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Dribble Up Soccer Skills Contest Guide

The Dribble Up soccer ball, smart ball app, and the coach’s dashboard helped us run a soccer skills contest this summer during the World Cup. If you’re a parent or a coach this will be a Dribble Up review of how you can run a contest for your family or run a soccer skills contest for your team.

France vs Croatia World Cup Final

Our main goal was to get players more touches on the ball over the summer. I’ve always wanted to run a soccer skills contest like this for our team but until now there wasn’t a great way to plan, coordinate, and track the players, drills, and results. We’ll share some suggestions for Dribble Up on ways to make it better but overall it was a success and our experiment got in over 30,000 touches in 30 days!

Soccer Skills Contest Results

I’ll go into all the details of how we setup and ran the contest for other coaches that want to get their players on the ball, but I’ll be honest, it was a lot of work. It didn’t help that we were on our family vacation and then away at summer camp during most of the month-long contest, but two things made it worth the effort.

Player family feedback

1) Kids Loved the Contest
Since it was the first time running a soccer drills contest we reached out to parents during the month to see how we could make it better. We heard some useful feedback that we tried out, but the most rewarding responses were from families who were loving the contest and were in the smart ball app and on the ball every day.

Some families had siblings that were competing on the leaderboards and fighting over whose turn it was to use the Dribble Up ball. (Side Note. I was a counselor at a youth camp during one week of the contest and the only time I had to work on it was late at night once all the kids in my cabin were asleep and I could barely keep my eyes open. Every night I would ask myself if it was really worth it but reading those emails from parents kept me going!)

2) Better Ball Control
Summer is a busy time for soccer families. It’s hard to schedule regular weekly training because you’re out of town and trainers/coaches are on vacation. Plus, a lot of parents and kids want to take time off from the busy schedule of training and give their brains and bodies a break.

However, I figured putting in 5 minutes a day on ball work would be a reasonable thing to tryout. So, the test was to see if we could get consistent touches on the ball using both feet every day over the course of a month. Simple & unopposed reps using a variety of drills to get them moving the ball & their body in different ways & manipulating it with different parts of their feet.

Daily Soccer Drills

DribbleUp at Summer Camp

Turns out that we were able to get touches in every day except for one jam packed Tuesday at camp when the kids were asleep almost before their head hit the pillow. They did playlists at rest areas, hotel hallways, living rooms, patios, dorm lounges, parks, sidewalks – never once on a soccer field – but several times during half time of a World Cup match.

Dribble Up Leaderboard

One of the cool things about the smart ball is being able to go back and look at the data. Over 30 days he did 787 drills in the Dribble Up app. Although that averages to about 26 drills per day there were some really busy days where he’d only do 10 drills but then other days where he’d do 40.

For example, towards the end of the month he realized he was almost at the top of the big leaderboard so there were a few days where he hit it really hard to get up to 2nd place overall. Looking back at the data he averaged about 12 minutes a day on the ball, definitely more than the 5 minutes we were targeting. Over the 30 days he got in about 31,100 touches so over 1000 touches a day.

Foot Skills on the Soccer Field

All that training was great but the real question was whether all those reps would make a difference on the field. Our first training session of the season started off with some 4v4 play in a pretty tight space. The head coach spent time talking to the parents while the assistant coaches sat back and watched the 4v4. It’s a mix of kids that haven’t all played together before so it was a chance for them to get on the field together for the first time.

After observing about 20 minutes of play in a smaller space it was obvious the time spent on the ball had paid dividends. Since the end of the previous season both ball control and confidence on the ball had increased. That’s what you would expect and the reason that so many people buy Dribble Up but it was our first experiment to really test it out over a period of time. Thanks to our busy summer we didn’t play in any leagues or do any regular training so the only consistent touches they got on the ball were using DribbleUp.

After getting on the field after 30 days of footwork I noticed the constant process of scan, decide, play was both sharper and faster. The turns and moves were more decisive and stronger. The ability to evade pressure and then turn the ball or find a teammate meant more possession and more scoring for the “blue” team he was a part of. It was good to see the work paying off both because it made him a better player but also to know that contests like these have the potential to motivate and improve youth players around the country.

If you’re interested in doing something similar keep reading and we’ll go into detail about how to set it up and run the contest.

