How to get the best out of your players

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” – William A. Ward

If you’re coaching four and five-year-olds, this article probably isn’t for you.

Your players don’t need motivating to play the game to the best of their ability. They will run, tackle and shoot until they drop because they’re having fun and totally unaware of the pressures that lie in wait for them as they get older.

But it won’t be long before they become more and more aware of parental/coach expectations and the differences in ability between individuals. That’s when fun can begin to be replaced by fear of failure. And worried players won’t perform well in matches or give 100% effort in training.

At that point – usually when players are seven or eight years old -their coach faces a big challenge: How to remove the fear and motivate his players to work hard in training and play to their potential in matches.

The four motivational techniques I describe in this article are simple and pretty obvious – when you understand why children want to play football in the first place.

Why children play football

An Athletic Footwear Association Survey of more than 20,000 young football players found that children want to play football:

1. To have fun

2. To improve their skills

3. To stay in shape

4. To do something they are good at

5. The excitement of the competition

6. To get exercise

7. To play as part of a team

8. The challenge of the competition

9. To learn new skills

10. To win matches

Other studies have found that:

  • 71% of the young football players surveyed said they wouldn’t care if no score were kept in their games.
  • 41% said they have woke in the night worrying about an upcoming game.
  • 90% said they would prefer to be on a losing team if they were able to actually play rather than warm the bench on a winning team.[1]

How to motivate your players

These findings suggest that we can satisfy our players needs – and thereby motivate them to work hard and play to their potential – by adopting the following strategies.

Well-planned, varied and competitive training sessions

Disorganised and poorly thought-out coaching sessions can demotivate even the most positive of young players.

You need to plan your sessions in advance and plan activities that are:

a) Competitive.

b) Mentally and physically challenging.

c) Within the capabilities of all your players.

You should also bear in mind the preferences of your players. If they like playing small-sided games (SSGs), (which they almost certainly will) then you should accommodate their wishes.

Setting objectives

Every player, no matter how skilled, will be motivated to give her best in matches if she is given an easily understood, achievable objective.

Your objectives should not include the word “win”. Winning is often out of your player’s control – an injury, poor referring decision or one small mistake can cost a good team the match. Instead, the subject of your objectives should be entirely within your player’s control. For example:

  • Block an opposing goal.
  • Make two throw-ins with both feet on the ground.
  • Make three shots on goal.
  • Make one good pass to a team mate.

Only set one or two objectives per game, praise your players for trying to achieve their objectives and change objectives from one game to the next as your player’s skills change.

Give feedback

Young players are usually not very good at assessing their own ability so they rely on parents, coaches and team mates to tell them how they are performing.

Out of all these, the comments made by the coach are the most valued and you will make a significant impact on your players’ enjoyment and self image by giving honest, regular feedback on their performance.

Try to give specific feedback as soon as you notice a player doing something well, e.g. “Excellent! I like the way you kicked that with your laces”. Telling your players exactly what they are doing well encourages them to repeat the action they were praised for.

If you need to correct a mistake, use the “sandwich” approach to giving feedback. For example: “That was a great shot (start with a positive). You would probably have scored if you had taken the shot with your first touch (a negative in the middle) but you made the keeper pull off a great save” (a positive to end with).

Don’t forget that feedback is a two-way process. You may well find it instructive to ask “on a scale of one to 10, how much fun did you have in today’s coaching session?”

Every player plays!

Finally, the best motivator of all: Playing time.

Children join a football team because they want to play, not sit on the bench watching their team mates have all the fun.

So please make sure that every one of your players gets a meaningful amount of playing time in every match, regardless of the game situation.

If you can’t promise to do that, then be up front about it and offer to release players who aren’t going to get their fair share of time on the pitch.

[1] Troubling Signals from Youth Sports,

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The right way to coach youth soccer?

There is no “right way” to teach football to children.

Youth football coaches come from a wide variety of backgrounds, coach football for different reasons and have different personalities. So it would be unreasonable to expect all coaches to conform to one particular style.

However, there are a number of tried and tested best practices that all coaches should consider when planning their coaching sessions and when deciding on their personal “coaching philosophy”.

