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How to Teach Young Children to Dribble a Soccer Ball

Foremost expert in early learning sports development, Founder at Chicago-based Coach Pickles' Jelly Bean Sports.

How to Teach Young Children to Dribble A Soccer Ball - Teaching Video


Dribbling is a fundamental skill and core competency children need to learn in order to play the game of soccer. One of the biggest problems young children have is they use their hands. As conflicting as it might sound, hands can be used at select times in the game of soccer by all players and always, of course, by the goalie. So we must be careful not to overemphasize a point that can be as right as it is wrong. It is a spot for confusion to evolve inside a child's thinking. If put too harshly, it can be psychologically harmful and damaging to a child's early learning spirit.

Children await coach's instruction

Children await coach's instruction

Dribbling Kept Simple, Learning Made Fun

Our failure to take soccer in a direction that breaks the perpetual cycle of needing to repeatedly remind young children, "No hands!" has limited the creative strategies beyond it.

Hard to avoid coaching in competitive settings, the idea of "No Hands" in the non-competitive early learning soccer development setting opens new doors. There exists greater freedom to think differently, be more flexible and not feel compromised relinquishing the rules and strategies of soccer tradition. Rather, it is an opportunity that enables thinking more outside the box. Essentially, what you see in professional soccer does not necessarily have to be what you get in the early years.

And with that being understood, helping young children to first have fun with the game becomes more easily managed. Fun, after all, is a gateway to children's deeper understanding behind the teaching concept that is "No Hands."

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking out new lands, but in having a new vision.

— Marcel Proust

Lesson Design

The exercises and coaching techniques in this article are especially designed to show you how to effectively introduce soccer to young children. It offers early learners, children ages 2- to 5-years old, teachings that come complete with NOVELTY and CONTRAST.

Research-based and classroom proven; novelty and contrast embedded into the design feed the ways early learners like to think. They aid in introductory teaching success. Included for you are coaching videos. They establish context, a firsthand account of how quickly the exercises are set-up and how easily they can be executed by young children.

It is important to note, this article is focused on early learning sports development. It is based on a non-competitive classroom situation that offers opportunity to teach non-traditional soccer lessons. Yes, evidence of young soccer dribbling "phenoms" can be found floating around YouTube, but they do not represent the majority of young children's capabilities. We must keep our expectations reasonable.

Thanks for stopping by, if you like what you read, check out other interesting young sports-related article like this one.

A mind once stretched to a new idea never returns to its original size.

— Oliver Wendell Holmes

Children playing soccer

Children playing soccer

No Hands

No Hands

The Assessment

Soccer is a game of movement. Young children are hardwired to move. The most important lesson you can teach starts by utilizing a strength of the game to your advantage. Get young children moving as quickly as possible after they arrive.

Meet and Greet

In the case of early learners, warm-up is a time I use as my soccer assessment period. I set up the activity I am about to share before the practice starts. Give the extra time you should use it to directly engage families. This is yet another "most important" lesson to learn. When families arrive be present. Children feed off the energy you show Mom and the energy you show Dad, or grandma or the nanny. We can reactively blame lack of confidence of disobedience on children or we can proactively play our part in helping them to warm up quicker. Taking the time to enthusiastically meet and greet every family aids in this process.


Cones are an important training aid in our early learning sports development system. I use medium-sized (8" high) cones. I'll now share what I do with them inside the warm-up.

  1. Prior to our Jelly Bean family's arrival, I will spread twenty cones around the floor, grass or turf. After welcoming everyone, I talk to the parents of the children. They are my "extra pair of hands" in this warm-up exercise we do each week of the class.
  2. Parents are instructed to tell the children to get a soccer ball and use it to kick the cones down. We work with children as young as 18 months old, so depending on the age this warm-up might not work and I will tell the modification you can use. I suggest parents demonstrate how to use the soccer ball to kick the cone down so children understand.
  3. Next, I tell the parents and children "Every cone that gets knocked down, say, yes!" It is positive reinforcement for the child's sake but also helps me to hear successes I have my back to. Throughout, I am assessing. My observation of their skills will help me coordinate drills and create a mental note of the type and level of encouragement I will need to build the confidence of not only individuals but the class as a whole.
  4. As children are kicking the cones down, I utilize my extra pair of hands, the parents. It simply ask them to use their toe to tip the cones back upright. Parental assistance makes the process a well-oiled machine. Welcoming instead of isolating families from practice creates opportunity for bonding and your opportunity to interact with them. Weak coaching isolates families, strong coaching integrates.