How to Run a Soccer Skills Contest

When you setup a contest how you design it depends on what outcome you’re trying to achieve. We wanted to get kids more touches so that’s a common thread across all the areas we’ll talk about. First we’ll go into player motivation and how holding a contest in conjunction with a soccer event can really bring it to life. Then we’ll go into more of the nitty gritty details on:

  • Offering Rewards
  • Building Playlists
  • Assigning Homework
  • Choosing Winners
  • Contest Sponsors

As you read through the details, if you have questions or suggestions you can send them to us at this email – contests@soccerstripes.com

Player Motivation

Soccer Brain
Soccer Brain

The most important factor in getting kids to put in extra work is motivation. Ideally every kid would be self-motivated and young soccer players would be in the backyard or park working on their foot skills every day on their own. Since motivation levels vary across players, a contest is a great way to get everyone fired up to train. This is true particularly when you’re talking about consistent practice.

I’d venture a guess that the percentage of kids who kick around twice a week in the backyard is much larger than the percentage of kids who are doing footwork every day of the week at home. Of course, we all know kids that are out training on their own every day…. but for every one of them how many more do we know that don’t have that same level of intense motivation to improve? A contest gives them a reason to get on the ball for the duration of the contest.

Soccer Events

Tying the duration of the contest to some real-world tournament or league can be a great way to get kids even more excited about competing. In our case we ran it in conjunction with the World Cup so there was a lot of enthusiasm to tap into after watching the best players in the world on the field using their moves.

Every day we’d give a preview or backstory about one of the matches and the name of the playlists would be pulled from the games. We used a few different approaches like focusing on famous players:

  • Mohammed Salah Stylin
  • Messi Magic
  • Debryune De Beast
  • Romelu Lukaku

Talking about soccer culture – going into some history, well known programs, team nicknames, etc.  Kind of like “soccer appreciation”

  • Ginga Football
  • Golden Boot
  • Les Bleus
  • Viking Clap
  • Die Mannschaft
  • Three Lions

As we got towards the end of the World Cup and there were fewer teams left we also talked about matchups:

  • Croatia v Denmark
  • Brazil v Belgium

Of course the World Cup is only every 4 years but you could do the same thing with the Euros, Gold Cup, or the Champions League. You could also use run a contest alongside part of the season for Bundesliga, La Liga, English Premier League,etc. It’s not quite as exciting in terms of a tournament atmosphere but lots of players know those leagues and would be another good reason to encourage players to watch more soccer.

Contest Rewards

Another way to motivate kids to compete is to offer rewards. You know best what will motivate your players in terms of a reward – you can get pretty creative when setting up your rewards structure. One thing to consider when you set up the rules for rewards is what behavior you’re trying to encourage.

We wanted to encourage a lot of touches on the ball so we setup our contest to run daily and so that every playlist you completed gave you an entry in the daily contest. The more drills a player went through the more entries they earned and the higher their chances of winning the contest for the day.

Footskills and Fortnite

We knew many kids were going to spend a part of their summer playing video games so our incentive tried to balance that with time on the ball. Our daily prize was an Xbox digital gift card that players could redeem in their video games. We also offered a PS4 version for kids that play on the PlayStation.

The idea was that players could see quick results from their efforts if they won (from a prize perspective) since they could cash in their winnings once we sent them out. Also, it was a prize that they’d want to win again so they wouldn’t slack off after winning it once. We wanted them to be motivated to be on the ball as much as possible every day. Since we were running the contest around the country it was also easier to distribute a digital prize.

Measuring Progress

The Dribble Up ball gives you a few different ways to keep track of player progress that can help you with offering rewards. If a player uses a smart ball to do their drills you can base your rewards on a variety of areas:

  • Participation
  • Drill Performance
  • Frequency
  • Difficulty
  • Improvement

Participation
The Dribble Up app actually lets you go through the drills with a regular ball and we wanted to encourage as many players to participate as possible so we gave people an entry for doing a playlist. We gave them a bonus entry for doing it with a smart ball because that way we could confirm the player actually went through it.

Drill Performance
After the player does the footwork in a playlist they’re given a score on how well they did. Typically, when a youth player does a playlist for the first time they run into at least a few drills where they have room for improvement. After they go through the drill enough times the score gradually rises if they’re working to improve.

I always tell players that rather than worry about the score, focus on the execution of the drill and the score will sort itself out. I bring this up because you could give entries based on score but it would be a lot of work to track in the current setup. We did give an extra entry if a player earned an A on a playlist. We did this because I wanted kids to think about the technique and not just rush through the footwork. Another way to handle that would be to not award entries for scores below a minimum level but I didn’t want to discourage players who were just getting started and learning the skills. When a player’s confidence is lowest is when they’re most vulnerable to stop trying based on a bad score.

