20 Effective Soccer Drills to Inspire Young Players to Train Harder Today

20 Effective Soccer Drills to Inspire Young Players to Train Harder Today

Successful soccer coaches do two things REALLY well – they teach effective practice, and inspire their team to train hard. A clear understanding of how specific skills tie into better performance on the field is the best motivation for giving your all in practice. This post is designed to provide both – the most effective drills, and concrete examples of the pro’s using them to WIN.

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All young players want to emulate their heroes. They dream of playing for the biggest teams in the best leagues in the world with the whole crowd cheering their name. However, only a select few make it to the very top.

To stand any chance of achieving their goals, young footballers need exposure to the most INSPIRATIONAL and EFFECTIVE coaches. COULD THAT BE YOU?

Remember, if your team wants to PLAY LIKE PROFESSIONALS, they need to TRAIN LIKE PROFESSIONALS – and that’s where you come in!

You need to show them that if they want to DRIBBLE LIKE MESSI, SHOOT LIKE AGÜERO, PASS LIKE PIRLO, DEFEND LIKE MALDINI or MAKE SAVES LIKE DE GEA, they need to put in the work on the training ground. No matter how much natural talent and ability they have, they need to practice to become the best.

We have all heard that old saying: PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT? Well it’s your job to show them how true this is!

It is important that players accept that luck and natural talent can only take them so far. Of course, it helps to have a healthy dose of both of those, but they also need to add DEDICATION, SACRIFICE, HARD WORK and COMMITMENT into the mix.

And did we mention? They need to PRACTICE!

By spending time on the field with the ball at their feet repeating carefully planned drills, your budding soccer hopefuls will quickly improve their game. They will become fitter, faster, more agile, more aware, more skilful and more confident in their own ability.

With regular practice and under the guidance of an inspirational coach, all the moves that the youngsters perform on the field of play will become like second nature. Their decision-making will improve and their game instincts will sharpen.

With all of that in mind, let’s look at some of the very best soccer drills that you can implement to help your group improve their game. In this article, we will cover the four important elements of DRIBBLING, SHOOTING, PASSING and DEFENDING.

Top 5 Dribbling Drills

Dribbling is one of the disciplines that can make football so exciting to watch. There are few better sights in the game than watching a player dance their way through the opposition defence with the ball seemingly glued to their feet.

A player be tempted to try and dribble past an opponent in a game, but unless this skill is executed properly, there is a danger that you could lose possession and put your teammates under pressure. To avoid this situation, there are a range of drills that you can teach that will help your players to skip past your opponents with ease.

Successful dribbling combines a number of different elements including running with the ball, close control, spatial awareness and the ability to twist, turn and accelerate at pace.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some drills related to dribbling.

Drill #1: 1v1

Great dribbling skills can be very useful for wide players: being able to beat your opponent down the wing can buy you time to cut inside, to shoot or square the ball, or to get to the by-line and deliver a cross for your forwards to attack.

When a winger run rings around the opposition it can lift the whole stadium and create a positive mentality throughout the whole team.

In this drill from AllAttack, the basic techniques for beating an opposing player can be practised. Notice the emphasis on awareness and decision-making: knowing when to take a player on, is just as important as being able to execute the move!

  • Skill rating: Easy
  • Fun Rating: 3/5
  • Number of players required: 2
  • Equipment required: Ball

For a great example of how a top winger can use his skill and trickery to beat one or more players to create a goal scoring opportunity, look no further than former Manchester United player Ryan Giggs.

Watch how the Welsh international dealt with a loose ball from Arsenal in an FA semi-final replay back in 1999:

With the score at 1-1, the game had gone to extra-time and there were just 11 minutes left to play. Manchester United had been reduced to 10 men but were doing a good job of containing Arsenal.

With United on the back foot, Giggs is occupying a deep defensive position when he reacts to a loose pass. He immediately uses his pace and skill to evade five Arsenal players before smashing the ball into the roof of the net. The goal proved to be a decisive moment in the Red Devils’ historic treble-winning season.

