Train of Thought – How rewarding one-touch goals can improve players’ dribbling

The mental side of the beautiful game is at least as important as the physical side, but is often neglected by coaches in training sessions. In this series, Travis Norsen, author of Play With Your Brain, will discuss small tweaks to standard training exercises and the large positive effects they can have on players’ decision-making and soccer intelligence. This week, Travis explores how rewarding one-touch goals can improve players’ dribbling.


In an earlier post in this series, I explained the value of having kids train with one and two touch restrictions. It requires them to look around and plan out, before they receive the ball, what they’ll do with it once they get it. That way, they’re in a position to play the next pass (or, when appropriate, shoot!) immediately after settling the incoming ball.  This is valuable because kids tend to default to dribbling a little bit when they first get the ball, and then considering other options only later… and only if they still have the ball.  We coaches need to wean them off of this habit.  We want our players to be able to play — to be able to generate scoring opportunities together — without always relying on dribbling.

But this doesn’t mean we never want our players to dribble.  There are many situations in which dribbling with the ball is the best option.  For example, if a player gets the ball with no teammates in front of them, and there is a gap between defenders that they can dribble through (or a single defender they can dribble around) to create a high-probability scoring opportunity, they should of course go for it!  

Elsewhere on the field (and especially in the defensive end), though, we don’t generally want our players “going at” opponents on the dribble.  Better to let the ball do the work and instead go around those opponents with quick passes.  But that doesn’t mean dribbling has no role to play.  It is a fundamental law of soccer that dribbling attracts defenders.  And even if you aren’t going to try to dribble through the defenders who are attracted to you when you start dribbling forward, it can be very valuable to have attracted them toward you (as long as you expect it and get rid of the ball before they’re on top of you). Because defenders that are closer to you are further from your teammates. By dribbling to attract defensive pressure, that is, you create more and better passing opportunities for yourself, which, if you take advantage of them, can result in more and better scoring opportunities for your team.  

This skill — dribbling to attract defenders and then passing into the spaces vacated by those defenders — is the mark of a truly intelligent and creative player.  

So… how to train it?

One of my favorite methods is to simply offer a bonus for one-touch goals.  For example, in a small-sided game, you can reward goals scored with a single touch as counting for double or perhaps even triple.  This incentivizes players to drive with the ball at one goal, try to attract additional defenders, and then look to dish the ball to a teammate making a run toward the now-undefended goal for an easy two- (or three-) point one-touch tap-in.

Here, for example, a White Circles player intercepts a pass near midfield and is not immediately pressured.  So she dribbles aggressively toward the goal on her right.  One Black Triangles defender prepares to step toward her as another moves laterally to provide support, but this leaves the second goal largely undefended.  So our White Circles player with the ball makes the smart play:  instead of trying to beat the two defenders at the right-hand goal for a single point (a pretty low-percentage proposition anyway), she lays the ball off to her White Circles teammate for the much higher-percentage two- (or perhaps three-) pointer.  Nice play!

Of course, in this situation, dishing the ball off to the teammate is the right play even without a double- or triple-point bonus for the one-touch finish.  But the extra reward provides a helpful incentive, both for the player with the ball to make the smart, unselfish decision, and also for her teammate to make the forward run that makes the whole thing possible.  Indeed, in my experience, players love to go for the two- or three-point goal, and quickly figure out that they can generate them systematically by driving hard with the ball toward one goal to attract defenders away from the other.  Which is exactly what we want them to figure out.  

So, coaches, give your players a chance to figure this out.  And, when they do, help them appreciate that they’ve discovered a profound principle of intelligent, creative soccer which applies far beyond this small-sided training game to double-goals. 


So there it is! The value of how rewarding one-touch goals can improve players’ dribbling! If this article resonated with you, be sure to give it a clap, comment below and follow on Twitter @coachingtms. Be sure to check out more of Travis’ work on Train of Thought below. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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more in this series

Train of Thought – The value of playing with touch restrictions

The mental side of the beautiful game is at least as important as the physical side, but is often neglected by coaches in training sessions. In this series, Travis Norsen, author of Play With Your Brain, will discuss small tweaks to standard training exercises and the large positive effects they can have on players’ decision-making and soccer intelligence. This week, Travis explores the value of using one-touch restrictions in your sessions.

Train of Thought – Situating training exercises in their appropriate place on the pitch

The mental side of the beautiful game is at least as important as the physical side, but is often neglected by coaches in training sessions. In this series, Travis Norsen, author of Play With Your Brain, will discuss small tweaks to standard training exercises and the large positive effects they can have on players’ decision-making and soccer intelligence. This week, Travis explores why you should situate your training exercises in their appropriate place on the pitch.

Train of Thought – Why you should be more defensive about rondos

The mental side of the beautiful game is at least as important as the physical side, but is often neglected by coaches in training sessions. In this series, Travis Norsen, author of Play With Your Brain, will discuss small tweaks to standard training exercises and the large positive effects they can have on players’ decision-making and soccer intelligence. This week, Travis explores why you should be more defensive about your rondos.

Train of Thought – Why you should incorporate double goals into your training

The mental side of the beautiful game is at least as important as the physical side, but is often neglected by coaches in training sessions. In this series, Travis Norsen, author of Play With Your Brain, will discuss small tweaks to standard training exercises and the large positive effects they can have on players’ decision-making and soccer intelligence. This week, Travis explores why you should incorporate double goals into your training.

You might also enjoy…

-> 13 Warm-Up Activities with the Ball
-> Restricted vs. Conditioned Games – Coaching Soccer
-> Progressive Possession – Full Session Plan & Key Coaching Points

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