Step By Step: The First Touch in Soccer Play

silhouette of woman with soccer ball
Mario Tama/Staff/Getty Images

The first touch is arguably the most important skill in soccer. Without a good one, you won’t ever have the opportunities to use your other skills because a defender will have already closed in.

Unfortunately, the first touch is also one of the most difficult skills to learn — it makes the difference between good players and great ones. While these tips won’t necessarily turn you into Cristiano Ronaldo, they will tell you what you should be looking to do every time the ball comes to you.

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Be Aware of Your Teammates

soccer player
Tottenham's Aaron Lennon looks up after taking a pass. Ian Walton/Getty Images Sport

No matter how you plan to control the ball, you need to know where you want to put it. The point of a good first touch is putting the ball in space and getting it out of your feet so you can deliver a crisp pass or take a clean shot. So in the moment before the ball comes to you, take a peek around. It’s as simple as putting the ball where a defender is not. And as your touch improves, your confidence will, too, and you will be able to look up sooner.

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Get the Ball Under Control

jumping soccer player
Thierry Henry stretches to reach a ball. Reuters

Once the ball reaches you, you have several options. Take the ball with:

  • The inside or outside of either foot
  • Your thigh
  • Your chest
  • Your shoulders
  • Your head
  • Or get creative, like Thierry Henry (above)
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Cushion the Ball

soccer player
Fulham's Jamie Bullard uses his thigh to gently reel a ball into his body and gain control. AFP PHOTO / Glyn Kirk

Track the ball in, put your entire body behind it, and don’t remain stiff. The same way your hands move back to soften a catch, cushion the ball with whichever part of your body you are using. Ideally, you should be on your toes, knees bent and arms out for balance.

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Bring the Ball Down

soccer player
After taking a pass on his toe, Manchester City's Robinho sweeps his leg and the ball down to put it ball on the ground. AFP PHOTO/Glyn Kirk

The first thing you want to do is get the ball on the ground if it isn’t there already—that’s where it is easiest to handle. Doing that requires a soft touch and a generally downward motion of your body.

With your foot, almost sweep the ball to the ground when it comes to you.

With your thighs or chest, the goal is to provide a cushion for the ball to land on before letting it drop in front of you.

You can control the direction of the touch by turning your hips or your shoulders.

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The Chest Trap

soccer player Rob Johnson
Simon Bruty / Getty Images

When it comes to chesting a ball down, lean back and remember to take a deep breath first or you might feel suddenly winded.

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Get the Ball out of Your Feet

soccer player
France legend Zinedine Zidane always had time on the ball because his first touch took it away from defenders and gave him room to operate. BBC Sport

Once you have the ball in your possession, you need to be looking around to either run with it, pass, or shoot, so keep your head up. Then, with a tap from the outside of your foot or your instep, push it a couple of feet in front of you to give your kick some room or starting your dribbling.

From there, it’s up to your creativity. The quicker and more natural your first touch becomes, the more time it will give you to plan your next move. The best players always seem to have a time and space on the ball because of the quality of their first touch.

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Practice Makes Perfect

soccer player
David Beckham works on his touch, taking a ball on the shoulder, with the Los Angeles Galaxy. Reuters

All you need for the easiest first-touch drill is a wall and any kind of ball (even a tennis ball works).

Throw or kick the ball at the wall from a variety of angles and bring it under control as it bounces back — left foot, right foot, thighs, chest, even shoulders and head. There really is no secret to it. It may sound simple, but it’s the best way to develop those instincts alone.

If you have the luxury of practicing with someone else, the drill doesn’t change much. Your teammate takes the place of the wall and feeds you the ball. Take a good first touch and pass it back.