Key objectives for 8-10 year olds

A lot of coaches write to me asking what they should teach their players and in what order.

This article summarises what I consider to be the eight most important skills and techniques to teach 8 to 10 year olds (or any child who has been playing for about two years).

It’s not an exhaustive list and you may well have your own ideas!

Generally, it is not imperative that your players learn these skills in a particular order or that they master one before moving on to the next, only that they follow the principles and have a basic understanding of them through games and exercises.

Don’t spend more than a couple of minutes talking about these objectives. Your players aren’t interested in what YOU want to do! They are there to play football!

They will learn what you want them to learn over time and by playing games, not by listening to lectures.

After you’ve briefly demonstrated the basics, try to use small sided games (or SSGs) to reinforce them. Check out the ideas on this page and don’t be afraid to adapt them for your own purposes.

Objective 1: getting used to a dynamic warm up

Dynamic (or functional stretching) is warming up the muscles specifically for the movements that will be used in the activities of the training session.

Each of the exercises below should be performed over a 15-20 yard area with a walking or jogging recovery.

• Lunge Walk – loosens up the hips. Lunge walk is when you take large steps keeping the chest up, looking straight ahead and moving the arms and legs together.

• High Knees – for hip flexor and ankle strength. Extend up to the toes and lift each thigh to a parallel position with the ground as you move forward.

• Calf Walk – for lower limb strength and Achilles flexibility. Extend the ankle on each step will warm up the calf muscles and Achilles tendons.

• Sideways running – for lower limb strength, agility and flexibility.

• Backwards skipping – same as above and works on strengthening quads and calf muscles.

Objective 2: developing a good first touch

There are two key elements of good ball control:

a) The receiver’s first touch should protect the ball from challenging players and not give them a chance to regain possession,

b) the receiving player should play the ball into available space to allow for the next touch and to gain or keep momentum.

A poor first-touch will risk taking the momentum out of play and increase the possibility of losing possession. Some players at this age make the mistake of killing the ball dead and not concentrating on getting it out of their feet. The first touch should ensure that a time wasting second touch is not needed to get the ball out ready for the next action.

Objective 3: understanding and practicing various kicking, passing and shooting techniques.

See: (in this order)

Objective 4: principles of defending

With young players, the hardest, and in my opinion, the most important single aspect to get across is that the closest person to the opponent with the football DOES NOT have the responsibility to win the ball! Once defenders understand this, about 90% of diving in is eliminated and the attackers job becomes much harder.

It also reinforces the next most important concept: that somebody had BETTER be moving to cover the space behind the closest defender! That is the player who will, most often, wind up winning the ball.

You can demonstrate this quite easily by selecting the best defensive soccer player on the team, placing that player isolated out on the pitch, point to a goal for him or her to defend, and then tell them to “get the ball” from you. Then, simply dribble up to the player, push the ball past, into space, and run onto it. If you can get the defender to step towards you, you can do this quite easily.

Objective 5: learn how to shield the ball

This is, perhaps, the most important skill you can teach your players! You need to demonstrate how to put your body between the opponent and the ball, so that your players can gain time to give the ball to a team-mate or take advantage of a mistake by the defender to get past her.

how to teach shielding the ball

Objective 6: understanding the role of goalkeeper.

Not many children want to play in goal but all children should be taught the basics of goalkeeping so that you can play your regular ‘keeper out of goal now and again.

See: goalkeeper coaching for young soccer players

Objective 7: understand the basics of positional play

Formations and “designated positions” are not appropriate for six or seven year old players but eight or nine year olds may be able to understand the basics of formations and positional play.

Be careful though – it is not necessarily being in a designated “position” or being a part of a formation that helps the players solve the problem/situations in the game, but rather the ability of the player to read visually the cues, that is the movement of the ball, movement of the teammates and opponents, and quickly execute a movement/decision that will be effective.

After all, Soccer is a game where players are constantly changing their movement and activity patterns. The game demands fluidity, interchangeability, unpredictability, quick thought and execution. Adherence to fixed formations will not help your team meet these demands.

All that is required is to get your players to learn to spread out on attacks, pack the middle of the field on defence and to learn to make quick passes to get rid of the ball before they can be swarmed.

Objective 8: defending and attacking goal kicks.

Goal kicks are dangerous for the team in possession if the players do not understand that they must be first to the ball!

