How to Teach a Kid to Juggle a Soccer Ball
A veteran coach offers a step-by-step guide to this essential skill.
Soccer is the world’s number one sport for one big reason in particular: all you need to play is a ball and your body. You can spend hours just kicking and heading a ball with nothing more than a square of space. And, while a true game of soccer requires many other skills, how good one is at the sport always comes down to their ability with said ball, and juggling is the perfect way to build those skills.
You don’t need to be Messi or Ronaldo to teach a kid how to juggle a soccer ball. In fact, there are some easy steps to teach your child how to juggle. Keep in mind: while you can certainly work with younger kids on dribbling and kicking a ball, 4, 5 or 6 is a good age to work with them on juggling. Now, here’s how to get things started.
BEFORE YOU BEGIN
Choose the right size soccer ball
Before you begin, don’t forget: Soccer balls come in different sizes based on age and skill level. It is important to make sure you have the right size for your kid. Here’s a general outline of the size of balls that are used in soccer.
- Size 3 (junior) for ages eight and younger
- Size 4 (youth) for ages eight to 12
- Size 5 (adult) for ages 13 or older
By the time most hit organized soccer teams, they’ll use size four balls and it doesn’t take long to get to the adult balls at size five, but make sure to get an age-appropriate ball when starting off juggling.
Use Your Hands!
Yes, we all know soccer rules 101 says you can’t use your hands (unless you are a goalkeeper) but when it comes to introductory juggling the hands are a key part. And good news for dad, as well, because you can learn juggling as you go and don’t need to demo a thousand juggles in a row to help you kid get better.
HOW TO TEACH A KID HOW TO JUGGLE A SOCCER BALL
- Start by Just Dropping the Soccer Ball on Their Foot
The basic steps for first-time juggling should be to hold the ball in your hands, drop it to your child’s foot, and let it bounce off and upward so they can get the feel of the ball striking the foot. There is no need to try and kick the ball — just holding the leg out and straight should allow you to bounce the ball off the foot and back to your hands. When juggling, the leg will be almost straight and locked when the foot strikes the ball. Your child should hold the leg straight and knee locked as you drop the ball on it.
- Create a Flat Surface to Teach Proper Foot Position
Make sure your child has proper foot position so the ball will be redirected upwards and not downward or to the side. It is very important to create a flat surface for the ball to strike on the foot – the first surface to focus on is the top of the foot down the middle where the laces on most shoes usually are. The toe should not be pointing straight up or pointing too far down. It should be pointing almost parallel to the ground. You should be able to catch the ball easily and not have to chase after it as it flies off into another direction. If your kid (or you) are having trouble with this it is likely a problem of where the toe is pointing when the ball strikes.
- Let Them Drop the Soccer Ball
Once you are able to drop the ball and get it back off your child’s foot consistently, this means the foot is flat and the leg is locked and they are ready to try dropping the ball to their own foot. Again, have them practice this until they can catch the ball back in their hands easily and the ball is consistently bouncing straight back up to the hands. You can have them practice this with both feet, but make sure they are successful with the dominant foot consistently first.
- Add a Kicking Motion
In order to juggle, a player must be able to stand with both feet on the ground, move one foot up to a ball in the air, kick it back up in the air and return the foot to the ground before the next strike of the ball. The next step in beginner juggling is to have your kid replicate this motion, as well as, work on going from bended knee to straight leg when striking the ball. Have them do this several times without the ball – bring the knee up parallel to the ground, with the leg at a 90 degree angle to the knee, then kick the leg up to a locked position. Once your kid demonstrates this with both legs, add the ball back in with the same dropping-the-ball-to-the-foot action as before, only now they need to try and bring the kicking leg and foot up to meet the ball as it falls.
- Keep Contact Light
It will likely take some repetition dropping the ball and finding the right timing to make contact with the falling ball just as the leg locks. Do not switch feet until your son or daughter has it down with the dominant leg. Keep in mind contact with the ball should be light – just enough to send the ball back up to the hands. Make sure the knee of the striking leg comes up first and then the leg kicks up – do not lock the knee from the start and bring the leg up altogether.
- Remember: The Knee Is Key
There are many surfaces of the body you can juggle with. The feet are the most important but the knees are another beginner surface to use. After your child is able to drop the ball to the foot and hit it back to the hands with both feet. Have them practice the same thing with both knees. With the knees there is no kicking motion needed, only the knee coming up parallel to the ground to strike the ball.
5 Soccer Ball Juggling Drills For Kids
Once your son or daughter gets down the basic control of hitting the ball with the foot and the knee and catching it, you can turn them loose with some simple juggling progressions to practice. Here are a few recommendations:
Two juggles with the foot, catch with hands (do with both feet)
- One juggle with right foot, one juggle with left foot, catch with hands (switch order)
- Two juggles with knee, catch with hands (do with both knees)
- Alternate knees back and forth and keep the ball up as long as possible without catching ball
- Alternate feet back and forth and keep the ball up as long as possible without catching ball
- Use any combination of feet and knees to keep the ball up as long as possible without catching ball
Martin Desmarais has been the Head Women’s Coach at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for the past 10 seasons, leading his team to six conference regular season titles, four tournament titles, seven NCAA tournaments, and two trips to the Sweet 16. He has been named conference coach of the year four times and regional coach of the year twice.