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Dribble Up Smart Soccer Ball Lessons Learned

One great thing about Dribble Up is that training with the smart ball just a 10 minutes a day can help your foot skills. To maximize your time on the ball here are 10 things to avoid that we’ve noticed as we’ve used the soccer ball for training at home during the off season. We were actually listening to the Coaching Soccer Weekly podcast episode titled “How to Improve Technically at Home” as we wrote up this list. The end of the episode has a great story about a player who worked hard in the off season and her effort paid off when she made the 1st team in the Spring. Hopefully these tips will make it easier for you to practice at home with the Dribble Up ball and put in the time to start off next season with more control and confidence.

1) Settle Into the Drill
Don’t wait for the timer to start before you do the drill. At the start of each drill the trainer will demo the skill before the app starts timing you. Rather than waiting for the timer to begin – start trying the skill as he demos it. This will get you into a rhythm so when the app starts tracking your movements you’ll have settled into the drill. Use that demo period as a warm up for the drill. But what if you don’t know how to do the drill? That leads to the next tip…

2) Preview the Playlist
Don’t start a playlist without first reviewing the videos and trying out the skills. Imagine you’re at practice and your coach is trying to teach the team a new footskill. Is it easier or harder to learn a new move when you feel like the whole team is watching you try?

That’s one of the great benefits of Dribble Up and other tools that help you practice at home. You can learn the moves at your own pace, without the pressure of trying to learn it quickly under the watchful eye of your coach and teammates.

I’m sure we’ve all seen or experienced players struggling with learning a new foot skill at practice and getting embarrassed and giving up on it. Since you’re not at practice, take your time and watch the drill preview as many times as you need to and try it out. I wish there was a way to put the preview video on a loop so it would keep playing while you practiced it.

It’s great that Dribble Up does challenge you by putting you under pressure with a timer and grades you – eventually we’ll all be under pressure in a game situation. But your coach probably wouldn’t want you to go out and try a brand new move in a game. She’d rather you practiced that new move at home or in training and then use it in a game once you’re more comfortable.

Same with Dribble Up. Don’t put yourself under pressure to execute the very first time you learn a new skill, practice it first before grading yourself.

3) Choosing the Right Drill
Don’t worry about whether you’re doing the “right” drills. I’ve had parents ask about which drills their players should be doing and how they know if they’re doing the right ones. One nice thing about Dribble Up is that it gives you different skills to choose from but sometimes when we’re faced with lots of options it makes it harder for us to decide.

For example, if you go into the Drills library you could spend a lot of time looking at all the skills and deciding which to work on. The key is to just pick one and get started. There is no “right drill” but a sign of a “wrong drill” is that it’s too easy for you. That’s probably a sign you need to select the Medium or Hard scoring level or maybe move on to another drill. Which brings us to our next tip…

4) Challenge Your Feet & Brain
Don’t get discouraged when you’re doing a new drill and it feels like your feet can’t keep up with your brain. If you try a new drill and it’s tricky it can be tempting to go back to one that you know well. Don’t avoid a drill just because it seems difficult. Your brain and feet might not line up right away but keep at it – the more you do a playlist the better you’ll get at it. You can look back in time at the Progress tile and see your skill improving.

5) Don’t Worry About Your Score
Don’t worry about getting a low score when you’re doing a new drill. Think about it in terms of grades at school. First you learn something, then later you’re tested to see how well you understand it. In Dribble Up, the first time you do a drill you’re learning it and the 2nd, 3rd, etc. Although you’re given a score each time you shouldn’t expect it to be good right off the bat. It’s kind of like a pre-test in school. Your instructor doesn’t expect you to ace it, rather it’s to set a baseline to see what you know. What’s important is that you focus on understanding the move and doing it well and over time your score will improve.

6) Don’t Speed Through
Don’t try and go full speed through each drill. Pay attention to the details of the moves and things like the body position of the trainer and speed will come over time.

Take the Left Foot L Turns drill for example. After you pull the ball behind your body with your left foot the job of the right foot is simply to roll it with the sole back to the left to setup the move again.

The whole focus of the drill is executing a crisp L Turn so do that part quickly. Think about how you’d use the move in a game situation. You want the turn to be as quick as possible so focus on speed there but your right foot roll is really just to set the move back up.

7) Don’t Count Only on Dribble Up
Of course the ball has helped our kids and many others improve their foot skills but it’s only intended as a supplemental tool. There’s a lot about the game you won’t learn from Dribble Up that’s critical to be a well rounded footballer. Using a smart ball to train is what’s referred to as “unopposed” training. There’s a debate in the soccer coaching world about which is better opposed vs unopposed practice our opinion is that both are good when used in conjunction.

A common scenario for many players is that team training is more tactical so they don’t get a ton of touches on the ball. If a player is part of an Academy they might have an extra night of technical training but if not then they’re possibly not getting enough touches on the ball each week. That’s where tools like Dribble Up and Techne come in, getting players more time on the ball each week. Some players work with personal trainers to get in more ball work and this makes a big difference but the two downsides of that approach are cost and scheduling.

The nice thing about Dribble Up is that is has the trainer built into the app and you can work on it whenever you want. One possible approach is to start off with Dribble Up to get more comfortable on the ball and to supplement team training. Then once they’re farther along technically they could progress to small group or personal training – at that point the coach would be able to do a lot more with the player since they’d be more technically proficient.

8) Consistency Counts
Don’t focus on being perfect, rather focus on being consistent. No player is perfect, even professional players make mistakes. You can’t expect yourself to be perfect but you can challenge yourself to be consistent. This means training regularly and also focusing on technique. As we touched on earlier don’t worry about your score and don’t speed through the drills. Instead focus on getting into a rhythm and executing the move properly each time. This builds muscle memory so when you have the ball at your feet in a game you won’t have to think about controlling the ball and your brain can think about all the other aspects of the game.

