Introduction: In order to develop a quality first touch on the ball, it is essential that players learn to be able to control (basically, to "catch" and redirect) a ball coming in from the air. Two of the key body surfaces which they will use to catch air balls are the foot or with the thigh. In other sessions, you will teach them how to "catch" the ball with the chest and how to redirect the ball with the head. At about age 12+, you also can start to teach players to juggle with their heads (so that, eventually, they can "catch" a ball with their heads), but this requires more coordination than most younger players will possess.
To start players on learning to juggle with the feet, have them sit on the ground with the ball. Have them toss the ball up over one foot, then try to gently catch it with the foot and then toss it back up in the air with the catching foot. Allow them to catch the ball with their hands after each try. The key to catching the ball with the foot is to turn the knee of the receiving foot inward a bit so that the foot is flattened and allow the thigh to "give" as the ball comes in so that the foot is catching the ball and then tossing it back up. Tell the players to be sure to use the thigh/hip for movement and to leave the lower leg still. After a few successes in doing this, have them try for two touches on the ball before catching it with their hands. Once they can get to 3 touches in a row, have them switch and try to use the other foot.
After a few tries with the non-dominant foot, have the players stand up. Now, have them toss the ball up high so that it bounces in front of them, and then try to catch the ball on the foot and toss it back up in the air.The trick to doing this while standing is to keep the foot flattened; to keep the foot itself still (with all motion coming from the hip and upper thigh); and to make sure that the hip of the catching leg is allowed to go loose so that it "gives"when it catches the ball. Initially, allow a bounce between each catch with the foot, then try to progress to the point where they can do 2 or 3 touches in a row. Now, ask the players to use the non-dominant foot for catching the ball. After some more experimenting, have them work on alternating touches of the feet (players who are under age 8 may have trouble with balance/coordination, so don't push this if most are having trouble).
Coaching Note: As players gain more experience and ball control, you will want to encourage more and more juggling skills
After working on juggling with the feet, you can progress to working on juggling with the thighs (which is the preamble to learning thigh traps) - or you can spend some time working on elevator traps before coming back to work on thigh juggling. With newer players, you might even decide to handle thigh traps in another session altogether. If you wish to introduce thigh juggling, here is how to do it:
Juggling with the thighs is very similar to juggling with the feet. The player is simply trying to catch the ball on the surface of the thigh and toss it back up. Once again, the knee will need to be turned inward to flatten the surface of the thigh, and the work will be done entirely with the hip. The object is to catch and cushion the ball - not to let the ball hit the thigh and bounce back up. Work on the idea of having the thigh come to meet the ball and then drop down a bit to cushion it before tossing the ball back up again. It is fine to allow the players to catch the ball with the hands after each attempt, although you will want to have them try to progress to 2-3 touches after they get the hang of this. Once again, after working with one leg, try to work with the other leg. Because thigh juggling is a bit harder in terms of balance, save work on alternating thighs for a later date - or for practice at home (with prizes for the most in a row).
The first thing which you will work on is elevator traps. This is nothing more than catching the ball with the top of the foot and then lowering it to the ground in front of you. The trick is that, if the ball is coming in at a high arc (and will have lots of speed), it is going to need a lot of cushioning to take this speed away - so you need to lift the leg/knee fairly high to make the first contact and then let the thigh go almost limp to cushion the ball to the ground.
To do this, put the players in pairs and have them work on gently tossing a ball high into the air for their partner to catch. The partner then reciprocates. Show them that it is easier to catch the ball if they are standing slightly sideways to the direction in which the ball is coming in, with the catching leg to the inside. To increase the difficulty, you can move them farther apart, so that they have to move around more to calculate when/where to catch the ball. For players who show a real knack for this, have them try to catch the ball and, instead of putting it on the ground, flick it up over the head of the defender and run around him. This is one cool trick to use in games - and little boys love it!
