An alternative match day programme for youth soccer teams

This time of year many of us are attending league fixture meetings, submitting registration forms and generally getting involved in the usual pre-season paperwork chase.

But do you ever stop to wonder why you’re entering your team into a league?

If they’re aged 10 or over it could be because they enjoy playing against different players every week.

But if they are younger than that, do you think they really care if they play football for points or just for fun?

Could they be just as happy (or happier) if they were all fully involved playing in-house tournaments on a Saturday morning rather than standing shivering on the touchline, waiting to go on so they can be shouted at by over eager parents? Or maybe not even getting on at all (“it’s 1-0 to us with five minutes to go, I can’t risk changing the team now, sorry”).

It’s even been suggested that some youth soccer teams are only in local leagues because their coach/manager wants to win something he (or she) didn’t win for themselves when they were younger.

And some teams play in leagues simply because they don’t know that there are alternatives.

Now Paul Cooper of the National Children’s Football Alliance has produced an alternative match day programme for youth soccer clubs.

It’s worth considering – would your players like to play all the time, get lots of touches and score goals in a pressure free environment?

Or would they prefer to play for points in a traditional league and spend most of the day travelling to/from grounds, standing around and getting told to ‘get stuck in!’ ?

An alternative match day programme for youth soccer teams

by Paul Cooper

The current match day programmes have not always been working in the best interest of children, especially the younger ones.

There is at present little choice and as early as U7s, coaches are sucked into a competitive environment which makes it difficult to cope with and let all the children play as well as keeping parents happy.

So what are the needs of the children for a match day programme?

  • Games that are fun
  • Games that are both player and child centred
  • Every child plays for every minute (NO SUBS!)
  • A chance for children to put on a kit and be part of a team
  • Lots of touches of the ball
  • Lots of goals

U6/7s/8s Match Day Programme

In house/friendlies/festival fun days

This is the age group where there are most problems, as there are large numbers of children who join a club, but due to the rigid structure of the leagues many children do not get into the teams.

Also many parents are not prepared at this early stage to commit to being a coach responsible for a team, but may be interested in helping as a facilitator in an in house situation.

4v4 where possible, but most important is that every child plays for every minute, so 3v4, 4v5 also

  • Play round robin games
  • Select roughly even sides
  • 8-10 minute games (5-6 games) on a round robin basis
  • Children referee themselves (with an adult pitch organiser on the side)
  • Different coloured kits or World Cup t-shirts
  • Standard Game for the U7s
  • Standard Game and Four Goal Game for the U8s
  • Keepers Optional

U9/U10s Match Day Programme

Friendly League with points awarded for fair play.

4v4, 5v5, 6v6 (variety is good for the children)

  • All children play every minute, so coaches let each other know how many they have in their squad e.g. Team A has 9 players & Team B has 13 players. 2 x 4v4 games and 1 x mixed 3v3 game.
  • The players in the 3v3 game rotate with the players on the 2 main games
  • 10 minute games (6 games in total) this allows for players to be rotated around the teams
  • Children referee themselves (with an adult pitch organiser on the side)
  • Standard Game, Four Goal Game, Line Ball Game
  • Keepers optional

U11/U12s Match Day Programme

Friendly League with points awarded for fair play.

  • 8v8 or 9v9
  • Sub games on the side, which players on the main games rotate from
  • Standard Game
  • Referee
  • 3 sections of 20 minutes

U13s+ Match Day Programme

Leagues, 3 points for a win etc

  • 11v11
  • Standard Game
  • Referee

We would also like to see more 4v4 fun days during times that club games are not being played.

We believe the above formats would be more beneficial for children in terns of fun and development. It still allows for a match day environment but one in which every child is catered for.

Paul Cooper