5 football fitness drills with a ball

by Pablo M20th Jan 2022

Training for fitness without a ball can be very dull and fruitless. After all, players don’t train to be marathonists. This post shares a few football fitness drills with a ball that will make your training more enjoyable.

Why conditioning with a ball

In the past, conditioning was approached separately without a ball. If you are 40+ like me, you will remember endless running sessions and all sorts of aerobic exercises. In many training sessions, you wouldn’t touch a ball at all! The belief was that team fitness would translate into a dominating team.

Today, we know that fitness is not enough and that individual and team skills must be on par with fitness, and the best way to increase skills is by practising with a ball as much as possible. In fact, FIFA recommends training with the ball using Global and Analytical methods. The former isolates elements of the game, while the latter simulates real game scenarios. The drills in this post are of Analytical nature.  

Aside from the technical disadvantages of only focussing on fitness, training without a ball is boring. Furthermore, in the context of grassroots/amateur football, you are at risk of having low attendance to your training or players simply leaving your team. Therefore, we prefer running football fitness drills with a ball and making them competitive to keep the intensity.

Drills preparation

We recommend that you use one of these drills after a warming-up. Many of the drills in this post require explosive movements,  so practising them when your muscles are cold can lead to injuries, especially the older you get.

You will need balls, cones and mannequins for the drills below. You don’t need top of the line balls for these exercises. However, when possible, train with the same balls used for the tournaments you play. Cones and mannequins are ideal, but you can use anything as markers: jumpers, backpacks, rocks, etc. Have a look at the recommended equipment below.

Drill 1 – Passing  circuit

You need four mannequins or poles to set up a diamond-like shape circuit. Each side will be 10 meters long, while the diagonals 15 meters and 13 meters long.

You can use from two players to three players for this drill. More players will slow down the intensity of the exercise as players will stay waiting in line. So, if you have a good number of players, you can have groups of players running this exercise in parallel. Then, you can make it competitive to increase the intensity by rewarding the group that finishes first the circuit.

Using as reference the animation below, the progression for this fitness drill is:

  • The red player starts sprinting in mannequin 1 towards mannequin 2 while the blue player waits in mannequin 3 to serve the ball to the red player.
  • The blue player serves a ball to the outside of mannequin 2. The red player returns the ball in 1 touch and moves to the inside of the mannequin.
  • The red player sprints towards mannequin 3 in the inside of the diamond.
  • The blue player serves a ball to the outside of mannequin 3, and the red player returns the ball in one touch.
  • The blue player passes the ball again but to the inside of mannequin 3. Since the serving player is standing in mannequin 3, these passes are quick and short.
  • The red player sprints towards mannequin 4 in the inside of the diamond.
  • The blue player serves a ball to the outside of mannequin 2. The red player returns the ball in 1 touch and sprints towards mannequin 1.
  • The red player sprints towards mannequin 1.
  • As soon as the red player starts sprinting, the grey player waiting in mannequin 1 starts the circuit.

Repeat this progression 3 times, then change the serving player. In total, each player in the group should have done 9 laps to the circuit. As discussed, if you have multiple groups, make it a competition between groups to see who finishes the drill first.

Football fitness drills with a ball - Passing circuit

Drill 2 – Ball control

You need 3 balls and 6 discs to mark a grid of two squares, as shown in the animation below. The sides of each square are 10 meters long.

Like in Drill 1, to keep the intensity of the exercise, limit the number of players to a maximum of three. If you have more players, have different groups running this exercise simultaneously and reward the group that finishes their circuit first.

Using as reference the animation below, the progression for this fitness drill is:

  • The first player starts off by dribbling the ball at full speed from the first disc to the second disc.
  • Stops the ball ideally on top of the disc or as close to it as possible.
  • Changes direction 90 degrees towards the third disc and sprints as fast as possible to the next disc without the ball.
  • Picks up the ball on top of the third disc and turns 90 degrees again.
  • Dribbles the ball at full speed towards the fourth disc and repeats the sequence above until reaching the last disc: dribbling with the ball, leaving the ball, sprint and so on.
  • Once the player reaches the last cone, repeats the drill backwards towards the first disc and leaves the balls in their original position.
  • The next player starts the circuit a soon as the previous player stops the ball on the first disc.

Repeat this progression 6 times per player. As discussed, if you have multiple groups, make it a competition between groups to see who finishes the drill first.

Football fitness drills with a ball - Ball control

Drill 3 – One-touch short passing

The setup of this exercise is simple, you need a ball and 6 cones spread in a straight line. You only need 2 players, so this is a perfect drill to practice with a friend anywhere, anytime. In a team training session, you will need plenty of space to have pair of players running this exercise in parallel.

This is an excellent drill to warm up because you’re actually on the move, so you’re getting the blood flowing and adding a technical element to it. As shown in the animation below, the progression is simple:

  • The blue player passes the ball to the red player through the first gate formed by the cones.
  • The red player returns the ball to the blue player through the next gate.
  • Players keep passing the ball back and forth as above until reaching the last gate.
  • Once players get to the end of the line of cones, they start again in the opposite direction.
  • Repeat for 5 minutes or more.

As you get familiar with the drill, increase the difficulty. For example, start with unlimited touches, followed by only two touches, and finally execute the routine using a single touch. In addition, run the exercise using the players’ weakest foot for a few minutes.  

Football fitness drills with a ball - Short passing

Drill 4 – Throw-ins

The previous drills focused on your lower body and ball control. However, you also need your upper body to be strong. Therefore, you won’t build up your arms and core muscles with a few drills. Instead, you need to target those with weight training or other alternatives. Still, exercises like those in this section and the next will increase your overall fitness and improve other football skills, such as headers and throw-ins.

The throw-in drill is a very popular drill and very simple. You only need a ball per pair of players for this drill. You can practice alone with a partner or align all the team in pairs (as shown in the animation below). The progression is as follows:

  • A player starts by executing a throw-in to the feet of their teamate.
  • The receiving player attempts to stop the ball in one touch.
  • When the ball is entirely still, the player lifts the ball and executes a throw-in back to the first player. Again, make sure that it is all done in a single smooth movement.
  • Repeat for 5 minutes or more.

This drill will accomplish three things in one shot: warm-up and increase the fitness of the upper body (arms and core), improve the throw-in technique and improve the one-touch reception of thrown-ins. The latter two aspects are critical. It is frustrating and silly to lose possession from a poorly executed throw-in.

Throw-ins

Drill 5 – Headers and throw-ins

The setup and progression of this exercise are similar to the previous drill. However, instead of throwing the ball to the feet of a teammate, the starting player throws the ball head high or higher, and the receiving player returns it with a header. To avoid only one player heading the ball, we combine the header with the previous drill. This is the exact routine:

  • A player starts by throwing the ball at the head of their teammate or higher to allow a header.
  • The receiving player returns the ball with the header aimed at the feet of the first player.
  • The first player attempts to stop the ball in one touch.
  • When the ball is entirely still, the player lifts the ball and executes a throw-in back to their teamate but this time aimed at their feet.
  • The receiving player attempts to stop the ball in one touch.
  • When the ball is entirely still, the player lifts the ball and starts the progression above again but with the roles inverted. This means that the player throws the ball at the head of their teamate or higher, and so on.
  • Repeat for 5 minutes or more.

In addition to improving fitness and throw-ins, this drill will help players with the accuracy of their headers.

Throw-ins and headers

I hope you find these drills useful. If you like this post, please share it with your friends. As a bonus, have a look at the conditioning circuit used by Atletico Madrid in the video below.