Another trap which is related to the elevator trap is the instep trap. This trap is used to catch balls which are coming in at a flatter angle (or somewhat ahead of the player) so that it will be impossible to catch on the foot. Thus, the player puts the foot out to block the ball - and permits some slight give in the leg so that he can drop the ball at his feet. This technique may be a bit hard for young players, but can be introduced (even if not extensively practiced) at this stage simply to show players another option to deal with balls which are not catchable otherwise.
The next trap to introduce is the thigh trap. In this trap, the player simply catches the ball on the thigh (as in juggling with the thigh), but immediately lets the thigh collapse so that the ball falls to his feet. This is a very nice trap to use for awkward balls coming in a bit below waist level, so rather low to try a chest trap (even with really bent knees), but too high to do an elevator and perhaps a bit too straight on to allow a instep trap.
Once again, put the players in pairs and have them toss balls to one another, making sure that the ball takes a nice arc so that the player can get underneath it. The key is to bring the thigh up to make contact with the ball and to relax the hip as soon as contact is made so that the ball is cushioned to drop at the feet. When the players have achieved some success in this technique, then go to the group game.
Put two players inside the grid, with two servers outside who alternate service into the grid. Have the server send a high ball into the grid. The player with the best ability to receive the ball shouts "I've got it". This shout requires that the other player back off and let him try to receive the ball with the foot or the thigh. He gets a point for each good trap. Play until one inside player has 3 points, then rotate with the outside players.
When both sides have had a turn inside the grid, then allow the server to become a slow-motion defender - which means that he starts to walk toward the receiver as soon as he has played the ball into the grid (but does not aggressively defend). With the addition of pressure incoming from the front, the receiver must adjust his body position to try to shield the ball as it comes in and quickly pass it to his teammate. Take some time in working on the need of the off-ball attacker to talk to the receiver; warn him of the incomer; and get into a position where he can accept the ball immediately upon reception.
You then can progress to active defending, by telling the server that he cannot enter the grid until the ball touches the foot or thigh of the receiver. In other words, he is rushing in to rattle the defender as he receives the ball and pressure him as he tries to get rid of it. Watch to make sure that you are getting success, and place more restrictions on the defender if necessary to achieve it.
Obviously, you will want to play a game which involves reception of lots of air balls. Presumably, you already have covered chest traps & heading, so the players will have a large set of tools to receive air balls. Here is one fun drill which provides such options.
Make a large rectangular grid, with small cone goals on each end. Put a moat in the middle, with narrow alleys on the sides and about 30 feet of space on each end in front of the goal (the grid will look like a large box,with a smaller box in the middle). The ball can be served over the moat or dribbled/passed in the alleys. If it falls in the moat, then the other side gets a throw-in. A team scores 2 points for a successful elevator or thigh trap (ball under controland kept in bounds), 1 point for a good chest trap or header, and 5 points for a goal. This game is fun for 4v4 or greater numbers.
Variation: For smaller players who do not do lofted kicks well, another option to get more high balls is to put 2 moat-keepers in the moat and allow the first one who gets to any ball which drops into the moat to pick it up and punt it to his team. Of course, no goals can be scored directly from the punt - but can be scored from headers. For the safety of both keepers in the moat, be sure to set some rules against contesting for any ball once the keeper is getting down to pick it up. Of course, it is fine for the moat-keepers to trap the ball to score a point and then pick it up to punt it.
Remove the moats and play a regular scrimmage, but continue to award extra points for good traps (you can make regular goals worth 5 points, and goals off headers or flicks from an elevator trap worth 10 points). This can be a fun game, even for older players, as they will quickly see that they can score lots more points by some really fancy juggling work or by doing some delicate flicks in front of the goal, so this will encourage them to try all sorts of tricks which they ultimately may find to be very helpful in games.
As players progress, here are some additional juggling ideas:
Consider making some certificates, so that you will award the a certificate to players at the end of a game if their parents certify that they got a certain number of consecutive juggles. Use different colored certificates for 5 in a row, 10 in a row, 15 in a row, 20 in a row, 50 in a row, and 100 in a row. If you make a big deal of this, with a public issuance of the award, you will guarantee that the kids will try very hard to get these certificates.Updated 3 April 1999