Teach Ball Security

As children run through the process of kicking the cones with their soccer balls and you wrap up greeting parents, there is an opportunity to transition into teaching kids about ball security.

Teaching early learners about ball security requires nothing more than a simple phrase. You say to each children with a soccer ball, "That's my ball!" As you do, they will instinctually tell you it is their ball. After they do, tell them to kick it away from you otherwise you will get it. Challenge them, occasionally stealing a soccer ball and making them get it back from you.

This is an important cat and mouse - style drill that is also an important introductory dribbling technique. It is designed to teach them ball security through the use of their natural intuition for possessiveness. Additionally, it is also a basic strategy that requires for them to keep their heads up and aware of where you are on the floor at all times.

It is such a simple drill, one of my favorites and kids love it.

Non-Dribbling Activity - Cone Dash

The Assessment only gets more fun about four to five minutes into class with the first formal exercise, it is a non-dribbling activity.

  1. Soccer balls are removed and children are required to stand by a cone with their parents. Ideally, the cones would be colored and have numbers on them. Children will tell their parents the color and number before moving to do the same at another cone.
  2. Next, using just their feet, children will kick down the cones down. They will move about the room doing this. Parents and I, meanwhile, work hard to keep the cones tipped up and keep the fun going;
  3. Throughout, I am also assessing children's footwork and speed heading into their striking of the cone. Younger or less experienced players, as you will notice, will "bulldoze" the cone, shuffling through them with both feet. More experiences players will address the cone, plant and kick.

@ The Roots of Dribbling a Soccer Ball

The dribbling assessment is often part of a larger assessment that has me asking them on the first day other questions including "What is dribbling?":

It is setup by asking young children:

"What are 3 things you need to know how to do to play soccer? (Answer: Dribbling, passing and shooting).

"What is dribbling?"

"What is passing?"

"What is shooting?"

It may seem so simple. But if we expect young children to learn dribbling, we must, again, be prepared to set them up for integrated success.

Introducing young children to soccer starting by discussing it in broader terms (i.e. dribbling, passing and shooting) can open up other doors in their thinking. They are curious, eager to learn but if we move too quickly or take shortcuts it creates nuance their minds are not equipped to handling. Layering in information, like the ingredients of a cake, allows young children to understand from a more holistic standpoint.

Therein, when we begin to talk more specifically about each skill, they more easily comprehend our starting point.

Teaching young children dribbling begins with our own understanding that there is a deeper process we, ourselves, must first understand. It is this process, when broken down properly, that opens up the gateway for children's understanding of dribbling. It allows young children to focus easier and for us to train them on the finite components they will need to learn.

So what are these finite components that lie at the roots of dribbling you probably know but never thought to teach? There are three things:

  1. Ball security
  2. Ball positioning (in relation to the body), and
  3. The skill of dribbling, itself.

In the case of early learners, "the skill" is unreasonable to expect.

Therefore, we must shift our focus more towards "ball security" and "ball positioning." They are two things that young children are more than capable of executing. They also offer amazing opportunity for us to explore how teaching dribbling is kept simple and learning is made fun.

And it all starts with non-dribbling exercises.

Non-Dribbling Activity - Bubbles

Bubbles are a tremendous asset when coaching in an early learning sports development environment. Young children are magnetically drawn to them and they are a highly functional tool that sets them up for soccer success.

Like the cones, bubbles set children up to address the ball.

  1. Using a bubble gun, have fun with the process. As I train our coaches to do, we point the bubble machine at our faces. Children love our reaction to the bubbles hitting us in the face.
  2. Afterwards, I will ask children, "Where are your feet?" They point to them and I then will ask, "How many feet do you have?"
  3. Using their feet, I tell them to kick the bubbles and step on the bubbles on the floor. It is important to keep them moving to get a sense for how soccer is played.