9) Don’t Use Your Email Address
When you sign up for your Dribble Up account don’t user your email address as your user id. If you do everyone will see it in the leader board. I suppose if you want people to be able to email you then maybe use your address but often times the players using the smart ball app are younger kids and don’t want to share their address out to the world.

10) Don’t Train in Socks
Dribbling in socks is bad news. On hard wood you’ll slip and even on carpet the ball can slip right under your foot when you go to change direction. This isn’t as big a deal if you’re using bumpers but it messes up your rhythm. We’d say wear shoes but sometimes you’re kicking around the house and want to do Dribble Up and you’d have to run and put on your shoes. Don’t create reasons not to train, you want to remove obstacles from getting in footwork. In that case it might be best to just lose your socks and do it barefoot.

One good time to get your footwork in is anytime you spend just waiting around. For example, if you’re riding the bus to school and waiting for it to show up you could get in a playlist or two- you already have your shoes on an ready to go!

Dribble Up Success

Hopefully some of these tips were helpful for your training. Remember, the Dribble Up ball isn’t meant to be the only thing you train with but using it can help improve your game.

An example we’ve experienced is the “Strong Roll” drill that’s part of the “Left Foot Advanced” playlist. Over the off season we’ve been working on the weak foot so my son’s done that drill quite a bit. The other day at training the coach used him as an example for that move, which is definitely a confidence boost for any player. The coolest thing though was to watch him use it successfully in a game last weekend.

That’s one example of how tools like these can have an impact on your team training and also in your games.  What drill will be the one to make a difference in your next game?

Happy Dribbling!

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DribbleUp Smart Soccer Ball Tips

Once you start using your smart ball there are a few things you can do to get more out of your practice. These tips came mostly from conversations I’ve had with parents who’s players have started training with the smart ball. Whether you got Dribble Up on Amazon or on this site, these tips can help with some of the questions you might have about training with the soccer ball.

1) Train in Good Lighting
Since it’s winter and many of us are training indoors this can be a useful tip. When you use Dribble Up make sure you setup in a space with good lighting and that doesn’t have a bright light source in the background.

We’ve had issues with both of these, when we first started trying out DribbleUp in our living room we had a lamp right in the middle of the background. Often times when we’d scan our ball the cones would start off red and we’d know right away the tracking was off. We had to re-scan several times to get green cones until we talked to the team at DribbleUp and learned to remove the light source from the background.

We also tried using Dribble Up in our unfinished basement which is dimly lit. It’s kind of chilly in the winter but has great cement walls for doing wall work with the Techne app my daughter uses. When we used Dribble Up in the dim light the ball tracking wasn’t perfect so we moved upstairs and it was much better.

2) Dribble Up Video Preview
If you’re doing a new playlist or one that has drills you haven’t done before it’s a good idea to watch the videos before starting the playlist. The Dribble Up app does show you a clip of the drill as you go through the playlist. If it’s a simple one then it’s easy to pickup but as you start working on the more complex drills its nice to be able to watch them a few times before tackling it in the middle of the playlist.

Each drill has a little blue camera icon next to it, if you tap it you can watch the Dribble Up video of the trainer explaining the drill and then demonstrating it. Once he’s done you can tap the video to play the demonstration again, you can watch it a few times until it makes sense.

3) Choosing the Right Difficulty Level
One of the things we mentioned in our early Dribble up reviews was the need for different level of players to be able to use the app and stay motivated. It was kind of discouraging for less developed players to get low scores so we were really glad when they added the ability to select a difficulty level.

So now that there’s an option the question is which level should a player use to train? The best way to figure it out is to try the same playlist on different difficulty levels. Start off doing the playlist on the easy setting and then do it again on the medium setting. You can go back and look in the Progress tile to see a history of your drills. If you aced the easy playlist then you’re obviously ready for the medium setting. If you struggled on some of the drills on the higher setting, that shows you what things to work on in the lower setting.

4) New Drill Alert
Dribble Up has added a new feature that I like but may confuse players who are already accustomed to the app. As you know each playlist is made up of drills and after one completes the next begins. Now the DribbleUp app starts beeping during the last few seconds of a drill to let you know when you can stop. I think it’s a good new feature but my kids stop as soon as they hear the beeping which messes up their score. So if you’re not used to the warning beep, when you hear it – keep going. I think it’d be nice if they added some audio signal when the drill starts as well, what you do think?

5) Train with Bumpers

As you know good dribblers lose their mark with fakes and changes in direction. You’ll practice a lot of changes of direction when you go through the Dribble Up playlist and as you’ve probably experienced there are times when you might lose control of the ball and have it roll away.  If you’re training out on an open turf field that’s not a big deal. But many folks use DribbleUp in their living rooms, basement, garage, etc. To prevent you chasing the ball all over while the drill runs or having your smart ball get stuck under a chair you can simply put down some bumpers to keep the ball contained if you lose control. The easiest thing we’ve found that works pretty well is throw some couch pillows down if you’re in the living room. In the garage or basement we’ve used storage bins on either side of us, whatever is handy!

6) DribbleUp Coaches Dashboard
Dribble Up has a coaches dashboard where coaches can assign homework and see which players have been putting in extra work. Primarily I’ve been using it just to assign playlists for the weak foot to get players working on their non-dominant foot over the winter.

As the app evolves I think more and more coaches will use the custom playlist functionality to assign work outside of training sessions. If you’ve ever been in a huddle at the end or beginning of practice when the coach asks who’s been working on foot skills outside of practice you can probably relate. You can’t fool the smart ball into thinking you did a workout. It’s a great way for a coach to see which players are putting in the work outside of training.

