Why children stop playing soccer

I stopped going to soccer because after a while it became like work, no fun…I used to like it…”

Eleven year-old, San Fernando Valley, California, USA

Why is it that some children keep coming to our practices, week in week out, in hot sunshine and in freezing blizzards while up to 25% of children (and they’re often the most talented ones) pack it in after a few weeks or months?A recent study asked almost 700 children who stopped playing organised sport (including football or soccer) what it is was that made them give up. The main reasons the kids gave for quitting were:

  • I lost interest,
  • The coach treated some children more favourably than others,
  • I was not having any fun or
  • I developed other non-sport interests.

Of these, only the development of non-sport interests was related to the age of the child. This means that as children get older they are more likely to drop out because they become interested in activities outside of sport.

No surprise there!

Because children rarely drop out for just one specific reason, the study also analysed the ‘reasons behind the reasons’ for dropping out. It found that the primary combination of factors contributing to dropping out was related to the team environment. Specifically, the children felt that:

  • Their coaches were not doing a good job,
  • There was too much pressure to win and
  • The members of the team did not get along well with each other.

The most encouraging finding of all, however, is that in the early age groups the principal reasons for stopping playing soccer are reasons that you can do something about!By understanding how your children think, not putting too much emphasis on competition, giving quality feedback and focusing on FUN your children won’t drop out and may well develop a life long interest in sport – thanks to you!

Now you know why children want to play soccer it might be useful to gain an understanding of how children develop both physically and mentally. That way you’ll be able to plan sessions that are pitched at the right level for your players.

It would also be a good idea to read how to be an effective soccer coach.


Of course, the reasons why children stop playing football vary according to their age when they stop. The most common in my experience are:

  • Parental disinterest (or active discouragement) that results in difficulty getting to practice, matches etc. (affects younger children most).
  • Not fitting in – this is more common in girls football where the importance of being in the the ‘gang’ becomes important as children get to about ten years old;
  • New interests that replace football (other sports usually – golf, tennis etc )
  • Joining a peer group that do not play football


When winning is the only thing…

…violence is not far away.

The acceptance of body contact and borderline violence seems to be based on the idea that sports is an area of life in which it is permissible to suspend usual moral standards.

Studies show that athletes commonly distinguish between game morality and the morality of everyday life. A college basketball player says, “In sports you can do what you want. In life it is more restricted”. A football player says “The football field is the wrong place to think about ethics”.

Experts express concern about the social implications of this lower moral standard in such an important and influential area. Sports gives us a wealth of metaphors in other activities: the language of sports is often used in discussions of business, politics and war. The influence of this double standard begins at an early age.

Athletes as Role Models

We know from research in psychology that young children tend to model their behaviour and attitudes on those of adults, particularly adults they admire. Athletes (and fathers watching/ playing sports) are role models. Even Presidents admire them. Children watch ice hockey on television. We all know the stale joke “I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out”. But how many children, or adults, are aware that a majority of hockey players want to abolish this violence? At annual meetings of the National Hockey Players Association violence has been a major issue, with players asking owners to impose much stiffer penalties (including expulsion).

But Club Owners (sponsors and the media) refuse to discourage the violence, because it attracts spectators who come to see “red ice”. Players who do not participate in the violence endanger their jobs. Most players do not want to see a game where their lives (or others) are in jeopardy. That pressure ultimately comes from owners (sponsors and the media) “who are into making profits”.

But to children it all seems natural. Little does he or she know that the extreme violence he sees often grows more out of the owners’ commercial interests than players’ inclinations.

A child who watches acts of violence committed by thieves, murderers, or sadists in films or on TV knows that society disapproves of these acts. The child who watches sports knows that athletes’ acts of violence are approved of. It makes sense that sports violence would serve as an important role model for children who tend to be well adjusted socially, while illegal violence on the screen would tend to have a greater influence on the behaviour of children who are more psychologically damaged and/or feel more alienated from society.

Sports plays a major role in reinforcing the concern with success, winning, and dominance. On the sports field these goals alone justify illegal and violent acts.

Violence in the Stands

Sports Illustrated took an “unscientific poll of fans” and reported in its August 8, 1988 issue that “everyone who had ever been a spectator at a sporting event of any kind had, at one time or another, experienced the bellowing of obscenities, racial or religious epithets … abusive sexual remarks to women in the vicinity, fistfights between strangers and fistfights between friends”. Increased spectator violence is one more manifestation of the escalation of violence which has taken place in our society in the last 20 years. Violence between athletes can only serve to encourage it.

