Expert section: Mate Kontra – I’ve played soccer at a very high level all my life. Throughout my time playing, I’ve experimented with many different ways to practice and learned which ones work and which ones don’t. I’ve been coached by ex-pro, D1, and Academy level coaches, currently playing at the MLS-Next level as a wingback in California. I’m here to tell you why cones are important to your soccer development.
A very popular way that players practice their soccer skills is with the use of cones.
However, it is a controversial way to practice because many exercises are considered to be not game realistic, meaning they will not translate well to games.
But there is a critical perspective on the topic that players often overlook, and I can tell you from experience that it had a crucial role in developing my dribbling technique in soccer.
Cone drills have an instrumental role in developing the skills necessary for an efficient on-ball technique in soccer because they provide a platform for players to turn repetitive practice into muscle memory. Although they are not a complete replacement for playing with other players, they can highly improve ball-handling technique.
In this article, we will discuss how you can benefit from cone drills, and why these benefits are valuable for your individual development in soccer.
Before we get into the rest of the article, we do want to emphasize that these exercises do not replace practice with real players.
We encourage you to practice with other players as often as you can because that is the most efficient way to practice, everything else is only a simulation of real-life scenarios.
When you aren’t able to play with other players though, we highly recommend practicing your dribbling with the use of cones.
5 Crucial Benefits that cones provide in your soccer development
The following are the top benefits you will get from implementing cones in your practice sessions.
We started with the basics and progressed to the more significant perks of using cones for developing an effective dribbling technique.
1: Quick Feet
The first and most basic benefit of cone exercises is quick feet.
Due to the number of cones that are used in most exercise variations, you are constantly running into obstacles that you have to avoid.
This means that very quick and constant adjustments of the ball are required to perform the exercises well, developing your technique to be rapid.
Importance of quick feet
Having quick feet on the ball is crucial if you want to take your game to the next level because it directly correlates to being able to develop in-game reflexes.
Not having quick feet could hold you back from developing reflexes because if you aren’t able to perform your moves fast enough, then it becomes very difficult to practice them during game scenarios.
To put it simply, it is not an easy task to be an efficient player without relying on instincts, so it is super important to develop quick feet as early as you can.
This will also allow you to find more success in other areas of your game as well, and practice a wider range of skills.
One of the most foundational abilities that players possess in soccer is agility because they are constantly in situations where they have to quickly change directions to keep up with an attacker or lose a defender.
Cone exercises are great for practicing agility because many variations of this type of exercise do an amazing job of including explosive direction changes.
Explosive direction changes are perfect for improving agility because they train the two core skills that agility relies on; balance and shifting the center of gravity.
Importance of agility
Having great agility in soccer is critical for your development because it is one of the easiest things that can set you apart from your competition and make you stand out.
Similar to our previous point, this also means that you can take more risks and improve other areas of your game that you wouldn’t be able to without having good agility.
Just take Ousmane Dembele from Barcelona as an example, if he wasn’t so agile and explosive, he wouldn’t be able to practice taking on defenders, which would make him horrible at juking other players.
It is because of his agility that he is great at so many other aspects of the game.
To effectively practice dribbling, I recommend doing exercise variations that include some sort of turn, around a cone.
These types of variations will allow you to practice keeping balance during a turn, and train how to effectively shift your center of gravity for the fastest turn possible.
If the next obstacle, or cone, is over 5 yards away, you can even practice explosiveness and change of pace when dribbling.
3: Ball Control
Improving ball control is one of the more specific skills that cone exercises improve, which couldn’t easily be done any other way.
This is one of the examples where having quick feet helps develop great ball control.
When constantly making adjustments to the trajectory of the ball, you need to be quick enough to do so, otherwise, you will run into obstacles (defenders in match scenarios) and lose the ball.
If you already developed being quick with your feet, it will be much easier to learn the ball because you won’t have to worry about sluggish touches.
But when only thinking about ball control, we can break it up into two parts that different variations of cone exercises can effectively train.
Learning the ball with the entire foot
In order to have great ball control, you need to be able to manipulate the ball with all parts of your foot.
That means you need to be able to comfortably touch and control the ball with the outside, inside, laces, and soles of your feet.
This is crucial in fooling defenders because having variety in your touches when dribbling, will make you more unpredictable, giving a tough job to opposing defenders.
I recommend using ball mastery exercises, and line exercises (putting cones in a line 2ft apart and dribbling between them) to improve your ball control.
Both of these exercise variations work on muscle memory for specific touches, which means that you can use them to optimize your sessions to your most common type of touches in a game.
The best way I found to learn the ball with my entire foot is to make the cone setup as unorganized as possible.
In my practice sessions, I would just throw down 20-30 cones on the ground, leaving one or two feet of space between each.
Then, in a random pattern, I would dribble through the cones, making sure to use all areas of both of my feet at least once.
After a few sessions I started getting the hang of it, and it became a super fun exercise that I love and use in most of my sessions.
