A bloody, murthering practice…

An account of football in Victorian times, written in 1891 by P.H. DITCHFIELD, M.A.

Victorian football

“…the great game for Shrove Tuesday was our time-honoured football, which has survived so many of the ancient pastimes of our land, and may be considered the oldest of all our English national sports. The play might not be quite so scientific as that played by our modern athletes, but, from the descriptions that have come down to us, it was no less vigorous. “After dinner” (says an old writer) “all the youths go into the fields to play at the ball. The ancient and worthy men of the city come forth on horseback to see the sport of the young men, and to take part of the pleasure in beholding their agility.”

There are some exciting descriptions of old football matches; and we read of some very fierce contests at Derby, which was renowned for the game. In the seventeenth century it was played in the streets of London, much to the annoyance of the inhabitants, who had to protect their windows with hurdles and bushes. At Bromfield, in Cumberland, the annual contest on Shrove Tuesday was keenly fought. Sides having been chosen, the football was thrown down in the churchyard, and the house of the captain of each side was the goal. Sometimes the distance was two or three miles, and each step was keenly disputed. He was a proud man at Bromfield who succeeded in reaching the goal with the ball, which he received as his guerdon. How the villagers used to talk over the exploits of the day, and recount their triumphs of former years with quite as much satisfaction as their ancestors enjoyed in relating their feats in the border wars!

Victorian football

The Scots were famous formerly, as they now are, for prowess in the game, and the account of the Shrove Tuesday match between the married and single men at Scone, in Perthshire, reads very like a description of a modern Rugby contest. At Inverness the women also played, the married against the unmarried, when the former were always victorious. King James I., who was a great patron of sports, did not approve of his son Henry being a football player. He wrote that a young man ought to have a “moderate practice of running, leaping, wrestling, fencing, dancing, and playing at the caitch, or tennis, bowls, archery, pall-mall, and riding; and in foul or stormy weather, cards and backgammon, dice, chess, and billiards,” but football was too rough a game for his Majesty, and “meeter for laming than making able.” Stubbs also speaks of it as a “bloody and murthering practice, rather than a fellowly sport or pastime.” From the descriptions of the old games, it seems to have been very painful work for the shins, and there were no rules to prevent hacking and tripping in those days.

Football has never been the spoilt child of English pastimes, but has lived on in spite of royal proclamations and the protests of peace-loving citizens who objected to the noise, rough play, and other vagaries of the early votaries of the game. Edward II. and succeeding monarchs regarded it as a “useless and idle sport,” which interfered with the practice of archery, and therefore ought to be shunned by all loyal subjects. The violence displayed at the matches is evident from the records which have come down to us, and from the opinions of several writers who condemn it severely. Free fights, broken limbs, and deaths often resulted from old football encounters; and when the games took place in the streets, lines of broken windows marked the progress of the players. “A bloody and murdering practice,” “a devilish pastime,” involving “beastly fury and extreme violence,” the breaking of necks, arms, legs and backs—these were some of the descriptions of the football of olden times.

The Puritans set their faces against it, and the sport languished for a long period as a general pastime. In some places it was still practised with unwonted vigour, but it was not until the second half of the present century that any revival took place. But football players have quickly made up for lost time; few villages do not possess their club, and our young men are ready to “Try it out at football by the shins,” with quite as much readiness as the players in the good old days, although the play is generally less violent, and more scientific.”

Youth soccer coaching best practice

A report by the U.S. Soccer’s Coaching Education Department

This report is both a practical guide and a thought-provoking discussion about how best to coach football (soccer) to young children and young adults (U6 to U18).

While the report was written for US soccer coaches, it’s principles and ideas are applicable anywhere in the world.

At the core of “Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States” is the belief that there is not just ‘one way’ to teach soccer to players, nor is there just one style of coaching. These player development guidelines highlight that there is a broad spectrum of styles and methods for how everyone experiences the game. Some of these factors come from a player’s background, while some of them are a product of a player’s own personality.

At the youth and junior levels, however, there is a set of fundamental principles that should be considered by anyone coaching soccer. The starting point of these principles is that young soccer players require a certain amount of uninterrupted play, which allows them to experience soccer first hand. These young players should be allowed the opportunity to experiment, and with that, succeed and fail. A coach’s long-term goal is to prepare a player to successfully recognize and solve the challenges of a game on his or her own. It is vital that the coach approaches soccer with this in mind.