Explaining how to take up a position in alongside or behind an opponent and then to step in front of them when the kick is taken is simple yet vital if you are not to give the ball back to the other team every time you get a goal kick.

Teaching your players that they can (and should) use their bodies to gain an advantage helps build self confidence and assertiveness on the field.

Are you coaching? Or directing?

director

Introduction

We’ve all been there. The whistle goes for the match to begin and the shouting starts.

“Don’t pass it across your goal!!”…”move!”…”pass the ball”…”get wide!”….”kick it OUT!!!” Even (shudder) “GET STUCK IN!!”

I expect that you, like me, have said to yourself, “I wish he (or she) would shut up and let the kids play”.

But have you really listened to yourself recently? Are you sure you aren’t guilty of trying to control your players from the sidelines? Not even when you’re 1-0 up with five minutes to go??

The article below (first published on thePitch.org) certainly made me reflect on my own style of coaching at games. It could make you do the same!

directorAre you coaching or directing?

by Coach Steve Bender

Go down the line!! Spread out!!! SHOOT!!!! AUGGGHHHH!

Have you ever been to a youth soccer match and not heard cries like that? Perhaps, but only if your club was participating in Silent Saturday. It seems that every season coaches and parents are worse than the season before. The time has come that we stop and think about this question: What do the players hear? While parents and coaches are constantly yelling out instructions, correction, criticism and praise, do our young players actually hear what we are yelling at them?

Some coaches believe that every word they scream is vital to the outcome of the game and the players who pay attention to them will succeed. Others bemoan the fact that the players never seem to hear what they are saying. Still others don’t really pay much attention at all to a player’s response. Like the Energizer Bunny, they just keep yelling and yelling and yelling….

Other coaches have parents who insist on doing the same thing. They constantly give instructions to their child-and others-about how they should play. Frequently, their suggestions are completely counter to what the coach would like for them to do.

It is my opinion that “coach” isn’t the appropriate word to describe their behaviour. They are directors. It’s really no different than movies and theatre. If you saw Dustin Hoffman in Rainman, you were impressed by his ability to play the part of an autistic savant. Hoffman was so successful because he had a coach work with him one-on-one to perfect his skills. But when he walked on the set, he was under the control of the director. When the cameras roll, no one does anything except what the director wants them to do. If it doesn’t go right, they do it again. In the theatre, the same sorts of corrections take place during the rehearsal period. But when the curtain goes up, the director shuts up. At most performers off stage are given a word or two of encouragement. But those on stage are on their own. Could you imagine trying to watch a performance with the director constantly yelling to the cast to orchestrate their every move? Yet we allow sideline screamers to go on and on week after week. They are not coaches, fine tuning individual skills and teaching game tactics. Rather, they are like noisome directors, attempting to control every aspect of the game from a touchline vantage point.

At this point, I want to clarify that I am not a 100 percent supporter of Silent Saturday. I believe that it is healthy for the children to hear the spectators cheering for them when they do things right. I welcome enthusiastic and loud cheers for what has happened and what is happening. But-not for what will happen. I prefer to let the players decide how to respond to each given situation, based on how I have coached them. Off-field direction should be limited to short warnings such as “Man on!” The following monologue, taken from a videotape of a U-10 game, is the perfect example of what not to say:

Control it….good, good job! You’ve got space dribble up the line, use the puppeteerspace. Watch her, she’s attacking…go around-around her…NO!!! Not that side!! You’ll lose it! Oh, nice job getting around her. Push up, push up, Jane is open…pass to Jane, pass to…pass! Pass! PASS! You’ve got to pass sooner! Now, run back you’re on defence now-they’ve got the ball. Next time, listen to me and pass when I tell you to!

What do players hear? Young players are often so focused on the moment that they simply don’t hear the directions from the sideline. Even when they do what they are asked, they are usually just making the right choice, not doing it because the coach said so. Even were I to shout their name until they looked right at me, ask them to do something, and get their acknowledgement, I know that I would soon be watching them process my instructions like a Dis-poz-all while continuing play their own way.

But I have seen words get through and sink right into the heart. Last fall I had a 5th grader on my team who I would without question rank first among the 140 girls in the entire league, whether in goal, on defence, at midfield, or up front. She was truly a complete soccer player, and I will not be surprised to see her playing in the 2011 Women’s World Cup. She was playing sweeper and at one point attacked exactly when her keeper told her to. The ball was crossed to the weaker of the two forwards and the keeper saved a good shot.