Youth Sports: “Just Like the Game of Life”

30,000,000 children are involved in youth sports in North America, under the direction of 4.5 million coaches and 1.5 million administrators. When these programs place inordinate emphasis on competition and winning they become detrimental. Most youth sport coaches lack even rudimentary knowledge of the emotional, psychological, social and physical needs of children.

Many athletes report the enormous importance of the coach to a young boy or girl. Players look to their coaches as figures of wisdom and authority. This deep emotional relationship and respect for the coach’s authority facilitates players’ transference of moral responsibility from themselves to the coach. A core idea transmitted by coaches (and fathers) is that “playing the game is just like the game of life. The rules you learn will stand you in good stead for the rest of your life.”

Some of the rules that are emphasized sound good – teamwork, sacrifice for the common good, never giving up, giving 110 percent of yourself – and in the hands of sensitive, knowledgeable, well-trained coaches they can be used to teach youth valuable habits. But such coaches are far from the rule. Examples abound of coaches teaching youth the wrong things, in many cases (most?) without even knowing it, to the point of being a serious social problem.

When “60 Minutes” did a program on youth football they found that the emphasis was very much on winning – to the point that it is no longer fun. The emphasis of winning deprives youth of the pleasure of playing the game. The findings of academic researchers confirm “the obsession with winning is far from infrequent in youth sports”. Eventually, integrity takes a backseat to the pragmatic concern of winning games. Players learn that integrity is a rhetorical strategy one should raise only in certain times and places. The adults involved with Little League tend to be oriented toward winning, losing and competition.

Ironically, instead of focusing on enjoying sports, reaping physical benefits, and instilling a lifelong involvement in athletics, too many of our sports programs are geared exclusively toward winning (and coincidentally destroying bodies and missing out on the fun). The obsession with competitiveness and winning is far more pronounced among managers and coaches (and parents) than players. Many coaches think it is correct to use techniques of pushing, yelling, dehumanizing the opposing team, etc. Many coaches also teach players to sacrifice their bodies unnecessarily, hide all feelings of fear and vulnerability (however warranted they may be), to sacrifice the bodies of others, and use sexual slurs .. often to provoke boys to prove their manhood.

What Sports is About

True courage involves taking risks at the right time, in the right place, for the right reason. It is the competitive spirit tempered by empathy, moral concern, and a sense of social responsibility that causes long-lasting excellence and brings benefits to the community at large.

Here is what I learned from a sports psychologist regarding what they look for in an excellent athlete –

  1. competitiveness – not in the sense of having to win the game at all costs, but in having to win each move or action they make. In other words, a type of striving for continuous improvement – to always do the best you can and doing even better next time. Coincidentally, the sum of a lot of small wins, will probably add up to the big win.
  2. being a task master – the self discipline to organize and carry on the necessary tasks to get any job done, however long it takes, whatever it takes. This keeps you going, on track, or getting back on track. It means having a goal and not taking your eyes off it until you have obtained it.
  3. self esteem – having the confidence in yourself that you can do anything you want to. It helps you when you miss a goal because you know you will get it next time, and it keeps you coming back.


We have reached a crisis point today. Contributing to this crisis is TV, which introduces violent athletes as role models to very young children and often focuses attention on the violence in sports. Also, the commercialization of youth sports introduces children to inappropriately competitive sports at an early age. Both as players and as spectators, children are learning all the wrong lessons. What can we do in youth and high school sports to curtail violence, excessive concerns with winning and dominance, and the denigration of women and homosexuals?

  1. Day care centres and nursery schools are licensed (not to mention the regular school system). There is a problem of accountability of youth sports organizations. It is time for sports organizations, which involve large numbers of school-age children and affect their physical and mental health, to be licensed as well.
  2. All coaches (and parents) should have training in child development and physiology, and sports philosophy and how to deal with violence in sports. All coaches should have background checks (similar to Block Parents).
  3. All players, parents and coaches should sign a “contract” agreeing to a code of conduct, what is expected of coaches, players and parents.
  4. All attempts at injuring other players in order to “take them out” of the game and all borderline violence should be forbidden. Any attempt by a coach to encourage youth to behave in this way should be met with a severe penalty and eventual removal if repeated. There should be no difference between game morality and the morality of everyday life.
  5. Players who are problematic (i.e. offenders) should not be allowed to play on a team (for suitable time periods). For example, a ‘3 strikes and you are out’ rule.
  6. All violent, insulting language on the part of the coach and the players, including slurs against women and homosexuals, should be forbidden.
  7. Friendly, civil relations between teams should be encouraged. All games should start and end with handshakes.
  8. League injury rates should be provided to players and parents.
  9. Professional sports organizations must curtail violence. Otherwise, if society has seen fit to regulate cock fights and dog fights to protect animals and the public, so must violence in professional sports be regulated. Employers (Club Owners) should not be allowed to endanger (or bully) employees (players), even if they are paying them millions of dollars, because there is a very large social cost to which they are not contributing.