Extracts from the report

…..at the younger ages (6 to about 10), soccer is not a team sport. On the contrary, it is a time for children to develop their individual relationship with the ball. The fact that younger children are placed into team environments is not their fault. Do not demand that the more confident players share the ball. Encourage them to be creative and go to goal. Do the same with the rest of your players. Work to bring all your players up to that level of confidence and comfort with the ball. Coaches should avoid the impulse to “coach” their players from “play to play” in order to help them win the match.

Coaches should not be telling their young players to “pass rather than dribble,” to “hold their positions” or to “never” do something (like pass or dribble in front of the goal).

Remember that the level of skill and competence that a 9-year-old exhibits is no indication of the skill and competence that he or she will exhibit at 16 or 18 years of age. You cannot predict which 9-year-old will develop into a real player. Therefore, work to encourage all your players to be competent and comfortable with the ball. This will give all your players the same opportunity to reach their potential.

Work during practice to move all your players forward at their own pace. Do not be concerned with match results. Be concerned that all your players want the ball at their feet and they want to score. If you can accomplish this, you have successfully allowed your group to grow as soccer players. Unlike practice, you cannot add more balls/goals during games to give kids more chances with the ball. But you can emphasize certain themes for the players to focus on, such as getting involved, attacking the goal, taking chances, and then spend the length of the game reinforcing these points.

There is not just “one way” to teach soccer to players, nor is there just one style of coaching.

There is a broad spectrum of styles and methods for how each of us experiences the game. Some of this comes from our backgrounds, while some of this also is the product of our own personalities. At the youth and junior levels, however, there is a set of fundamental principles that must be considered by anyone involved with soccer. In general, young soccer players require a certain amount of uninterrupted play. This allows them to experience soccer first hand. They should be allowed the opportunity to experiment, and with that, succeed and fail.

This approach will give your players the green light to experiment and be creative – qualities that, unfortunately at the younger ages, are often discouraged on game day, in the name of being safe and winning.

Coaching players with ADHD

How to coach soccer to children with ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD/ADD) is a type of disability which apparently involves some mis-wiring of the brain or the hormonal systems in the body.

As a result of the disorder, children tend to be markedly inattentive and often are hyperactive (sometimes to the point of being almost frantic in their movements). The disorder usually is treated by administration of stimulants (such as amphetamines) – which have the unusual effect of slowing these children down (while the rest of the population would be highly-stimulated by these same drugs).

This disorder is NOT the fault of the parents. It does NOT mean that the child lacks discipline (either by the coach or by his parents). What it DOES mean is that, just like a child with diabetes or the player with asthma, this player needs to take certain drugs to be able to function normally.

While these players can create some headaches and frustrations until the coach learns the proper way to handle their particular problems (and gives the parents enough feedback to adjust dosages, if necessary, to handle disruptions at practice), most of these children can do just fine in soccer. In fact, because of their high energy levels, these players often make terrific little players once their energy can be harnessed.

To be able to harness their energies, the coach needs some more information about the disorder. Characteristics of ADHD/ADD arise in early childhood, often before seven years of age, for most individuals. Boys are about three times more likely than girls to have symptoms of ADHD/ADD. Individuals with ADHD/ADD may know what to do but do not consistently do what they know because of their inability to efficiently stop and think prior to responding, regardless of the setting or task (in other words, they tend to be very impulsive – and to act without thinking). This can result in serious social problems, impairment of relationships, and/or lack of success. Doing things without thinking about the consequences can put them in dangerous situations (as they might run into traffic without looking, or climb the tree while the coach’s back is turned). Thus, coaches of children with ADHD must be vigilant in keeping an eye on these charges, especially when they are fairly young.

The official definition of ADHD can be found at the CHADD website (an organization for children and adults with attention deficit disorder). Children may have attention deficits (i.e., be impulsive and unable to focus) without being hyperactive – or they also can display the additional frenetic hyperactivity which is commonly associated with the disorder.