Frequency
Our contest was daily so players had a chance to win every day. We didn’t put any limit on how many playlists a person could get an entry for completing so the more they did in one day the higher their chances of winning. At the time the smart ball app didn’t easily show how many days in a row you’d practiced with the ball. Since then the Dribble Up app has released an update that shows your “streak” of training days, so you could give a bonus entry for every day they keep that streak alive.

Difficulty
The Dribble Up app does have multiple levels of difficulty that it assigns to drills so you could create playlists based on difficulty levels and award more entries for higher skill levels. I’ll talk later about how we created playlists but we didn’t offer more rewards for more difficult drills. The age and skill level of players in our contest varied so we tried to assign a range of playlists to accommodate players at multiple levels of development. We didn’t want to discourage the younger players by offering the older or more skilled players a greater chance of winning.

Improvement
One of the nice things about the smart soccer ball and the app is that it keeps track of the players training data over time. In the next section we’ll look at some of those stats the contest but the ability to track the data could allow you to offer rewards or bonus entries based on improvements in drill performance, increased frequency of training, or tackling more difficult drills over time. Right now, this would be pretty manual since there’s nothing that calculates it for you in the dashboard but I really like the concept.

For purposes of development we always tell youth players not to judge themselves compared to their teammates but based on their own improvement. Running a contest that motivated them based on how they improved could have a pretty good impact. Here are some of the player stats from the contest

Player Results
Over 30 days he averaged about 12 minutes a day. This chart shows drills per day but you can see that the number each day varied based on what was going on in our summer schedule. For example, you can see the number per day drop the week we were at camp because pretty much every minute was scheduled and the only time he could get in his footwork was 10 or 11 PM once the day was done (and he was supposed to be in bed).

The cool thing was that even though he was exhausted those days he wanted to work on his foot skills because of the contest. One night we were both so tired we forgot, you can see it drop down to zero one day during the month, but 29 out of 30 is pretty good consistency.

Seems like this is a decent illustration of how if you commit to doing something regularly the end result can be good even if you don’t spend a ton of time on it each day. Of course, you don’t need a smart ball to work on your skills each day. We could just have easily stuffed his regular Adidas ball into the camp bag. The nice thing about the app and the Dribble Up ball was the accountability. On those days when he was tired and wanted to skip he couldn’t just “mark it down” that he’d done footwork – the app only gave him credit if he actually put in the work.

Total Drills Breakdown by Which Foot they Used

If you look at the trend line you can see the overall number of drills per day gradually increased over the month, I’ll talk more about that in the Playlist setup section.

This graph shows the breakdown of work on his strong foot vs his weak foot. The biggest percentage of drills involved using both feet. For example, in all these drills the player alternates feet from left to right during the drill:

  • Foundations
  • Push Outs
  • Sole Flicks
  • V Taps
  • Strong Rolls
  • Outside Inside
  • Toe Taps
  • L Pull
  • Triangle

Some drills were specific to a foot, like Right Foot Roll Tap or Right Foot Roll Chop, but they all had corresponding left foot versions and we tried to balance using both feet when creating the playlists. So overall, he strengthened both his strong and weak foot during the month. This was important for him because he likes playing in the middle of the field and really it’s good for any player to be skilled with both of their feet.

Scores Across all Drills for 30 Days

Drill Performance
The Dribble Up app gives players a score based on 4 factors – Speed, Control, Consistency, Pattern. The lowest score he earned was a C+ and many of those were ones he did with his weak foot. Even though the number of drills with both feet was pretty even he didn’t have as much control with his left. Looking back it would have been better to assign more weak foot versions of a drill to get in more practice on those. The “NA” category are drills that DribbleUp doesn’t track for performance yet, simply that they’re completed.

One thing that makes it tricky is that you’re assigning drills to a group of players so weak vs strong foot will vary depending on the group. It would be nice if Dribble Up stored the player’s weak foot in their profile and we could assign “Weak Foot” drills and “Strong Foot” drills and the app would have them do the Right or Left footed version based on their profile.

Combination Drills Tended to Have Lower Scores

Another area where he trended to lower scores was combination moves like triangles to sole fakes or triangles to L turns. That makes sense because they’re more complex and I didn’t include as many of them in the playlists so he practiced them less. Although combining moves on the field is a great way to deceive an opponent so definitely shows an area he needs work.

