I run into a surprising number of soccer folks who don’t think juggling helps you become a better soccer player.
Their logic is pretty much: “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.
The athletic position is when you could snap a photo from the front of the player and draw a rectangle that intersects shoulders, hips, knees and toes.
This position helps reduce injuries by more evenly distributing game forces across your whole body.
Extending outside the athletic position concentrates forces into small areas of your body, like knees, ankles, hips or hamstrings. Play the tape back on many injuries and you will see the injured player was reaching a leg outside the athletic position.
The athletic position also helps you leverage your body weight and core strength, which improves ball control, strength of tackles and power on shots. Pay close attention to a well executed bicycle kick. You will see the player did a back flip in the athletic position, driving all of his or her body weight and core strength into the ball.
Juggling has all these benefits, plus once you get half way decent at it, juggling is a fun way to pass the time and it can be done just about anytime and anywhere.
Juggling is not the only thing a player needs to work on to become a complete player. But, players who don’t juggle won’t reach their potential and 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 learned in my 40s. In a way I’m lucky for that because I got to experience all the improvements I listed 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 injury. The hypothesis was that fast twitch muscles are more susceptible to injury than slow twitch muscles.
I have another theory. The quickest players tended to rely on their speed and not develop their skills and athletic position as much through practice like juggling. It could be that is what really causes more injuries.
It seems like there are more and more quick and skilled players coming in the top levels of the game like Vardy, Mbappe and Pulisic. Perhaps the skill work they’ve put in, including juggling, has helped them stay in the athletic position more and stay healthy.