In addition to being useful for coaches it’s also a good way to maintain healthy competition within a squad. When players are added to a team they get their own Leaderboard – in addition to the DribbleUp FC leaderboard. So they can see what level their teammates are on – for some players that’s the little extra motivation they need to login every day to make sure they’re keeping up with their team.

If you have other players on your team who might be interested in training with Dribble Up and competing against their teammates let me know and we’ll work on getting them a ball.

Happy Dribbling!

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Dribble Up Coupon for Your Club Map

Find Dribble Up coupon codes for soccer clubs or organizations that have players who use the smart ball for training.

You can enter your club’s name below to see if a dribble up coupon code exists for your club. You can also include your team name or coach to see if your team has a dribble up team account, that’s optional – not necessary.

So, for example, you could mention just your club “Southern Soccer Academy”. Or you could say “Southern Soccer Academy – U12 boys”.

Be sure to also include your email address in the field below it so we can send you your discount code.



Who Uses Dribble Up?

After most orders we have a conversation with the family to learn more about the player(s) who will be using the smart ball and the soccer club or organization(s) that they play for.

We’ve noticed several things that the players have in common.

1) Multiple Soccer Teams
Many of the youth players are playing on multiple teams. Whether it’s their high school team, club team, rec team, ODP team – many kids play for more than one team. Overall these players really love the game and just want to get in as many chances to play as possible.

Some players on the very top level teams that participate in the Development Academy ( DA ) or Elite Clubs National League ( ECNL ) only play for that one club but are very committed to their club’s intense training schedule.

2) Enjoy Skills Training
Another common thread is that these players can spend hours training away from team practice. It’s not just time specifically spent on foot skills, one dad said his daughter has a size 1 ball that’s always at her feet. As she’s brushing her teeth in the morning or evening she’s juggling or passing off the wall.

Another mom said her son just “plays soccer nonstop”. Of course it makes sense that these kids would enjoy the Dribble Up ball, they’re passionate about the game/training and the smart ball gives them another way to do that.

3) Ball Envy
Most families who come looking for a smart soccer ball have either used one or been told about one. Some folks start off looking for the Adidas miCoach smart ball and end up getting a Dribble Up because of the price difference but most of them either tried out or had DribbleUp specifically recommended to them by other players or by coaches.

For example, one dad said that a local college uses the the ball to help develop their players individually and someone on the coaching staff recommended it for his daughter.

We lent one of ours out to a friend and haven’t gotten it back yet. We’re hoping once they get their own smart ball it’ll show up again, it’s definitely addicting!

4) Supportive & Curious Parents
Often times parents who buy a smart ball are in some role of leadership within a soccer club. Whether it’s as a team manager, a coach, registrar, director of coaching, or technical director many times they’ll also have a kid in the club and they’re testing out the smart ball.

This is encouraging for those clubs because it shows that folks who have a role in the future of the club are interested in trying out new methods to help their players develop.

Dribble Up Clubs

Below is a map of all the soccer clubs or organizations who have players that are using the smart soccer ball. If your club isn’t represented and should be let us know. You can click on the soccer player icon to see more info about each club. One thing you’ll notice is that many of the clubs are in the Midwest where we’re located. There are teams on both the East Coast and West Coast but the Midwest is definitely ahead in the number of Dribble Up players.

Why are we interested in what players are using the ball and which clubs they play for? As we mentioned earlier it’s encouraging when club leaders are looking for new approaches to help develop their players.

However, we don’t think it’s solely the job of the club and coach to develop soccer players. Just like teachers in school hope and expect that parents will be involved in encouraging their kids to read and learn at home – coaches appreciate and expect when their players put in the work to get better outside of team training.

Setting an Example

Just the other night at the end of training we shared with our U12 players that we could tell which kids are doing work outside of practice. Those players are not only making themselves better technically but also making the team better because their better touch and comfort with the ball gives them more time to make tactical decisions. It also accelerates the learning process at training because they’re able to more easily pick up and execute the new skills we’re teaching.

We don’t think players need to rely only on their coach and club to help them improve.  Clubs that have kids that are motivated to get better on their own help make those clubs better and to contribute towards creating a culture of hard work and development. That’s why we’re interested in which clubs have players using training tools like Dribble Up.

Here’s a list of clubs by region

  • Mid-West
    • SC Waukesha
    • Sun Prairie Soccer
    • Nationals Tri-County
    • Sporting Lees Summit
    • Minneapolis United
    • Sporting Springfield
    • Lakeview High School
    • St. Charles Youth Soccer
    • Michigan WolveHawks
    • Michigan Jags
    • CUSA Crew
    • Midland Soccer Club
    • Vardar Soccer Club
    • KC Scott Ghallager
    • South Suburban Soccer Assn
    • Piper Soccer Club
    • Prior Lake Soccer Club
  • South
    • South Carolina United FC
    • Brevard SA
    • Cape Coral Soccer Association
    • United Futbol Academy
    • Houston Dynamo Academy
    • Southern Soccer Academy
    • James Island Youth Soccer
  • East
    • Howell Soccer Club
    • East Hampton Soccer Club
    • Western New York Flash Academy
    • Global Premier Soccer Rhode Island
  • West
    • Spokane Scotties
    • Maple Valley Premier League
    • Valley Center Hurricanes
    • LA Galaxy South Bay
    • Heat FC
    • Inland Empire Surf Soccer Club
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DribbleUp Smart Soccer Ball Users Guide

When we first bought the DribbleUp smart ball the team told us we didn’t need any instructions or a manual, installing and using the app was simple – but if we had questions to let them know.

