Spotlight on: moving with the ball

Guide All Ages

We introduce what it means to move with the ball, why it matters and how to help your team develop this skill.

Moving with the ball. Simply put, this phrase means staying on the ball while manoeuvring it around the pitch. Players can use different techniques to achieve this, like dribbling, hiding and revealing.

Moving with the ball is an important skill to develop. It allows players to:

  • run into space
  • manipulate the ball to stay ‘on it’
  • change direction and skip past an opponent
  • help their team keep possession.

This was demonstrated in Euro 2020, where lots of English players, such as Jack Grealish and Jadon Sancho, made the most of this skill.

This video demonstrates some of the many ways you can move with the ball. It also highlights the role of key skills, such as perception.

Moving with the ball

Now, let’s look at the image below. Here, Jadon Sancho is surrounded by three members of the opposing team – Ukraine. If one of your players was in a similar position, would they know what to do?

England's Jadon Sancho breaks away from Ukraine's Serhiy Sydorchuk and Andriy Yarmolenko during their Euro 2020 quarter-final match.
England's Jadon Sancho uses his ability to move with the ball to glide past two Ukraine players at Euro 2020.

Sancho did. And this is down to his football experience.

In response to this situation – and surrounded by defenders – not only could Sancho move the ball, he also worked his body to disguise his intentions. Sancho is extremely confident in using multiple parts of his foot to shift the ball.

Ultimately, Sancho succeeded in this situation thanks to many years of practice. To help your team gain this experience, give them as many opportunities as possible to test their skills. Remember that moving with the ball, and staying on it, go hand in hand. We need to support players to develop in both these areas.

At times, moving with the ball can feel a bit risky. This means you may see it more in attacking areas – where there’s less at stake if you lose possession.

As a coach, your role is to help players feel comfortable moving with the ball in any area of the pitch. To do this, your team must have the opportunity to test their skills in both opposed and unopposed game-based experiences. This will help them gain ‘football memory’ and become creative, confident players.

When coaching your team to move with the ball, here are some key considerations.

  • Before you get players moving with the ball, help them to master their body.
  • Make staying on the ball your main focus.
  • Create sessions that give players realistic opportunities to practise.

Remember that every time a player moves with the ball, they face a slightly different situation. To get used to this, your team need to explore the weight of their touches, what part of the foot to use, changing direction and how to beat defenders – all while staying on the ball. This is especially true if you work with younger players.

As coaches, we’re probably all guilty of yelling the odd “pass!” from the sidelines (especially on matchdays). But that’s rarely helpful for team development. Instead, let’s try to encourage more moving on the ball – and provide players with the support they need to do it.

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