Drill #2: Cone exercise

Dribbling through cones is a great way to learn close control of the ball. The following exercise from BetterSoccerDrills explores different ways of controlling the ball with the inside and outside of both feet. This a great exercise that your students can practice on their own at home or at their local park.

  • Skill rating: Easy
  • Fun Rating: 3/5
  • Number of players required: 1
  • Equipment required: Ball and cones

Of course, if you are Lionel Messi, you can just use other professional players as cones. Watch how the multiple Golden Ball winner uses close control to keep possession of the ball in the following compilation.

Drill #3: Advanced cone exercise

This drill from Become Elite takes the cone exercise to the next level by teaching you to control the ball at different speeds. You can adapt these exercises to suit the space you have available and you can also use them to build up the cardio-vascular fitness of your players.

  • Skill rating: Easy
  • Fun Rating: 3/5
  • Number of players required: 1
  • Equipment required: Ball and cones

For a great example of how to use close dribbling and control at pace to outfox your opponent, get your students to check out this goal scored by Ronaldo for Barcelona back in 1996.

The goal prompted a standing ovation from the entire stadium.

Drill #4: Circular cones

Of course, football is not always played in a straight line, so this simple drill from OnlineSoccerTraining using a circular formation will help to develop your players’ dribbling skills even further.

Get them to travel clockwise and anti-clockwise around the circle using the inside and outside of both feet and without touching the cones! Just remember to stop before they get too dizzy!

  • Skill rating: Easy
  • Fun Rating: 3.5/5
  • Number of players required: 1 or more
  • Equipment required: Ball and cones

It would be impossible to talk about dribbling in football without mentioning Diego Maradona’s incredible goal against England in the 1986 World Cup. Often hailed as the ‘goal of the century’, this clip also includes what might be the commentary of the century from the Uruguayan broadcaster Víctor Hugo Morales:

Drill #5: Cut-backs

Dribbling through cones will help you sharpen your team’ skills and improve their fitness but when they start dribbling against real players, they will need to react quickly and learn how to move the ball out of their reach.

Practicing cut-backs will them to dribble the ball at tighter angles and avoid losing possession. This set of drills from Epic Soccer Training concentrates on dribbling in tight spaces and at sharper angles.

  • Skill rating: Medium
  • Fun Rating: 3.5/5
  • Number of players required: 1
  • Equipment required: Ball and cones

By repeating these dribbling skills over and over with your group, they will become much more comfortable with the ball at their feet and they will start to notice the difference when they play in a real match.

Who knows, one day you might inspire a player to a score a goal like this one from former AC Milan legend George Weah.

Top 5 Shooting Drills

The ultimate objective of any team in a football match is to score more goals than the opposition. And while the process of kicking a ball into a 7.32 x 2.44 metre area may seem quite straightforward; in reality, it can be one of the hardest disciplines to master.

In a game situation, a player entering into a goal scoring position will have to deal with many factors. They will have defenders rushing at them from all angles, they will have a goalkeeper closing down their shooting angles, they may have teammates calling for a pass and they will have the noise of an excited crowd ringing in their ears.

Under these conditions, they will have to adjust their speed, balance and position, before striking the ball cleanly and accurately towards their target.

If any player wants to be successful strikers and see that net bulge on a regular basis, they need to perform some shooting drills. Here are a few you can teach your team to get them started.

Drill #1: Shooting from a squared ball

Shooting can be made much easier when you find space and receive a well weighted pass from a teammate. This drill from OnlineSoccerTraining teaches both delivery of the final ball and execution of the shot from the edge of the penalty area.

  • Skill rating: Easy
  • Fun Rating: 3.5/5
  • Number of players required: 2 or more
  • Equipment required: Ball and goal

It is this kind of drill that will help your players to score goals like this one from Fernando Torres playing for Liverpool back in 2008.