The DribbleUp app was simple to use and we started training with it the afternoon we opened the box. However, many of you who purchased a smart ball from our store have asked for installation and setup instructions so here is the DribbleUp users guide.

If you don’t yet have a smart ball and would like to try one out we have both size 4 and size 5 that we can ship out right away, you can return it if the ball doesn’t meet your training needs – click here to Dribble Up.

For new developments on the smart ball, tips on using it for training, and Dribble Up coupons enter your email below:

1) Download the Free DribbleUp App

iPhone / iPad App

You can download the DribbleUp app on newer generations of an iPad or an iPhone.  I tested it on my wife’s iPhone 5 and it ran great, anything older than that and you could start running into a laggy experience when doing the drills.  It’s a sophisticated tracking application that requires a lot of processing and optical tracking so your experience won’t be as good on older phones. That goes for both iPhone and Android devices.

Obviously the benefit of running the app on your iPad is that you have a bigger viewing area when you’re training but then it’s not quite as portable as your phone. Luckily you don’t have to choose, you can install the app on both your iPhone and your iPad and use it on the device that suits your situation. You’ll need an additional stand for a tablet that doesn’t come with the DribbleUp ball but you can find them on Amazon.

If you do a search in the Apple App store you’ll see two listings, one for basketball and one for soccer.  Here’s a link to the soccer version in the App Store – Dribble Up App iOS

Here’s the link to the Android version in the Google play store. You can run the app on both Android phones and Android tablets (although the Amazon Fire is based on Android the processor isn’t strong enough to run the tracking app) – DribbleUp App Android

2) Create Your DribbleUp User Account

When you first open the app you’ll be taken to a sign in screen that will have link to the Sign Up screen if you’re new user. They don’t require much information – just Name, Username, Password.

Name – Your Name isn’t shown in the app, I assume it’s used for customer service purposes or perhaps will show in later versions.

Username – Your Username is what will display on the leaderboard so choose it carefully.

If you’re signing up as part of a team your coach may have a certain format that they want you to use. It’s not possible right now but I can see in the future DribbleUp giving you the option to publish your profile online for other players or coaches to see. So imagine yourself someday sending a link to your DribbleUp profile to a college coach and what they might think of the username you chose.

If you have multiple people using the DribbleUp ball you can create a different account with a different user name for each of them.

Email – Your email isn’t used in the app, only if DribbleUp needs to contact you.

Password – Once you create your password you probably won’t need it again for a while since the app remembers you. If you do forget it there’s a Forgot Password option.

3) Assemble Phone Stand

The phone stand ships as two pieces to avoid any damage en route.  Assembling the stand is pretty simple, screw the bottom tripod into the top phone holder.  The legs of the tripod telescope out to get your phone higher off the ground and to give it a better angle to track the ball from.

If you need a tablet stand you can use the same base and simply order a top section that holds a tablet.

4) Slide in Android or iPhone

Pull up on the top section of the phone holder, slip your phone into the holder, and let the top slide back down and hold your phone tight.

Be sure to position your phone far enough to the right so that the stand doesn’t press on any of the buttons on the side of your phone.

We’ve found it helps to angle the phone downwards a bit once it’s in, point it slightly towards the floor. Something else to be aware of is that a bright light in the background behind the ball can throw off it’s tracking. For example, if you’re inside and there’s a bright lamp behind you it can cause issues with the upcoming scan step.

5) Open the DribbleUp App

You’ll see something that looks like the picture below To get started, tap the “Workouts” tile and you’ll be taken into the library of workouts that DribbleUp has built.

You’ll see a big list of workouts but click on the one called “Basic Playlist” to get started.

6) Soccer Drill Prep

As you go through the drills, the app grades you on how well you perform them.  You can set what level you want to be graded on – Easy, Medium, or Hard.

To start off it’s not a bad idea to choose the Easy setting for the playlist. Once you master that you can move onto Medium. It can be a bit discouraging if you start on the most difficult level and get poor marks the first time you use the app.

As you can see in the screenshots below you each playlist is made up of multiple drills. Tapping on the camera icon for each drill will show you a description of the drill and also a video demo of the drill being performed.  It’s a good idea to go through each drill in the playlist and watch the video first to understand how it works. This is because once the playlist begins, it will only show you the video once prior to each drill. For more complex drills, you may want to watch the video a few times before starting the playlist.

The images below give you an idea of some of the drills in the Basic playlist. One thing to note, it may appear as though you can set a different level for each drill in the playlist but you cannot. The level you choose applies to all the drills in the playlist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is an example of the trainer demonstrating one of the drills for you.

 

Once you’re comfortable with the moves in the playlist you’re ready to press the Start button.

7) Start the Playlist

Once you press the green Start button you’ll see this screen, asking you to scan the DribbleUp ball. You hold your ball so that it shows up inside the circle on the screen and once the ball is scanned the playlist will begin.

You’ll know right away if the scan didn’t work because the virtual cones that show on the screen will be red.  Typically the virtual cones are green and only turn red if you go outside of them.

If the cones are red immediately, tap the screen again and you’ll be given the option to either Quit or Resume.  Choose the Quit option – then press the Start button and scan your ball again.  If you’re consistently getting red cones make sure you don’t have a bright light source behind you that’s confusing the app.

Each drill will show you a video demo and then give you a few seconds to get ready before it starts a timer.  When the timer begins that means the app has started grading your skills.

7) Review Your Performance

After you’ve completed the playlist the app shows you a score of how you did on each drill. The drills are graded on four different aspects:

 

Speed – Execute as quickly as possible while keeping control

Cone Control – Keep the cones green

Consistency – Each touch should take the same length & time

Pattern – Match the pattern of touches for the drill.

You can tap the screen to read more about your score for each one of those areas.