A major justification for our nation’s enormous investment in competitive sports is that ‘sports build character, teach team effort, and encourage sportsmanship and fair play’. Studies indicate that youth involved in organized sports show less sportsmanship than those who are not involved. One study found that as the children grew older they moved away from placing high value on fairness and fun in participation and began to emphasize skill and victory as the major goals of sport. In several other studies it was found that youth who participated in organized sports valued victory more than non-participants, who placed more emphasis on fairness.

Instead of learning fair play and teamwork, too many of our children are learning winning is everything. It is time to regulate children’s sports so that youth will really learn the pro-social attitudes and values that they are supposed to learn from sports, instead of the obsessive competitiveness, emotional callousness, and disdain for moral scruples that are so often precursors to violence.


What’s wrong with youth soccer?

“I know a lot of younger players don’t love the game now, but it is not a game you love anymore. When I was young we played in the street, had fun, identified with great players, thought & talked nothing but football, lived for a Saturday game on telly. Now there’s too many games on TV & you see the kids now in their teams at 9 years old, & its do this, do that with their parents on the touchlines screaming at them…” Gordon Strachen

“The young player should not be at all bothered with tactics, defending or positional elements. The focus should be on learning basic techniques. It should be ball, ball and more ball.” Zico

As youth soccer coaches, we think we know why our children want to play football (soccer).

We all try hard to make our training sessions and matches a fun experience for everyone concerned while the more enlightened coaches make sure that they offer all children the opportunity to play football, regardless of their ability.

At it’s best youth soccer really is the ‘beautiful game’: inclusive, democratic and inspiring.

But it’s not always like that. All too often the ‘beautiful game’ is tarnished by parents shouting at their kids from the touchline, clubs preoccupied with winning leagues and cups, ‘average’ players sitting out most of the season on the bench and young players being forced to play in fixed positions.

And so, sadly, many children give up playing soccer because ‘it’s no fun anymore’.

So what’s the answer?

Maybe we should play a different game altogether……futsal

Total soccer for children

When should coaches start assigning specific positions to young players?

By Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America Magazine, January 2008 issue)

We see it so often one wonders whether American youth coaches are getting their soccer advice from Garry Kasparov.

“Kids come up to the halfway line,” says Sam Snow, U.S. Youth Soccer’s Director of Coaching Education, “and actually balance themselves not to go past it, because they suddenly realize, ‘Oh my god, there’s the line that I’m not supposed to go past.’ Their arms are swinging, it’s almost like they’re on a balance beam or something.”

It’s a prime example of overcoaching – prevalent even though it’s generally agreed that pickup games or street soccer spawned the world’s greatest players.

And because it’s widely lamented that American children don’t play enough soccer in unsupervised games, where they’re allowed to experiment and enjoy the freedom of the sport, the sensible response is that organized soccer for young children replicate a pickup-game environment.

One of pickup soccer’s main characteristics is that players explore the field as they wish and decide on their own how to position themselves. I am constantly impressed with how even very young children begin to comprehend positioning without being instructed.

Snow recommends that coaches not worry much about talking to children about positions at the U-6 and U-8 levels.

“We’re saying, from U-10 on up, begin to tell them the names of the positions, show them where they are, but don’t screw them into the ground,” Snow says. “Don’t say, ‘You play here and you’re not allowed to go beyond a certain part of the field.'”

At the higher levels, teams interchange positions. Making players rely on instructions in their early years isn’t likely to prepare them to read the game on their own. Besides, the children’s instincts often make more sense than the sideline instructions. Manny Schellscheidt is the head of the U.S. Soccer Federation’s U-14 boys national development program and Seton Hall University coach. He sees older players he calls “position stuck.”

“When they don’t know exactly what to do,” Schellscheidt says, “they go to the spot they’re most familiar with regardless of what the game is asking for.”

The easy answer to the question of when to assign positions is to make it moot by using a small sided format, as recommended by U.S. Youth Soccer (U6: 3v3; U8: 4v4; U10: 6v6; U12: 8v8).

“The small-sided game environment for preteen players aids the players in learning concepts of play, for example positioning as opposed to positions,” says Snow.