Your students should note how Torres keeps a few yards between himself and the defenders so that when he receives the ball, he has time to take a touch, adjust his body and shoot.

Drill #2: First-time shooting

Football at the top level is such a fast game that elite players will not always get time to take a touch. So whether the ball is coming at them along the ground, in the air or bouncing in front of them, a first-time shot is sometimes a striker’s only option.

These drills from Reading FC Academy may look simple but they will teach your youngsters to adjust their body, head and feet to the positon of the ball in order to shoot first time.

  • Skill rating: Medium
  • Fun Rating: 4/5
  • Number of players required: 3 or more
  • Equipment required: Ball and goal

In the following clip, Argentinean striker Gonzalo Higuain is put through on goal but his angle is not ideal; he is moving away from the goal and towards the by-line. He knows that if he takes a touch he will take the ball further away from the goal and may miss his chance to score.

With the goalkeeper closing in fast, the striker keeps his composure, adjusts his feet and body, and lifts a delicate shot over the keeper and into the back of the net. Looks easy doesn’t it!

Drill #3: Three goal drill

This shooting drill from SoccerCoachTV is practiced at Chelsea FC and is a fun group exercise that will help players to react and shoot in a hectic situation. This is a good way of replicating the excitement of a real game situation in a training context.

  • Skill rating: Medium
  • Fun Rating: 4/5
  • Number of players required: 5 or more
  • Equipment required: Balls, goal and mini-goals

No matter how much pressure a player is under or where they are on the pitch, sometimes they just need to believe in their own abilities and shoot on goal. Just ask Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard!

Drill #4: Lay-offs, turns and chest control

This video from ProgressiveSoccer features five different drills that can be practiced in groups of three or more. All the exercises are rotational with the players swapping positions after each cycle. As well as sharpening their shooting skills, these exercises will also help your students to improve their short passing and lay-offs.

A player will have a much better chance of scoring if the ball is passed to them in the optimum position, so a good lay-off can make all the difference. If the weight is just right, the striker will not have to break their stride or rhythm in order to strike the ball cleanly.

  • Skill rating: Easy
  • Fun Rating: 4/5
  • Number of players required: 3 or more
  • Equipment required: Balls and goals

In this next clip, we see how Spanish international Veronica Boquete slots home a perfectly-weighted ball to score an easy goal for Frankfurt. If the ball had been slightly slower, the defender would have been in a position to make a challenge. If the ball had been any quicker, Boquete may have been forced to adjust body shape in order to use her less favoured left foot.

Drill #5: Heading on goal

Scoring is not all about fierce shots or delicate chips with the feet. As strikers, your players will also be expected to be good with their heads. Around 20% of goals at the top level are scored from headers.

Heading drills may not be the most popular amongst young players, but they are amongst the most important. Being good in the air can set them apart from other strikers, so it is important to emphasise how putting in the time and effort to perfect the craft could boost their career prospects.

This exercise from the Soccer Drills Daily is perfect for those players who want to spend some extra time training when everyone else has gone home. With just a ball and a wall, your players will be heading with confidence in no time.

  • Skill rating: Medium
  • Fun Rating: 3/5
  • Number of players required: 1
  • Equipment required: Ball and wall

It is also worth remembering that headed goals can be just as spectacular as goals scored with the feet. Just check out this beauty from Luis Garcia for Liverpool back in 2005.

Top 5 Passing Drills

As we have discovered in the dribble and shooting drills, a good pass is often the catalyst for everything that follows. A tight game can be unlocked in a second by a key pass or an accurate cross. Even the very best strikers in the world rely on great service from their midfield maestros.

Whatever position a player adopts (even goalkeeper), it is essential that they can pass the ball well. As we saw in the Ryan Giggs clip above, one stray pass from anywhere on the field can be the difference between victory and defeat.

Drill#1: Basic short passes

To learn to pass with accuracy, get your players to practice short passes with the inside of both feet. Here are some basic passing drills from ProgressiveSoccer to get you started. This exercise can be practiced on an indoor or outdoor pitch and is best in groups of three.

