How to plan, organise and run a youth soccer coaching session

The training area

Indoor facilities can be useful in the depths of winter when outdoor training is impossible and Astroturf pitches are actually very good for teaching the basics to younger children as the smooth surface encourages them to play with a soft touch knowing that the ball will run true.

Nearly all experienced soccer coaches, however, prefer to hold training sessions outdoors on grass simply because children need to be able to dribble, run and play on a realistic (i.e. bumpy and often muddy) surface.

Preparation

Before the children arrive you should get into the habit of checking the field for hazards. Make sure there is no broken glass around, (especially in public parks) and if you are using goalposts ensure they are securely anchored and not damaged. You should also try to avoid rutted or bumpy areas.

Equipment

  • A sufficient number of small cones to mark out playing areas;
  • Some coloured bibs so that you can identify teams;
  • A ball for every player – if you don’t have enough ask the children to bring their own!
  • A whistle – essential for gaining attention and to stop/start activities.
  • A stopwatch – very useful for timing games and tests.
  • A first aid kit (more on first aid later).
  • Some spare water – there’s always one child who forgets to bring their own. A big bag to put everything in!!

Last but not least, you must have assistants – never try to run a training session on your own.

Help is essential if your transitions from one activity to the next are to go smoothly but – and more importantly – what will you do if a child is injured when you’re on your own? Who will supervise the others while you administer first aid? And what if the child has to go to hospital – you can’t leave the others on their own!

It is sensible to have an assistant of the opposite sex if you are training mixed sex teams.

Make sure your children know that they must:

  • Wear suitable clothing and footwear – waterproofs if it’s raining and a warm tracksuit in winter are important if you’re not to end up with twenty or so soaking wet and shivering kids who just want to go home. Trainers can be worn in summer on dry ground but proper football boots are essential in wet or slippery conditions.
  • Bring a drink.
  • Wear shinpads.

Be on time! – nothing is more frustrating than to have children turning up five or ten minutes after you’ve started explaining a new activity to the group. Don’t allow it – children who keep turning up late without good reason should be taken to one side and told why their timekeeping must improve and parents should be told that they must try to get their children to the training on time.

Remember….

  • Utilise the K.I.S.S. principle (Keep It Short and Simple) when introducing new skills;
  • Give short, effective demonstrations while briefly explaining the new skill or concept;
  • Keep coaching sessions short, clear and well-planned;
  • Be positive – focus on what the player does correctly (“catch them being good”);
  • Make the sessions meaningful, fun, challenging and exciting,
  • No static line drills! Play fun, soccer-like games instead.
  • Don’t play “elimination games” – the players most in need of improvement and repetitions are usually the first to be eliminated;
  • Don’t play large sided games for more than 10 minutes per hour. In 8 v 8 or 10 v 10 etc, players don’t get enough touches on the ball, the weaker players tend to get the fewest touches and bad habits can be reinforced because players tend to do the same things they have always done. If you do play large sided games, do so without a goalkeeper.
  • Be organised and above all – have a training plan.

This last point is perhaps the most important of all.

Nothing is more likely to create discipline problems then a coach who fumbles their way through a session with no clear idea of what they’re going to do next.

Spend ten minutes or so before every training session considering exactly what it is you will be trying to achieve.

Have one clear objective (to improve passing technique, training shielding the ball etc.) and think about how you will organise each activity.

Then:

1. Write your objective down on a small piece of paper or a notebook that you can refer to during the training session then

2. Make a note of how you’re going to teach the skill or technique to the children and finally

3. Write down how you are going to warm them up and what equipment you will need.

The teaching part of the training (number 2 in the list above) should normally have three distinct phases:

Individual/Fundamental: Players working individually or in pairs on desired technical or tactical topics. (Your chosen objective may be impossible to instruct in this phase. If this is the case, use this phase to reinforce fundamental technical skills and start coaching your topic when you move to the small and large group phases.) Progress your activities from low to high pressure. Start slowly and gradually increase the speed at which the skills are performed. 1v1 and 2v2 games are ideal in this phase.

Small Group/Match Related: This is the phase of training where coaches need to show the greatest amount of creativity. Here we create competitive games (usually 2v2 to 4v4) that have imposed conditions/restrictions that allow the team to easily learn and experiment with the chosen topic. Players are under increasing pressure when compared to the individual phase. Four vs. four games are the preferred method of teaching in this phase.

Large Group/Match Conditions: Bearing in mind what was said earlier about large sided games, we now let the game be the teacher. You should be aiming to create fun, competitive games, 5v5 up to 11v11. Remember, the smaller the number of players in a game, the more each player gets to touch the ball and practice what they have learned earlier in the session. This is also an opportunity for coaches to watch and evaluate their team’s performance under match like conditions.

Coaches should also be asking themselves, “Are my players using the skills they’ve just been taught?”

Coaching the practice (from BruceBrownlee.com)

When introducing practice, make sure you’ve scaled it to your group. Make sure it is appropriate for the age. U10 boys can not drive balls 40 yards in the air, so crossing attack at U10 should finish on the ground, there will not be any lofted balls to the far post from the opposite touch-line.

  • Get to action within about 20 seconds. Introduce and start.
  • Gather team in semi-circle, step back a step, state your topic. Go.
  • At all costs, avoid taking 10 minutes to set up cones and don bibs.
  • Don’t share common grid boundaries
  • Don’t talk every minute of the practice. Let them play.
  • Look for your coaching points in play, freeze action, make one point.
  • Keep corrections short. Encourage, correct, encourage, restart.
  • Keep moving to good positions to observe.
  • Coach the group doing your topic, not their opponents. For example, in teaching shooting, coach the shooters, not the defenders.
  • Coach in sequence, first things first. Teach in a progression.
  • Keep it moving – move on to the next stage when you get success.
  • Adjust the space or conditions if you are not getting success.
  • Compliment good play.
  • Incorporate all the elements in your practice for efficiency.
  • Show is better than Talk, and Do is better than Show.
  • Get right into your topic. If it’s 4v4 defending, don’t start 1v1.
  • Use neutral players when you need to give one side numbers up.

Recognize when to rest. It is better to work for 5 minutes at full intensity than it is to drag on for 25 minutes at low intensity. Matches can’t be played at low intensity, so work towards longer periods of high intensity play.

Relax, smile, and have fun. Your demeanour should say “this is cool”.

Take it to the game. Get to a game at the end to see your topic played.

Stop the game if the players aren’t doing what you want them to do. But don’t stop the game too much – beware of over-coaching and don’t be afraid of letting your children think for themselves.