Schellscheidt says, “It needs to be small enough so positions don’t matter. That’s the best solution. If coaches would have the patience to graduate their kids from really small numbers, one step at a time, that would be the most natural and the most potent education the players could possibly get.

“They would learn to deal with time and space, and how to move around and have some shape. The problem is we go to the bigger numbers too early.”

Even if the league doesn’t use a small-sided format for its games, Schellscheidt recommends that approach in practice. Above all, don’t scream orders from the sidelines and shackle players to areas of the field.

“It destroys the children’s natural instinct of being part of the game,” he says.

Bob Jenkins, U.S. Soccer’s Director of Coaching Education and Youth Development, says youth coaches are “skipping steps” when they try to organize and discipline young teams to play within a formation at a stage when they should be focused on the 2-on-1 situations.

Overemphasizing positions, Schellscheidt says, demonstrates the difference between team development and player development.

“There’s such a difference,” he says. “You can divvy up the field, make players rehearse what they’re supposed to do in their small areas, and as far as team development it works fine because they can find a quick way to get results. It’s a short cut to success, but the kids don’t become good players.”

U.S. Soccer’s “Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States” is pretty clear on the subject of allowing young players to make their own decisions on the field:
“A team of 9-year-olds who hold their positions and maintains a steady group of defenders who rarely, if ever venture into the attack, looks like a well-disciplined and well-organized team.”

But U.S. Soccer does not recommend this approach, clearly stating it isn’t how to develop good players:

“This approach hinders the player’s ability to experience and enjoy the natural spontaneity of the game. It does not allow players to have an equal opportunity to go and ‘find’ the game based on what they see from the game or to handle the ball and develop instincts for the game.

“These are skills that they will need at the older ages and that are often lacking in the older players.”

(This article originally appeared in the January 2008 issue of Soccer America magazine.)

Too much organization for young players?

“Reduce the Number of Players on the Field”

by Brett Thompson, Director of Coaching and Education, www.osysa.com

This article will tackle the often-debated subject of Organized and Select Soccer for our young players.  There has been much heated debate over small sided play / games for younger age children as well as the debate around the country about eliminating select soccer for younger players.  The debate over eliminating select soccer is brought up because too much pressure from parents, parental pressure on coaches who are paid to win and coaches who feel they must win to keep their paycheck coming in.

Many players today have been playing select soccer since they were 8 or 9 years old and play as many as 60 games a year.  This does not include indoor games, which could add another 20 games per year totaling 80 games per year.  The amount of games these young children play is unbelievable when you compare it to professional teams in Europe who play no more than 64 games a year.  The professionals also never play more than 2 games per week let alone 5 games in a weekend like some of our players do at tournaments.  Where does the player development come from if players are playing 3 games a week?  How can teams practice if all they are doing is playing to survive and stay in the division they are in or trying to move up.  It becomes human instinct of survival and as a result coaches play to win rather than develop.  Over the last 20-30 years the number of players and games those players play has increased dramatically.  Even with increasing the number of games in this country, we can still not compare with the rest of the world, especially on the men’s side.  On the women’s side we have done quite well over the past decade or so however, there have been many cultural issues that have allowed American women to dominate soccer in the world.  In women’s soccer today we can see that the rest of the world is catching up even though they may not have the pure athletes as we do in this country, but they may begin to surpass us technically as well as tactically in the very near future if we are not careful.  Our women’s game today is too reliant on athletes rather than soccer players who understand how to solve problems, who know how to bend a ball, who can spin a ball (Put English on it) and players who can not get out of tight spaces.

So why is it that soccer players in Latin America are so good considering they have little to no adult supervision when they are young soccer players playing in the street or park?  As one Argentinean professional player said “I think we are too unorganized to be organized”.  Players in South America play pick up games on a regular basis without adult intervention as a result, play a craftier style or as my father said to me growing up a “cheeky game”.  These players often are better in 1 vs 1 confrontations, able to create space better for themselves and others and most of all have an absolute joy and love for the game.  These players learned how to solve the problems presented to them as they came up in games without an adult “Telling” them how to solve it.

Let’s compare soccer to basketball in this country.  Today’s basketball player has a basketball hoop in their driveway or one located at the local playground.  These players hone their skills in “Pickup Games” without adult intervention and instruction.  Players in this environment are free to experiment, take chances, try new moves, fail without retribution form an adult and their role in the game may change many times based on who they are playing with.  Just imagine if Michael Jordan, Alan Iverson, Vince Carter and Kevin Garnett had played soccer.  These players learned to love and play the game by playing pick up games first before they were thrust into the adult world of athletics.