The use of non-dribbling activities like the Cone Dash and Bubbles begins to seed in young children's minds the importance of using their feet. While use of hands is still possible, the general theory is the more fun children have inside the idea of soccer through soccer themes, the easier it will be for them to digest the rules of actual soccer as they go.

3 Bears and Flo Jelly Bean Dribbling a Soccer Ball

3 Bears and Flo Jelly Bean Dribbling a Soccer Ball

Teaching Objectives

Parent/coach will:

  1. better understand the most important lesson in soccer
  2. better understand non-dribbling teaching techniques
  3. better understand introductory dribbling techniques
  4. better understand how to keep dribbling simple
  5. better understand how to make learning fun

Lesson Overview

Teaching Time: 5 Minutes

Equipment: Size 2 or Size 3 Soccer Balls

# of Steps: 3

Ages Appropriate for: 2.5 years +

Level of Instructional Difficulty: Medium

Keywords and Phrases: dribble, soccer ball, mousetrap, cones, colors, numbers, three bears


Step 1 - 3 Bears

The most important lesson in early learning soccer development is to use creative ways children understand to introduce soccer. For dribbling, one of those ways I have found is using the three bears.

  1. Find a picture representation of the three bears.
  2. Show it to the children.
  3. Identify each bear for them.
  4. However, as you do mix up their names. Call for example Momma Bear, Pappa Bear. The kids will correct you. It is your job to incorrectly name the bears two more times before buying into the kids suggestion of their real names.

Step 2 - Papa Bear Dribbles

Introduce the kids to 3 Bears Dribbling beginning with Papa Bear. Have the kids sit on their soccer ball to hear what you say next.

  1. I have kids put on their imaginary Papa Bear heads (bending over to the ground, picking it up like I would a giant beachball and putting it onto my shoulders.)
  2. Next, I tell them everyone is Papa Bear. Then I tell them, "Papa Bear likes to dribble or kick the ball very fast and I will go as far to say for the parents, "a little out of control at times." Do you think you can dribble the soccer ball fast?" Let the children answer you.
  3. Ask them to show you how Papa Bear dribbles the soccer ball.
  4. I will ask them, who dribbles the soccer ball fast? They will say back to me "Papa Bear."

Step 3 - Momma Bear Dribbles

  1. Introduce Mama Bear. Have the kids sit on their soccer ball again.
  2. I have kids put on their imaginary Mama Bear heads (again bending over to the ground, picking it up like I would a giant beachball and putting it onto my shoulders.)
  3. I tell them good, now everyone is Mama Bear. Next tell them, "Mama Bear likes to dribble or kick the ball slow and for the parents I will say, in control. Do you think you can dribble the soccer ball slow or with little kicks (demonstrate)?" Let the children answer you.
  4. Ask them to show you how Mama Bear dribbles the soccer ball.
  5. I will ask them, who dribbles the soccer ball slow? They will say back to me "Mama Bear."

Step 4 - Baby Bear Dribbles

  1. Introduce Baby Bear. Have the kids sit on their soccer ball to hear what you say next.
  2. I have kids take off their Mama Bear heads and put on their imaginary Baby Bear heads (again bending over to the ground, picking it up like I would a giant beachball and putting it onto my shoulders.)
  3. I tell them good, now everyone is Baby Bear. Next tell them, "Baby Bear likes to dribble or kick the ball not too fast and not too slow but..Just...? (let the kids answer). Do you think you can dribble the soccer ball fast?" Let the children answer you.
  4. Ask them to show you how Baby Bear dribbles the soccer ball. As they dribble, I will reinforce saying to them, "Not too fast and not too slow...Just...?)
  5. I will ask them who dribbles the soccer ball just right? They will say back to me "Baby Bear."
Sports terminology can be confusing

Sports terminology can be confusing

Instructional Reminders

  • Have patience
  • Be hands-off in your coaching
  • Teach to all children not just the best learners
  • Be kind, avoid frustration...have patience

© 2011 Dr Brad Kayden

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