Dribble on! ... High school more fun?

By Mike Woitalla

We need dribblers! In response to Wednesday’s YouthSoccerInsider on curricula for American youth soccer, Brad Partridge of FC Florida pointed to a bit from the "U.S. Soccer Curriculum" he had issue with. In the second paragraph of the document, in the “Style of Play” section, a key element (Quick Transitions and Finishing) description begins with “Speed of play, avoiding over-dribbling …”

It’s the “over-dribbling” mention that’s the problem, as youth coaches can infer this means they should discourage youngsters from dribbling. Partridge believes, “U9 and under, encourage all players to dribble, dribble and then dribble some more.”

I agree with Partridge for several reasons, starting with that the fact that the lack of exceptional dribblers is one of the American soccer's biggest problems. And how do players turn into great dribblers? They try their moves thousands of times until they start working. Imagine how many times Marta or Lionel Messi “over-dribbled” while they learned craft.

A youth soccer environment where a child with a ball is greeted by shouts of “Pass It! … Clear it! … Boot it!” is one that discourages dribblers -- and dribbling is the first step to mastering all ball skills.
The USSF Curriculum reference to “over-dribbling” may be for the higher levels, but that it appears at the beginning of a document designed as a recipe for youth coaching sends the wrong message. Besides, when’s the last time we watched our national team and thought, “They’re dribbling too much!” More likely we see them unable to establish a rhythm of play because they lack one-on-one skills.

I would think a high-level coach would rather welcome a superb dribbler who needs to improve on decision-making than an unselfish player lacking in foot skills.

High school Fun. Mike Barr’s YSI “The case for high school soccer” produced an enormous amount of feedback and we’ll continue to cover the topic, which has heated up since the U.S. Soccer Development Academy’s move to a 10-month season that doesn’t allow for high school play. Several supporters of high school ball in Soccer America’s chat room and in letters to the editor make the argument that kids relish playing for their schools.

One reader shared an anecdote of a player who skipped his junior year of high school ball at the behest of his Academy club, but sits on the bench at every game, cheering on his schoolmates, and has vowed to quit his Academy team as soon as he seals a college deal. Then he’ll return to play high school ball his senior year.

REFS AND ARs. Randy VogtsYSI on when refs should overrule their assistants drew a protest from Robert Evans in his “For the Integrity of Soccer” blog.

FURTHER READING … An excerpt of Graham Hunter's new book, “Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World” on recounts Lionel Messi’s arrival from Argentina at age 12. Read it HERE. …

Tom Marshall of checks in with 16-year-old New Yorker Nick Gaitan, who has joined Boca Juniors' youth program. Gaitan, who turned down an invitation to U.S. Soccer’s Bradenton Residency, spent much of the last two years in Argentinos Juniors youth system. “I’ve been a Boca Juniors fanatic since I was 5 years old,” said Gaitan. His father, Adrian, however, is a River Plate fan and they have to watch Boca-River games in separate rooms, “because we fight,” says Nick. Were he to make it to La Bombonera, Nick says his dad, who represented the USA at the 2007 Under-20 World Cup in Chile, would come to the stadium, “but he’d definitely not wear a Boca Juniors shirt.” Read Marshall’s article HERE. …

... The Orange County (Calif.) Register reports on an attempt to use soccer to keep kids out of gangs. About 1,200 students have been offered free tickets to a Chivas USA game if they have no unexcused absences, no reports of bad behavior, no failing grade at the trimester, and who obey their city's curfew laws.

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for Bay Oaks/East Bay United SC in Oakland, Calif. He is the co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper
, and More Than Goals with Claudio Reyna. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at

11 comments about "Dribble on! ... High school more fun?".
  1. Ken Sweda, February 10, 2012 at 8:02 p.m.

    Great shout on the dribbling commentary. Dribbling is the key to development, and why the US suffers from a lack thereof. It makes for better position, more incisive offensive play, better and more aware passers. Second, on the issue of the DA's 10-month season and requirement that players quit their HS teams, I'm fine with it. If the DA does what it should and the quality is good (yes, US Soccer has a habit of not following through), a player that misses the relaxed atmosphere and social nature of his HS team generally isn't going to be one that was ever going to help us win a World Cup. Lastly, I find it rather ironic that it's that has a feature on Nick Gaitan, considering he seems to be shooting for much a higher level than our domestic league.

  2. Ken Sweda, February 10, 2012 at 8:03 p.m.

    *Possession*, not position.

  3. K Hakim, February 11, 2012 at 10:32 a.m.

    This is the heart of the problem with national soccer development in the US. Ball Control and Dribbling are the most important skills for a child to learn when playing the game. They should be encouraged to love the ball, have fun with it and express themselves with no fear of mistakes. But where does this fear come from? Adults wanting to win but who are clueless to what skillful soccer is. These same clueless people run US Soccer and US Youth Soccer and look for every gimmick and trend to follow to create an elitist environment for their teams so they can claim they are the best in a small world (aka baseball claiming to be world champions in a competition only played in America). Academy Leagues, ODP, Super Y Leagues, etc, all pathetic efforts to claim we are the best, diluting the talent pool to only those that can afford it. If US Soccer had any balls, they would run every level of the game under one umbrella, like the rest of the world, and encourage everyone play everyone in their locale. Instead, we have all these "college educated" clueless people running the game as if they were still playing in college or part of some fraternity. None have professional top level experience or none have developed kids from 6 to 26. Has Bruce Arena or Bob Bradley ever produced a top class player? Their own sons are cardboard players with no skill. So what do they know about developing skilled players? Yet all their entourage are running the top of the game. The blind leading the blind. These development curriculum's serve nobody but the elitist. The elitist attitude is what loses in the Men's World Cup and is dreadful to watch with the Women's National Team and Women's Pro League. We need people with a real passion for skill to run the game. To encourage futsal in schools and year round league play. To create street soccer in every urban setting. To scout players in high school where kids play for free, as well as travel club. To pick players who are creative in every position, not just some role player to do a job. Until we get people at the top who know about creating the environment and culture for skillful soccer, we will always see promising players with flair run out of the game due to Gansler-Milutinovic-Arena-Bradley-Novak-Cirovski-Sundage-Heinrich type drones.