Soccer in this country has become too organized and structured more “Adult like environment” than a “Child like environment”.  Just look at the tournament schedules on the web today; there is a tournament every single weekend within driving distance of an Ohio South city.   Players today are being scouted and identified by age 6 and 7.  Look at how many parents are paying coaches to train their child who has “Potential”, who can identify a player who is 6 or 7, where do we live in the old East Germany?  Players at age 7 and 8 are being pigeon holed into positions and placed with other children of equal athletic ability so they can win.  Players may only be moved into different positions in some cases only if the team “”Has a good lead” because the coach does not want to lose and have to face the parent who will move their child to a “Winner”.

Many parents often worry that unless they get their child into select (Competitive) soccer early that they will not succeed.  Succeed at what and why do this?  Maybe it is because today many parents see the Brass Ring, that college scholarship? Maybe it is the fact that they played at a high level and they feel that their child should get an early start to ensure they will be a better soccer player or athlete than they were?

For our players to grow into soccer players today we must allow them to play different positions allow them to have successes and have failures (without retribution).  Player’s grow, mature and comprehend of the game grow at different rates.  Their understating of soccer and physical size can change in the span of 6 to 12 months.  In is inconceivable to me that a coach or parent would try to identify the player who has potential by the age of 10.

We must change the way we are teaching the game in this country today.  We talk a good game about developing players while we spend most of our time finding and identifying those players who may be bigger, stronger and faster so we can turn them into “Elite Athletes” at camps that parents are willing to pay up to $200 a month for 7 year olds.  It is my opinion that we need to slow down on putting players into competitive environments too early.  Since I arrived last October I have had several conversations with coaches who want me to help them develop a style of play or help with a formation because they are playing 11 vs 11 at aged 9 and they are giving up too many goals.  Maybe just maybe the answer is not what formation or style of play they have but maybe the field is too big and it becomes a game of territory or who has the strongest and fastest kids who can kick the ball hard.  Every year this country produces a “National Champion” and yet at least on the men’s side we have yet to win a World Cup.  Today’s soccer requires an athlete who has the ability to solve problems on their own quickly.  We do not need soccer players who play for coaches who treat them as if it is a Nintendo game.  We must allow our players to learn the game at the pace that is appropriate to their age and not rush things.

We as adults believe that if we provide a structured environment we can speed up the learning process and we have better soccer players on our hands.  We as adults try to put players in our Palm Pilot world while fitting them into what we believe they should do and play rather than understand the game each and every one of them plays and how they play it is nothing but an expression of their personality.

I will leave you with this thought from “Zorba the Greek by Kazantzakis” Readiness:

I remember one morning when I discovered a cocoon in the bark of a tree, just as a butterfly was making a hole in its case and preparing to come out.  I waited a while, but it was taking too long appearing and I was impatient.  I bent over and breathed on it to warm it.  I warmed it as quickly as I could and the miracle began to happen before my eyes faster than life.  The case opened, the butterfly started crawling out and I shall never forget my horror when I saw how its wings were folded and crumpled; the wretched butterfly tried with its entire whole trembling body to unfold them.  Bending over it, I tried to help with my breath in vain.  It needed to be hatched out patiently and unfolding of the wings should be a gradual process in the sun.  Now it was too late, my breath had forced the butterfly to appear all crumpled before it’s time.  It struggled desperately for few seconds but later died in the palm of my hand.  That little body is, I do believe, the greatest weight on my conscience.  For I realize today that it is a mortal sin to violate the great laws of nature.  We should not hurry, we should not be impatient, but we should confidently obey the eternal rhythm.

Futsal coaching tips

If you coach futsal (and if you don’t, you should!) I’m sure you’ll find the the tips below very useful. I know I did!

Short rosters: Teams have short roster to have more playing time. This is not the spirit of Futsal. In Futsal coaches should replace players often to get the most of their energy and coach them while they are out.

Excessive kicking: Futsal is not a kicking sport. It is a moving and getting close to the goal.

Bad transition from attack to defence and vice-versa: When your team has possession all players attack. Immediately when the ball is lost all players defend. If you have to tie your shoes ask the coach to sub you.

Dead zone players: Players that don’t move get in a dead zone. If a coach perceives a player in a dead zone the coach should replace the player immediately and talk to him. Either the player is tired or don’t understand the game.

Giving up: Do not look at the score board, a goal can be scored in 2 seconds in Futsal. If you think that your game is lost because you are loosing by 5 or 6 goals you are mistaken.