1. Set up situations where the players can learn by playing the game

“The game is the teacher” is a bit of a coaching cliche but it’s also true – children won’t learn how to play football if you put them in lines and make them share a ball.

They learn by being given the freedom to play, to experiment and make mistakes. The coach’s job is not to instruct. It is to set up games that create the situations that she wants her players to experience and then help them find the answers to the problems they encounter.

2. Encourage creativity and ball skills, not tactics

For children aged from four to about nine, football is not a team sport. It is the time when they should be developing their individual relationship with the ball. The fact that younger children are made to play in a “team” is not their fault so don’t demand that the more confident players share the ball. Encourage them to be creative, dribble at defenders and to take on the world!

Enjoy watching your players express themselves without fear of failure and work at getting the rest of your players to the same level of confidence and comfort with the ball that your “best” players enjoy.

3. Never say “never”

Coaches should not tell their young players to “hold their positions” or to “never” do something.

Children should be encouraged to dribble the ball out of their penalty area, to pass across their six-yard box or throw the ball backwards instead of “down the line!”

If they try something that results in the opposition scoring a goal, great. Talk about what happened at your next coaching session and see if they can learn from the experience.

4. Set age appropriate goals

Most of the discipline problems coaches experience stem from expecting their players to master particular skills that are not appropriate for their age.

For example, children up to the age of about 10 may lack the physical ability to lock their ankle, a skill that is necessary to strike a ball with power and accuracy so there’s not much point to get frustrated with an eight-year-old who can’t hoof the ball from one end of the pitch to the other.

Coaches who coach six or seven-year-olds should also bear in mind their players are very egocentric; they see the world only from their perspective. As a result, they are not going to want to pass the ball to their team mates. They’re worried they might never get it back!

Also, very young children lack the ability to “look ahead” and see what is about to happen. This is a limiting factor that coaches need to bear in mind when teaching how to attack the ball at corner kicks, for example.

5. Get feedback

No matter how good a coach you think you are, it’s important to find out what your customers – the players and their parents – think about you.

Players should be asked occasionally what they like and don’t like about your coaching sessions and parents should be given feedback forms to fill at the end of every season.

Ask questions like these:

  • Does your child enjoy coaching sessions?
  • Do you feel your child has progressed as a player?
  • Did your child get a fair amount of playing time on match days?

Leave spaces for parents to explain their answers and act on what they tell you!

6. Walk away

If you have been coaching your team for more than three years (or if you have a child on the team) you should consider passing the team on to a different coach.

“Oh no”, I hear you say, “I can’t leave my team”.

But they are not “your” team and they never will be. Players and parents have their own expectations and needs and it is very likely that they have less confidence in you than you think.

Staying with a team for too long also leads to a coach developing a sentimental or overly optimistic view of the players’ abilities and the prospects of the team.

This can lead to the coach excusing poor performances and settling for less than 100% effort which, in turn, can result in coaching sessions that lack drive and energy. And if the coach doesn’t set challenging objectives, players will often lose interest, misbehave or simply leave the team.

For more soccer coaching tips and products visit Soccer Coaching Club.

How to deal with a soccer team that cheats

I’ve seen players as young as eight or nine claiming corners or throw ins when they know they touched the ball last, feigning injury to get a free kick and handling the ball like miniature Thierry Henrys.

Youth football coaches falsify birth certificates, encourage their players to pull and push at corners to stop attackers getting to the ball, condone diving and teach their players that “it’s only a foul if the ref spots it”.

And referees who blatantly favour one team over the other are, sadly, commonplace.Â

The “win at all costs” culture that pervades youth football, encouraged by the lack of effective penalties for cheating and supported by the cynical attitude of mega-rich pro players and their managers, means that you are bound to meet teams which cheat.

But what should you do about it?

Don’t react

Games in which one team is obviously cheating, whether it be by deliberately fouling your players, “bad mouthing” them or claiming that they are being fouled, can easily get out of control. Emotions run high – both on the pitch and on the touchline – but you must remain calm.

Confronting the other coach/manager while the game is in progress is pointless and will add to the tension. So if you feel you have to speak to the other team’s officials, do it after the game and out of earshot of the players and their parents.

Don’t allow your players to cheat back

Whatever you do, don’t allow your players to fight fire with fire.