One suggestion for Dribble Up would be to keep track of drills that players did the worst at and let them know which ones needed the most work.

For example, after looking through the scores over the month he seemed to struggle the most with the “Outside Outside” and “Back Side Turns”. I remember hearing him complain about the “Outside Outside” a few times as he went through it, that it was tough for him. That would be a good one to focus additional work on to add comfort with that movement to his soccer toolkit.

Scores Improved Over Time

One thing we saw was an improvement in scores over time. This graph shows the breakdown of scores for the first two weeks of the month vs the 2nd two weeks and you can see a higher percentage of better scores in the second half. It makes sense because he had 2 weeks of going through those drills under his belt but it’s nice to see that the reps led to improved technique.

 

 

Creating Playlists

Creating Playlists in the Dashboard

Building the playlists took a while at first because I tried to design them using a progression of similar footwork. Kind of like you might design a training session to focus on one specific area and not be a hodge podge of skills the goal was to make playlists that were composed of related moves.

For example, one playlist might have drills that involved using the sole of the feet. When I created the “La Furia Roja” playlist it included drills that worked on changing direction and turning with the ball. After the first week and a half of creating playlists it got easier because I was able to start re-using some of them or making a copy and tweaking them slightly.

Gradually Longer Playlists

The coach’s dashboard makes it pretty easy to clone a playlist and change it, one thing that would be nice would be the ability to categorize similar playlists so if you had several that were variations on each other you could group them together on the back end. That way when you’re assigning homework it would be easier to know more about a playlist you created several weeks back.

One thing we touched on some already was that as the contest went on I created longer and longer playlists. We started out in the beginning with 8 or 9 drills in a playlist and as the days went by we gradually added drills. As you can see here towards the end of the contest we had playlists of 14-15 drills.

Assigning Homework

During the contest we assigned multiple playlists each day. The way homework assignments work now isn’t perfect because you can only assign playlists for one week at a time. It would be nice if you could assign multiple weeks out. The current setup makes it more challenging to plan a multi-week contest or for a coach to plan a few weeks of foot skills training. We still used the Homework for the contest, it was just a little more work.

Each day when the player opened their app and tapped Daily Workout it showed them the playlists available for the day. We started off with just assigning one playlist and the player could go through it as many times as they wanted. Each completed entry earned them another entry in the contest.

Quickly we discovered it wasn’t very exciting to work on the same playlist multiple times in a row, so we started adding multiple playlists for homework each day. We added our custom playlists and a few pre-made ones from Dribble Up as well to give the kids some variety.

Some of the feedback we got from parents was that the playlists we were creating/assigning were too difficult for some of the younger kids and was getting a little discouraging. In some families the older sibling was enjoying it but the less developed players were struggling so we started using a range of playlists each day.

Homework Suggestions

We went with an approach of having 3 levels of playlists, each with an increasing level of complexity and also number of drills. We tried to add multiple playlists at each level to give the players some variety. Currently there’s no way to indicate the complexity level of the playlist or the “level” so we simply listed them in a range of most challenging at top and simplest at the bottom.

Playlist Ordering – One suggestion for Dribble Up is to allow us in the coaches dashboard to re-order the playlists for the day after we assign them. If you want to add another playlist and the order which they appear in the app is important to you (it was for us b/c that’s how we showed the various levels) you must remove the playlists you’ve added and re-add them all in the desired order.

Playlist Categories – Another suggestion would be to let us assign categories to playlists, we could then use those to organize and display the playlist by level. That would also be a helpful feature for coaches who might want to assign playlists by topic (turning the ball, juggling, etc) or by player role (back line, mid-fielders, strikers).

Favorite / Worst Drills – As we went through the contest my kids figured out their favorite drills, for example multiple times I heard my daughter commenting she really liked the Push-Out drill. From a player’s perspective it would be nice if they could tag their favorite drills and then each player could have a “Favorites” playlist. That would be nice for a contest because if they wanted to get more entries they could run through a playlist of their favorite moves. Similarly, if there was an automatically generated playlist that kept track of their worst scoring drills it would be nice each day to have them work on the drills that they needed the most work on.