Not using the goalie as a 5th player when available: Use the goalie when you can. The goalie becomes the fifth player and gives an edge. If the opposing player goes after the goalie the goalie passes to the open player. If the goalie can’t pass he can kick to get rid of the ball after 4 seconds of possession.

Over committing on the last minute. When players see the clock on the last minute they get desperately on the attack. The odds are that they will get scored against. This tactics of over committing should be used only when the game or tournament is completely lost.

Marking: Futsal is dynamic and so is marking players.. A front player walking back slowly should be replaced immediately.

Goalie bouncing the ball to players. Goalie should roll the ball as close to the floor as possible because it is easier for the player receiving the ball to control.

Slow ball reposition: The fastest the ball is played after a game stop the better is for your team.

Distracted players: Players should have the eye on the ball as close to 100% of the time as possible.

Controlling the ball with the side of the feet: in Futsal the ball is controlled with the bottom of the feet.

Players losing focus: There is no time in Futsal for getting upset. Getting upset with a play or the referee may cost your team dearly. If you don’t have the focus the odds are that your team will suffer.

Physical games: Futsal is skills; it is not a physical game. Instead of play physical players need to focus on the game.

Playing Futsal just to enhance skills: To benefit from Futsal you have to understand the spirit of the game.

Lack of movement: When attacking, players should be moving constantly. Rotation is highly desirable. When attacking, players need to be constantly looking for open space.

  • The kick start is a forward kick. Place the receiving player close enough so he can get the ball before the opponent.
  • Place the ball on the line and have your body outside of the field to restart a play after the ball goes out of the boundaries.
  • The goalie must use his hands for a goal clearance.
  • The opponent player should allow 5 yards in a kick in play.
  • When the goalie throws the ball it must hit his own court or a second player before it hits the opposing court.
  • There are no shoulder charges, slides or even play the ball when you are down allowed in Futsal.

The trials and tribulations of a footy ref

By Christopher White


This is my first season as a ‘roped-in’ parent acting as assistant to our U7s manager for training sessions. As the manager is required to marshal the players on matchdays, I get the plum job of refereeing the home games. I have no experience of reffing whatsoever, and precious little football playing experience – just lots of watching. I guess that plenty of us ‘assistant managers’ who end up refereeing are in a similar position. We’re not official refs and get no training as such, we’re just left to get on with it as best we can.

I am having fun learning the ropes (4 home games so far and still alive), but it’s quite a steep curve and I gain at least one Invaluable Golden Rule every week – some from watching other refs, some from helpful analysis of my own ‘performances’ offered by courteous members of the public. Some of these may seem obvious to experienced ex-players, but I am the original lowest common denominator and my greenness may prove useful in establishing a base level for an advice section for amateur reffing dads.

I know the basic rules, but I would love to find out the basic responsibilities of a ref at this level, plus it seems there’s even more to it than that…..

Things I’ve learned already:

Get the team to club together for a stopwatch with nice big controls that work for cold fingers. NEVER trust your wristwatch. (Yes, I ended up giving a game-levelling home pen in the second minute of unintentional extra time. The away manager had TWO stopwatches going. Great.)

Brief the managers on EXACTLY on what you expect from them (e.g.. ‘You guys call the touch decisions but leave the fouls to me’, or “I don’t usually give a foul for a backpass to the goalie at this level, is that OK with you?’ etc.

MAKE A POINT of introducing yourself to the away manager as early as possible. Ask if he has any tearaways on his team that need watching. He’ll say “All of ’em”. (Correct).

It’s polite to the visitors to stay away from your team huddle at half-time. Find something else to do. Watch the birds or try a few car doors or something.

NEVER discuss decisions. ALWAYS thank the away management afterwards. BIG smiles all the time for the kids.

CHECK the pitch carefully before the game for dog mess (have some nappy bags or a shovel handy) or anything else that might hurt the kids. This also gives you something to do that’s a polite distance away from your home team while the pre-match chat and warm-up is on.

FOULS: As far as I can tell, at U7/ U9 level, fouls are usually down to poor technique or over-enthusiasm, not nastiness. So don’t just whistle/yell at offenders from a distance. If a player does something daft, like leaping into a tackle backwards (very common it seems), nip over, bend down to their eye level to get their attention and quickly and quietly explain exactly what they did wrong. Then tell them they’re a good lad/girl – big thumbs-up and a big smile. This takes about ten seconds and they’re much less likely to repeat dangerous play.

Refs run backwards a lot on the telly – park refs check their mirrors first to make sure there isn’t a kid in the way.

