Youth soccer coaching best practice

A report by the U.S. Soccer’s Coaching Education Department

This report is both a practical guide and a thought-provoking discussion about how best to coach football (soccer) to young children and young adults (U6 to U18).

While the report was written for US soccer coaches, it’s principles and ideas are applicable anywhere in the world.

At the core of “Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States” is the belief that there is not just ‘one way’ to teach soccer to players, nor is there just one style of coaching. These player development guidelines highlight that there is a broad spectrum of styles and methods for how everyone experiences the game. Some of these factors come from a player’s background, while some of them are a product of a player’s own personality.

At the youth and junior levels, however, there is a set of fundamental principles that should be considered by anyone coaching soccer. The starting point of these principles is that young soccer players require a certain amount of uninterrupted play, which allows them to experience soccer first hand. These young players should be allowed the opportunity to experiment, and with that, succeed and fail. A coach’s long-term goal is to prepare a player to successfully recognize and solve the challenges of a game on his or her own. It is vital that the coach approaches soccer with this in mind.

Extracts from the report

…..at the younger ages (6 to about 10), soccer is not a team sport. On the contrary, it is a time for children to develop their individual relationship with the ball. The fact that younger children are placed into team environments is not their fault. Do not demand that the more confident players share the ball. Encourage them to be creative and go to goal. Do the same with the rest of your players. Work to bring all your players up to that level of confidence and comfort with the ball. Coaches should avoid the impulse to “coach” their players from “play to play” in order to help them win the match.

Coaches should not be telling their young players to “pass rather than dribble,” to “hold their positions” or to “never” do something (like pass or dribble in front of the goal).

Remember that the level of skill and competence that a 9-year-old exhibits is no indication of the skill and competence that he or she will exhibit at 16 or 18 years of age. You cannot predict which 9-year-old will develop into a real player. Therefore, work to encourage all your players to be competent and comfortable with the ball. This will give all your players the same opportunity to reach their potential.

Work during practice to move all your players forward at their own pace. Do not be concerned with match results. Be concerned that all your players want the ball at their feet and they want to score. If you can accomplish this, you have successfully allowed your group to grow as soccer players. Unlike practice, you cannot add more balls/goals during games to give kids more chances with the ball. But you can emphasize certain themes for the players to focus on, such as getting involved, attacking the goal, taking chances, and then spend the length of the game reinforcing these points.

There is not just “one way” to teach soccer to players, nor is there just one style of coaching.

There is a broad spectrum of styles and methods for how each of us experiences the game. Some of this comes from our backgrounds, while some of this also is the product of our own personalities. At the youth and junior levels, however, there is a set of fundamental principles that must be considered by anyone involved with soccer. In general, young soccer players require a certain amount of uninterrupted play. This allows them to experience soccer first hand. They should be allowed the opportunity to experiment, and with that, succeed and fail.

This approach will give your players the green light to experiment and be creative – qualities that, unfortunately at the younger ages, are often discouraged on game day, in the name of being safe and winning.