Choosing a Winner

Picking a daily winner was the most arduous part of running the contest. We kept a spreadsheet with the Dribble Up handles of the players in the contest and would update it based on their stats in the coach’s dashboard. Basically each player had a row in the spreadsheet and would get a certain number of entries each day based on the number of playlists they completed. They also received bonus entries for using a smart ball and for earning a score of A+.  Those entries were each assigned a number by a formula in the spreadsheet and we used Google’s random number generator shown here to choose the winning number for the day.

Contest winner email

Obviously, this was time consuming so we eventually figured out a way to automate the process to make it go more quickly. However there were still manual steps involved which meant we were typically behind on notifying the contest winners.

The players were patient in waiting to find out who won each day but announcing the winners sooner probably would have been better motivation to keep more kids active each day.

I was happy with the approach of basing the contest on participation and not on skill level. This allowed a variety of ages and skill levels to participate. Players competed against each other by who trained the most each day so it motivated them to get more touches. Having it daily gave them a fresh start each day, they didn’t get “behind” the person on the leaderboard and get discouraged.

We tended to batch up choosing winners and sending out prizes so we’d do multiple days at once. After we figured out the winner we’d notify their parents and ask them if they’d prefer a PS4 or Xbox gift card. Then we’d buy them online and email the code to the parent of the winner.

Next time we run the contest we’ll branch out and add additional prizes so we can motivate players who don’t play video games.

Contest Sponsors

Contest sponsor calendar

Finding sponsors for the prizes was another time intensive part of running the foot skills contest. It definitely required a good deal of pre-work to communicate with companies or products that the players would be interested in. Whatever the duration of your contest, it helps to come up with a list of 2 or 3 times the number of actual sponsors that you’ll need because some won’t get back with you until later and some won’t be interested in participating.

You’ll likely have a lot more success dealing with small or medium sized sponsors because the big companies take a lot longer to make decisions and a lot of them don’t even have a process in place to be able to sponsor a $10 prize for the day.

You may encounter some companies that prefer to give away their own product as a prize rather than support the prize that you’re offering. Keep that in mind when you reach out to sponsors because logistically it could be difficult to deliver certain products.

As part of being a sponsor we also included a summary of their site, product, or service in the contest announcement each day. It really helps to work with companies that you know well because it makes putting together the write-up a lot easier. If you choose companies you’re not familiar with it requires a lot more research and prep time.

Contest sponsor example

One of the cool things about having prize sponsors is that if you do it correctly you can introduce your players and their families to a lot of neat tools that will really help “soccer dads” and “soccer moms” out there.

I know we’re very thankful for all the companies we worked with that helped motivate the players in our contest and that so many were willing to participate is a good sign for youth soccer in this country.

Soccer Contest Results

After reading through the story of the contest you may be thinking that it’s too much work to host something like this event and that the effort isn’t worth the end result. From our perspective, two things made it worth the time and money.

Motivation

The first was the enthusiasm that it generated in the players that joined the virtual “Soccer Stripes Squad”. As a coach you can teach kids tactics and technique but what’s tricky to inspire is getting them to play with passion. If you get them to love the game and to be excited to train it’ll make the soccer experience more rewarding and make them a better player. Each kid is motivated differently but the fact that contests like these get some players into the game makes it worthwhile.

Confidence

The second reason is that all these reps on the ball can really build confidence in a player. All these touches give them additional control and that ease with the ball translates to more confidence on the field. The gift of confidence is one of the most valuable things you can give a young player. However, you can’t really “give” it to them, they have to earn it. Buying them a new pair of cleats might make them feel good for a few minutes into the game but unless they have the control and moves to back up those shiny new shoes it will be temporary confidence. Contests like these are a great way for players to build that confidence and after these 30 days we’ve seen great results in 1v1 situations, small sided games like 4v4, and on the full pitch.

Our goal in publishing this is to make it easier for you to run a contest if you think it would help your players. If you like the idea but don’t have the time then we’d invite your players to join the contests we’ll be running with this virtual team.

Update – After the contest ended we discovered that the smart ball app actually counted a players touches as they went through the drills. That data isn’t available in the coaches dashboard yet but we asked the team at Dribble Up to run a report for this contest and it turns out that for the 30 days he had over 31,000 touches.

To help your player get over 1K touches a day have them join our virtual team. If you’d like to learn more about the Dribble Up ball for your player or about using the ball as a coach or for your club you can enter your email below.

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Do Dribble Up Soccer Drills Help in a Game?

Last week we held our first Soccer Tech Expo where players and teams got the chance to try out various soccer technologies like the Dribble Up smart ball. One fun thing about the event was that we got to answer a lot of questions from parents and players about how we use soccer tech for skill development.

