Soccer was so much of a novelty in America in the 1970s that kids who could juggle a ball were asked to perform their skill as guests on late night talk shows. Controlling the ball with every body part except the hands looked cool, like some kind of magic. Even today, the expert jugglers on Instagram look like magicians performing a trick. How do they do it? Why do they do it? How can you do it?
Table of Contents
- Benefits of Juggling
- How to Juggle a Soccer Ball
- Juggling with Other Body Parts
- Advanced Juggling
Benefits of Juggling
It is extremely rare to see a player juggle the ball in a professional soccer game. So then, some coaches think it’s a showy skill for the streets, not the pitch. The closest thing you’ll see to juggling is an athlete receiving the ball in the air and bringing it down to the turf under control. Part of the reason why professional athletes can perform the skill so easily is that they practice juggling the ball.
Juggling looks cool, but being able to juggle well means that you will:
- Develop a great first touch
- Be able to bring the ball under control in awkward situations
- Be a more effective dribbler
- Improve your coordination
How to Juggle a Soccer Ball
For most soccer players, juggling is a skill they figure out on their own. They go outside and try to juggle without advice or training. There is nothing wrong with this approach to learning how to juggle. Eventually, you may see results if you keep putting the time into it. However, some coaches and managers believe there is a right way and a wrong way to learn how to juggle.
Here’s a step-by-step look at one way of learning to juggle.
- Stand in the “ready” position. Knees bent slightly, head slightly down, on the balls of your feet and continually shifting weight from side to side.
- Take a soccer ball, waist high. Drop it.
- Within a split second, you must be ready to receive the ball with your laces, or the top of your foot. Now lock your ankle with your toes pointed slightly upward.
- Tap the ball upward, putting a little backspin on the ball. If you’re doing everything right, you will be able to catch the ball at the original position from where you dropped it.
Congratulations, you just juggled!
You can repeat this process several times. You may be eager to move on to the next stage where you don’t catch the ball, but this is not recommended. You want to get a feel for having the ball hit you in the right place and you applying just enough force to get the ball to come off of your foot without sending it too high or in some crazy direction.
Now, you can get a better feel for real juggling with your foot if you:
- Release the ball back down to your foot as soon as you catch it.
- While the ball is dropping down, shuffle on the balls of your feet to get in balance
- Return the ball to your hands and catch it.
You often see experienced jugglers skip the shuffling part altogether. For years, trainers taught players to shuffle their feet while the ball was in the air. You can see the difference in this video where a 6-year old kid is showing off his skills. Early in the video, you see him shuffling his feet. Other times, he does not. The older man in the video never does. This suggests the shuffling remains a good tool for learning how to juggle, a basic fundamental that you will eventually be free of. The shuffling of feet helps with timing and balance, and these things may later on become second nature.
For the next-level progression, you will no longer catch the ball. Instead, allow the ball drop to the ground. Don’t worry, it’s still juggling.
- Let the ball drop to the ground from high enough distance that it will bounce slightly in the end
- Tap it upwards after it lands, then let it bounce again
- Increase the number of times you tap the ball upwards, then work your way to using both your left and right feet
- Practice repeated juggles with the same foot, then swap to the other foot. e.g 3 juggles per foot, then swap. Make sure you always include your non-dominant foot in all your drills. It’s a great way to develop comfort with that foot.
- Alternate juggles between feet: left-right, left-right etc.
- Combine thigh/foot juggles: Left thigh, left foot, right thigh, right foot etc
Get Started with a Flick Up
Soccer is a sport where you don’t use your hands. So then, perhaps you want to avoid handling the ball at all when you are learning to juggle. You can employ the “flick up” technique to start your juggling practice.
- Get into the ready position
- Place the tip of your toes of your strong foot underneath a ball placed on the ground.
- Employ a flicking action with your ankle to get the ball in the air
At this point, you can let the ball drop to the ground, but at this stage in your juggling practice, you may want to see if you can keep it going. When you successfully flick the ball up, try to keep it up by using the previously practiced juggling techniques.