Player Progress

DribbleUp also has a Progress tile that shows a history of all the skills sessions you’ve gone through. This is a great measure of technical development because players can see their progress over time. Ideally they’ll see themselves getting higher scores if they consistently use the app to train those same playlists.

At some point when they move up to the next level of difficulty it’s likely the scores will dip again as they work to master the additional attention to detail.

 

Awards & Leaderboard 

One of the ways that Dribble Up motivates players to train harder is via the Rewards tile which unlocks different awards as you progress through your skills training. You reach different levels by earning points. It has multiple Levels such as “Rising Star”, “Going Pro”, “First Cut”, etc. Some of the levels will turn the ball tracker a different color which is a neat visual way to show progress.

Another common motivational tool that has proven successful in many sports is the Leaderboard. This view compares you to other players using DribbleUp and has been particularly effective in getting my kids to consistently train with the app.

Juggling & Shooting

There are two ways to work on juggling using the DribbleUp app. The first is the Juggling tile. This section actually tracks how many consecutive juggles you’re able to successfully string together. The juggle counter only counts touches that are below the knees so this method requires more control.

The second method of juggling is using the Freestyle mode. This feature doesn’t keep track of your juggles but it will record a video of your juggling so you can share it with others. A fun way to use the Freestyle feature is to juggle in a group and capture the video.

The shooting feature is not yet available in the app but is scheduled to release sometime first quarter of next year.

DribbleUp Support

If you have issues with a ball itself let us know and we’ll get you a replacement. If you have a problem using the ball email us and we’ll help you work through it.

If you have a problem with the app report it to the DribbleUp team. We had a strange bug in beta mode where the Slap Cut Squirt drill set our kids points back to zero. Needless to say they weren’t very pleased but the Dribble Up team got the bug fixed right away and corrected the whole issue quickly. So if you find a bug in the app the team will fix it right away.

If you have feature requests can also submit those to the DribbleUp team but those aren’t guaranteed to be made. The developers of the app are eager to improve the experience but I had a few suggestions that weren’t implemented because they solved the problem we were encountering in a different way than suggested. So if you have recommendations or enhancement requests please pass them to the DribbleUp team for consideration.

If you have any other questions that aren’t addressed here please leave a comment below or send us an email to support@soccerstripes.com

 

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DribbleUp Makes Your Kids Want to Practice More?

If a professional soccer player told your kid to work on their weak foot, would they do it? One lucky Tuesday night in September a few years back we skipped out of practice a bit early for an autograph session with MLS defender Chance Myers. His tip to my son, “work on your weak foot”.

Myers went on to play in 27 games that season for Sporting Kansas City. He started and played all game for each of the five playoff matches and put away his PK in the MLS Cup final against RSL to help Sporting KC win the MLS cup. So you’d think a kid would listen to advice from a player like that…

Getting a kid to work on their weak foot isn’t easy. Like many fundamental skills in sports it takes a lot of repetition to fine tune. As soccer legend Dennis Bergkamp describes in his “Stillness and Speed” book some 8 year olds enjoy that repetition of just working on their touch – but who are we kidding, most kids aren’t Dennis Bergkamp.

Those regular repeated touches are so important to building technical skills but for a lot of players they just aren’t much fun and the whole point of playing soccer when you’re a kid is to have fun.

Making Training a Game

In general youth players enjoy playing in a game over simply doing technical work. The ability to make technical training feel like a game makes it a lot easier to get kids to work on those fundamentals.  That’s why our experiments with the DribbleUp smart soccer ball have been so encouraging – our kids don’t even blink when the Left Foot Circuit or Left Foot Advanced playlist comes up on the screen!

This latest session of DribbleUp took the game element to a new level.  The iPhone mirroring cable that I mentioned in the last post arrived and turned the footskills training into a night of family fun! As you can see from the picture, even the family dog got involved.

 

Obviously we shooed the dog away but the reason she was hanging around was that all my kids were in the living room doing DribbleUp. My two oldest would take turns hopping in and out of the playlists and the youngest just liked to be in the background so she could watch herself on TV.

It reminded me quite a bit of the scene when our kids play Wii sports – all huddled around the TV giving words of encouragement and waiting for their chance to jump in. We spent quite a while with the smart ball that night because the app kept the kids wanting more:

  • Unlocking Drills
  • Completing Homework
  • Earning Points
  • Earning Badges
  • Advancing on the Leaderboard

These were all things that kept the kids wanting to play for “just 5 more minutes”. As you can see in the pictures as they advanced up the levels the color of the ball tracker changes.

It starts off blue and once you get to the next level it turns purple. If you want green you have to earn enough points to level up.

Every time we’d advance to the next level a collective cheer would come from all the kids, pretty funny.

Leaderboard

Adding the element of competition can be a good way to motivate people to work harder and it seems to work well for DribbleUp. My kids love checking the leaderboard to see how they were doing in relation to other players were training with the smart ball.

I’m not exactly sure what the logic is for positioning players on the leaderboard because you’ll see people with lower levels above users with higher achievement levels. It seems there’s some weight added for recent training which seems to make sense in terms of encouraging players to use it more often.

As you can see in the screenshot the user ttillette is on Level 16 but perhaps hasn’t used the app in a while so Soccer_Stripes user appears higher on the leaderboard. Once more players start using the smart ball and moving up the achievement levels I imagine the player ranking will make more sense. I honestly don’t care too much about the algorithm b/c what matters isn’t actually your spot on the list but that the leaderboard motivates my kids to work harder. The one thing to be careful of for the DribbleUp app is making the ranking rules too hard to understand because that could discourage players who don’t understand why they’re not moving up the leaderboard despite working hard at training.