One family stopped by on the way to a tournament match and the dad was asking how the drills in the Dribble Up app would help his son in a game. I asked him what position his son played and he said mostly mid-field. We went through some of the drills and showed him how his kid could use certain moves in a game.

When you’re in the middle of the field you often have to turn with the ball quite a bit so we looked at some of the turns. It can get pretty congested in the middle of the field so you need to have a good first touch to keep the ball close – it also helps to be comfortable using the sole of your foot to navigate in tight spaces.

To help illustrate how players can use what they practice with the Dribble Up ball in a soccer game I pulled in some game footage from recent matches just to give an idea of how the drills can be helpful.

In the video, watch player #12, also playing in the middle of the field.

Left foot Half Spin

In the first clip in the video you can see him use the left foot to spin the ball away from the defender, keeping his body between the ball and his opponent.

The drill in the app gets you ready for this by practicing bouncing on the ball of your right foot and pulling the ball to the side with the sole of your left foot.

Right Foot Roll Tap

After he spins way from his opponent then you see him use the outside of his right foot to create some separation from the defender. He actually makes this touch a little too heavy, looks like he needs to work on this drill more! It gets you a lot of reps pushing that ball with the outside of your foot.

About 10 seconds later #12 gets the ball back and again uses the outside of the right foot to setup a shot on goal. The shot itself isn’t hard enough because his body position isn’t right when he strikes the ball.

The shooting feature of the Dribble Up app will be released in the coming months, looks like #12 could use that once it’s released.

Right Foot Inside Outside

The next clip shows the ball passed backwards from the striker and the #12 uses the inside of the foot to control the pass and then the outside of the foot to setup his next pass.

The next player to receive the ball does a similar thing, only difference is he has to receive the ball across his body. He handles the ball with the inside of his foot, uses the outside of his foot to setup his pass and keeps his head up which allows him to see the next pass.

These fast touches allow the team to quickly move the ball across the width of the field and play it into space into a dangerous scoring position.

One & Two Touch Passes

The next 2 clips don’t point out a specific drill but they do highlight something that’s important to note. If you watch the next 45 seconds of the video you’ll notice that every player only touches the ball once or twice before moving it onto the next person on their team.

Even though it’s called Dribble Up the smart ball can help with other parts of your game. The ball moves a lot faster when it’s being passed rather than dribbled and speed of play is really important to playing at a high level.

Rondos are great for first touch but you won’t practice any of them with Dribble Up. However touches you put in with DribbleUp make you more comfortable on the ball and will eventually make it easier to play those 1 and 2 touch passes.

V Taps

The last clip has a few more foot skills shown by #13. Starting out with a little V pull when he first gets the ball. The V taps drill gets you lots of reps for that move. The player doesn’t use it as a fake as much as to create space between himself and the defender so he can face him up.

Then he uses the outside of his foot to get the defenders moving and then the inside of his foot to explode away from them – again the outside/inside playlist is a good one for this move.

 

Soccer Drills vs Live Game

Of course working on your technique in a calm and controlled environment is different than when you’re in a game with your adrenaline pumping, wind or rain blowing, and defenders running at you. There’s no training substitute for actually playing the game. However, what training tools like the smart ball or other programs can help you with is getting in reps on those moves so you build up muscle memory. So when that defender is sprinting at you full speed you don’t have to think heavily about the technique of doing an evasive move. Instead your brain tells your feet and off you go and leave the defender in the dust.

Hopefully that helps explain a little bit how the drills in the smart ball app can help a player improve on the field. If this was helpful we can do more drill/game demos in the future.

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Dribble Up 1000 Touches Soccer Drills

1000 Touches, again!!?? Sound familiar? How can you get your youth soccer team excited to get their 1000 touches at the start of each practice? Even better, how can you help your youth soccer players want to work on their foot skills when they’re not at practice?

Let’s be honest, most kids aren’t jumping up and down to work on their technique. They just want to get on the field and play- not work on toe touches, step overs, pull backs, scissors, sole roles, chops, inside/outside, roll overs or whatever other technical training you’re asking them to do.

After you’ve been around coaching for a while you realize how important that technical development is at a young age. Back when I started coaching kids there was one youth team who always ran circles around us on the field. After a game we started chatting about how good their players were and the other coach mentioned their heavy emphasis on foot skills training.