  4. Julio Lainez, February 11, 2012 at 10:48 a.m.

    Somebody already started thinking in the right direction. Good players have struggled for long time to develop their skills because the poor coaches knowledge. Many times our kids have been taken out of the field because they kept the ball a few seconds more. "Pass the ball", "Kick the ball" Is the regular language used by poor coaching from Recreational, high-school, academies and even ODP programs. American should be not afriad developing dribbling skills since they have the rest: Phisical abilities, good kicking, and speed. By the way, there are a few kids that get the opportuntity to do whatever they want, the coach kids. Many times these kids got the talent but also they get the support frpm their daddys to keep the ball as long they want. Is you boy or daughter or son coached by somebody whose boy play on the same team? I bet you that that kid get more time than anybody else and is allowed more mistakes than anybody else. With my kids, we learned very late and now I run away from those kind of team. We have seen too much unfairness on coaches just staying coaching until their kids get a schollarship then they dissapear. One pof the club my son has been playing for, daddy coach has been training only the teams that his kids participate. He pushed them into the game until they finish HS and get an scholarship. I know that once he finished with his last kid, he will move out of the club. Do not take me wrong his kids have very good talent but opportunities for those kids double increase when they only miss 5-10 minutes playing per game.
    Yes, let the kids have fun with the ball and avoid coaches coaching their dauther/son team. Lets get fair with teh good talented players.

  5. Brad Hallier, February 11, 2012 at 10:49 a.m.

    People see how the professionals play, and they want the kiddies to play just like Spain, just like Barcelona. The problem is, those teams are filled with brilliantly skilled dribblers who could destroy opponents with their skills if needed. I'm so tired of how this country is developing soccer players. There's a man in Kansas City by the name of Andy Barney who wrote a book I finished last year. He's all about teaching dribbling. His arguments as to why are unshakable. We need to develop skillful dribblers, not team-oriented players. And let's not sell kids short. They know how to pass. They'll learn when to pass the older they get. This country should teach dribbling and finishing about 95 percent of the time and encourage it during games. Who cares if you lose to a kickball team?

  6. Richard Beal, February 11, 2012 at 11:27 a.m.

    I believe I saw Adrian Gaitan play in the Empire Games in NY State many years ago and I think he coached later on. I believe he was a youth national team player.

  7. Rick Figueiredo, February 14, 2012 at 1:02 p.m.

    "and dribbling is the first step to mastering all ball skills" - wow, quite a statement. I am going to have to think about that one. I was under the impression that "mindset" is the first and most important step to mastering ball skills but you make an interesting statement. And yes, american coaches discourage dribbling but then again the american decision to immitate british soccer has brought US soccer to its knees. They will progress no more for the next 30-50 years. The USA needs to understand how their own "football" is culturally defined before they start going anywhere. The Premier League is the best marketed league in the world. Not the best played.

  8. Rob Azarcon, February 21, 2012 at 3:31 p.m.

    I don't think you should encourage U9 players to dribble more, but also don't discourage. By that I mean, let THEIR natural instinct drive what they do. Our players lack soccer IQ because they are always told how to play. It's just as bad as encouraging them to pass more.

    Give them the tools; how to pass, receive, dribble, strike the ball and to a certain age let them do as they please with these tools. Sure set up a loose framework and teach them ideas about the game that are age appropriate, but let them explore on their own.

    The foundation is ball mastery—but I wouldn't call that dribbling.

  9. Ken Sweda, February 24, 2012 at 1:13 p.m.

    Rick, I think you understand what I was trying to say but I wanted to make sure :). Dribbling produces the most touches in the shortest time. Kids, especially the youngest ones, WANT the ball, they want to keep it and run away with it (they may show it in odd ways, such as a 5yo booting it away when you get close) but the idea is to show them the PROPER way to keep the ball. The mindset of ball mastery comes from taking a child's inherent selfishness, and adding to it the basic skill of actually keeping the ball. When the mindset is established (from non-descript idea to functional know-how) that's when things really take off. So I guess what I'm saying is that kids do have a certain KIND of mindset to want/own the ball, but the how/why needs to be instructed. Simple tasks and encouragement, plus lots of fun repetition (where they don't even realize they're being taught) is the key. I've seen it in my own U8 girls team. Over the course of one Fall season, they went from fairly rough to absolute diamonds, with an attitude and confidence to match. They also because much more aware players and passers, as they could start to pick their heads up and realize (based on their newfound ball mastery skills) when the time was right to look for other options. It was an absolute joy to see, and I hope every coach out there finds those moments in their coaching career.

  10. Brian Something, March 3, 2012 at 8:20 a.m.

    The problem with overdribbling (as opposed to appropriate dribbling) is that it's often done with no particular purpose in mind, but simply as a lack of imagination or overreliance on athleticism or lack of game awareness.

  11. B Arsenal, March 9, 2012 at 2:10 p.m.

    Good Job Hakim. Could not agree more. Your comments are right on the money. The elitist environment that you talk about is probably one of the main reasons why there aren't more Hispanic players on the national team.

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