 

Leveling Up

The app has a series of levels you can achieve based on how many points you earn from going through a playlist.  The number of points you earn is based on how well you perform your skills. As I mentioned before, each Playlist is broken down into multiple skills like “Side Taps”, “Ball Steps”, “Sole Flicks”, etc.

After you finish the playlist you’re given a score for how you performed each skill, A-F.  It’s actually been tough for my kids to get a high score. I talked to the folks at DribbleUp and the scoring right now is based on how a professional player would execute the move. This obviously makes it tough for a 9 year old to get an A because they won’t have the same technical expertise as a pro player. The plan is to add a multiple levels (like Easy, Medium, Hard) so a player can be tested based on their current level.

As you can see the number of points you earn is based on your overall playlist score. In this case they got a C which earned them 261 points.  We did have the bad luck of running into a bug with the Slapcut Squirt drill that earned us Negative Infinity points.  As you would expect that zeroed out their points so they were back to level 1. Needless to say they went to bed quite unhappy that night. Luckily they’ve gotten that bug fixed since then.

As you get more points and move up the levels you unlock Badges in the Awards section of the app. My son really like that part of it but so far it seems like it’s too easy to unlock levels. He was able to move from Level 2 to Level 6 in one night of training.

Granted we did spend quite a bit of time doing DribbleUp last night, probably more than the average user would spend in a typical footskills session.  It is cool how the color of the tracker changes as you move up levels, just a visual indication that you’re making progress.

It could be that the higher in levels you go, the more points you need to advance to the next level.  I haven’t really paid attention to that but it would make sense that the difficulty would increase as you move up. I do like the point system because even if you don’t get an A on a playlist you still get some credit for working at it.

Frustrations

Our biggest complaint about the app is still that the tracking isn’t perfect. I talked to the DribbleUp team after our last session and they pointed out that the lighting can play a part in difficulties in tracking.

If you have a bright light in the background it can throw off the tracking so it’s not consistent. The majority of our time spent using the app has been inside and we do have a lamp in the background which could be causing some of our frustrations. You can usually tell if it’s going to be an issue for a playlist immediately after you scan the ball. If the virtual cones are quick to jump from green to red, or if they start red then you know the scan had an issue.

We learned that if you tap the screen there’s an option to Pause or Quit the playlist. So whenever we saw red cones right away we’d quit and re-scan the ball.

Other than that, the app has been fantastic! As we use it I’ve been sending notes to the team at DribbleUp and it’s been neat to see our feature suggestions and bug fixes start popping up in the app.

As the chill of winter approaches and Daylight Savings Time gets closer to stealing our light in the evenings after school I really think DribbleUp will got a lot of use in the cold winter months.

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How the DribbleUp Smart Soccer Ball Wrecked My Kids Bedtime

Once upon a time there was a kid who didn’t like going to bed….

I’m sure you’ve never been a part of that story before right? As if my kids needed another excuse not to go to bed, our DribbleUp smart ball came in the mail today.

Sleep or Soccer?

Finishing up our nightly pre-bedtime reading ritual my son asked “Can we tryout that new ball, just real quick”?  Normally, “wait till tomorrow” would have been the answer but we’d been waiting to get the smart ball for a while and I was just as curious as him to see how it worked. It was just sitting there in the box, waiting to be tested. A tantalizing mix of soccer and technology, the siren song couldn’t be ignored.

Earlier in the evening, I’d gotten the TestFlight invite from the team at DribbleUp. The smart ball app was still in development and wasn’t in the App Store yet so we needed a special invite to access the drills.  As you can see in the pic the camera on my old and busted iPhone 5 was in no shape for any augmented reality app so I’d installed DribbleUp on my wife’s phone.

While I snuck downstairs to grab her phone as she graded papers my son unboxed the DribbleUp ball and we met back upstairs to login to the app and get the phone setup in the stand.

Soccer Drills

I guess being a studious kid, he picked the “Homework” tile first after opening the app and went to work on the “Right Foot Circuit” playlist. That playlist consisted of 5 different footwork drills, each 20 seconds long:

  • Right Foot Side to Side Rolls
  • Right Foot Outside Inside
  • Right Foot Roll Tap
  • Right Foot Front Back Rolls
  • Foot Stalls Right Foot

Each one had a text description but more importantly a video that described the drill and also demonstrated it. I was taking mental notes as we used the smart ball for the first time and sent off an email later on with some of my suggestions. One of them was that the preview video have the ability to “loop” so the user can watch the skill and practice it until they get it.

Now it shows the video once and you have to tap it to watch it again. While you’re learning the skill it would be nice if it repeated the video demonstration until the player got it down. Not a big deal for the basic footwork but would be helpful for the more advanced ones.

Smart Ball Tracking

When we tapped the Start button for a playlist we were prompted to scan in the smart ball. I talked a little bit about that step in other posts but basically the ball tracking is done with augmented reality tracking of the surface of the ball rather than other smart balls that have a sensor inside the ball.

So you hold the ball up in front of the camera and position it into the circle you see on the screen and the app reads the ball, kind of like a QR code for a soccer ball it seems. Once the scan is successful it gives you some time to get ready and then starts the timing/tracking of the skill.

Virtual Trainer

Once we chose the playlist and scanned the ball the first skill drill in the playlist begins. The video showed the trainer doing the skill and then the timer starts. Right away some up tempo music kicked off, which at first surprised me as being odd but as we continued through the night it grew on me.  Almost like a mental cue that you’re in training mode.

Kind of funny to imagine our U12 boys doing the 1000 touches warmup at practice to music and switching to a different foot skill every time the song changed.  But in the context of the app, I like the music.

