Running the Ball in Soccer

There are many techniques for running with the ball in soccer.

  • Using the inside and the outside of the feet;
  • Using the laces of both feet; and
  • Using the bottom of the feet.

The head, thigh, chest etc may initiate contact however ultimately, running with the ball will generally involve keeping the ball under control with the feet.

Running or Dribbling the Ball in Soccer

Skill Introduction – Running with the Ball

Running with the Ball Grab the Bib

This running with the ball drill is a great warm up; it’s fun and is also great for skill development.

  • First set up a grid 30m x 30m;
  • Bring all players together within the grid;
  • Pair players together with one ball between two;
  • Tuck a bib or ribbon into the side of the shorts of one player;
  • The player with the bib commences running with the ball inside the grid, whilst the other attempts to get the bib;
  • Once the bib is grabbed and dropped, players swap.

Objective: Players learn to use their body to protect the ball, change direction and use speed and evasive techniques to keep the ball away from their opponent.

Skill Training – Running with the Ball

Running with the Ball - Chase the Striker

  • Arrange players into 2 Lines, Line One is 30 metres directly in front of the goals, Line Two, 10 metres to the left of Line One. .
  • Line One faces the goal line and Line Two faces away.
  • Players in Line One have the ball
  • When the coach says go, a player from Line One runs the ball with intent to shoot at the goal. At the same time, a player from Line Two must chase the player with the ball and attempt to impede the shot.
  • The player with the ball must shoot before 10 metres from the goal line (a cone is set up to mark the no go zone – this can be varied with the age group).

Objective: The player running with the ball, has to control the ball and get their body into a position that shields the ball whilst getting themselves into a position to shoot at speed.

This simulates a chasing defender on game day.

Skill Game – Running with the Ball

Running with the Ball - Run through the goals

  • 10 players, 2 teams of 5.
  • In a 30 metre x 30 metre  grid
  • Hats used to set up 6 x 1 metre goals spread throughout the grid, some facing alternate directions.
  • Players have to run the ball through a goal to get a point.

If player numbers vary, ensure there is one additional goal than there are players on each team. This way, players cannot stand in front of one goal and defend it.

If an odd number, use a player as a joker who plays on the team that wins the ball (that is, he swaps side). Players can run the ball from one goal to the next. The only time the play stops is when the ball goes out. Recommence with a kick in or run the ball in.

Objective: Players pass to team mates for them to run the ball through the goal or players use speed and deception to run the ball past defenders to run the ball through the goals.

Advanced Running the Ball Techniques

Having strong running with the ball skills is a valuable football weapon to possess. It allows an attacking team to approach their opponent’s goals at speed whilst creating doubt. This doubt nurtures goal scoring opportunities as defenders are unsure whether to commit to the runner of the ball or the passing opportunity.

Creating Doubt

Running the Ball - Creating Doubt

One of my favourite attacking pieces as a midfielder or striker is to run the ball with speed from a central field position towards just inside the far right or far left defender. This run has the potential to draw both the furthest and central defenders in, thereby creating an overlap, with space outside the furthest defender. The furthest defender often gets drawn in to fill the gap between them and the inside defender. This space on the outside is then optimal for a winger / defender to run into either with the ball or running onto the ball, depending on the pass direction.

Opening the Body

Running with the Ball - Opening the Body

Another favourite running with the ball technique of mine is making a similar run to the above towards the central defender from left to right or the reverse. As you get, within 5 or 6 metres from him, you slow right down and open your body up in the reverse direction as if to pass to a player in that part of the field. Once the central defender starts moving back in that direction, you change direction quickly and create a 2 on 1 with the outside defender; drawing them in and creating space outside them for your winger.