A man I had never met, but who turned out to be her father, told her that was a stupid way to play and she ought to know better than to listen to a goalie who doesn’t know how to play the position. But it didn’t stop there. The more he rode her, the more mistakes she made. The girl was so upset by his words that she was having trouble holding back the tears, and I switched her to striker, where she scored the only goal of the day to win the match. By the way, that keeper played 4 regular season shutout halfs and was selected to play in goal at the regional all star tournament. There she allowed only one goal in the preliminary games (when the sweeper went down face first in a mud hole) and none in the championship game (including two overtime periods).

So how do we, as coaches, learn to coach, and not direct? There are several things which can help you alter the way you coach:

· Cheer a lot! Make all your statements a compliment about something they have already done, rather than something they should do next. Constant compliments may not always register, but it will keep you from saying the wrong thing.

· Coach on the bench, not from it. Give tactical instructions to the players on the bench and send them in. Take the time to explain it to them and make sure they understand. When the others come off, have a similar talk with them. If you need to get a specific change communicated without a sub, call a player over to the sideline and explain it to them there, and let them tell others.

· Teach players to make decisions for themselves. Encourage young players to make a decision without thinking about whether it is the right one. Sure, they will make wrong ones-maybe even costly ones. But they will learn faster. In practice, take the time to talk about a decision every once in a while. The more they make them on their own, the fewer wrong decisions they will make.

· Teach players to talk to each other. Unlike calls from the sideline, young players do a very good job of hearing each other most of the time. Make name calling a part of practice. They must practice letting each other know where they are so that they will do it in the game.

· Set clear rules for parents. At the beginning of the season, lay down the team rules for parents. The staff does the coaching, and parents don’t. My parents are asked at the beginning of the season to let me know if they think something is wrong with their daughter (several have asthma) or if they need a break and I’m not seeing it. I know that they will watch their own player more closely than I will. They also know that I don’t want them to tell their girl what to do. The same rule of thumb I mentioned earlier applies to them too: Talk about what has happened (keeping it positive) and not about what should happen next. This should go without saying, but it doesn’t: Parents should NEVER yell at a ref about a call.

· Find the quiet parent. Every team will have at least one parent whose personality is such that they can calmly watch anything. Put that parent to work. First, they are your accountability partner. He or she should be given the right and responsibility to come to you if you ever cross one of the lines laid out above. They should also be free to talk to other parents for you, allowing you to stay focused on the game.

· Finally, if all else fails…. Take a roll of duct tape to every game. As every man knows, duct tape can fix any problem, including this one. However, just make sure you remembered to shave before the game.

15 top soccer coaching tips

Coaching junior and youth soccer is a tremendous honour. Watching young players develop their soccer skills and grow into confident, young people is a very satisfying pastime. So to help you and your players get the most out of your season, here are fifteen sure fire ways that will help you succeed as a soccer coach.

Some of these are just common sense but they are still a useful reminder for anyone whose season has just started or is about to start. Use them as checklist to see whether you are doing the right things for you, your players and the supporters!

#1 Ensure that everyone enjoys themselves

Winning is important but it shouldn’t be the sole reason for playing or coaching. Striving to win is different than winning at all costs. Players need to feel like they can express and enjoy themselves; by allowing this and giving them the skills to play you will create a winning team.

#2 Hold a pre-season contracting session

Getting the season underway and ensuring that everyone, players, parents and assistants know exactly what your plans are for the season is a must. This gives you the opportunity to set out your agenda, make new players feel welcome, provide policies, rules, paperwork and codes. You should ensure that nobody leaves with any shred of doubt as to what’s your plan for the season ahead.

#3 Get your paperwork in order

Make sure that all players have completed the necessary signing on paperwork well in advance of the season starting. Get parental consent for your players to participate in training sessions and matches and also to receive emergency medial aid when they are present. It is also important to know if any of your children have an allergy (especially to bee stings) or medical conditions such as asthma. Once you have this information, don’t leave it at home on match days and when you’re training – keep it with you so you can refer to it in an emergency.