As you can see in the picture, the app superimposes two cones on the screen that you need to stay between as you do the footwork.  The cones start off green but turn red if the ball “hits” or passes the virtual markers. (Apologies for the fuzzy image, a product of my damaged iPhone camera. After cracking the glass, it slipped into a cup of orange juice on the way to soccer practice and the camera has never been the same since.)

The trainer gives you audio cues as you go based on your performance. I figured they were random sound bites but as the night went on it seemed they were tied to my son’s actions. I posed that to the DribbleUp team in my later email and was glad to hear that the app is giving real time feedback to how the drill is being performed:

  • “Not good enough”
  • “Needs to be better”
  • “Stay focused”
  • “Pick up the pace”

The app moves from skill to skill in the playlist with a short pause between each one. You don’t have to scan the ball between each of the skills, only at the start of your playlist.

Soccer Skill Rating

After he finished the playlist the app gave my son a rating of how he had performed for each skill.  As you can see in the screenshot it scores player skill based on 4 factors:

  • Speed
  • Cone Control
  • Consistency
  • Pattern

One thing I didn’t like is that you couldn’t drill down into each of those factors to learn more detail about how each was being measured. That’s another piece of feedback I gave – allow us to tap on each factor to learn more about it.

He moved on to the “Left Foot Circuit” followed by the “Basic Playlist” without any prompting from me. I was sitting there thinking, who is this kid – working on his left foot?

You know how your kid always seems to listen better for other adults than they do for you? Well if I tell my son to work on his left foot he kind of groans and says sure Dad.  But the Virtual Trainer in the DribbleUp app tells him to “work harder” on his “Left Foot Roll Tap” and he grits his teeth and pushes on. Wicked! I wonder if it works for Math homework too…

The “Basic Playlist” was longer:

  • Side Taps
  • Ball Steps
  • Alternate Sole Flicks (I think that’s the one they showed in the Kickstarter video)
  • Left Foot Side to Side Rolls
  • Right Foot Side to Side Rolls
  • Right Foot Outside Inside
  • Left Foot Outside Inside
  • Right Foot Roll Tap
  • Left Foot Roll Tap

 

Each for 20 seconds.  By the end of that he was a little winded and needed a break so I jumped in and tried out a Triangle Playlist.  I didn’t do so hot, scoring a D overall. My son laughed at the old man’s score until he tried it and actually did worse than I did. As we got into Playlists other than the first few listed in Homework it seemed the tracking was a little off.

That was another piece of feedback that I shared with the team. For some playlists the tracking was fine but for others it was a bit frustrating.  We shouldn’t have been getting perfect but we were definitely getting lower scores than we should have.  For example, on the “Roll Sole Sole” he was scored with -33% Speed, 89% cone control, 10% consistency, and 0% pattern even after doing it several times and improving as he went. I let them know which playlists were buggy so hopefully those will get fixed.

Bedtime

There are a lot of drills and playlists and we might have been up all night if my wife hadn’t finally come looking for her iPhone. I should have known “real quick” would turn into “much later”. She wasn’t happy he was up so late – and “what was he doing playing soccer inside”? Of course he said it was my idea and I blamed it on him for being so eager to try it and that ended our first night of DribbleUp.

DribbleUp Pros

  • Gets him in the habit of keeping his head up. Instead of looking down at the ball, he’s looking at the screen while doing the footwork. Of course you won’t have a screen on the field but I like the habit of not looking at the ball.
  • Virtual cones force him to work in a tight space.  Like the cone setups for Beast Mode soccer – not as in depth but enforcing constraints that help improve precision in touch.
  • Big library of drills and playlists to keep it fresh and challenging.
  • Interested in the ability to have homework drills

DribbleUp Cons

  • Buggy tracking for some playlists. I’m sending the buggy ones off so hopefully those will get fixed.
  • Fixed duration. It would be nice if we could adjust how long the playlists and drills ran for.
  • Scanning between drills. Seems like Playlists are the way to go, you only have to scan the ball at the start and not between each drill b/c that could get old.
  • No juggling. The Kickstarter talked about the ability to track juggles but that’s not in the app. Hopefully that’s an upcoming feature.
iPhone HDMI TV
iPhone HDMI TV

Overall I really like how excited the app gets my son to train.  We’ll see if his enthusiasm continues over time. We haven’t looked at the “gamification” of the app yet, how you move up levels and leaderboards. I imagine my kids will be really into that if it’s well done.

Something else I noticed on the Kickstarter project was a video of a player hooking the app up and seeing it on their TV. While I was waiting for the ball to arrive I inquired with the team about how that works and they pointed me to what cables to use to make that work.  So I ordered a HDMI iPhone cable that will let me mirror the app to our TV. Excited to test out that experience when it arrives.  Overall I’d say our first test of a smart soccer ball was a success!

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How Does the DribbleUp Ball Work?

While impatiently awaiting the delivery of the smart soccer ball that we supported on Kickstarter last week I did more research on what I’m hopeful will be a pretty cool soccer innovation.

If you’ve never supported a product on Kickstarter, one of the bummers is that you have to wait several weeks for the project to get it’s funding. During that time the creators typically spread the word about their new product to help attract early adopters.

There was decent coverage of the new smart ball online but after a while the articles seemed to start repeating some of the same details:

The possibilities for the ball and training would float around in the back of my head on my jog or on my commute. I took notes of my questions as they came up and one day I finally got in touch with the folks at Dribble Up.

I sent them a pretty big list of questions so I finally ended up just getting on the phone with some of the team and learning a lot about the ball and more about the future of DribbleUp.

The DribbleUp Ball

One of the main things I was interested in was the ball itself. I was concerned I might buy an early prototype of the ball that would be quickly obsolete when they came out with a newer version. What I learned was that the ball itself wouldn’t be changing, it was the app and that would constantly be upgraded.