Children have an acute sense of fair play and you may be confronted with a set of outraged players at half time complaining that their shirts are being tugged, the other team are pinching them (that happened to one of my teams!) or the referee is biased.

That’s when you have to set an example. By all means recognise your players concerns but don’t criticise the match official, the other players or anyone else. If your players are angry, try to channel their emotions into playing harder and faster but don’t allow them to descend to their opponent’s level.

Set the standards

Cheating doesn’t come naturally to young football players – they watch respected professional players getting away with breaking the rules and think: “If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me”.

Then they try their new “skills” in training, usually in the end-of-session scrimmage.

That’s when you have to step in and make it clear to your players that you will not tolerate any form of cheating, either in training or in a match.

If you see shirt tugging, etc. in training, stop the game. In matches, sub a player who tries to gain an unfair advantage and explain that: “We don’t do that sort of thing”.

Take a hard line, never accept anything less than complete honesty from your players (or yourself) and never turn a blind eye.

For more soccer coaching tips and products visit Soccer Coaching Club.

The importance of the cool down

Most youth football coaches understand the importance of warming up their players before a coaching session or a match.

An effective warm-up reduces the risk of injury by increasing core temperature (that’s why it’s called “warming up”), improving the flow of oxygen to muscles and thereby making muscles and joints more supple.

A warm-up also prepares players mentally for the game ahead by helping them to focus on football and forget about outside distractions.

And almost every team has some sort of warm-up routine – although some consist of little more than a couple of laps of the pitch followed by outfield players trying to knock their keeper into the back of the net!

Cool downs are another matter.

While many coaches understand that players should cool down after playing football, very few youth coaches have any sort of cool-down routine.

That’s a shame. Cool downs don’t take long and they strengthen your players’ cardiovascular system by gradually lowering their heart rate rather than let it drop suddenly as soon as the coaching session or match finishes.

A good cool-down also reduces the likelihood of Delayed Muscle Soreness (the stiffness and dull aching felt one to two days after exercise) by removing lactic acid and other by-products of exercise.

And cool downs are a good opportunity for reflecting on the match or coaching session and praising players for their hard work.

Who should cool down?

Even very young players should spend a few minutes cooling down and as players get older and less flexible, the cool down becomes even more important. By the time players are U11s or U12s, the cool-down should be as much a part of their pre-game routine as the warm-up.

How to cool down

A good cool-down typically consists of a light jog followed by gentle, static stretching of the main muscles.

It’s also important to take the opportunity to rehydrate and replace lost carbohydrates with a sports drink.

But I thought dynamic stretching was better than static?

Static stretching consists of stretching a muscle (or group of muscles) to its farthest point and then maintaining or holding that position. This helps realign muscle fibres and thereby speed recovery after exercise.

Dynamic stretching involves moving parts of your body and gradually increasing reach, speed of movement, or both. Basically, it’s stretching while moving.

Dynamic stretching is used in warm-ups because it helps to increase muscle temperature and flexibility.

An example cool-down routine

1. A couple of minutes slow jogging.

2. Two players share one ball. One player gets behind their partner. The leading player walks and the player behind pushes the ball between their partner’s legs as they walk. The ball is stopped by the leading player and the action repeated. Go a few yards then switch the players round.

3. Perform static stretches in a circle. Work up from the bottom, i.e. ankles/Achilles, hamstrings, quads right up to shoulders and neck. Hold stretches for a few seconds.


Cooling down:

  • Improves your players’ fitness.
  • Reduces the likelihood of injuries.
  • Is a very good habit to get into!

For more soccer coaching tips and products visit Soccer Coaching Club.

Food for thought – how to boost your players’ IQ

Coaches of very young players spend almost all of their time teaching their players how to kick, tackle, pass and shoot.

As their players get older and more experienced, most coaches focus a little more on their players’ physical fitness and they also teach them basic football tactics. What to do at set pieces, for example, and how to defend and attack as a team.

Few youth football coaches, however, help their players exercise and develop the most important part of their anatomy: Their brain.

In fact, most coaches actually discourage their players from independent thought by constantly telling them what to do during coaching sessions and matches.

And that’s surprising when you consider that the ability to read the game – to anticipate what is going to happen during a match and react appropriately – is probably the most important ability that any player, whatever their age, can possess.

