produce a better shot, pass and so on. Keep in mind that if your first touch is bad there may not be a second one.

You need to be aware of the position of nearby defenders before you get the ball. Usually, you want to play or direct the ball away from your opponents and shield it so you don't lose possession.

Different ways of controlling the ball

Trapping when you have the time

Trapping the ball is used to stop hard or uncomfortable passes that cannot be controlled otherwise. Taking too long to trap the ball could be risky if there are defenders nearby so make sure you "scan" the field ahead of time. This is especially important when you have your back to the opposing goal.

Moving with the ball

Often, the ball may be played to you while you are running. Instead of stopping, you should learn to receive the ball on the run. Look at any professional game and you'll notice that the player with the ball is always moving. At the higher levels of the game, you almost never see a player standing in place in order to trap the ball.

Shielding when marked

Let's say that you are about to receive the ball, but there is a defender marking you. The most important thing is not to panic. By standing firm and using your arms you can usually hold him off. Keep your body between the ball and your marker. Use your foot that is farther away from him to control the ball.

Turning when free

Always look behind before receiving or turning with the ball. If there is an opponent on your back you should think about directing the ball away from him instead of turning. You don't want to trap the ball at your feet when somebody is marking you tightly.

The 180 turn can be performed when there is nobody marking you. As the ball arrives, control it with the inside of your foot while turning your upper body 90 degrees. After controlling the ball, turn another 90 degrees and dribble forward.

Using feints to get free

Feints are very effective when a defender is marking you tightly. When a pass is coming to you for example, move your leg back as if you are about to shoot, but instead of shooting simply push the ball to the side and dribble. A good feint will often leave your opponent behind in confusion.