#4 Brush up your own skills

Read and educate yourself on new practices & drills, tactics, formations and strategies. Brush up on key technical elements. In the US, many clubs organize their own coaching education and you should take full advantage of this. If you’re based in the UK, I recommend that you take the Football Association Club Coach course. Its good fun, easy to do and will provide you with a lot of useful information including child protection best practice, how to give life saving emergency first aid and how to organize and run your own coaching sessions.

#5 Check over your soccer kit

What needs renewing, replenishing, mending before the season starts? Take special care to ensure that emergency aid kit is fully stocked. If you need any replacements, investigate the many different ways that you can raise the necessary funds. Get your players involved with sponsored activities, find out if parents’ employers will sponsor you or approach local firms.

#6 Set a goal for the season ahead

Can you finish top of the league? Are you going to win every game on the way? Is a good cup run sufficient? Not every player will be a shining star throughout the season and different players will have different needs, set each player specific milestones and goals that help contribute to the wider objectives and goals of the team for the soccer season ahead.

#7 Plan your training sessions well

Terrific soccer training sessions are fun, move at a quick pace, keep the players on their toes, move from drill to drill quickly and efficiently, culminate in a small sided game that specifically practices the techniques and skills learnt in the session. Progression needs to be the key, players need to be stretched as soon as a technique is learnt or mastered up the level to make it harder. Plan your sessions, this makes all of the above happen.

#8 Provide good quality demonstrations and KISS feedback

Remember a picture paints a thousand words, always use demonstrations. If you can’t do it find someone a player or assistant that can. Even if they can’t do it perfectly first time, that’s ok, provide the feedback to them on what could or should have done, players will still grasp the concept. Feedback should be specific, remember Keep It Short & Simple.

#9 Ensure all players get a fair share of the action

Parents like to see their own child on the pitch. If they turn up each week and their child is always on the side line they are going to become pretty hacked off. If this happens you’ll have some problems ahead of you. On the other hand, if you’ve followed Tip #2 and held a contracting session where you stipulate that not every child will play every week and that some players may only get bit part roles throughout the season and checked if everyone is ok with this right at the beginning of the season, then this is something that you can avoid.

Personally, I always try to provide equal playing time for all players, regardless of their ability. This sometimes leads to losing games that I could have won if I’d kept the weaker children on the bench but my main coaching objective isn’t winning games, it’s making sure all my players have fun and develop their potential. But again, this needs to be explained to your players and their parents at the beginning of the season if you want to avoid problems later on.

#10 Maintain a match log

Starting players, substitutes, minutes played, positions played in, goals scored, yellow or red cards earned all of these stat’s will come in useful during the season. Whether its to give players some feedback, assess needs or back up with hard fact any points that you need to make with disgruntled parents.

By keeping a log it’s also really easy preparing your end of season speech for the Presentation night!

#11 Keep open lines of communication with players and parents throughout the season

This isn’t just to make sure that everyone is happy and comfortable with the team, it’s about taking an interest in players too! Make time to speak to players about their development, tactics, sportsmanship, skills, position etc. By taking an interest it shows that you care and this will lift any young soccer player’s performance.

Also, give parents plenty of opportunity to have airtime too. If they do come to you with any gripes or complaints let them speak. Resist jumping in and defending yourself immediately, don’t react. Allow them to get everything off their chest, listen, demonstrate that your listening, then construct your answer so that they get your full explanation in a calm and considered manner. It might not be that they are going to necessarily agree or disagree with your points but give them airtime.

#12 Appoint a parent representative

A good parent representative can be worth their weight in gold. For me a training session should be exactly that a training session, where you put your players through their paces and develop their soccer skills. However, we see too many sessions taken over by parents wanting to discuss issues that could be dealt with by a parent rep. Instead of you getting many queries all on the same topic by different parents, have your parent rep deal with them, or co-ordinate the issues so that you only deal with them once, after the training session.

#13 Lead by example

Show respect for officials, opponents, players and parents. Develop a sound sense of sportsmanship with you players.

#14 Offer plenty of praise!

Be an uplifting coach, one that the players look up to and respect. You can do this easily by offering plenty of praise, catch your players doing things well and tell them. Yes they will need feedback when things aren’t going so well but this can still be done in a positive manner by using the praise – criticize – praise technique.

#15 Don’t over coach

Try not to over coach from the side lines during the game; give too much feedback at half time or a major run down of the game at full time. Win, lose or draw have a quick summing up after the game and then plan your next coaching session from what you’ve seen.

