Control Defined

By Tony Earp

Coaches talk to players a lot about their control of the ball and how to improve it. It is probably one of the most common things a player gets feedback on during training and games. “Better first touch” or “keep it close” are both examples of what a player might hear from a coach when the ball gets too far from the body and possession is lost. The coaches want the players to keep the ball closer to the body so they can protect it from defenders, while at the same time, be able to execute their next decision on the ball. With that said, is that really all that “control” is when it comes to handling the ball during a game? It is just keeping the ball close to the body? Yes, these are parts of what control of the ball entails, but it is not the complete picture. So, let’s define control….

Control is defined as “the power to influence or direct.” Throughout the game, a player’s ability to influence and direct the ball is the foundation of being able to play this game. So, control is not just keeping the ball close to the body. No, a player who has real control of the ball, can make it do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and wherever he wants.

A player with great control is a player who can consistently have the ball react to the body exactly how the player anticipated. If the player wanted to go left, the player went left. He wants his touch on the dribble to move the ball three yards from him, the ball moves three yards or somewhere very close. With any part of the body the player can legally use in the game, the player can direct and influence the ball to do exactly what was intended with little need for corrective touches or adjustments.

When we talk to players about “controlling” the ball, it cannot only be in the context of keeping the ball close to the body. It needs to be applied to every aspect of the game. Whether it is dribbling, passing, finishing, or trapping the ball, the player must have that element of control.

Dribbling does not just require a player to keep the ball close to the body when moving with it. Instead, dribbling requires the player to be able to make contact with the ball with the appropriate part of the foot, on the correct part of the ball, with the proper weight, and at the right time in order to successfully maneuver the ball around pressure and into space. The slightest miscalculation in any of those areas usually results in a loss of possession or a lost opportunity due to the player needing extra touches or time to get where he wanted to go.

When you watch a player handle the ball, does it look like he knows where the ball is about to go or does the player look like they are reacting to every touch? In other words, do they look surprised by the direction or distance of their touch? A player with good control is confident in where he is directing the ball with each touch. Whether he is trapping the ball, passing the ball, finishing, or dribbling, the touch taken on the ball looks intentional and with purpose.

Keeping the ball close is also not always the goal for a player. There are times in the game when a larger touch on the dribble ,or with the first touch, is needed to get away from pressure or quickly move forward into space. If a player is running with the ball, and has plenty of space, the player is faster the less number of times the player needs to touch the ball while running. The player needs to manage the distance of each touch to make sure nobody else can get to the ball before he does, but a touch may need to be farther from the body to allow the player to accelerate faster into the space before the defender can get there.
When a player receives the ball, to keep it close to the body may hurt the player’s ability to keep the ball. It could trap the player in pressure making it easier for a defender to close the player down. It is necessary in the game to be able to take a first touch away from the body into space versus keeping it close when appropriate. This allows the player to escape pressure or take advantage of space before the defender can close him down.

In both of these situations, the player must be able to direct and influence the ball to determine where it will go next. A miscalculated touch a little too far right or left, too soft or too hard, can quickly cause the player to lose possession of the ball. The more control players have of the ball, their influence and direction of each touch, the more likely they will have success.

Control is directly related to a player's ability to strike the ball to pass or finish from close or farther distances. A player with great control knows how hard and where to hit the ball to get the desired result of the strike. By using the correct part of the foot and proper follow through, the player can get the correct pace and texture to the strike. All of this is “control” because it is the player’s ability to influence and direct the ball. Players with great control are usually tremendous at passing and finishing, especially in regards to putting different types of spin and loft on their strikes.

Control of the ball directly correlates with a player’s ability to control the body. With great body control and positioning, the player puts himself into a better situation to get the desired contact with the ball. When a player is off-balance or out of position, it is difficult to get the necessary touch on the ball. This is why foot speed, agility, and coordination work is important for players in training. When players are deficient in these developmental areas, it is harder for them to be successful with the ball. Improved body awareness gives the player the ability to control how they are making an impact with the ball. Being able to direct and influence the body allows the player to more easily direct and influence the ball.

Again, control is not only keeping the ball close to the body. A player can trap a ball or dribble with it close to the body and still have a considerable lack of control of the ball. Control is about total influence and direction of each touch on the ball. A player with great control has few limitations to what he can make the ball do. As a result of that control, they not only can influence and direct the ball, they tend to be the players that can influence and direct the outcomes of games.

Tony Earp directs SuperKick/TeamZone Columbus’ Soccer Skills programs. Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. He can be reached at

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