In the FUNdamental Stage of development (ages 6-9 for males and 6-8 for females) players are sponges, ready to learn and absorb mass amounts of information. If we can do a good job training quality technical skills at this age the results will carry over for the players entire playing carer.
At this age players should spend the majority of practices with a high ball to player ratio. For the majority of the FUNdamental Stage players should spend the majority of the time with one ball per player and as they approach the later portion of this stage one ball per two players. Players in this stage will be most successful when solving problems on their own or in pairs and are really not equipped to solve problems in groups of three or more. Obviously, having a ball at a players foot for the majority of practice makes dribbling an incredibly simple concept to teach as players should be dribbling the ball everywhere they go.
Looking for maze type games and games that require players to dribble without specific direction allows players to start to develop creativity and simple problem solving. Coaches should look to create activities with out a lot of complex rules, ask players to change direction, pace and the surface of the foot they are dribbling with and activities should always include an imagination element.
Take the activity Dribbling Gates for example. The coach sets out 1 yard wide gates so there is one gate per player on the field. Players will dribble through the different gates with the following rules: “Do not let your ball hit any other players ball. Do not let your body hit any other players body. Dribble through as many gates as you can in 30 seconds.” The coach should also add an imagination element to make this feel like play and not like a drill. For example, players are all knights, their ball is a horse, they have to dribble through the different cities (gates) to defeat the monster (coach and a parent volunteer). Once the players get the hang of the activity add gate guards. The coach and a parent volunteer should go and stand in different gates. When a gate guard is in a gate players cannot dribble through that gate or their ball will get eaten by the gate guard (kicked toward the outside of the activity where the player can go get it and resume play). When working with players toward the older ages and skill level of the FUNdamental stage you can also add restrictions on how players go through a gate. For example: player can only use the sole of their shoe to go through a gate (change the surface of the foot to include any different surface), players must stop the ball on the gate line before they can dribble out of the gate, the ball must circle one of the two cones before they can dribble out of the gate, etc.
This type of activity should be incredibly fun for the players as they get to play at their own pace, they will assume this is just a game and not that they are actually developing a lot of different soccer skills, they are utilizing different surfaces, pace and directions. Without actually telling the players any answers the coach has taught the player how to dribble the ball with some control, get their head up and look for space and pay attention to more than just their ball and body (looking for gate guards and not allowing collisions with other players/balls). If the coach wanted to they could simply shift a few rules, add a new imagination element (now you are super heroes instead of knights) and to the players you have a brand new game!