“But my players are much too young to think for themselves. They can’t read the game! They need to be told what to do.”

Even very young children can, and should, be encouraged to become good readers of the game because as they get older and more experienced, they’re going to need a bit more than technical skills, tactical awareness and fitness.

In a team of U5s, for example, a player who can dribble, pass and shoot will dominate matches. But five years later – given good coaching – her peers will have caught up in terms of skills and they will all have some tactical awareness. At that point, the ability to read the game becomes as important, if not more important, than the ability to pass, shoot or play “tactically”.

And that’s when children who have been encouraged from an early age to think for themselves when they step on to a football field will begin to stand out from the rest.

But no child is born with “soccer intelligence”. It requires repeated exposure to match-related situations in training as well as many hours playing in competitive matches.

What does an intelligent football player look like?

1. She doesn’t have to rush.

2. She knows when to keep the ball and when to pass.

3. She likes to takes the simplest option but can also take calculated risks.

4. She puts in a consistent performance every week.

5. She knows what she is going to do with the ball before she receives it.

How to develop soccer intelligence in your players

Games that boost the IQ of young football players

The last characteristic in the list above – knowing what to do with the ball before it arrives – can be encouraged with coaching games such as Number Passing:

Take a group of four players, give them each a number (1 to 4) and spread them a good passing distance apart. Place a cone a few yards from the group. The players pass a ball to each other in numerical order and immediately run to the spare cone.

Once the basic principle has been mastered, you can reverse the number order and/or reduce the number of touches each player can have before passing. If your players are good enough, progress to one-touch.

Similarly, you can help young players to think while they are playing by putting different coloured training vests (e.g. white, red, green and blue) on four teams of two players and playing 4v4. To begin with, red and blues could play against whites and red. Then change the teams by calling out, for example, “green and red v white and blue”. After a couple of minutes, change the teams again.

All small-sided games (SSGs) will help develop your players’ brain power and even something as simple as placing two goals at each end of the pitch in the end of session scrimmage, so that players have to decide which goal to attack, is sufficient to get their brains working as well as their feet.

General principles

Play coaching games that resemble football matches.

Don’t instruct. Suggest ways of doing things.

Don’t give answers. Help players find the answers for themselves instead.


As coaches we have to teach our players skills and, if they’re old enough, help them understand football tactics.

But it’s also vital to help them become confident, independent thinkers by playing games that involve choices and, crucially, not making the choices for them, either during coaching sessions or on match days.

Why children play soccer

The majority of the reasons children participate in sport are intrinsic. The top priorities are:

  • To learn and improve their skills
  • To have fun
  • To be with friends
  • To experience the excitement of competition
  • To enhance their physical fitness
  • To demonstrate their competence

Notice that the extrinsic goal of winning and beating others is not at the top of the list.

Similarly, when children drop out of soccer, their withdrawal can be traced to the inability of the sport experience to meet their primary motivations for participation. The common reasons are:

  • Failing to learn or improve their skills
  • Not having fun
  • Not being with their friends
  • Lack of excitement, improvisation and creative opportunities
  • Lack of exercise, meaningful movement and fitness improvements
  • Lack of optimal challenges and/or consistent failure

Practical suggestions for coaches

Encourage players to measure their performance by improvements in their own, personal levels of proficiency and ability rather than by comparing themselves to other players or to other teams based on the game outcome.

Because children have several reasons for participation and not just one, design practices to meet as many different participation motives as possible (i.e. learning, fun, friendship, fitness, challenge, etc.).

Utilize 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 use picture cues liberally;
– Focus only on one or two important aspects critical to performance success (avoid “paralysis by analysis”);
– Decrease time spent in transition between activities, drills and games. Keep practices short, clear and well planned.

Utilize a positive approach to skill instruction by focusing on what the athlete did correctly (“catch them being good”).

Make practices meaningful, fun challenging and exciting
– Avoid static line drills;
– Encourage creative improvisation by players;
– Optimally challenge all athletes throughout the full range of abilities (avoid coaching only the mid-ability performer
– Eliminate “elimination games” because players most in need of improvement and repetitions are usually the first to be eliminated;
– Be fully focused on the players and the activity (coach the players as well as the game).