ADHD should be diagnosed by a physician or qualified mental health professional. It is not uncommon that children are suspected of having the disorder, when they simply are “full of life”. Therefore, most coaches will not be able to diagnose the disorder. Nonetheless, if the player appears to be demonstrating many characteristics of an ADHD child, the coach may wish to quietly and confidentially approach the parents to report his observations – and ask for assistance and advice on the best way to deal with the child.

What We Need To Know About ADD

It has been estimated that six to ten percent of all children (17% to 35% of adopted children) display an attention deficit difference. These ADD children are prone to learning difficulties, have problems developing good social skills, suffer from an inability to pay attention and are extremely likely to harbor unrecognized frustration and anxiety. They may endure quietly, in silence, or if also beset by hyperactivity, may assertively, or even aggressively, seek attention. ADDers, who often “wear their feelings on their sleeve,” may deal with their extreme sensitivity by acting out combatively (Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or ODD), or by turning in upon themselves and displaying depression. Many suffer from impulsivity, frequently speaking out of turn or acting intrusively without thinking.

ADD is a brain-based imbalance of neurotransmitters which can show up on PET (Positron Emissions Tomography) scans and other recently developed methods for studying the brain. It is genetically linked and usually runs in families. It is often accompanied by allergies. Some ADDers require medication to deal with the overwhelming stimuli of their environment.

ADD without hyperactivity-referred to medically as ADHD: Predominately Inattentive Type-rarely presents overt behavior problems at school or in soccer. In fact, these children often quietly remain undiagnosed. They are, however, prone to depression, anxiety, alcohol/drug abuse and solitary behavior. Often they prefer individual activities (swimming, tennis, horseback riding, computer games, reading, music, etc.) over team sports (soccer, football, basketball, etc.) which may provide too much stimuli for them to assimilate comfortably. When bombarded with sensory input-for example, a coach or parent shouting encouragement or instructions-these children will withdraw. ADD without hyperactivity often remains undiscovered until puberty and sometimes until adulthood.

ADHD or ADD with Hyperactivity-medically referred to as ADHD: Predominately Hyperactive/Impulsive Type (or, if inattention is also a major problem, ADHD: Combined Type)-is most commonly treated with Ritalin. If given too high a dose of this drug, a normally hyperactive child may exhibit “spacey”, almost catatonic behavior. On too low a dose, he or she may show no reduction in hyperactivity and inattention at all. Parents may, or may not, appreciate feedback on their child’s reaction to medication.

Physicians advise some parents to medicate their children while at school, not to increase the amount they learn-studies show that the use of Ritalin does not increase academic achievement over the long run-but rather to help their child relate positively to the school environment. A child who is disliked by his peers or by school personnel will develop a poor self-concept and make few, if any, friends. The difficult task of learning good social skills now becomes impossible because no one wants to be around the child. Parents need to be advised if this circumstance carries over to soccer practice.

An ADHD child should expect to benefit from the social interaction at games and soccer practice. If the child finds the experience frustrating or humiliating, the parent needs to be informed. An ADHD child is already at risk for developing anti-social behaviors and poor self-esteem without being forced to participate in a competitive after-school activity which is counter to his or her best interests. If the parents’ well-meaning attempt to give their child a weekend “drug holiday” makes the child an insufferable, ineffective teammate at the game on Saturday, the “drug holiday” may best wait for summer vacation when stress levels on the child are usually greatly reduced.

Ritalin may ease an ADHD soccer player’s struggles in dealing with the competitive environment of youth sports. An ADHD player can become a team captain or star goalkeeper if parents and the physician persevere in their search for the proper dosage of medication for the child.

Medications other than Ritalin are available if it cannot be properly dosed. A competent child psychiatrist who works regularly with ADD can mix and match various drugs that can impact the level of neurotransmitters in the brain. These medications can help an ADHD child learn to begin controlling impulsivity and inattention and should help the child make better decisions in social situations. If that is not happening, the dosage or the medication needs to be changed.

Helping the ADD Player Maintain Focus

A learning environment that is helpful for an ADD child will benefit all children. And everything espoused in USYSA coaching clinics to help young players develop their skills will help an ADD player stay actively involved in soccer practice. The better we perform as coaches, the fewer problems ADD players will have.