Stop and Drag

Running with the Ball - Stop and Drag

The stop and drag involves running the ball at speed, with a defender either running alongside you or coming at you with speed from the side or behind you. It involves slowing down a little, turning your body toward them, stopping the ball with the now forward foot, and then swivelling back the direction you were headed, and dragging the ball with the rear foot as you continue forward. The initial stop with the forward foot has the effect of stopping the defender under the belief that you are stopping or changing directions. The quick switchback and continue on your run allows you to grab a few extra paces while the defender is trying to catch up. This deception often creates just enough time to set up a goal scoring opportunity.

Side Step

Running with the ball - Side Step

The side step is a great quick way to get around a defender when executed fluently. It simply involves approaching the defender at speed, dropping the shoulder one way, stepping out in the same direction and then quickly changing direction taking the ball with you. The initial shoulder drop and step usually persuade the defender you are preparing to go that direction without slowing down. Hence they move that direction, leaving the other side open.

All of these running with the ball techniques require speed, deception and agility.

Common Mistakes in Running With the Ball

The most common mistake involved with running with the ball is losing control of the ball. This means kicking it too far ahead so it is intercepted by the opponent or kicking it over the goal or sideline.

Further, running with the ball to the point where the attacker attracts so much attention from defenders that there are no options to do anything with the ball but surrender it to the opposition by losing control. This is often what I call the cul-de-sac effect where the attacker runs the ball into a circle of defenders and tries unsuccessfully to almost walk the ball through a wall of defenders with the route for retreat also cut off (most common with young kids).

Success in Running the Ball

Successfully running the ball involves speed and deception. It also requires space. There are a variety of skills that when used create excellent goal scoring opportunities for an attacking team. Creating doubt, opening the body, stop and drag and side steps are all advanced techniques that players can use to run the ball with success when executed correctly. Repetition is at the root of executing running with the ball successfully. Undertaking some of those drills mentioned herein in addition to other drills and game time will assist in advancing your running the ball techniques and provide a valuable weapon for you to take on the field.


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9 thoughts on “Running the Ball in Soccer”

  1. Hi, there.
    Wow, what a great website with lots of in-depth information. If I wouldn’t know any better, then I’d say Messi himself wrote this post, lol. Extremely well explained and illustrated at the same time. Thanks, for clarifying certain points I was still unsure about soccer.

    Warm regards,


  2. What a great resource.You have got some fantastic information in this website! Just looking through all the content you have I can see real quick that you’re an expert in your topic. What I really love are the graphics you’ve chosen! They clearly show how to do the best tactics/strategies for soccer. I’m very impressed and I feel like I can practice these drills with no problem thanks to your clear teaching. Great work! I’ll definitely be coming back!

    – Ryan

  3. Running with the ball is perceived to be one of the most important part in soccer that is why I really commend you for writing this so well. There is so much information here and they are so accurate. When I watch football, I feel the run especially in counter attacks are the most important and it can ruin everything when the player is not good with the ball on his foot. Nice one!

    1. Thanks for the feedback Henderson. Running the ball is something I am passionate about and want to impart as many skills as I can to younger players. It doesn’t have to be hard though the more you try the better skills you develop.

  4. I feel there is a real need for me to build my team around all these training drills. Most of my young lads in my team really don’t think it is necessary to add techniques to their knowledge of soccer. They take it as just the normal routine of only talent display, which it’s not. This is great to know and I like all the set up. I will surely try to replicate some, if not all the drills here. I am really learning well as a coach

    1. Thank you Mattias. I am happy to take any feedback and maybe you have some drills of your own you can share. All the information on the website I am hoping provides value to someone so thank you for your feedback I am glad you derived something from it.

  5. This is really nice. Getting to play football is a thing of fun, and getting to play as well is more important than anything. There are so many football player who are not good with passing a defender and no coach would want to use a player who isn’t good at beating a defender with a simple dribble at least. I’ll love for these football players to read through this post and learn from it. Nice post.

    1. Thanks Chloe. I think you are to hard on the players who may not be able to run past a defender. Many players bring different skills to a team. Their strong points are often somebody else’s weak points. Not everyone has to beat the defender, having skills like reading the game, anticipating, awareness and tackling are all valuable attributes to have.

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