Plan time for the children to meet and make new friends (ice cream stops after practices, pizza parties, watch a video, free time before and after practice).

Focus on teaching players the active, ever-changing game of soccer rather than the static, predictable soccer drills.

Utilize dual function fitness activities that concurrently enhance fitness and also improve soccer skills (i.e. soccer tag with a ball) and/or psychological dispositions (players are having so much fun they don’t realize that they are conditioning too).

Provide competitive challenges for athletes that can help define success not only by comparison to others but also by improving one’s own standard of accomplishment.

Know the Factors That May be Stressful for Youth Players

Coaches and parents can do a great service to children by helping each athlete develop self-confidence, a sense of personal worth and mastery, and a constructive attitude toward failure and adversity.

Behaviour that adults view as encouraging can often be perceived by athletes as stress producing and pressure-filled.

Kids will freely choose to participate in activities that they view as worthwhile, enjoyable and fun.

The challenge for adults is to maximize the inherent joy of what Pele calls “the beautiful game of soccer” and minimize experiences that increase children’s anxiety and likelihood of burnout.

Practical suggestions for coaches

Avoid a “win at all cost” attitude.

Transform parental pressure into parental interest, support and encouragement.

Avoid over training, long, repetitive practices and excessive time and travel demands.

Avoid using perfection as the standard for judging an athlete’s performance.

Don’t associate a player’s worth or value as a person with their performance and ability on the soccer field (i.e. winning or a great performance means that I like you more).

Make sure that your non-verbal behaviours are congruent with your words and that the coaching is consistent across situations (i.e. sulking after a loss even though the team played well or being happy following a poor performance by a winning team).

Realise That Effective Feedback is the Breakfast of Champions

The familiar coaching adage that “what you do speaks so loudly that no one can hear what your saying” is especially important to remember when dealing with athletes. Players benefit most from coaches whose actions reflect both their implied and stated values. The ability to observe, analyze and communicate are three of a coaches most valuable assets. A word of caution, however, is that the beneficial effects of verbal instruction decrease in direct proportion to the amount given. Remember: Keep it Short and Simple. Take time to videotape yourself coaching, not only at practice but also in games. Observe yourself as others see you. Frequently there is significant difference between how coaches think they are talking, acting and communicating and what athletes perceive.

Practical suggestions for coaches

Give specific, performance-contingent feedback to athletes rather than general comments lacking performance-related information.

Be liberal with praise. Most athletes prefer coaches who shout praise and whisper criticism rather than visa versa.

Tell athletes what improvements need to be made, why and most importantly, how to make those corrections successfully and consistently.

Observe and provide meaningful feedback to every athlete at least once each training session and game.

Combine verbal praise with consistent non-verbal forms of encouragement (i.e. a pat on the back, smile, a high five, etc.).

Maintain your credibility as a coach by being accurate and sincere in your feedback and praise. Ignoring errors, giving excessive praise for mediocre performance or excessive praise for performance on simple tasks conveys to the athlete that either you don’t know what you’re talking about or else you have very low expectations of them as performers.

Correct performance errors in non-threatening and non-punitive ways. Finding problems is the role of a critic not a competent soccer coach. Good coaching requires the ability to not only recognize problems but also to solve them through effective, practical and successful solutions.

Reward effort as much as outcome. Repeated effort, especially in the face of failure and adversity, is one of the most important ingredients for future success.

Use the “feedback sandwich” when correcting youngsters. Find something the player did well and praise it. Next tell the athlete what they did incorrectly, what they need to do to improve and why. Finish with a positive, encouraging or motivational statement.

Foster an environment that allows for trying new skills, approaches and strategies without the fear of reprimand and punishment. Mistakes are integral to sport improvement. Ridicule, sarcasm and fear are impediments to both immediate and future performance successes.

Putting it All Together

Athletes learn the game of soccer not only through the directed learning experiences that coaches provide in practice and game play but also through indirect means by observation and imitation. As a sport leader, you are a powerful and lasting role model for athletes by your thought, word and deed. Parents and coaches can serve as a player’s greatest ally or worst nightmare depending on the attitude, behaviour and motivation adopted for sport involvement.

