Hello, my aspiring RL freestylers! I’ve heard a chorus of questions along the lines of, “Why can’t I air dribble?” or “Will air dribbling help me achieve higher ranks?” So I decided to list the most common mistakes made when practicing air dribbles.
Let me be blunt about the burning question of whether or not air dribbling will help you rank up. Not necessarily. Plenty of players hit champ ranks or higher without practicing air dribbles at all. Many of them improve faster than those of us who dump hours into working on flashy mechanics.
I know, I know. Flashy is fun. You won’t hear any judgment from me.
Honestly, practicing your air dribbles isn’t a waste of time. They may lack practicality, but they’ll also help you tighten up:
That’s a lot of skills to hone at once!
The problem is: most players develop a handful of bad habits while practicing their air dribbles. I’ll help correct that. You may have noticed a plethora of air dribble video tutorials already exist… Unfortunately, most of them tend to go like this:
- Step 1) Learn to play Rocket League.
- Step 2) Add glue.
- Step 3) Merch in the description.
And they tell you to practice, which is a solid nugget of advice that you probably didn’t need to hear for the 10,000th time, right?
Not all RL YouTubers are bad, of course. But…
Odds are that you’ve already been practicing your air dribbles non-stop for months. And you still wound up here… which means that something isn’t clicking.
Well, I’m here to help.
The wall-to-air dribble is by far the most common set-up method used to initiate an air dribble. Despite looking immeasurably flashy, air dribbles started from the wall are the easiest to maintain control over.
Yes, it’s common sense, but the act of getting the ball to roll may not be for lower ranked players.
Pro Tip: Free play is light years more efficient than memorizing a handful of training packs. For starters, you’re essentially playing the same song on repeat for hours. Diversity is the spice of life. You know that.
Each shot is unique. Becoming consistent at Rocket League takes practicing as many variations as possible.
More importantly: There’s no sense in perfecting all the mechanics of an air dribble if you can’t effectively set them up, right?
Set-up barrier #1: If you can’t consistently roll the ball, you aren’t ready for air dribbling yet. Don’t let that discourage you! It isn’t hard to get to a point where you will be ready.
To get the ball rolling, you need to hit it in the same direction it was already moving.
Yes, It’s that simple.
Diagonal flips are super consistent for getting a ball to roll. They can often roll a ball that was bouncing beforehand.
Set-up barrier #2: The trickier part is getting a feel for how your car will land after a diagonal flip. Ideally, you want to flip in a way that your car lands further back on your side of the field than the ball’s location. Simply landing behind the ball and staying parallel with it up the wall won’t create a threatening play.
Sure, you can air dribble a lateral pass, but a high-ranking player would consider this a colossal waste of your boost. Plus, let’s be honest, it’s pretty easy for your opponents to read.
We want to start an air dribble play by positioning ourselves just as carefully as we’re positioning the ball. Luckily, the forward diagonal flip I mentioned earlier is perfect for this. Just lunge yourself forward and slightly away from the ball and be ready to follow up with the next steps.
Set-up barrier #3: Beware of over-correcting. When learning a new skill, we often want to practice slowly until we feel comfortable. Although there are some skills we need to dive straight into, otherwise, we develop bad habits.
You may feel more comfortable rolling the ball toward the wall slowly. You might not want to flip into it out of fear of losing possession of it.
Unfortunately, if the ball doesn’t have any momentum, it won’t stick to the wall. It’ll roll right off before you can properly set yourself up. Instead, consider practicing with the slo-mo mutator active in a private match.
We must get comfortable moving fast with the ball. There’s a sweet spot for setting up complex wall shots like the air dribble. You don’t want to smash it out of your possession, but you also don’t want to move so slowly that an opponent can come crashing into the ball before you.
Side Note: Taking an extra 2-3 touches when the ball is already rolling toward the wall is perfectly fine (as long as you’re still angling those touches in a similar way to the original hit.) No flip is necessary for these extra touches. Extra touches are helpful for:
Once you’re comfortable with your set-up techniques, you can hit a few training packs:
I’m providing these training packs strictly to help you develop muscle memory. Your ability to read the ball’s movements will only improve in free play.