Oh yeah and finally, ask the away manager if any of the kids on their team are called Rhett, or anything else that sounds like ‘Ref’ or you’ll be driven up the wall thinking it’s you being screamed at to GET BACK or WAKE UP or KEEP MOVING or whatever if little Rhett’s having a mare…..

The numbers game – building up from small sided games

How 1v1 leads to 4-3-3 and it’s role in player development

a youth soccer coaching article by Larry Paul of the Burke Athletic Club

Changing the number of players in a team can change the way the team plays. It can mean new responsibilities or opportunities for everyone. The structure, or form, that the game takes is called systems of play. Here, Eric Cantona argues, tongue in cheek, against these systems in favour of a high risk 1-1-8, takes you to YouTube. It’s the “Just let them play school” taken to extremes. While this is good theatre it’s not practical advice. After all, Eric couldn’t have played the role of the playmaker at Manchester United without those six or seven players behind him doing the dirty work. And he never could have learned all of his great attacking qualities by “Working harder, not smarter” as a youth. Someone else was moving the piano.

In youth soccer development the numbers 1v1 to 11v11 play an important role. They provide a clear starting and ending point for evaluations and learning, a simple path that provides both the tools to measure and assist in the process. This one element of the game, the number of players, provides you with a powerful way to help the players develop their TIC and to make a greater contribution to the game. In the end that’s all the players want; to have an impact and to play a role in the outcome.

1v1. The basic form of soccer. Each player is learning opposite lessons in the game. Without a basic grasp of this level what follows will be much more difficult.

2v2. Working with a teammate. Cooperating to achieve an objective.

3v3. If two’s company and three’s a crowd you had better sort it out here. Now the game revolves around a shape and a centre.

4v4 is special. It’s the smallest form of real soccer and the fastest way to develop an appreciation of all of the basic tasks and skills. Generally the four players assume a diamond shape, it’s the most efficient and effective way to cover the field and that creates the following learning opportunities.

The sweeper can learn to play as a centre-back. Their basic task when in possession will be to build up the attacks and support the midfielders. When the opponents have possession they’ll have to mark the striker 1v1.

The midfielders first defensive task is to neutralize their immediate opponent, again 1v1. In possession they also have to help in the build up and then support their own striker. Getting forward to score goals is a bonus, a supplementary task. They learn the roles and skills of the right and left midfielder through their position and responsibilities.

The top player can learn the role of the target player and/or striker. These jobs require different skill sets and will depend a lot on the qualities of the player themselves. They will also have to defend against the opponents sweeper, a la 1v1.

The beauty of 4v4 is that the players interchange positions as they see fit, as the situations dictate. They change within the flow of the game to meet the needs of the team. This flow cannot be effectively controlled by the coach, it’s up to the players to see and develop their “Feel” for when to go, when to stay and which job is most important. If a player is comfortable in a specific role they can develop a level of expertise in it. They adopt it as their own. In any case, over time players will have to use both feet in attack, defence, to dribble, pass, tackle and shoot in all of the areas, i.e., right, left, top and back, of the field. They have to fill all of the basic roles, i.e., ball winner, goal scorer and playmaker, of the real game. They have to deal with hundreds of 1v1’s, 2v1’s, 2v2’s, all of those smaller forms in the context a real game.

5v5 – Without goalkeepers. With the addition of an extra player one of the basic tasks from 4v4 will be duplicated. This affects the distances, angles, space and tasks of all of the players. On the smaller field it also encourages the use of two line play.

3-2, adding the 5th player up top. This creates a three player back line because the midfielders don’t have to go forward as much and have less space to do so. It changes them to a right and left fullback’s that work alongside the center back. When the opponents also play a 3-2 one of the back players will be free. If it’s one of the outside players they can practice playing as a wing back. If they are marking the opposition, the centre back is free and can play as a libero. Up top the second striker can play off of the first. One player can assume the role of target player while the other plays as the striker. The 3-2 alignment encourages building up from the back because the team’s balance favours it.

2-3, adding the 5th player to the back. Now the midfielders don’t need to come back as often so they play farther up. This works well when you are better then your opponent. If not, the two back players will be under constant pressure and will have a hard time building up the attack. When both teams play this way the game usually degenerates into two different 3v2’s, one in each half of the field. A team must make up in superior qualities what it lacks in numbers. Since the build up precedes the attacking phase if back players aren’t up to the task the game can get ugly fast.

1-3-1, adding the 5th player to the midfield. Only the best players and teams should try this. It demands a high level of technical and tactical qualities, especially from the central midfielder. Not only do they have to understand their own game but they need to know where everybody else is at all times. The central midfielder will need to fill in all of the other roles as players move and be comfortable in them all.