After starting to incorporate more foot work at training I sent this email to some college coaches I was friends with:

Hey guys, need your coaching expertise.

My son is on a U8 soccer team and we do 2 practices a week. We’re looking for some good foot skills drills. We’ve been doing the same few each week and the boys are starting to get bored of them so we’re looking to add more into the mix.

Can you recommend some good foot skills drills? And maybe a book/website/video/etc that’s a good resource for drills?

These are guys who I played soccer with in college who went on to become college coaches and assistant coaches themselves.  So they were coaching older players but had a lot of coaching experience and had been students of the game their whole lives. Can you guess what they answered? Here’s what one of them said:

Are they doing the 1000 touches drill to start practice?

It’s also crucial that they find games where they start applying those skills in small sided games. Settings where competition is presented and lots of positive feedback as the skill is new to them.

The best way to teach all those things is to play lots of 3v3 or 4v4. At younger ages skills are super important and as they grow older they can learn about other aspects of the game.

After that email we started doing some version of the 1000 touches drill at the beginning of every practice. Starting out with 1000 touches not only got them more comfortable with the ball, it also got them warmed up for the training session.

 

1000 Touches Benefits

As the season went on we started to see the kid’s ball control improve. It wasn’t like they started busting out Maradonas and dribbling through entire defenses (although one or two kids liked to try). Here is what we noticed:

1) Better First Touch

Their first touch got a little better so they were able to get control the of the ball sooner and have more time to make decisions.

2) Better Ball Control

When they got into tight spaces they got a little better at keeping possession of the ball. Since they could keep the ball closer to them they were able to either weave through defenders to beat a line or change direction and escape pressure.

3) Improved Confidence

Their confidence in their ability to hold the ball under pressure went up so they were less likely to panic and just kick the ball away.

4) More Versatility

They had more luck with 50/50 balls. After either going in for a tackle, or getting tackled, who knows where the ball would end up. Since they were better able to use all parts of their feet, it was easier for them to recover the ball after the tackle no matter where it ended up. Being comfortable with the sole of the foot, the inside, laces, or outside of the foot gave them more options to coral the ball after the tackle.

5) Better Weak Foot Control

The ability to use both feet improved. It wasn’t like they were taking shots with their weak foot all of a sudden but the 1000 touches drill puts an emphasis on using both feet so players starting getting more comfortable handling the ball no matter what foot it ended up on.

Foot Skill Motivation

With all these benefits why wouldn’t you do the 1000 touches drill as a coach? Well you probably won’t be surprised to hear that starting out every practice with 1000 touches of ball work wasn’t very exciting to 8 year olds. Although we saw all the benefits of the technical ball work the kids weren’t very excited about it. We persisted through the season and even though there was grumbling from the players the player development gains that came with it were worth it.

Of course just going through the motions of the 1000 touches doesn’t really have the same impact as working hard through the soccer drills. As a coach its our job to get every player putting in their best effort at training. As players get older and more interested in improving they naturally tend to work harder in the foot skill drills but the younger ages can be a challenge.

When you have a group of 8 year olds going through the drill you’ll see that some of them have faster toe taps, harder sole roles, quicker pull backs, and bigger chops than others. The way we did the 1000 touches drill was by time. We’d tell them and show them the next move to work on and then start a timer. Depending on how hard the kid worked, some of them would get in 50 touches for that specific skill move during the time and some wouldn’t.

So how can you get each player working their hardest and getting in as many touches as possible? Here are a few things that have worked:

Touch Contest

Have players count in their head how many touches they get for that drill. Then run it again and see if they can beat their previous number. At younger ages its good to give them less time the first round and more time the second round so most kids will have success in “improving” and be motivated to continue.

If you have a team where the players are all around the same skill level you can also have them compete against each other. See who can get the most touches out of the team. That doesn’t work well for teams with a big disparity in skills because the more developed kids always win and the less developed kids get discouraged.

Drill Leaders

One thing that’s worked really well with the younger ages is to have players lead each foot skill. For example, with a group of 6 year old girls I coach we pick a different girl to lead each foot skill. To be chosen as a leader you have to be working hard. All the girls want to be a leader so they work hard in a drill hoping to be chosen to lead the next drill.

 

Dribble Up 1000 Touches

After going through the 1000 touches with several different ages of kids and now being introduced to the Dribble Up smart soccer ball we finally landed on the perfect way to implement the drills for youth soccer players that not only gets them the touches but also gets them excited to do it.