Introducing the concept of space to young soccer players

by Bob Christensen

Since I assume you are playing on a smaller soccer field, and likely with fewer players, space can be a rare commodity with young children. Add that to the mental development stage that this age player is in, which says that most are still very self-centred and definitely NOT future-looking, and you can more easily see why they are all drawn to the ball.

First you have to get them to acknowledge that space exists! I find the easiest way to do this is to REALLY restrict space and let them feel what THAT is like. Try setting up a “field” that is about 20 x 10, complete with goals. Then play 6v6 (or some number that makes sense for your roster size). The idea is to make them operate in a VERY congested environment. After about 5 minutes, stop them and ask if this is easy. It probably won’t be. Ask why. They will probably pick up on the fact that it is crowded.

Now, have them form a circle holding hands. The circle should be about 5 yards max across. Drop hands and put your “super defender” in the centre. You can even ask: “Who feels like a super defender today” and put that player in the middle. Give them a football and ask the circle players to keep the ball away from the “super defender”. The circle players cannot move. After a short time, stop them and ask the defender if it is easy or hard. It should be pretty easy for the defender. Now ask the circle players how they can make the defenders job harder. They should hit on the fact that if they had more space they could move the ball more easily. Have them take 2 big steps backwards and repeat. You should see a big improvement on the part of the circle players, and you should see the defender running much more. Have them take 2 more steps backwards (the circle should be at least 10 yards in diameter now, maybe a bit more) and repeat. Should be even easier, and the defender should be getting dog-tired. Talk again bout if it is easier or harder, and why.

Now, ask the players to take 10 big steps backwards. The idea is to make the circle at least 30-40 yards in diameter. Now repeat with a fresh defender. The distances between the circle players should be right on the edge of the passing distance of the players, maybe a bit more. Yes, this is dirty pool, but you need to have them actually feel what is not enough, as well as what is too much distance. This should fail, mainly because the defender should be able to intercept the pass. If not, have them move back until it DOES happen. Now talk about what size circle worked best for the attackers (the circle players) and the defender. Ask the players to try to help their ball-carrying teammate out by getting, and staying at that “perfect distance”, of course in the proper support positions relative to the ball carrier (back-square, through).

Scrimmage on a “normal sized” field and freeze play when a good example of bunching occurs. Point out the “perfect distance” idea (not where the player is to stand) and let them move to where they think they can help the most. Resume play. Repeat as necessary. Also freeze play when you see a really GOOD example of support positioning, and point it out.

How to encourage movement off the ball

Here are some suggestions to generate more player movement, off the ball.

Play 4v0 in a grid. As the football is passed, all players but the receiver must move to different space. This is very hard and very tiring. The first pass is no problem, it’s making the next run on the next pass. This requires constant movement with momentary stoppages–this seems to be a strange concept most all players I have trained.

One of the biggest problems is that someone has to start the movement, so the other players can find new space. It is tough concept for a player to move to space that currently is occupied by another player. You don’t have many space options when in a fairly tight grid.

To help the activity along, ask the receiver to get in several touches before making the next pass. Also, ask the passer to move off the pass quickly and not wait to see how it turns out. This should allow the players to get into a constant flow (for at least 5 seconds).

Now the fun starts, add a defender and watch the movement stop or become the standard movements towards ball to support. It is critical that the players understand they can and should make runs behind the defender. At some point, a second defender can be added.

Other movement coaching opportunities include the standard 3v1 and 5v2 setups. How many times do you see players make crossing runs behind defenders in the activity. All too often they just stay in their circle formation comfort zone. But when they are moving, they enjoy the activity more. And for some reason, their touches seem to improve.

Soccer coaching’s cardinal sins

This list has made me reflect on my coaching style and try to be a better coach the next time I step onto the coaching field.

Hopefully, it will do the same job for you!