Juggling with Other Body Parts
You can use many other body parts to control the ball in soccer legally, and at some point in your playing career, you will need to use these body parts. It is good to try to juggle the ball with other body parts like the thigh or shoulders or even your head.
Juggling a Soccer Ball with Your Thighs
It will be more common that you have to control the ball with the thigh, so it may be a better use of your time to devote some juggling practice to the thigh. The technique is similar to controlling the ball with your thigh. This means giving just enough force to the ball with your thigh to make the ball go where you want it to go. Juggling with the thigh is actually a little easier because there is a lot of “cushioning” from your thighs and a lot of surface space the ball can land on. However, it isn’t as useful as it isn’t as easy to give precise control to the ball.
To practice the skill, you can drop the ball onto your thigh to start, or try to flick up the ball to a position where the ball can fall to your thigh.
Bend your knee 90 degrees and raise your thigh so that it is at a right angle to your body, providing a flat surface to hit the ball with.
Juggling a Soccer Ball with the Head and Shoulders
For the most part, juggling with your head and shoulders will be only in emergency situations. However, practicing these skills could at some point mean the difference between losing the ball and creating a scoring opportunity. You don’t have to spend a great deal of time on the skill, but a little may help out some day.
To practice juggling with the head or shoulders, you can simply throw yourself the ball. Let it drop and try to control it by absorbing some of the energy the ball generates. Give back just enough so that the ball bounces back into the air.
As you get better at juggling you can keep raising the skill level with extra drills.
Instead of kicking up the ball to around waist height, start kicking it higher, to around head height. This is more challenging and will further improve your eye/ball coordination.
To practice control, kick it up above your head, then on your next touch kick it to waist height or below. Repeat this alternation of high and low touches.
This exercise is based on the infamous Maradona’s pre-game warm-up, which utilizes all body parts. There are 7 touches in total:
- 2 touches with the feet, one on each side
- 2 touches with the thighs, one on each side
- 2 touches with the shoulders, one on each side
- 1 touch with the head
Juggling while walking
It requires an extra level of skill to control the juggle while walking or even jogging forward. You’ll need to send the ball slightly forward as well as up with each touch.
Use a small ball
This tip comes from Carli Lloyd who uses a size 2 ball for juggling practice. A smaller ball is more challenging and requires a precise touch, so mastering this will make controlling a regular size ball feel easier!
- OUTER CASING MATERIAL: 3.25mm TPU material -BACKING MATERIAL: 2 layers of poly/cotton lining
- STITCHING: Machine stitched - BLADDER: Hybrid SR bladder
- This ball was designed for grass fields
- PLEASE NOTE: The balls do not come inflated - The Brasilia ball is a medium level ball meant for youth players
- American Challenge: A Brand You Can Trust. Since 1973 This is a great youth ball
For most good players, mastering the basics will be enough. Some players will of course want to do more. They will want to exhibit the fancy tricks you see in online videos. You might see players juggling while sitting down or juggling with their heels or with the soles of their feet. They are known as “Freestylers” and some of them are well-known, well-paid athletes with millions of social media followers.
The only trick to learning these slick moves is to attempt to execute them. Constant practice will teach your muscles just how much force to put into each move so that you execute a clean juggle.
If you are having trouble with juggling, remember the basics:
- Keep good balance and a good ready position
- Lock your ankles
- Put backspin on the ball
- Focus: Follow the ball with your eyes
- Be deliberate in striking the ball with the laces
What skills does juggling improve?
Overall coordination, first touch, ball control, confidence on the ball
How do you get better at juggling a soccer ball
Practice is key. A few minutes every day is better than 30 minutes once per week. You’re getting better even if you don’t set a new personal record every day.
Playing games like soccer tennis with friends will also help
How can I practice juggling a soccer ball at home?
If you are at home and don’t have a yard or a lot of space to work with, the best way to practice at home, especially as a beginner is to use a solo soccer trainer like this. You will be able to practice without damaging your house!