A lot of coaches write to me asking what they should teach their players and in what order.
This article summarises what I consider to be the eight most important skills and techniques to teach 8 to 10 year olds (or any child who has been playing for about two years).
It’s not an exhaustive list and you may well have your own ideas!
Generally, it is not imperative that your players learn these skills in a particular order or that they master one before moving on to the next, only that they follow the principles and have a basic understanding of them through games and exercises.
Don’t spend more than a couple of minutes talking about these objectives. Your players aren’t interested in what YOU want to do! They are there to play football!
They will learn what you want them to learn over time and by playing games, not by listening to lectures.
After you’ve briefly demonstrated the basics, try to use small sided games (or SSGs) to reinforce them. Check out the ideas on this page and don’t be afraid to adapt them for your own purposes.
Objective 1: getting used to a dynamic warm up
Dynamic (or functional stretching) is warming up the muscles specifically for the movements that will be used in the activities of the training session.
Each of the exercises below should be performed over a 15-20 yard area with a walking or jogging recovery.
• Lunge Walk – loosens up the hips. Lunge walk is when you take large steps keeping the chest up, looking straight ahead and moving the arms and legs together.
• High Knees – for hip flexor and ankle strength. Extend up to the toes and lift each thigh to a parallel position with the ground as you move forward.
• Calf Walk – for lower limb strength and Achilles flexibility. Extend the ankle on each step will warm up the calf muscles and Achilles tendons.
• Sideways running – for lower limb strength, agility and flexibility.
• Backwards skipping – same as above and works on strengthening quads and calf muscles.
Objective 2: developing a good first touch
There are two key elements of good ball control:
a) The receiver’s first touch should protect the ball from challenging players and not give them a chance to regain possession,
b) the receiving player should play the ball into available space to allow for the next touch and to gain or keep momentum.
A poor first-touch will risk taking the momentum out of play and increase the possibility of losing possession. Some players at this age make the mistake of killing the ball dead and not concentrating on getting it out of their feet. The first touch should ensure that a time wasting second touch is not needed to get the ball out ready for the next action.
Objective 3: understanding and practicing various kicking, passing and shooting techniques.
See: (in this order)
- how to kick a football (soccer ball) correctly
- how to kick a football (soccer) ball (part 2)
- the push pass
- shooting – teaching the basics
Objective 4: principles of defending
With young players, the hardest, and in my opinion, the most important single aspect to get across is that the closest person to the opponent with the football DOES NOT have the responsibility to win the ball! Once defenders understand this, about 90% of diving in is eliminated and the attackers job becomes much harder.
It also reinforces the next most important concept: that somebody had BETTER be moving to cover the space behind the closest defender! That is the player who will, most often, wind up winning the ball.
You can demonstrate this quite easily by selecting the best defensive soccer player on the team, placing that player isolated out on the pitch, point to a goal for him or her to defend, and then tell them to “get the ball” from you. Then, simply dribble up to the player, push the ball past, into space, and run onto it. If you can get the defender to step towards you, you can do this quite easily.
Objective 5: learn how to shield the ball
This is, perhaps, the most important skill you can teach your players! You need to demonstrate how to put your body between the opponent and the ball, so that your players can gain time to give the ball to a team-mate or take advantage of a mistake by the defender to get past her.
Objective 6: understanding the role of goalkeeper.
Not many children want to play in goal but all children should be taught the basics of goalkeeping so that you can play your regular ‘keeper out of goal now and again.
Objective 7: understand the basics of positional play
Formations and “designated positions” are not appropriate for six or seven year old players but eight or nine year olds may be able to understand the basics of formations and positional play.
Be careful though – it is not necessarily being in a designated “position” or being a part of a formation that helps the players solve the problem/situations in the game, but rather the ability of the player to read visually the cues, that is the movement of the ball, movement of the teammates and opponents, and quickly execute a movement/decision that will be effective.
After all, Soccer is a game where players are constantly changing their movement and activity patterns. The game demands fluidity, interchangeability, unpredictability, quick thought and execution. Adherence to fixed formations will not help your team meet these demands.
All that is required is to get your players to learn to spread out on attacks, pack the middle of the field on defence and to learn to make quick passes to get rid of the ball before they can be swarmed.
Objective 8: defending and attacking goal kicks.
Goal kicks are dangerous for the team in possession if the players do not understand that they must be first to the ball!
Explaining how to take up a position in alongside or behind an opponent and then to step in front of them when the kick is taken is simple yet vital if you are not to give the ball back to the other team every time you get a goal kick.
Teaching your players that they can (and should) use their bodies to gain an advantage helps build self confidence and assertiveness on the field.