As said earlier, together with passing/shooting, ball skills make up the other half of your individual soccer skills. And when I talk about ball skills, I'm talking about being able to do whatever you want with any ball that comes near you. Receive it, have a good first touch, start running with it, dribble with it when there are defenders near, and perhaps do a nice trick if you see the time and space.
There are two ways to receive balls flying in the air: supporting and trapping. Receiving balls that just roll on the ground requires no specific or special technique, that's discussed further in the first touch section.
Receiving can be done with the feet, thighs and chest. The foot can then receive it with either the inside, laces, or outside. Inside is the safest, outside is sometimes needed and looks more awesome, and the laces are used if you want to quickly move forward when receiving the ball.
Supporting means that you make the ball land on you. You support the ball with some part of your body, so that you can let it drop dead to the ground after you've managed to receive it well. So here, you put your body underneath the ball, make it bounce up a bit, and land right in front of you for further use.
Trapping the ball is the opposite of supporting it. You put some part of your body on top of the ball at the moment of contact, so that you deflect the ball towards the ground. With feet this gives you great control as the ball's got almost nowhere to go when you trap it, but with other parts of your body the ball can bounce off a bit more wildly.
Good first touch
A good first touch is more important than everyone thinks, because it allows you to immediately put the ball into the right spot for yourself, and it's the easiest way to go past one or two defenders near you. A good player can go any way with his first touch, which makes it hard to defend against.
The tips we gave you about receiving the ball earlier count here, this section only explains which way to move the ball on receiving it.
Keep your eyes on the ball at all times, or you'll not even be aware of a ball coming to you. That's...mostly embarassing, I think. Last of all, always check for defenders near you before receiving a ball!
With open space in front of you (towards the opposition's goal)
On receiving the ball you'll want to immediately push it forward (either straight or a bit diagonally), as this makes the attack a lot faster. Even if you meet a few defenders only 10 meters further, you can simply pass to somebody else or backwards, and you'll have gained a little bit more ground on the opponent's half of the pitch.
When your back is turned (towards the opposition's goal)
If that's the case, I first have to say to you: don't ever let this happen! Always try to stand in such a way that you see the ball, but at the same time the other side of the pitch (often this means standing on the sideline if you're a winger, or standing diagonally). But if it happens, turn before you receive the ball. If you see the ball coming, already turn a bit one way or another, and turn even more with the ball once it's come to you. Of course, if you see there are defenders near as you turn, the ball is usually quickly passed back to where it came from.
With defenders behind you
Move your arms out, to defend the ball and feel where the defenders are. If you notice the ball is moving a bit slowly, move towards the ball yourself, or your defender will be there before you and intercept the pass.
Then, once you've received the ball, there's two things you can do on your first touch. Either make it go left or right and hope you're faster than your defender, or immediately stop the ball and shield it (while you wait for some passing options, or you're preparing your next amazing trick).
In every other situation
In situations where there's some defenders, and some open space, you'll have to decide the best course of action yourself. If you see a gap somewhere, it's best to exploit it on your first touch. If you see a teammate running in good position, pass it immediately on first touch. If you see no way, it's better to pass the ball backwards or to the sides than trying to squeeze yourself through the opposition's defense.
Dribbling is a vague term, as it means 'moving with the ball, without actually moving it much'. It sits between protecting the ball/standing still and running with the ball. What players often do, is run with the ball, and then some time before they hit a defender, they slow down and start dribbling. They do some fancy movements, slowly move the ball into different directions, until they think they see space and blast past a defender or give that golden pass. Dribbling is basically the simplest way to give yourself space and time and to get past defenders, while tricks are the harder way. So, how is it done?
- Firstly, you must remember to keep the ball underneath your body (not in front or behind it) at all times. It's tempting to keep it behind you so the opponent cannot reach it, or to have it in front of you because you can see it easier that way, but don't do that. That simply makes it harder for you to reach the ball.
- Then, you must learn to only use sideways lace touches. Never dribble the ball while touching it with the toes, or inside, or outside, or full laces. No, you want to use a combination of inside+lace for going left, and outside+lace for going right. This is achieved by pointing your toes down a bit, but not fully (like with the lace shot). And, you can rotate the foot a bit in the right direction, but there's generally not much room for movement in that part of the foot. These touches give more control over speed and direction
- However, sometimes you're more in the mood for some straightforward dribbling, but then you'll be surprised that this is also done with these touches. Either you can angle your foot more, so that instead of left/right it goes almost straight, or you can use the standard dribbling technique. I recommend the latter.
- Standard dribbling technique means using a variation of left/right to move in a certain direction. If you're varying your touches with inside/outside while moving straight, you can go left/right any moment. This makes it hard for a defender to get you, because if he steps in to tackle, you're able to dodge it easily.
- Then, make sure that you touch the ball every time you move your foot. So, if you take the ball to the left, and then you need to take a few steps without touching it (because it's too far away), that's bad, because that's the moment the defender can easily step in and take the ball away. Prevent this, by moving the ball a bit every time you touch it, so that you move as though the ball was glued to your foot.
- Optional, but highly recommended: Learn to do the basic movements with your weak foot as well. Lots of professional soccer players can only pass and shoot with their right foot, but dribble/run/receive with their weak foot also. Why is this so useful? You're unpredictable, and it allows for the two-foot-touch. This technique is simply starting with the ball around one foot, and then passing the ball to the other foot, and then quickly dribbling the other direction with the other foot. This gives you two times the normal movement in about the same amount of time.
- And then some simple logic: if there's a defender on your right side, move and dribble with the ball on your left (and vice versa). If there's a defender in front of you, put the ball through its legs or burst to the left or right.
When I say running (with the ball), I don't mean dribbling at full speed. Dribbling at full speed can be very fast and disastrous for the opponent, but I already explained how to do that (all you need to do is perfect the technique and get fast).
First, let's discuss running without the ball. In soccer, at any moment, you may have to bend your run, receive a ball, jump into the air to perform a header, etc. Therefore, you need to have balance and control at any time. Running in soccer means that you keep your (upper) body straight all the time and at the same time look at the ball. When in open space you make extremely long strides, when more people are around you must take smaller steps. While running, move your arms with you. This can create room around you, and it gives you more balance and speed.
Another action that calls for great running technique is em>counter attacking. Say you've just received the ball and have an enormous amount of space to run into. Remember you still need to keep the ball underneath you, but this time you can hit it with laces only. This sends it straight, and fast. Then, once in about two or three steps you touch the ball again. To make yourself able to run this way with your body in perfect position, you'll have to run on your toes really and with ankle locked while your foot is in the air.