Remember, the game is for the kids. It is not for the ego or bragging rights of adults. Our role, as coaches, is to provide an opportunity for participation for all interested youngsters, access to appropriate and safe environments for instruction and competition, exposure to caring and competent leaders, holistic consideration of the child’s entire development (physical, cognitive, social and psychological) and an unwavering belief in the worth and ability of children to succeed at their own unique level of accomplishment. When coaches expect every athlete to succeed, it’s amazing how many of them really do.

Rather than measuring success in terms of numbers in the win/loss columns, perhaps the ultimate standard of our success as coaches should be judged by our ability to teach children to love and enjoy the game of soccer, to feel more confident and self-assured in their abilities and knowledge of the game, to experience mutual respect from both team-mates and coaches, and most importantly, to feel appreciation and pride in the opportunity they had to play a sport they love under your direction as their coach.

Perhaps the most appropriate summary can be found in the “Bill of Rights for Young Athletes” (NASPE, 1977) written by medical, physical education and recreation experts in the hope of creating guidelines to maximize the beneficial effects of athletic participation for all.

Bill of Rights for Young Athletes

  • Right of the opportunity to participate in sport regardless of ability level
  • Right to participate at a level that is commensurate with each child’s developmental level
  • Right to participate in safe and healthy environments
  • Right to have qualified adult leadership
  • Right of each child to share the leadership and decision-making of their sport participation
  • Right to play as a child, not as an adult
  • Right to proper preparation
  • Right to equal opportunity to strive for success
  • Right to be treated with dignity by all involved
  • Right to have fun through sport

Soccer coaching and the very young child

1. Overview

Coaching children under six years of age presents some additional challenges due to their immaturity, short attention span, and less developed muscles. You will also need to deal with a great variation between personalities, physical size, and abilities. Your objective should be for all of the kids to have fun, make friends, and learn some soccer skills that will help them should they decide to continue to the next level. You should not expect to win all of your games or expect everyone to listen to long lectures. Your goal is to introduce them to basic concepts like dribbling and kicking and make it enough fun that they want to keep playing as their bodies and minds mature. Go down to their level of thinking. Don’t try to bring them up to yours. What was fun when you were four years old? The kid who is watching seagulls will tell you were the greatest coach in the world if he had fun. He will have fun when he kicks the ball or at least when he makes an attempt and gets praise instead of criticism.

Here are some good principles to follow:

  • Keep practices and matches fun. Play “games” that cause kids to learn skills, not “drills.” If practice is fun, the kids will want to attend. If it is not fun, their parents will sometimes have to force them to attend and a potential star may drop out.
  • Maximize touches on the ball per player in practice. Avoid lines – the kids won’t behave well while waiting for their turn to play the ball.
  • Minimize lecturing – they have very short attention spans. You have maybe ten seconds to make your point.
  • Play lots of small-sided games. 3v3 is ideal for this age. Why doesn’t 7v7 or 11v11 work at this age? Imagine putting 14 or 22 six-year-olds on the field to share one toy. When Billie finally gets the ball, will he pass it? No, because he knows he won’t get it back! And shy Freddie may play a whole game and get only two touches on the ball.
  • Concentrate on improving individual skills, i.e., dribbling, trapping, shielding the ball, shooting, getting around an opponent, etc. You will develop more skilful players this way and win more games in the process. Some passing will develop naturally if you play small-sided games, but you will get frustrated if you try to force it. Do not let anyone on your sideline yell, “Pass the ball!” during games.
  • Don’t keep standings or statistics. The kids will be having fun playing something else an hour after the game, win or lose. Only the parents and coaches will still be replaying the goals and mistakes in their minds the next day!

2. Organization (items of particular interest to the U6 coach)

It’s important to make sure parents understand what you are trying to accomplish and how you will be going about it. So, explain the objectives to the parents at the beginning of the season and get agreement. Some of the parents will be new to soccer, so (In addition to following the guidelines on the pre-season meeting) give the parents a written summary containing the following:

  • Safety rules (e.g. spikes and shinguards required at games and practices),
  • The names of all children on the roster (this will help the kids get to know each other),
  • The coach’s rules or the additional guidelines that you ask the parents to commit to.