  • Skill rating: Easy
  • Fun Rating: 3.5/5
  • Number of players required: 3 or more
  • Equipment required: Ball

Your training group should understand that passes don’t have to be long to be impressive. Short, quick and creative passes can leave the opposition spellbound as this goal by Jack Wilshere for Arsenal against Norwich City proves:

Drill #2: Shuffling passes

In an ideal world, your players will always be facing and moving forward when you make a pass. But in the reality of a game situation, they will often have to make a pass while moving sideways (shuffling) or with your body in an unnatural or twisted position.

This simple exercise from OnlineSoccerTraining will get your younger players used to passing with both feet while shuffling sideways:

  • Skill rating: Medium
  • Fun Rating: 3.5/5
  • Number of players required: 2 or more
  • Equipment required: Ball and cones

To help your players understand the importance of short simple passing and shuffling into space in a real game situation, watch how Barcelona use the technique to full effect to evade the pressing of arch rivals Real Madrid in this clip:

Drill# 3: The driven ball

Short passes are great for retaining possession, beating the press and moving the ball methodically through the different zones of the pitch. However, sometimes a player will spot an opportunity to launch an attacking phase of play or exploit space by delivering a long pass (or driven ball).

By practicing the driven ball, your players will soon learn how to move the ball firmly and quickly to a teammate while bypassing one or more zones on the pitch. Youngsters love nothing more than delivering the perfect ‘Hollywood’ pass.

Of course, driven balls can vary from fairly short practical passes, to bypass an opposition player; to a long spectacular pass from a deep position, to create an attacking opportunity.

In this video from AllAttack, the technique for delivering a long pass is explained clearly:

  • Skill rating: Medium
  • Fun Rating: 4/5
  • Number of players required: 2 or more
  • Equipment required: Ball

In this clip, your players can watch David Beckham use the technique to devastating effect while playing for Real Madrid:

Drill #4: The through ball

One of the biggest assets a midfield player can possess is the ability to play a well-timed through ball. The through ball is used to exploit the space behind midfield and defensive lines. They can be used to open up play, build an attack or to create a direct goal scoring opportunity.

In this group exercise from Coaches Corner the concept of the through ball is taught through repetitive drills.

  • Skill rating: Medium
  • Fun Rating: 4/5
  • Number of players required: 4 or more
  • Equipment required: Balls and mannequins

When your players have mastered the through ball, they will be able to unlock defensive formations just like Barcelona legend Xavi:

Drill #5: One touch passing

One touch passing requires great technique and game awareness. Players need to know where they are going to pass their ball next before they have even received it. This means keeping their head up and tracking their target while being fully aware of the position of the ball.

These passes can be used in midfield to bypass opposing players and to manoeuvre the ball into a more favourable zone. They can also be used by attacking players to break open defences.

In this video from soccercoaches the Schalke 04 U-19 team can be seen practicing a complex sequence of short passes that encourages accuracy, movement and awareness.

  • Skill rating: Difficult
  • Fun Rating: 4/5
  • Number of players required: 6 or more
  • Equipment required: Balls and cones

One touch passing forms an essential part of the pass and move philosophy employed so successfully by teams such as Liverpool in the 1980s.

A later incarnation of Liverpool produced this wonderful one touch sequence in the 2010 Europa League semi-final against Atletico Madrid. Unfortunately, Dirk Kuyt could not provide the finishing touch.

Top 5 Defensive Drills

Football is often referred to as the ‘beautiful game’ but not all aspects of the game are equally pleasing on the eye. Soccer is also a physical game, and sometimes the fluid movement that makes the game so attractive to onlookers has to be snubbed out and stifled by good defending.

Some teams will use their attacking prowess as the basis for their defence while others will use their strong defence as a basis for their attack. But, although there are many different ways to play the game, the principles of good defending remain the same.