An ADD child will misbehave while waiting in line, but a good coach will avoid asking his players to stand in line. We learn by touching the ball, not standing in line. Soccer, after all, is not a static game. Movement should be praised, and ADD kids are experts at moving.

Since we learn by touching the ball, each player should have a ball. Keep instructions and corrections short. Use “coaching points” and catch phrases. Repeat them often and with enthusiasm.

Avoid negative feedback. We know that corrective feedback and positive feedback produce better results, simultaneously improving skills and building confidence.

Remember to use that “feedback sandwich.”

Positive feedback can be given in front of the group, but corrective feedback directed at an individual player should be given privately. Always make direct eye contact when speaking to your players. Ask players to repeat back your instructions to be sure they understand what you are asking for.

Boredom inhibits learning. Frustration and anxiety inhibit learning. Break tasks down into small steps so that all players can master each step, but be sure the challenge is great enough to keep your players interested. Success breeds success.

Mistakes happen. They are a natural part of the learning process. View them as growth opportunities. Be respectful and forgiving of yourself, your players and the referees.

Disorganized practices invite misbehavior. Plan a fun practice with instructive games.

Have fun yourself!

Fitness and fun are not mutually exclusive. Start your practice with a warm-up game of tag. Always give your hyperactive players a chance to be “It,” though not to the exclusion of everyone else. The work rate for “It” is significantly greater than for the other players, and a fatigued player absolutely will not misbehave! He or she will not have the energy for acting up. It beats running humiliating laps.

Become a student of the game. Take more coaching clinics. Attend upper level matches. Watch videos. Try playing. The passion you display for the game is contagious and an ADD player who is passionate about the game will give you 110%. Always!

There is no quick fix for ADD, just like there is no quick fix for poor teaching or poor coaching. By sharing a copy of this article with team parents at the start of each season, maybe we can begin to help ADD children reach their full potential with and without the ball, instead of simply remaining confounded by their behavior.

Attendance problems

The best time to deal with attendance issues is at the pre-season meeting.

Remember, soccer is a team sport. As a result, it creates huge problems for the coach and the team if the players don’t show up for games – as the absence of sufficient players spoils the game for everyone (and may even cause a game to be forfeited). Likewise, because many skills in soccer build on skills which were learned earlier, it can create a nightmare for the coach if a player consistently misses steps in the instruction – because the coach either has to make special effort to try to help the player to catch up; simply have the player sit out until he can find time to help him; or let the player flounder (which then disrupts the learning of his partner). Similarly, if the player is chronically late to practice, this leaves the coach with the same 3 bad choices (let the child sit; let him flounder; or try to juggle things so that he hold an extra parallel practice for the latecomer).

So, use this meeting to make clear what your expectations are on attendance. Talk about the importance of making a commitment – and keeping a commitment. Explain that you do not want to be the only adult who keeps their commitments and that, just as you won’t skip practices or skip games, you don’t expect the parents to allow their players to skip practices or games. Ask if everyone is willing to make a firm commitment to come to all of the practices and all of the games, unless there is some true emergency or illness. Hand out player agreements in which the player promises in writing to come to practices and games, and to work hard. Make a production out of this – and explain why you are doing so. Why is it important to address attendance problems early? The answer is easy. If you don’t push hard for good attendance, the kids who will end up leaving your team are the reliable ones (because they will be sick of playing on a team where nobody shows up – and where the practices are no fun, because coach is always distracted by trying to bring others up to speed or the team-mates cannot do the drills because they have missed so much work).

Furthermore, if the other parents/players see that Johnny is never coming to practices and not showing up for games (and coach doesn’t act like this is a problem), some others will be tempted to start doing the same thing. So, if you allow parents and players to believe that you don’t care if they show up and will accept any old excuse, your team is likely to be filled with players who show up when they feel like it – and whose skills (and win/loss record) reflect their lackadaisical approach. If one or two parents do not want to make this commitment, offer to try to move them to another team. And, if half or more of the parents do not want to make the same commitment to the team which you are, you need to consider whether it is worthwhile to bother with this group (because the chances are good that even the committed players won’t bother coming by the end of the season, as it is not much fun to play or practice with people who show up so seldom that they may not even know your name). You can flatter yourself that you can make the practices so much fun that the kids will want to be there. However, the kids don’t drive. Thus, if the parents view you as a glorified unpaid babysitter to use whenever it is convenient, or as a way-stop in a whirlwind tour of every extra-curricular activity in the universe, the pleas to return to practice will fall on deaf ears anyway.