Some that are appropriate for very young children are:

  • Bring water,
  • Need to make sure kids go to the bathroom just before leaving the house,

You should have one ball for each child plus one for yourself. You should ask the kids to bring their own balls as most associations only give out a ball for every two kids At this age group, it is more important than ever to get a couple or more parents to help with the practice. Believe me, you will need extra help to chase balls, tie shoes, and wipe noses to allow you to move among the kids to ensure they are practicing what you instructed. Ideally, you will have at most two or three kids per parent/coach.

3. Practices

Keep things moving quickly. Participate in all of the warm-ups and drills -in fact; exaggerate your motions to illustrate the proper procedure. Do the actions at the same time as you are explaining a stretch or a drill (not after).

Do the same warm-ups and stretches each practice. It is less important to do a lot of stretches with U7s. A warm-up regime may consist of 5 each of inside right, inside left, outside right, outside left passes and 5 gentle chest traps.

Encourage 15 min of practice at home on the days we do not practice. You may encourage the parents to participate in the warm-up exercises with their own child. This allows the coach to teach the proper technique to the parents, too, so that if they work with their child, they will reinforce proper technique. The coach my give the parents others suggestions for at home practice, i.e. dribbling and passing (working on leading your partner).

Have the kids hold a ball for the stretches where it is appropriate. This increases the fun and familiarizes them with the ball so they won’t be alarmed when the balls comes their way on game day.

Avoid drills with line-ups. Try to incorporate skill development into soccer related games. They each should have the ball at their feet almost all of the time. Success is related to the attempt not the outcome. As a coach you must get excited about the attempt, not the outcome (if the attempt is genuine the outcomes will continually get better). This is difficult, because we as coaches (and parents) are conditioned to see the end results. Emphasize technique rather than speed.

At this age, there is less emphasis on progression than with older groups because they are too young to put several moves together successfully and they will get bored if there is not much variation between drills. For example, you may progress a drill to do it with the other foot, or complete a drill and then take a shot on goal, but much more than this will bore them. However, a new drill or soccer related game can work on the same type of skill. An example might be:

Dribble across the field.

Dribble through some cones.

Play “Pirate”, all the kids dribble the ball in a marked area and the coach tries to kick a ball out.

Skills should be broken down into smaller components. For example, passing may be learned by one child rolling the ball to another, who tries to pass it back. Then have the children slowly push the balls with the inside of their feet and finally have them pass it back and forth at regular speed.

4. Soccer drills for small children

Drills for small children must be tailored to their abilities and promote the development of individual skills rather than team skills, which will come later. We’ve included a short collection of good soccer-related drills for children under 6.

5. Soccer-Related Games

Soccer-related games put the fun in learning soccer skills and teamwork so we’ve put together a collection of good soccer-related games for children under 6. Dennis Mueller has also allowed us to use some suggestions for games and activities.

6. Game Day Tips

Ensure you are familiar with your association rules for matches.

Some of the kids may lose their concentration as soon as the game starts. The short attention span of children this age is why kindergarten programs are generally for a half day. Kids lose focus is if they do not get to handle the ball enough. Smaller rosters and smaller sides help solve this problem. If your association rules call for a large number of players, say 7 or more, per side, try to get agreement from the other coach to play fewer players to allow all players more opportunity to handle to ball. To accomplish this, you will need some help from other coaches and parents. An ideal set-up for U5 is 4 vs 4 with no goalkeepers.

Put any difficult children in at the start of the game. That way, as they start to lose focus they can come off and you can put in more mature children who will be focused for the duration of the game. There should be unlimited substitutions at this age. Have the parents help with substitutions so you can concentrate on the game.

Depending on your local club rules, at this age both coaches may be on the field for games. Note this is an exception to normal guideline of no coaches on the field. For the first couple of games you will have to give some direction (“the goal is the other way, Johnny”) but you should reduce this as soon as possible to allow the kids to find their own. At the beginning, to get them to actively participate you may only need to point at the ball or tell them to “go get it”.

However remember that it is not your game! Avoid active coaching on the field as it only encourages the kind of shouting that continues on into older age groups. If the coach does the thinking for them, they will never learn to do it for themselves. Same principle applies for doing the talking for them.