Practice MVP

After each training session we choose the player who worked the hardest and award them “Practice MVP”. With that honor, they get to take home one of the team Dribble Up balls and through the coaches dashboard we assign them 2 new foot skills to learn. This is great for motivation because it gives kids a reason to work hard at training.

You can also do something similar with games and give away the game ball to the player who worked the hardest or who used things in the game that you’ve been working on at practice.

Skills Leader

As you probably know as a parent, young players are really motivated by technology so they’re excited to be the one to use the smart ball for the week. The honor doesn’t end with taking the smart soccer ball home though. We assign two new foot skills and that player uses the Dribble Up app that week to learn and practice the moves.

At the next training session that player brings back the Dribble Up ball and leads the team during the 1000 touches drill and demonstrates the new moves. We like this because it gets that player working on foot skills at home outside of practice and it gives them ownership of the moves, having to demonstrate them to the team at training.

That player then uses the Dribble Up ball all training session so it’s a reminder to the rest of the kids that whoever trains the hardest gets to take the ball home next. I’m sure if you’re a coach you’ve done similar things with the captains armband or awarding player pins, player patches, MVP stickers, etc. Whatever motivates your players the most is great but we like this for a few reasons:

  • Motivates players to work their hardest during technical training rather than going through the motions.
  • Give players a visual reminder during training. The Dribble Up ball is brightly colored and patterned. A constant reminder that who works the hardest gets rewarded.
  • Reward ties directly into further development. The players that are rewarded for working hard get additional touches at home with the smart ball.
  • Adds new moves each week into teams technical training.
  • Gives coaches a progressive way to work on playlists.

Dribble Up Playlist

Rather than have the kids try to learn all the moves in the 1000 Touches drill at once we’ve created a playlist that introduces the skills to them several at a time each week.

One thing we discovered when trying to run youth soccer players through the 1000 Touches drill is that it can be discouraging the first time they’re introduced to the drill if they try and learn every move all at once.

Imagine you’re a kid and your brain is telling your feet to try a new foot skill but your feet just won’t do what you’re asking them. As you keep trying the skill you start to improve but are still pretty frustrated. Then your coach says to move onto another skill you don’t know and you go through the same experience. Then again, your coach has you move on…. you can see how the level of frustration and discouragement could grow as a coach continues to introduce new skills that a player struggles with.

As an alternative, if we introduce just two new skills each training session the player can spend more time on them and improve their ability and confidence.

1000 Touches Playlist

The Dribble Up app and coaches dashboard is setup perfectly for building something like the 1000 touches drill. Here are a few things we’ve learned from creating the training sessions:

1) Pay Attention to Duration

Make sure your drill duration is long enough for your target age group. U-8 players players are going to be able to get in a lot fewer touches in 30 seconds than U-12 players. If you’re in doubt it’s better to make it longer than shorter so the players have time to settle into each foot skill and get in enough touches. Test out the duration separately for each age group.

2) Start Simple

It works best if you begin the playlist with the simplest skills. This lets the players get into a rhythm and have success before introducing new skills. This means the first few sessions you’ll spend the bulk of the time just on a few skills.

3) Add Skills Incrementally

Only introduce a few news skills each session. As you progress from practice to practice the durations of the skills you’ve already learned shrinks and you’ll cover a lot more skills each time. The largest amount of time will be on the new skills you introduce.

4) Lead with Strong Foot

Since we want them to be able to use the left and right foot we use both “Left Foot…” and “Right Foot…” drills. It’s better to lead with the strong foot first in the playlist so they learn the move with the foot they’re most comfortable with.

5) Plan for Skill Ranges

Of course most teams have a range of skill levels across players so it’s good to have an extra skill or two handy each week in case you have some kids are ready to move on before others.

6) Remember that Kids Forget

Chances are a kid will eventually forget to bring the Dribble Up ball back to practice so it’s good to have at 2-3 balls so you have at least one as backup for the “Practice MVP” for when next player when the previous kid forgets to bring it back.

Dribble Up 1000 Touch Package

After spending a lot of time crafting the playlist we decided it would make sense to offer it as an option to other coaches who are looking for ways to incorporate more technical training into their practice and also to motivate their players to spend more time on the ball.

If you’re interested in trying it out shoot us an email to touches@soccerstripes.com . Here are some pics of the 1000 Touches playlist in action.

 

DribbleUp Smart Soccer Ball

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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!