It’s important to vary the format of your coaching sessions occasionally.
The traditional format of technical skill, individual practice, opposed practice followed by a small-sided game is tried and tested and it works. But your players will appreciate it if you spend a little time and effort setting up something completely different sometimes.
Mini World Cups are a great way of injecting pure fun and letting your players do what they really want to at training sessions: play football.
Another interesting format is a short skills circuit.
Children love to compete with each other and a skills circuit allows them to do just that while, at the same time, improving the essential skills that you teach them all year round.
Set up: the skills circuit I use with eight or nine year olds consists of five 10 yards square playing areas marked out by cones.
Your players should be split into five groups. The groups should be small – no larger than four players in each – so if you have more than 20 players you should consider setting up two circuits or having the extra players take part in another activity.
Each activity requires an observer who records the results. He or she can be a coaching assistant, a parent or an older player.
Each group of players starts in a different area.
On your command, your players spend a specified time (two minutes or so) carrying out the activity in their area before moving on to the next one. I suggest that you blow a whistle to start and stop the activities.
In each area, the players are challenged to perform as many of each activity as possible in the time allowed. They are also encouraged to make the transition between area as quickly as possible.
Each player has a ball that they take with them from one area to the next.
Area 1: Ball control
Equipment required: one ball each.
Activity: Ball Taps – tap a ball between the insides of both feet.
Variation: the “hat dance” – sole taps on the top of the ball with both feet.
For more advanced players: ball juggling.
Area 2: Dribbling
Equipment required: 16 small traffic cones set up in four lines of four and balls.
Activity: Each player dribbles their ball up and down a line of cones as many times as possible without knocking them over or missing any.
Variation: Dribble with “wrong” foot.
For more advanced players: Dribble with a specified part of the foot: sole, inside, outside etc.
Area 3: Running with the ball
Equipment required: balls.
Activity: run with ball from one side of area to the opposite side as many times as possible. Ensure players do not turn short.
Variation: Two players start on one side and two on the adjacent side of the area. This forces the players to keep their heads up while running with the ball to avoid collisions.
For more advanced players: perform a specific turn at the end of each run: drag back, stop turn etc.
Area 4: Shielding the ball
Equipment required: one ball per group.
Activity: use an even number of players in each group.
Players split into pairs. One player has a ball and for one minute, he tries to stop his partner from touching it. He gets a point for every 10 seconds he is successful so can get a maximum of six points if he can keep the ball away from his partner for the whole minute.
After one minute, the players swap roles.
For more advanced players: award one point every 20 seconds.
Area 5: Passing accuracy
Equipment required: a flat cone with a ball balanced on top. Alternatively, you can use a plastic skittle or bowling pin.
Activity: set up the area as for “knock out” (described below), except there is no goal to shoot into.
Players take it in turns to try to knock the ball off the cone (or knock over the skittle/pin).
Variation: use a specific part of the foot, such as the toes or instep.
For more advanced players: Use weaker foot only.
The whole circuit takes about 15 minutes to complete. At the end you should share the results with your players and, if you wish, give a small award to the player who scored the most points, either in each area or in the circuit as a whole.
Repeat the circuit every month or so, track your players’ progress over time and at the end of the season give an award to the player who has shown the most improvement over the period.