  • The coach boring the group with long-winded speeches.
  • The coach complicating the exercise by offering too much information and by elaborating on the chosen theme by involving too many phases of play.
  • Skills practices becoming endurance work.
  • Forgetting to agree ground rules with the players.
  • Not planning a coaching session in advance.
  • Sticking too rigidly to a session plan!
  • The coach following the ball around instead of observing from a detached position.
  • The coach acting as ball-boy.
  • The coach failing to demonstrate.
  • Ball-boys taking part in the exercise.
  • Poor organization of the footballs.
  • Not having a football per player at training sessions.
  • The coach offering instructions while running.
  • Criticizing a child (rather than the behaviour).
  • Not discussing or involving parents/carers.
  • Lack of awareness of space required for a particular exercise – forgetting that lines and bodies limit the area.
  • The coach failing to communicate the purpose of the exercise to each player.
  • The coach speaking in generalizations.
  • Failing to consider the health and safety of the players.
  • The coach offering a running commentary.
  • Spectators and additional players encroaching on the field.
  • The coach trying to demonstrate something which he cannot do (Steve: I do this a lot!!)
  • Using drills that involve children standing in lines for more than a few seconds.
  • The coach failing to spot flaws in the practice and subsequently neglecting to make appropriate corrections.

Forgetting that the teaching process involves:

a. communicating the instructions;

b. organizing the practice;

c. offering the key teaching points.

The ideal youth soccer coach

Everyone involved in soccer coaching needs to understand what children want from their ‘ideal’ soccer coach.

Most importantly, it is important to treat children with respect and not as if they were objects. They like you to listen and take notice of their feelings and opinions.

A recent series of interviews with 140 young athletes in different sports gives an idea of those aspects of coaching which young athletes think are important. The opinions, which were given, may change according to sex, age, and sport; these are just the general comments.

Knowledge. Coaches should know their sport well and most children prefer coaches who have participated in the sport. It provides them with credibility.

Personality. Children like coaches who are friendly, happy, patient, understanding and have a sense of humour.

Authority. Children like coaches to be firm but fair, and while boys, particularly, like to be worked hard they don’t like to be shouted at.

Taking personal interest. As they get older and more able, many young athletes like coaches to take an interest in the things they do besides sport.

Reaction to performance. When they do well, children like the coach to say “Well done” but they don’t like them to “go over the top.” (OTT) When they do poorly, they like to be given some encouragement and told what went wrong. They want to be told how to correct mistakes and not to be shouted at or ignored.

Encouragement. Most children, particularly in team sports, like to have the coach shout encouragement to them when they are competing.

Decision making. Few young children express a wish to have a say in the decisions which affect them; they expect coaches to coach and trust them to make the right decisions. As they get older and more experienced, they are more likely to want to be consulted. This may be the case with13+ children

Organisation. Children like coaches to be organised and present structured coaching sessions. They also like them to take responsibility for seeing that they are in the right place at the right time

Instruction and feedback. Children do like to be shown what to do, how to do it and to have mistakes corrected. In short: teach them!

DO:

  • Be aware of the effect you have upon growing children.
  • Find out what the kids expect to get out of sport with you.
  • Be firm, fair and organised.
  • Give credit where it is due and give help where it is needed.
  • Be consistent.
  • Provide learning experiences: teach.
  • Make practice and competition fun; it needn’t be silly.
  • Set challenging goals tailored to the individual.
  • Recognise the value of friendships between children.
  • Show your approval whenever you can.
  • Listen to the children
  • Relax and enjoy yourself with the kids.
  • Emphasise learning skill, not competing.
  • Reward children for effort.
  • Help children over the realisation that they might not have the ability of others.
  • Build confidence by being positive.
  • Reduce competitive expectations.
  • Help those who do not want to compete.
  • Tell children about how outcomes are affected by things other than their own ability.
  • Remember that mistakes are part of learning.

DON’T:

  • Put kids down for not doing as well as you wanted.
  • Shout and humiliate them.
  • Ignore them when they need some support.
  • Blind them with science they don’t need.
  • Overdo the praise; they won’t believe you.

Basic coaching concepts for players up to the age of seven

Individual Technical and Tactical Issues for U-5’s and U-6’s

by Tom Turner, Ohio Youth Soccer Association-North, Director of Coaching and Player Development

Coordination and Basic Motor Skills

Very young children (four and five year olds) are learning to coordinate and control their body movements and dynamic balance, and are generally not very nimble or agile. Practice activities that develop these basic motor skills, with and without the soccer ball will be beneficial and fun for all young children. In addition to soccer-specific activities, practice activities for five and six year-olds should target directional sense, spatial awareness, and basic motor patterns, such as hopping, skipping, jumping, bounding and running.