From what I understand, there’s a unique pattern embedded in the surface of the ball, that’s what makes it “app enabled”.  Your iOS or Android version of the Dribble Up app uses that pattern to track the ball as it moves.  That’s why you hold the ball up to be scanned before you start playing.

Adidas also has a smart ball called the miCoach Smart Soccer Ball that needs to be set on a charging station regularly and uses a Bluetooth connection.  The DribbleUp ball doesn’t need to be charged and doesn’t need Bluetooth. The augmented reality function in the app is what is used to track the ball.

The Virtual Trainer

I mentioned this app to my son after I initially saw it and one of his first questions was who the virtual trainer was. His name is Yannick Salmon, he played for Jamaica’s international youth teams and professionally in Finland.

It’s interesting the difference in my take on this versus my son’s. I think it’s great that they have a professional player doing the demos but you don’t need Messi for an app like this. The idea behind DribbleUp is to focus in on the fundamentals and to encourage technical repition. You don’t need Ronaldo showing you how to do toe-taps, what players need is a reason to do them – every day.

How Many Balls & Users?

I was also curious about the interaction between the ball and the app. Turns out you can use any DribbleUp soccer ball with the same app, it’s not like the one specific ball is paired with the app.

So if I bought a ball for my daughter and a ball for my son and one day my daughter couldn’t find hers, she could still use her brothers.

The other question I had was whether my son and daughter could each have their own DribbleUp profile on one iPhone or iPad. Neither of them are old enough to have their own phone (they would disagree) so they’ll be using my phone. Turns out they can both use the same app on my phone and just login with their individual user.

What Kind of Drills?

Another question I had was what different drills came with the app? I sent them a photo of a setup we were using for working on turns.

Basically two rebounders setup opposite each other. You play the ball off one rebounder, turn and play it off the opposite one and repeat for a period of time.

I was wondering if we could we setup the virtual cones to the location of the two rebounders? Then we could measure how long it takes the ball to go from one to the other and see how long the turns are taking. We could track the progress of the quickness of the turns over time.

It sounded like that kind of thing is a more custom case and although it might be possible at some point down the road – at first you can’t upload your own drills. The initial library of drills did seem like a good start and had a mix of basic ones and a progression up to more difficult drills.

Free Smart Ball!

I spent quite a while on the phone talking about these various aspects of the smart ball.  The call checked off a lot of questions and concerns I had about the ball and I was also impressed that the product team was willing to spend so long discussing it with me. Made me think that they were pretty committed to getting it right which I thought was a good sign.

After the call my level of excitement about the DribbleUp ball was even higher so I went into Kickstarter and changed my pledge to the BOGO offer so I could get two of the balls rather than just one.

At this point the Kickstarter is already doing well in it’s funding. It has more than its $10,000 goal pledged so it’ll be funded.  With Kickstarter, if the product doesn’t get enough backers to raise the minimum amount of money then everyone who’s contributed gets their money back and creators don’t have the capital to pursue the idea.  In this case the ball has already been created – the team is raising the money to pay for the first big product run. They still have about a week till the Kickstarter ends, now I just have to figure out if we can get our DribbleUp balls early!

 

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DribbleUp Experiment

The smart soccer ball from DribbleUp came onto my radar via Twitter today when I saw Tristan Tilllette share a video of his kids with the ball. I’m a sucker for innovative products and a soccer fan so the combination was too intriguing to pass up.

I scoured the details of the Kickstarter product page and the more I read the more exciting the idea sounded. It seems to have the potential to be a really awesome training tool and the fact that creators (Mark and Eric Forkosh) had already delivered a successful version of a smart basketball gave it more legs.

DribbleUp vs. iSoccer

We’d used iSoccer in the past as a team and with my son individually and it was helpful but a few things about it weren’t ideal. Each drill was scored differently so the kid or parent had to understand the scoring of each drill and that was very inconsistent. Basically it made it hard for a player to do it on their own since they needed someone keeping track of their performance while they did the drill. It was also self-reporting so every time you did the drill someone had to enter in the scores.

We did use iSoccer at practice and run kids through the drills off to the side to get a baseline for their technical ability at the start of the season. You could tell which kids were active on it even if they didn’t enter their scores b/c their ability to maneuver the ball in training and games improved throughout the season. At on point soccer.com offered rewards for progressing through the levels but that program was eventually discontinued and interest in the app dwindled.

Motivation to Train

The reason I was first interested in iSoccer and why DribbleUp got my attention is that some kids are driven to get better on their own like these kids:

However many kids don’t have that same level of determination and drive. If I go out with my kids they’ll play all night and work on their foot skills with me – but if I’m inside and suggest they go out and work on their turns they just give me a look and quietly disappear to play Legos or read a book.

I get it, just working on footwork isn’t particularly exciting for most players. I love when I can get my kids into a Beast Mode workout but they definitely have to be in the right mood.

Jedi Mind Tricks and Soccer

I know what things my kids need to work on to improve but I want them to have fun while doing it – that’s the challenge for many parents and coaches. Some of the best teachers design lessons that help kids learn valuable skills without even realizing it. Some of my favorite coaches come up with drills that the kids see as just fun games but they’re actually learning important fundamentals of soccer.

Finding that balance between getting them on the ball and making sure they see it as fun (not a chore) isn’t easy. That’s why I was really hopeful when I first read about DribbleUp.

Making it a Game

My kids are part of the iPad generation, they love anything that has to do with an app or a game so I had a feeling they’d take to DribbleUp right away. Not only are they mesmerized by the digital realm but they also love “earning points” so I figured the gamification of training would be right up their alley.

 

That’s why I put in my Kickstarter order, looks like I’m supporter #211.

 

Heading to bed feeling hopeful and excited!