Drill #1: Pressing warm up

Pressing does not require contact but it is an important element of defending. It certain situations, it is not necessary to tackle the opposing player; sometimes closing them down and putting them under pressure is enough to force them into making a mistake.

In this group drill from The Coaching Manual, the players learn the basics of pressing:

  • Skill rating: Medium
  • Fun Rating: 4/5
  • Number of players required: 9 or more
  • Equipment required: Balls and cones or mannequins

In the following clip, we see how Stoke City almost score by pressing high against Manchester City but also leave themselves open to the counter attack.

Drill #2: Tackling

While pressing is important, it is not the most effective tactic in every situation. Therefore, a defender must learn to decide when to press, when to back off and when to make a tackle instead.

Tackling is the activity most associated with defending but a good tackle is not always easy to execute. The defender has to time every tackle just right in order to avoid giving away a free-kick or penalty, or worse, getting sent off.

In this short tutorial from TheSoccerEssentials the coach explains how a defender must accept the physicality of the game in order to fully commit to the tackle.

  • Skill rating: Easy
  • Fun Rating: 3/5
  • Number of players required: 2
  • Equipment required: Ball

In this clip, Italy defender Alessandro Nesta could simply press France’s Sylvain Wiltord; but instead, he decides to end the attacking move there and then by claiming the ball. Watch how he fully commits to the tackle regardless of any contact that might occur:

Drill #3: Sliding tackle

A good sliding tackle can be as effective as a great pass or through ball and can also get the crowd on their feet. However, an ill-timed sliding tackle can often result in an early shower or for the guilty defender.

In this clip from U Soccer the coach expresses the importance of learning to slide tackle properly in order to avoid unnecessary injury:

  • Skill rating: Medium
  • Fun Rating: 4/5
  • Number of players required: 1 or more
  • Equipment required: Ball

Perhaps the greatest ever exponent of the sliding tackle was AC Milan legend Paolo Maldini. In this compilation, you can show your players how naturally he uses his whole body to win the ball cleanly:

Drill #4: Defensive header

The defensive header is different from the type of header that your players will use to shoot on goal. The aim of the defensive header is to clear the ball from danger. This means heading it high, hard and as far away from the danger zone as possible. In this situation, power is often more important than pinpoint accuracy; however, a well-placed defensive header could also lead to a counter attack.

This is a great defensive heading game from SoccerCoachTV that can be adapted for groups of all sizes and emphasises the importance of heading with distance, height and power.

  • Skill rating: Difficult
  • Fun Rating: 5/5
  • Number of players required: 3 or more
  • Equipment required: Balls

Defensive headers can come in many different forms. Just check out this vital clearance from Real Salt Lake defender Tony Beltran.

Drill #5: Small-sided game

Many of the essential aspects of 11-a-side football are learnt through small-sided games. From grassroots level through to elite world level, these type of training exercises are used to coach players of all ages the finer intricacies of the game.

This brilliant drill from The Coaching Manual uses a small-sided game to teach players how and when to press, tackle or drop off, and also encourages awareness and communication:

  • Skill rating: Difficult
  • Fun Rating: 5/5
  • Number of players required: 11 or more (can be adapted for smaller numbers)
  • Equipment required: Ball and goal

If your young players still think defending cannot be exciting, then show them this final clip featuring some of the best defensive moments from the game in recent years.

All of these exercises will help your players to improve their game. But there are hundreds more used in academies all over the world that you could integrate into your sessions.

It is important to explain to trainees that even the best players can only master certain aspects of the game through hard work and dedication. And that the most successful players are often the ones who spend the most time on the training ground perfecting their skills.

Getting players to subscribe to this philosophy is part of your job as a coach. You need to inspire, influence and motivate them by creating a fun but professional environment where the results of their hard work are tangible. A coach that commands the respect of their players will find their job much easier and will produce much better results.

Once your players have a good understanding of the basics and have bought into your methods, you can introduce more advanced techniques and help them raise their game to the next level. Who knows, you might even have the next Golden Ball winner under your wing!

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