Bonus points if you can do it on concrete!
Weight of touches
Another essential component of having great ball control is touching the ball with the right weight.
Every time you touch the ball while dribbling, it should never be farther than 2 feet from your foot.
That way the ball is at a perfect distance for you to make quick adjustments.
Though, instead of focusing on the distance, it may be easier to first focus on keeping the ball as close as you can but making sure it doesn’t get stuck under your feet.
To practice the weight of your touches I recommend setting up cones in a zig-zag pattern, 5ft apart from each other.
You want to dribble around the outside of the cones in the zig-zag pattern, first at a decent pace but focusing on keeping full control of the ball as described above.
Once you master the exercise at this pace, start increasing the speed until you are running around the cones as fast as you can, and still keeping full control of the ball.
There are 2 important aspects of coordination that dribbling exercises with cones can enhance.
The first aspect of coordination is learning how to exploit and take advantage of space effectively, and the second aspect is knowing where the ball is at all times.
Learn to use space
Learning space when you are dribbling with the ball is a skill that cone drills will improve regardless of the exercise variation or setup.
Essentially, it will train your depth perception of space, and your ability to understand how much time it will take to dribble from one place to another.
It will become instinctual to determine if you have the ability to dribble into space or not, which will lead to faster decisions in games and makes it easier to catch the opposition off guard.
Additionally, there are exercise variations that specifically train the weight of your touch when pushing the ball farther in front of you.
In this case, that would be knowing whether or not you will get to the ball before your opponent does.
The most effective way that I found to train this skill, is either starting with a rebounder pass to yourself or doing a dribbling sequence.
Immediately after, follow up with a 10-15 yard explosive dribbling sequence (cone to cone).
Here you push the ball in front of you a few yards, still keeping control, and sprinting to catch up.
Knowing where the ball is (at all times)
Being able to know where the ball is at all times, even while looking up for a pass is a highly overlooked skill that can set you far apart from your competition.
This is the exact skill that allows you to skip the extra setup touch for a pass because you already know where the ball is, so you can just fix your runup.
This saves several seconds between passes, leaving barely any time for opponents to figure out your next move.
This skill is very useful in high-pressure situations because you will be able to play faster and lower the risk of losing the ball.
Although this may seem difficult to practice, all you need to do is incorporate a small detail into any exercise variation, as often as you can.
This little detail is keeping your chin up.
I would start by looking up a few times for a split second, and toward looking up for longer amounts of time.
Your end goal should be being able to look up from the ball whenever you need to and still keep control of the ball.
5: Skill Moves
Skill moves are also something that can be practiced with the use of cones.
It may even be the most simple way of using cones because you only need a single cone to act as a defender.
You will need to dribble toward it and use the skill move of your choice to beat the “defender”, or cone in this case.
Enough repetition will allow you to learn skill moves very quickly, so I highly recommend doing this if you are an attacking player.
I would also like to mention, however, that practicing skill moves with cones is only useful to master the technique and increase the quickness of the move.
If you are interested in a more in-depth analysis of the most effective skill moves that you should learn, please check out our article, “The 3 Types of Skill Moves to Master in Soccer (MLS-Next Player Thoughts)”.
Today, we discussed cone drills and why they are so important for your development in soccer.
We talked about the 5 most important benefits that you gain from these exercises, which are quick feet, agility, ball control, coordination, and skill moves.
Quick feet are one of the most basic, yet, foundational skills that cone drills improve.
Providing you with constant obstacles, cones require you to take many touches in quick succession, training your reaction speed with your feet.
Agility is also heavily trained with the use of cones, as they test your balance with every turn, and help you practice shifting your center of gravity to improve those sharp turning skills and enhance your explosivity.
Next, ball control is improved by using repetition to learn the two most important components of it; learning the ball with all areas of the foot, and touching the ball with the perfect weight.
Similar to ball control, coordination is trained with the use of cones by teaching you space and time perception while dribbling, as well as helping you learn where the ball is at all times.
Last but not least, skill moves can also be practiced with the use of cones by acting as defenders, however, it is important to know that they only help you to learn the technique, and you should try your best to practice it with other people to completely master it.
Image Attribution & Licensing
Featured Image: ‘Soccer Player Cone Exercise’ by Nigel Msipa (Licensed via Unsplash)
#1: ‘Ready to Play’ by Nigel Msipa (Licensed via Unsplash)
#2: ‘Quick Footed Player Beating Defender’ by Addictive_Stock (Licensed via EnvatoElements)
#3: ‘Agile Player Passing Defender’ by Jeffrey F Lin (Licensed via Unsplash)
#4: ‘Player Practicing Ball Control’ by Donnycocacola (Licensed via Unsplash)
#5: ‘Fast Player Passing Defender’ by Jeffrey F Lin (Licensed via Unsplash)
#6: ‘Player Showing Off Soccer Skills’ by Ruben Leija (Licensed via Unsplash)