Practicing in free play is critical. I can’t stress that enough.
The best way to hold possession of a floating ball in mid-air is to match its speed long before launching into the air.
This is especially important while driving over the bell curve of the wall. The ball doesn’t have a gas pedal, and you do. Your car can easily outpace the ball.
The moment the ball begins to roll up the wall, it begins a fight against gravity. You’ll want to ease off of your boost and/or gas for a moment. Then, recalibrate your acceleration rate to the speed of the ball while beginning your crawl up the wall.
Don’t rush into the ball at any point. Instead, imagine yourself as a cheeky cartoon character like Elmer Fudd tiptoeing gently behind the ball. Use your stealth!
Your first touch off of the wall is going to determine whether or not the upcoming shot will be headed toward the opponent’s goal or not. Without a doubt, it’s the most important moment in the entire air dribble set-up.
We want that touch to be on target.
In theory, someone with enough combined aerial car control and ball control can create threatening shots from anything. The reality of the situation is that we’re limited to 100 boost in an actual match. Once a car begins to lose altitude for any reason, it takes a lot of time and boost to recalibrate our car to do anything useful.
The trick here is to hit the ball from a 15-30 degree angle rather than straight up or straight across. Both of those touches have their applications for offensive plays, but the air dribble set-up isn’t it.
Falling this far behind the ball can only translate into one thing: you’re no longer matching the speed of the ball. You forced yourself to catch up to it, resulting in a more powerful first touch off the wall.
You also risk knocking the ball high enough to bounce off the ceiling like an unruly pinball.
Instead, take this opportunity to try a ceiling shot.
You’ll gain a free flip that can help put a faster offensive play into action. Remember, freestyling in Rocket League is a unique art form. It’s loose and flowy. A good freestyler doesn’t force situations. A good freestyler learns to adapt to each situation, making his plays look buttery smooth.
A good freestyler makes his touches seem effortless.
But we’ve all played the game enough to know that isn’t true. The freestyler is just a well-rounded player that can read, feel, and breathe car soccer as if it were part of his/her core existence.
Our goal is to do the same. If you scuff an early touch in your air dribble: adapt. Trying to force a play will make you look dumb, or worse, get your team scored on.
Ideally, you want to make your first contact with the ball relatively low on the wall. Roughly around 35-45% up the wall will yield the best results for an air dribble.
I just mentioned that this is the most critical touch for your air dribble. If you’ve been skimming, I also said to knock it from an angle between 15-30 degrees.
But wait, there’s more!
We need to focus on keeping our car as close to the ball as possible while we transfer the momentum of the ball in-field. Translation: Jump ASAP, and often jumping twice. (Exactly like a fast aerial, but from the wall.)
Air roll is fine. That’s not the issue.
The main problem here is that you won’t always have time to complete your air roll before catching up to the ball. The other problem is that most low-mid rank players tend to stop using boost while air rolling.
Both scenarios result in falling behind the ball and cooking too much boost to get to the ball. Next thing you know, you’ve hit the ball way beyond your reach. Maybe you can get one last touch in before sending it away, but keeping full possession over the ball is now nigh impossible.
Get comfortable with boosting while air rolling. Get comfortable straightening your car without any air roll at all. You can hop into free play and practice flying in circles around the ball while it’s stationary in the centerfield kickoff position.
The exercise is more difficult than it sounds. You’ll probably instinctively tap your air roll the moment you start to lose control. That’s fine, don’t beat yourself up. Just keep practicing. You’ll improve.
To maintain possession of the ball: your car will need to hit the bottom 30% of the ball head-on, with your car tilted back at an upward angle between 60-80 degrees.
Hitting the very bottom of the ball won’t benefit you. You’ll knock the ball straight up and skim past it. Next thing you know, you’re suspended in space, millions of light-years away from the play and longing to make contact with civilization again.
Still, as a general rule of thumb, you want to make your touch as close to the bottom as possible. Lower touches give the ball more verticality, and higher touches will push the ball forward.
You can air dribble a ball after touching the center of the ball, but you’ll quickly find out you don’t have ‘true’ possession of it. You’ll only be able to hit it in one direction – straight and forward. This makes your shot easier to predict than it is to control.