Contacting the Ball

There are six surfaces (inside, outside, instep, sole, toe and heel) used for kicking, dribbling or controlling a soccer ball. For most U-5 and U-6 players, the toes and the laces are the most commonly used surfaces. Practice activities should encourage these players to experiment with different surfaces and ask them to “imagine” new ways to kick and dribble the ball. Games that cater to discovery learning and imitation are the recommended approaches to “teaching” new skills to young children.

Dribbling

Dribbling the ball is arguably the most important soccer skill at any level, and practice activities should encourage all young players to dribble and stop and turn the ball with different surfaces and to move in different directions with the ball under control.

Passing

Players as young as five will look to pass the ball to teammates, and they will do so with purpose if they are given enough time and space to consider their options. In many cases, young children are still learning how to coordinate their perception of a game situation with the muscle actions necessary to make contact with the ball. It is important to encourage beginners to take extra touches when controlling the ball so that passes (or dribbles) are attempted with a purpose in mind, rather than as a means of kicking the ball to safety.

Shooting

A player’s first thought in possession should always be “Can I score a goal from here?” Goals in practice should be wide and high enough to encourage shots from various distances and angles, and coaches should reinforce to players through their practice activities that the objective of the game is to score more goals than the opponents in the time allowed. Soccer games and other activities with no stated “outcome” are less motivating than activities that provide a way to win.

Ball Control

Time, space and repetition are the most important elements for improving comfort level and reducing the number of touches necessary to control the ball. Small-sided games and complementary one-player/one-ball activities provide opportunities for young players to begin to associate the techniques of dribbling and controlling the soccer ball with the three tactical applications of dribbling: moving away from pressure, running into open space, and dribbling towards goal. Beginning level players will rarely try to control balls coming out of the air, and bouncing balls present another very difficult coordination and emotional problem for five and six year-olds. The secret of good ball control is a soft first touch; the most damaging coaching advice to give five and six year-olds is to kick the ball away.

Heading

Five and six year olds will not head the ball.

Support

Young players should not be restricted in their movements on the field and moving should become a natural extension of passing. Passing to other players should be expected and encouraged at this age, although dribbling the ball is the most likely method of advancing the ball. Instruction that limits players to a particular area of the field does not allow for the natural emergence of supporting positions and angles that become so important for positional play in later years.

Spaces versus Positions

For all players under the age of eight, positional coaching of any kind is irrelevant and detrimental to their fun, enjoyment and progress. Rather than be told what position to play, young players should be encouraged to “find” new supporting positions away from teammates so that passes can be exchanged.

Vision

Most young players have little or no visual awareness of their immediate surroundings, and, in particular, the proximity of teammates and opponents not directly in front of them. Receiving passes when facing away from the opponent’s goal is a difficult skill, even for accomplished players, and most children will not look up until they have received the ball, secured possession, and turned to face forward. Often, young players will simply let the ball run past them into what they hope will be open space.

Defending

“Defending” at this age should be no more complicated than encouraging the children to try and win the ball back when possession is lost. Players will often naturally transition from attack to defense and recover towards their goal, but it is also true that young children will often stop playing when the ball is lost. While these players should be “gently” encouraged to participate in the game, they should never be scolded for their decision to “take a rest.” When the ball comes their way they will become involved again. Because players should be encouraged to move forward when attacking, there will be many situations when no one is at the back of the team when the opponents gain possession. This should be anticipated as a natural aspect of play for young children and one reason why scores are generally much higher in small-sided games.
Transition

When the ball turns over from the attacker to the defender or from the defender to the attacker, the game offers chances to demonstrate awareness of two very important concepts: immediate recovery of the ball and immediate counter-attack to goal. Players should be assessed on how well they understand these concepts and encouraged to react as quickly as possible to any change in possession.

Creativity

Because five and six year-olds are learning to coordinate ball manipulation with body control, “creativity” is more likely to appear as good ball control or faking or feinting movements. Players who can change speed and direction and retain control of the ball are applying their techniques in a creative way. Players who can move their bodies from side to side in an effort to unbalance a defender are showing signs of creativity. Players who experiment with different parts of their feet or control the ball with different body parts, are showing signs of creativity. At this age, allowing children to think and to fantasize and to create their own solutions to the game’s problems is a critical element of coaching.