As the adults on the field, both coaches should assist kids on both teams. Each coach should cover one half of the field. Try to rotate throw-ins and free kicks among all of the kids, and give the ball to a nearby kid to reduce the time wasted. It serves no purpose at this level to call most fouls as they would be called at higher levels. Allowing the play to continue keeps the kids interested and provides a much better learning experience than for the players whistling down every foul and lining up for free kicks. At this level, the idea of “keep it safe, keep it fair, keep it moving” generally applies.

Don’t spend too much time setting up formations at the beginning of the game or set plays. A simple “spread out” or “give five big steps for the free kick” is enough. At this age there is a universal tendency for the kids to bunch-up around the ball. You will see a swarm of kids move around with the ball popping out occasionally. This is normal and there is nothing you can do to prevent it, so don’t worry about it or try to correct it. You may assign some kids to defensive duties but they are likely to make a run for the ball like the rest when they see it.

Under 5 (3 or 4 years old) is generally too young to expect any teamwork. Even Under 6 is pushing it! If you see a pass, it is more likely than not an errant shot on goal. The USYSA mandates no keepers for up through U8. Where goalies are used, the selection of a goalkeeper may create some competition among the kids. In general, let every kid have a chance in practice. For games, putting a kid who is not capable in goal may hurt their confidence and cause resentment from the other players. Tell the players that goalie is an important position and you will watch them playing and select the kid who you believe is trying the hardest. If you chance the goalie, tell him or her they did well in net and now you want them to help the team by scoring some goals.

Remember the objective: HAVE FUN!

Give your players confidence!

How a coach can build respect and long lasting relationships in women’s soccer

Giving players your confidence builds theirs. Being the first to consistently show confidence in and respect for a player creates an honest, strong, and durable relationship between coach and player. Sharing and showing confidence is the single most important factor in player motivation in women’s soccer.

To be successful in confidence building, you must sincerely love and respect the players and show that you are clearly willing to invest in and work hard for their long term success. This means never criticizing over today’s temporary limitations, always looking forward to the player’s potential ability, holding to high expectations shared with the player, looking for signs of progress, encouraging and praising small successes, and treating the player today as if she had already achieved her greatness and as if she were already a most valuable player.

If you can sustain and encourage a developing player over an initial 6 to 12 month period with love, praise, and encouragement, you will be rewarded with a greatly improved player willing to work hard to succeed for many years to come. You will then find it easy to continue to support and encourage the player, and you will enjoy the respect, appreciation, and support from the player and the player’s family.

Showing confidence when it counts is crucial. You will find that sincerely friendly laughter over mistakes cures much. Humour cuts through all the stress in even the most crucial matches. On game day, the coach who first starts criticizing players or who moans over mistakes during the match is far more likely to lose than the coach who is first to compliment and encourage good play or who laughs with his players over a mistake. Criticism is never beneficial, and is especially harmful (and never forgiven) in a group setting like the match. Players know when they’ve made a mistake. If they don’t, it’s your training oversight and you need to teach them more. Make a note, cover it later when everyone’s receptive.

Once you’ve built confidence in players and your team, don’t destroy it at half-time. Players look to your posture and facial expression as a reflection of their performance and match prospects. Limit your instructions to one main point and at most a couple of small ideas, say it all in 60 seconds or less. Players can only focus on a few ideas, and they interpret lengthy instructions as a sign of your sagging confidence in them. Their play in the second half will reflect the amount of confidence you share with them at half-time. To give confidence at half-time, gather the team and compliment several of the players for good things you saw in the first half. Laugh about the mistakes, including your coaching mistakes, promise to try to coach your best, and encourage all the players to play their best. The kids will know that you were paying attention, the individuals encouraged will feel great and continue to play with confidence, and the rest of the players will appreciate your fair treatment of their friends and will work harder to earn your recognition. When they play well, you will be pleased to give them the respect they seek in front of the team.

These are some of my personal observations, and perhaps they will work for you in women’s soccer. I offer these ideas but will not argue them with anyone, and I won’t pretend to know if these concepts work in boys soccer. After 10 years with different ideas and mixed results, I’ve enjoyed the last 8 happy years of fortunate results with these ideas. I treasure most the little successes in building players, and love and respect the players who have taught me so much about the game and about it’s players.