It’s easier to control the ball if you catch it while it still has upward momentum; otherwise, you’ll risk spiking the ball away. The ball also gradually loses velocity. If you reach the ball earlier, you’re more likely to maintain control after boosting to catch up.
This doesn’t necessarily mean tapping your boost button like you’re mashing a button in a Mario Party minigame.
Your goal is to experiment with easing off of the boost as much as possible. Try going a half-second without boosting. Experiment with different time gaps. Try fiddling with the frequency of easing off of boost. Get a feel for the bare minimum amount of boost your car needs to continue gaining altitude or holding the same altitude.
Your car has a lower top speed than the ball does. Holding boost for too long will cause you to lose possession, even if the ball is perfectly balanced on your nose.
Note: Despite the fact your wheels aren’t touching the ground, RL physics still creep your car forward while you’re throttling in mid-air. It isn’t a lot of forward momentum, but it’s enough to dampen your aerial car control. More on that in this RL secret mechanics post.
Here’s a great free play exercise for learning to feather your boost in Rocket League:
Ground-to-air dribbles take considerably less time to prepare. As a result, they’re infinitely more dangerous for the opponent. Pepper that information with the fact that the defender now has to adapt their reads to account for:
And suddenly… your air dribble is a lot scarier than it was coming off of the wall!
Setting up this shot is pretty simple.
The set-up requires the ball to be bouncing slightly away from you. If it’s traveling too fast, you won’t pick up possession.
Still, it’s a low-risk/high-reward offensive play. If the plan goes south, we have a ton of flick options to fall back upon, as well as the other things I’ve listed above.
There are three tricks to consistently setting these up:
Coincidentally, you’ve also set up a tornado flick. The choice is yours, rocketeer.
All the stuff I mentioned in the other ground-to-air section still holds, but we also need extremely precise ground dribbling skills to get going. Also, feathering boost is typically out of the question for setting these shots up.
You want to balance the ball on the very tip of your hood. From there, boost like you’re trying to catch back up to the ball… but instead of getting the ball up higher on your hood, you want to take that moment to jump with the ball while tilting your car as far back as humanly possible.
This small area of barely controlling the ball is the “high pop zone” and, unless we plan to take action, we can’t keep the ball there very long before losing control over it.
I don’t care how good you are. That “high pop zone” requires immediate action. If you hesitate to jump, you’ll either need to let it roll off or cook your boost until you’re supersonic – and lose it anyway. You can also use your corner hitboxes to pop the ball up and reposition yourself under it… but that isn’t ideal, either. It buys your opponent an opening to challenge.
So you can’t hesitate. Get the ball as far forward onto your hood as possible, then execute.
This ‘Delayed Flicks’ pack is great for practicing dribbles to air dribbles: 3337-A6D5-AFF9-C2C6
Again, the set-up is identical to a tornado flick.
Eventually, you’ll become skilled enough to ignore just about every bit of advice I’ve given.
Some of the best RL veterans can catch an incoming ball mid-air and proceed to dribble it without much issue.
Some players start air dribbles after making an unfavorable touch off of the wall, with the intent to set up a double touch or ceiling pinch.
[Video credit goes to Pulse OSM, listed as one of my top RL Freestylers.]
Here’s the key principle: These players have different, more advanced plans in mind. They aren’t just trying to carry the ball straight toward the net.
Learning to air drag is rewarding. It will almost certainly catch opponents off their guard. Just be prepared to grind a few dozen hours after you’ve already mastered the basics.
This training pack by CBell that should point you in the right direction:
Don’t obsess over having full possession. If you successfully made your first aerial touch, you’ve already beat every other car on the field to the next touch. You’re inches away and the defenders are barely starting to adapt.
Remember this: A less predictive path will result in more goals than a picture-perfect air dribble. Try whipping up some gnarly air dribble bumps and mid-air demo plays. Experiment with some juicy pogos.
And with that, my beloved rocketeer, you are now a well-versed expert in the art of the air dribble. Now get out there and practice!
Or finish that chore you just put off to read this. But after that, you’d better practice what you’ve learned today! Spark fear into the eyes of your opponents with your sparkly new freestyling skills!