Part 5 - Juggling Training Methodology

Part 5 - Juggling Training Methodology

This is the fifth installment of my series; The Playbook - My Strategy (So Far) for Raising an Elite Soccer Player. Today's topic discusses how I deliver juggling training during the individual sessions with my son.  In a previous post entitled Training Methodology I explained that I divide our technical sessions into three primary groups following a 90/10 rule. The groups are:

  • Juggling/aerial
  • Skills of the Week
  • Follow-along Soccer Videos/or Apps

Managing the Parent/Coach Relationship -  The challenge for any parent is delivering the high volume of training necessary without seeming overbearing or frustrating your child. In this post, I also discuss the approach I have developed in order to help prevent this from happening. The assumption, however, is that your child loves the game and is willing to put in the extra work to get better.

90/10 Rule (90% Reps and Memorization / 10% Teaching) - In soccer, repetition is the key to mastering difficult techniques. As a parent, I am mindful that giving too many verbal instructions 1) adds little value, 2) frustrates my son and 3) hinders self-discovery. Through a lot of trial and error, I decided to focus 90% of each session on maximizing repetitions in the shortest amount of time. One key is using routines that he is familiar with. This means that 90% of the session virtually runs on autopilot.

Special author’s note: Don't over-coach. Implement a system that doesn't lead to frustration and enables them to eventually own their training. The 90/10 Rule works - I encourage you to give it a try.

Why is Juggling So Important - Occasionally, you will hear a parent (or even a coach) proclaim that juggling is not that important because it's a skill rarely used in the game. When you hear that - my advice is to run (not walk) away. Not only does juggling improve a player's first touch, but, with younger players especially, it helps to develop balance, coordination, and agility. Another often overlooked benefit is that aerial training improves shooting and finishing technique.

In-game Examples - Good players must be able to control the ball from any angle of the ground or air.  Look at this video of my son when he was six or seven years old. If you notice, he is not aimlessly kicking the ball in the air like many children this age. He first controlled the ball from the air and then juggled it in the direction of his team's goal. This led to a potential scoring opportunity.

Here are two more examples of him utilizing juggling skills during the game. And remember these are just a few that I have been lucky to capture on film. The benefits of juggling are tremendous.

Again, while most people focus on the score (rightly so); notice how my son used an aerial kick to place the ball directly at the feet of the attacking wing player.

How We Started -  Many parents believe that since they never played soccer - they can't possibly train their child to juggle. As a parent who also never played soccer, I can tell you that there are a host of resources that make the process simple.  Before diving into the training, review these ten special tips.

Tip #1 Start Slow - In some respects, juggling is like weight lifting. Every time you juggle, you strengthen muscles in your legs and grow cells in your brain. Your child needs time to build the necessary strength, coordination, and stamina to become a good juggler.  Allow it to happen naturally without adding pressure.  My son's training began with a five-minute juggle catch routine at the bus stop.

Tip #2 Increase Training Slowly - I enjoy long distance running.  All running plans gradually increase mileage over a long period of time.  That's because adding miles too quickly could lead to injury and overwhelm the runner. Rapid juggle training may not cause injury, but will certainly discourage your child from continuing.

Tip #3 Increase Efficiency Before Increasing Time -  I can't emphasize this enough. Two to three minutes of consistent practice is better than struggling through 15 to 20 minutes.  As your child memorizes the routine and becomes a better juggler, they will be able to do much more in the same amount of time.

Tip #4 Use Idle Time Wisely -  Squeeze a little juggle work in before and after practice/games. In a previous post entitled Start Now! Every Player has an Extra 15 Minutes! I wrote about the importance of doing a little extra work before practice and games. Again, the child will barely notice the few extra minutes, but the results will speak for themselves.

Tip #5 Don't Over-Coach -  The key is repetition, not perfection.  Once you explain and demonstrate the technique, they will gradually improve with practice.  The extra training builds confidence and allows them to master juggling quicker. The last thing you want to do is frustrate your child by over- coaching.

Tip #6 Provide Days Off -  Mental rest and physical recovery are important. 

Tip #7 Stick to a Standard Routine -  Juggling is about repetition. The more you do, the better you will become.  Therefore, it's best to get the most reps in the shortest amount of time. Implementing a standard routine helps your child focus on juggling and not instruction. I use a base routine as the foundation - and add more time and difficulty when needed. 

Tip #8 Provide External Incentives - Rewarding a child for beating their personal best is an obvious and effective way to encourage practice.

Tip #9 Watch Them Grow - This is not really a tip, but once you introduce consistent juggling, you will notice your child practicing on their own.  They typically consider it playing around, but you will notice the extra touches nonetheless.

Tip #10 Implement "Corrective Constraints"  -  Corrective Constraint is a method I use to achieve the results I am looking for without driving my sons crazy.  If you have children, you know that they find it frustrating to listen to a barrage of verbal instructions, especially from a parent.  Through trial and error, I discovered that introducing Corrective Constraints is the best way to motivate my child to work towards the desired outcome while avoiding a lot of verbal commands - which leads to frustration for both of us.  Here are some case study examples of how I use Corrective Constraints.

