Improving Soccer Awareness & Dribbling

Simply put, awareness is the knowledge or perception of a situation. In soccer, awareness is probably the single most important attribute you can have on the field and the difference between good players and great players. Masters of awareness are world-class players like Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta of Barcelona, who seem to be able to see plays before they happen and stay a step ahead of their opponents.

Below we outline basic concepts around awareness and dribbling, while providing a simple training exercise to demonstrate these concepts.

Four areas of Awareness

  1. Awareness before receiving the ball
  2. Awareness as the player receives it and moves it on quickly using one or two touches only
  3. Awareness if the player maintains possession of the ball using several touches
  4. Awareness in terms of the positioning of players supporting the player on the ball

Whether actively receiving the ball, on the ball dribbling or in support of teammates, players need to remain aware of the positioning of teammates & opponents, as well as open space. As play advances, players are always recalibrating their awareness to account for changing factors within the game. The idea is that all players should be in sync and thinking ahead of the ball and not just the player on the ball thinking ahead.

Five Principles of Dribbling

  1. Initial Movement: In a straight line at a slower speed
  2. Deception: Unbalance the opponent
  3. Accelerate: Into space using change of pace
  4. Space behind opponent: Pass the ball past defender and run
  5. Restricted space behind: Dribble past defender (in slow, out quick)

Training Exercise

As we mentioned before, awareness is skill that sets the best players apart from the rest. Awareness is something that can be taught, practiced and improved upon. The simple training exercise below is a great way improve basic dribbling and awareness while in possession of the ball.


Mark off two rectangular boxes based on the number of players you have participating. The box should be large enough to allow players to dribble around each other, but small enough that they will continually encounter each other.

Coaching Points

  1. Tight close control on the ball
  2. Skill to use the body to dummy and distract
  3. Skill in changing direction and pace
  4. Use of new or established dribbling techniques
  5. Dribbling with head up to be aware of other players & open space

A great way to test if players are really dribbling with their head up and staying aware of their space is to ask them to stop, and without looking again, name the player immediately behind them. If they are aware, they will know without looking.

Exercise Instructions

  1. Awareness Drill 1

    As seen here, each group of players stays in their own box, keeping their touches on one side of the square.

    Dribbling around with the ball, players stay in the box with their own team. In the second phase of the training exercise, players from both teams begin mixing in with each other to create more traffic and players to be aware of. Stop and check positions. Check how spread out players are, discuss the implications of being in possession of the ball in a game and making it hard for the opposition to mark you by using as much width and length as possible. Therefore the players must use the spaces as effectively as possible.

  2. awareness-drill-2

    The extension of this drill allows players to dribble on either side of the square, in either box, mixing amongst each other, as seen above.

    Continue with dribbling and turning but emphasize keeping the head up and not looking at the ball but looking around, in front, and side to side and behind (for younger players equate it to a bird on a fence, that is, a bird on a fence just spends time looking around). The players can see the ball in their peripheral vision without looking at it directly.

  3. Emphasize awareness of where other players are who are working in the same area by looking around; in front, to the side, and behind. Set the rule that when a player meets another player they must move to get away from them as if they were a defender in a game situation.
  4. Highlight each player dribbling and turning in a tight area avoiding other players. Coach can dictate techniques practiced. Work on improving ball control with quickening movement.
  5. Keep emphasizing looking away from the ball and not down at it all the time so they get an awareness of player positions and where space is to play. This is the basic beginning of awareness training.
  6. Have players running INTO traffic testing their ability to control the ball and observe others in the same spaces, again increasing the awareness concept.
  7. Use Commands (players must do what coach calls out)Turn (checking that no one is behind them first of all with a look over the shoulder then a turn if the space behind is free) Doing different turns they are good at.

    Out (they run outside the nearest line and check back in always looking to over the shoulder to see where other players are so they do not run into them
    Switch (changing soccer balls and continuing dribbling)
    Dribble (using a dribbling skill they are good at in a tight area)
    Right foot only (inside and out) This is more difficult so they will tend to look at the ball but remind them to look up when and where they can
    Left Foot only (as above)
    Quick (change pace and move more quickly for a few seconds but with the ball under control)
    Number (coach will hold their hand up with a number of fingers indicated, the players have to shout the number immediately by looking up and observing but also keeping control of the ball)


Wayne Harrison of Soccer AwarenessArticle courtesy of Wayne Harrison & Soccer Awareness. For more information about Wayne and his coaching techniques, please visit:


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