Dribbling 101: Beat Defenders & Own The Midfield

Principles of Dribbling

Ronaldo, Messi, & Neymar: arguably the world's greatest players and incredible dribblers. Each player has very different physical attributes, but they all have a mastery of dribbling and foot skills in common. Their attacking prowess with a ball at their feet is second to none, so what makes these three such great dribblers? There are five principles to dribbling that we will break down to understand what sets these players apart.

Change of Direction
Great dribblers don’t move in straight lines. When a defender approaches from the front, you must change direction or risk walking right into a tackle. When we dribble the ball, especially in a 1v1 scenario, we want to be unpredictable and upset the balance of the defender. By dribbling in one direction, a defender becomes comfortable. They can read your intentions and keep their balance while waiting for an opportunity to put in a tackle. 

Change of Speed
Again, we want to be unpredictable and upset the balance of the defender. If we constantly dribble at the same pace, defenders start to learn our tendencies. They can then match your speed, or exceed it, resulting in a tackle and loss of possession. When the time is right, a quick explosion of pace, or even a sudden stop, can throw the defender off-balance. Think of your own speed as the speed of a car. When we dribble at defenders, we want to shift from 4th gear to 5th gear and accelerate past them. 

Bent Knees
The next two principles of dribbling deal with our physical composition. First, we want to bend our knees while dribbling. In doing so, we are lower to the ground, increasing our center of gravity and giving us more balance on the ball as we change pace and direction. You know what you want to do with the ball – the defender doesn’t. Maintaining a body position that is low to the ground will allow you to make split-second decisions – giving you an advantage over defenders.

Quick Feet
The next principle moves from the knees to the feet. The quicker the feet, the more dangerous the dribbler. How can Ronaldo do four step-overs before beating a defender? He has incredibly quick feet. This is how Messi also manages to keep the ball in the tightest of spaces with three defenders surrounding him. When our feet are slow, the defender gets comfortable and has a greater opportunity to find the right time to make a tackle.

Tricks and Turns
The last principle is all about fun and creativity, and should be developed after you master the basics of dribbling. Foot skills are the flourishes with the ball that will aid in your ability to beat defenders. Tricks and turns are the most aggressive methods to throwing a defender off-balance. The more moves we perfect, the more versatile of an attacker we will be. Scissors, Cruyff turns, fake shots, rolls and pushes, snakes and rainbows are all examples of moves proven to shake a defender’s balance. However, these more extreme skills take ample practice. Attempting moves above your skill level during games can result in loss of possession, so be sure to stick to the moves you have mastered, and work on the harder ones in training. 

Header photo courtesy of Nike Academy.