Example #1

 Parent Goal My child juggles seamlessly with both feet.
The Problem Child juggles exclusively with strong foot
Ineffective Verbal Commands Son, I want you to juggle by alternating both feet. Son, the best players can use both feet.
Corrective Constraint Do five extra juggles every time you use the same foot more than three times in a row.
Positive by product The child does extra juggles.

 Example #2

 Parent Goal My child concentrates reducing mistakes.
The Problem My child doesn't concentrate.
Ineffective Verbal Commands Son, concentrate. Son focus. Son, the best players focus.
Corrective Constraint You have 10 (cumulative) attempts to get 100 juggles which average out to 10 juggles per attempt. If unsuccessful you get 15 attempts - 20, 25 and so on.
Positive by product
The child does extra juggles.

Other Examples Corrective Constraint Examples

  • Reduce the amount of time instead of telling them to go faster
  • Set up a square and add extra juggles if the ball travels outside the square instead of telling them to try and stay in one place.
  • Add extra juggles each time they use their thigh instead of telling them to not use their thighs.

Sample Juggle Routine
Below are some juggling exercises. I started using these when my son was six.  I only added exercises as my son became comfortable with the previous one. I recommend borrowing some of these and adding your own based in-part on your child's skill level.

Drill Description
Aerial Toss 
  • Starting with a small number of reps
  • Toss the ball to the player allowing them to kick it back repeatedly.
  • Do reps with each part of the foot; Laces, inside foot, sides of the foot, etc.
  • Incorporate half volleys, two touches and more. 
  • Incorporate other parts of the body and longer distances.
  • Use rebounder when possible.
  • See video example
Juggle Catch
  • Catch the ball between each juggle
  • As the child improves increase the number of juggles between each catch.
  • Use different variations.
    • Right foot single catch
    • Left foot single catch
    • Alternating feet catch
    • Use different foot surfaces and add more juggles in-between catches.
Thigh Catch
  • Same as juggle catch but with thighs.
  • The child must master every variation.
    • Right foot only
    • Left foot only
    • Alternating feet
    • Walking juggle
    • Juggling above the waist
    • Juggling below the knee, etc
Juggling with Different Size Balls
  • Tennis balls, size one, size three, four and five.
Corrective Constraints
  • Never allow the child to use only dominant foot
  • Cumulative attempts game
    • Start with 5 attempts cumulative attempts to get to 100 juggles (modify amount based on skill level).
    • If they don't get to 100, begin again, at zero with 10 cumulative attempts.
    • Repeat again by adding 5 attempts each time until they can get to 100 juggles.
    • For example, with 10 attempts the player needs to average 10 juggles per attempt. With 20 attempts the player needs to average five juggles per attempt. As they progress they will require fewer attempts and you can increase the level of difficulty simply by reducing starting attempts or increasing the total amount of juggles.

Below are video demonstrations.

Aerial Toss Examples

Juggle Catch Examples

Juggle Catch - Same Foot Once then Catch

 Juggle Catch  - Both Feet Once then Catch

Juggle Catch Same Foot Twice

Thigh Kick Catch

Juggle Walk

I also recommend Renegade Soccer's juggling video series as a follow-along app. After purchasing access to Renegade Soccer, your child will have a set of videos that guide them to becoming better jugglers. As a parent, all you have to do is hit play.  Click the image to learn more.Renegade Soccer

Juggling Progression - Now that my son has become proficient, I use more of a time-based juggling routine.  In this routine, the Corrective Constraints encourage him to juggle continuously during a certain amount of time within a defined area - using various size balls.  The below videos highlight how this routine works.

My son is attempting to juggle a tennis ball for 25 seconds without stopping. The first corrective constraint is the box.  I want him to control the ball within a confined space. Five extra juggles are added if the ball rolls out of the box. Two juggles are added if he stops but the ball stays within the box. There are other Corrective Constraints such as extra juggles for not alternating feet. Extremely important - notice how the only thing I say is the numbers. He does the rest. After the 25 seconds, he has to do that many extra juggles.  However, extra juggles are added after each round until he finishes with no extra juggles.  This is much better than me constantly giving instruction. Also, our incentives are aligned. He wants to finish and I want him to try his best (without becoming frustrated). 

The process continues with a size one ball. Only this time, the extra juggles are increased.

The process continues with size three and four balls. Again, the extra juggles increase with each ball size.  I also add more time with the larger soccer balls. However, he can get a good pregame workout with just 20 seconds per ball. 

Improvement - 
I shared this video with family members on November 14, 2017, as a proud dad.
Needless to say, my son's hard work and my plan are paying off.

There is no magic formula for making the required reps of master juggling super fun.  However, as your child improves, I believe the positive reinforcement they get from being the best juggler on the team will become motivating.

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