5v5 – With goalkeepers. This is basically the same as 4v4 on the field. The addition of a goalkeeper has little effect on the other four players roles.

6v6 usually means the introduction of a goalkeeper. The five players on the field follow the same outline as 5v5 above. 6v6 without a goalkeeper is not seen in competition. In training it’s a good way to present the basic tasks of 7v7 and to force an aggressive defense.

7v7 one of the standard small sided games. The examples below assume a goalkeeper;

3-3, the basis for three attackers in 11v11. This is the smallest form for developing wingers. Each flank player in the top line, each winger has an immediate opponent, i.e. they need to develop their 1v1 skills. They have a marked central striker, i.e. a target to play to and an opposing goalkeeper who cuts out the poorer crosses. The large goal offers the choice to cross or shoot. This is a good form for introducing 4-3-3 and 3-4-3.

4-2, the basics of the counter attacking game. You can use this form for teaching either, the four back players behind two central midfielders, or, the four midfielders behind the two central strikers in 11v11. The former encourages a counterattacking philosophy and develops a holding midfielder while the latter can help to develop the playmaker. He or she has three players behind them to defend and two players in front of to find. That means fewer defensive responsibilities and many opportunities to find a target or carry the ball forward. The communication and the separation of tasks between the two central back players is a key learning point. This is a good form for introducing the 4-4-2 forms.

2-3-1, this structure asks a lot of youth players. First, the lone striker will find themselves isolated quite a bit. The outside midfielders must be able to cover the entire length of the field, corner flag to corner flag. Because of this they will constantly find themselves chasing the ball, an opponent or both. Because of their defensive responsibilities they will be starting their attacks, and making crosses, from deep positions and this does not develop the wing play qualities of the 3-3. Because the lone striker won’t be able to pressurize the opponents back line effectively, one or more of the midfielders will often push up. However, if they are starting from positions too far back they get forward too late. The ball passes by them and the back two are exposed. Finally, unless one of the three midfielders drops back to play with the back two, the back two players will not have many chances to carry the ball forward or join in the attack. They have problems building up and resort to the long ball. Teams that use this form will need to rely on strong physical qualities as opposed to technical/tactical ones. This is a form for developing the 3-5-2 form.

3-2-1, the Christmas tree. With an emphasis on defence this takes the 2-3-1 to a new negative level. The difference between the two forms is that in the later there are two full time defenders and three part timers while the former is reversed. The change is in one players basic tasks. The problems are similar to the 2-3-1, an isolated striker and midfielders who have to cover a lot of ground. The advantage is the increased strength of the back line. The extra defensive player can help to reduce the midfielders need to come back. Two players can cover the back when the third joins in the attack. This is a good form for developing the 4-5-1 or 5-3-2.

8v8, the other standard small sided game. The biggest change between 7v7 and 8v8 is it’s easier to play three real lines in 8v8. When you use three players as the basis for a line there are only three players left. (Some coaches try to use a 2-2-2 but this does not adequately cover the field.) By using the basic forms from 7v7 some of the forms you can make are; 3-1-3, 3-2-2, 3-3-1, 4-2-1. All of these forms use three lines with a minimum back line of three players. The eighth player creates the need for an even greater separation of tasks, the extra line and that lengthens the team. A four player line might be overkill in protecting the width.

9v9 to 11v11. These are considered to be full sized games.

The bottom line on player development.

Player development should have a clear starting and end point. – It’s not a random set of technical skills without context. 1v1 to 11v11 contains all of the moments, tasks and TIC. You have to know where you are, where you’re going and how you are going to get there. This progression does that.

It should follow a simple and logical progression. – The different sizes of the game. Use uneven numbers to bridge the gaps.

It should take into account to individual differences. – The coach should look for, cater to and develop the players strengths first. Build on what they can do before obsessing on what they can’t. Also, avoid mass solutions. Not all of the players suffer from the same diseases.

The coach must balance between the present and potential qualities. – Use the different forms and roles to explore potential. Todays striker is tomorrows centre back.

Ultimately a players development is measured by their contribution to the game. They don’t get style points, they need to get the job done.

Their contribution to the game rests on their general and special qualities and how they are applied to the game. – Everybody is different. This is why Festival play is such an important part in development. Players learn about differences in themselves and others.

These qualities can be enhanced or hindered by the role they are assigned in the team. – With older players match the qualities to the role. There are only two reasons why players fail. They are at the wrong level or in the wrong position. In recreational soccer having players at the wrong level goes with the territory. Having them in the wrong position goes with the plan.