[Disclaimer: this is a paid review.]
- Effective individual and/or team practice tool
- Ergonomic design
- Ease of use
- Library of activities with both written instructions and video illustrations
- Endorsements and use by professionals and professional clubs
- Research based and tested
The tethered-ball-trainer market is not a new one; big box stores have been selling them for years from recognized names (my kids received one for a holiday a few years ago). Two problems exist, however, with this current market: the device is either clunky and unwieldy and/or its purpose and use are misunderstood. (One personal reviewer on said big box store’s product page quipped ‘All is [sic] seems to be good for training is practicing locking the ankle when striking , but dont [sic] see how it helps them improve their touch like the description says.’)
The tethered-ball-trainer SenseBall was developed in Belgium by Michel Bruyninckx with ‘over 10 years of research and implementation within the framework of a sports research study in association with the University of Leuven in Belgium.’ [from the website]
Needless to say, when I received another tethered-ball trainer, I was skeptical; I had been down this road before. My skepticism, however, was misplaced; the SenseBall far eclipses similar devices on the market.
First, what is it? The SenseBall package (see my unboxing video here) comes with a size 3 ball (as of August 2019; the SenseBall I received and reviewed came with a size 1 ball) with an adjustable fixed tether with a handle at the end. The handle is ergonomically designed to comfortably fit in either hand and its oblong design provides a cleat around which excess rope can be tied when shortening the tether; there is a toothed end to lock the rope in place and a stopper on the end of the rope to prevent it from falling out of the handle.
[from the website]
The idea of small-ball training, i.e. using a ball smaller than a regulation size soccer ball to improve touch and control, is not new (see here for an article about it) but incorporating the tether with small ball training increases its versatility. Practicing with an untethered mini ball (or even a tennis ball, as the article above mentions) requires space, creativity (unless you want to juggle constantly), and the energy to keep the ball moving and/or to fetch it.
The tethered (small ball) SenseBall solves all of these problems. The proximity of ball to user and the pendulum effect of the tether means that the SenseBall can be used in the smallest of spaces. The SenseBall is also focused on touch rather than power, so the ball itself shouldn’t be moving more than a foot or two away from the body (exactly what the quoted review above did not understand), which further reduces the amount of space needed. The tether also conserves energy: only the touches on the ball are expending the player’s energy. Of course, players need to develop the strength and concentration to perform at a high level when tired, but that is not the SenseBall’s focus. The SenseBall wants to maximize touches on the ball through minimizing the energy expended. The compact nature of the SenseBall is its most versatile, and perhaps most surprising, feature.
Finally, the purchase of a SenseBall includes access to the SenseBall app. A code comes with each SenseBall that provides access to a library of graded activities for use with the SenseBall via a smart device or computer (via the SenseBall website). The activities provide both written instructions and video illustrations and are divided into five levels, with one being the least complicated and five being the most complicated. Also included is an instructional video to get new SenseBall users started and the first six activities of level 1 involve little to no ball-touching to train the body movements that will be incorporated into the more complicated activities: Level 1, #1: The right posture and hand movements; Level 1, #2: Balance and dynamic stability; Level 1, #3: Rhythm: Metronome principle; etc. [See at bottom of review for screenshots from the app.]
The activities are designed around the research and experimentation behind the development of the SenseBall, called ‘CogiTraining’: ‘With SenseBall, you train your brain, not just your muscles. This thesis developed within the Department of Psychology of Lund University (Sweden) provides evidence that four weeks of synchronized metronome training improved the participant’s motor timing and synchronization abilities, and showed influence on skill performance in soccer players.’ [from the website]
Once Level 1 is completed, more soccer- and game-specific activities are introduced: Level 2, #10 (activities are continuously numbered rather than resetting for each level): Control your kicking strength and direction; Level 2, #11: Improve your kicking accuracy; Level 2, #13 Kicking precisely with the inside and outside of both feet; etc. This small sample of activities suggests the usefulness of the SenseBall both in the context of a practice and for a players working on their own.
Additionally, the design and appearance of the SenseBall makes players want to use it. My own son, who is 13 years old and plays both club and town soccer, spent much of his time wandering the house with the SenseBall. Outside of any structured use of the SenseBall, he got touches in walking from the kitchen to the family room, walking out to the car, and even going up and down the stairs. (Sure sign of a good product: he was admonished more than a couple times by me and my wife for the repetitive noise that his use of the SenseBall generated.) Adding these ‘casual’ touches to the more structured touches a player might get in training and it is easy to imagine the total number of touches easily climbing into the thousands over the course of a season.
The activities, especially progressing through them, requires a certain amount of discipline; the activities are designed to maximize touches on the ball. Nonetheless, the claims of SenseBall, that ‘a player who practises [sic] with SenseBall makes an average of 500,000 touches of the ball in a season, whereas it is calculated that a professional footballer, in all of the matches and training sessions in which he participates, makes a maximum of 50,000 touches of the ball per season,’ [from the website] however hyperbolic 500,000 might sound, seem possible given the ease of use of the SenseBall and the structure of its activities.
I have coached soccer at various levels for over 30 seasons. The constant refrain of every coach is more touches, whether juggling homework, practice drills, etc. The SenseBall solves this problem for coaches by giving not only a tool easily usable by players but also a program that directs players’ use of it away from the practice environment via the app and its exercises. The SenseBall’s design encourages players to use it, and the app provides players the structure to use it effectively. Its adoption by teams is of course budget-dependent, but its usefulness to individuals looking for an efficient way to practice their touch and increase their number of touches seems limitless. Your soccer player, at any level or any age, will benefit from having a SenseBall as part of her training repertoire.