I run into a surprising number of soccer folks who don’t think juggling helps you become a better soccer player.
Their logic is always: “You don’t juggle in a game, so you’ll be better off practicing the stuff you use.”
That’s too simple. Though juggling isn’t used in the game, it has lots of benefits.
Juggling trains you to use your whole body to control the ball and improves your ability to read and react to it. It also reduces your chance of injury*.
Engaging your whole body and enhancing your ability to read and react to the ball improves all aspects of ball control — 1st touch, passing, dribbling, shooting, winning 50/50s and tackling.
It trains you to use your whole body by training you to stay in the athletic position and light on your toes, which is the position most conducive to good juggling.
Watch someone with juggling experience stop a ball.
They have a good touch.
They tend to move their whole body a little bit to absorb the ball’s momentum, rather than just sticking their foot out and having it bounce off.
When they are a really practiced, that whole body movement is barely perceptible, but it’s there.
The athletic position is when you could snap a photo facing the player and draw a rectangle that intersects shoulders, hips, knees and toes. I call this being in your box.
I think this position may help reduce chance of injury because it more evenly distributes game forces across your whole body.
Extending outside “the box” cause forces to concentrate into small areas of your body, like your joints or hamstrings.
Play the tape back on many injuries and you will see the injured player was reaching outside their “box”.
The athletic box position also helps you leverage your body weight and core strength, improving ball your touch, control, strength of tackles and power on shots.
Pay close attention to a well-executed bicycle kick. You will see the player does a back flip while maintaining the athletic position, driving all of his or her body weight and core strength through the ball.
Even good headers come from a player in the athletic box position.
Juggling has all these benefits, plus once you get decent at it, it becomes a more fun way to pass the time and it can be done just about anytime and anywhere.
Juggling is not the only thing players need to do to become complete. But, players who don’t juggle won’t reach their potential and may increase their chances of injury.
Juggling can be learned at any age.
In soccer-playing cultures, it’s common for players learn before age 8 and not remember when they couldn’t juggle.
I was lucky enough to learn to juggle in my 40s because I got to experience all the improvements above as my juggling improved, so I could tell you about it.
Had I learned it when I was 8, I may never had made those connections.
*A side note on injuries: I recall reading years ago about a study that showed that the ‘quickest’ (over short distance) players tended not to make it to the top of the game due to their propensity of getting injured. The hypothesis was that fast twitch muscles are more susceptible to injury than slow twitch muscles.
I have another theory. The quickest players tend to rely on their speed and they don’t put in as much effort to develop their ball skills, which in turns leads them to not maintaining the athletic box position.
It seems like there are more quick and skilled players coming in the top levels of the game like Vardy, Mbappe and Pulisic. Perhaps the skill work they have put in, including juggling, has helped train them to stay in the athletic box position and stay healthy.