Despite having this discussion at the outset, you may run into some problems with attendance by some players. Here are some things to do which may help you to nip these problems in the bud.

Always take attendance at practice. If anyone is tardy, note this as well.

Make a big deal out of any absence or tardiness. Tell the player that he was missed. Keep him late to go over anything that he missed (or ask for him to come early). Call the parents at home to ask why. Remind them that you need him at practice.

When a player is tardy, don’t allow him to join the group immediately. Put him to work on doing warmups or fast-footwork drills. Then, hold him out of the scrimmage at the end of practice to do special work. Make sure that he understands that the reason that he is not scrimmaging is because he showed up late.

If the player is late more a few times, talk to the parent and find out why. Suggest other transportation options. Suggest a carpool. But, make sure that the parent understands what happens to YOUR schedule when the player is late – as it is very unfair to expect you to run parallel practices or to disrupt others.

Take attendance at each game, and give a star (or small treat) to anyone who made all of the practices for the week on time and who showed up for the game on time (give a reduced award to the ones who were tardy). Allocate any extra time to those with perfect attendance. If your best efforts at persuasion do not work, then your primary objectives are: trying to get the other parents/players not to follow in the path of the irresponsible parent; and, if you cannot cut the child at the end of the season, trying to convince his parents to take him to another team.

Some coaches try to achieve these objectives by benching the absent player. However, this option often is not available to Rec coaches (because Club rules may require the coach to play a player for one-half game if he shows up, even if the child never comes to practice). Besides, if the team has to play short if the player is benched, it is difficult to do this without upsetting the other parents.

Even where benching is possible, it may be very hard to punish the child (who doesn’t drive) for the irresponsible behaviour of the parents. The child often looks so miserable that other parents and players will feel sorry for him (which can cause a backlash). Likewise, angry confrontations with the parents whenever they show up do little good (as this scares all of the other kids; tend to upsets the other parents (who won’t really understand what has gone on before or why you are so upset with this group of parents); and tend to affect how the coach comes across in the practices and games (because an irritated coach usually lacks a sense of humour and doesn’t seem to be having a good time)).

So, what can you do? First, talk to the Club and make sure that they know that you could use an extra player. Often, where a team is having to play short, the Club will bend the rules on signups and allow the other players to find a classmate to come to the team late. If you can get a replacement, it may be easier to diplomatically offer to let the other child drop off so that his parents won’t be bothered by having to bring him when it obviously is so much of a burden.

In most cases, you also will want to hold a team meeting to talk about how to handle the attendance problems (in order to place the spotlight on the problem and bring any complaints or problems out into the open). Some coaches are afraid to hold meetings to discuss attendance problems – because they fear that the irresponsible parents will claim that it is the coach’s fault that the child doesn’t come to practice. However, if someone is going to make these claims, there is a good chance that they already are doing it behind the back of the coach anyway – so it makes sense to get these complaints out in the open where the coach has some chance of giving a rebuttal to the back-biting.

Remember that, if the majority are not happy with your coaching, this is something that you need to know (as either you are wasting your time or you haven’t done a good sales job on your philosophy on player development). Quite often, parents with little involvement in team activities will blame the coach when what they really mean is “we don’t like the win/loss record” or “my child should be playing more”. This is why it is a good idea to address your definition of “winning” and your philosophies on playing time at the Preseason meeting – and to continue to give regular updates to the parents on the progress of the children, so that they will realize that the players actually are learning new skills in practice, which will help to improve their win/loss record over time.

Also understand that, to some parents, the only thing that matters is that their child is on a “winning” team (even as a bench-sitter). There also are parents who truly believe that they are entitled to drop in and out of any activity without penalty, and it is your job to be an unpaid babysitter for times when it is convenient for them to drop the child off. If most of the parents do not agree with your coaching philosophies, then you are the wrong leader for this particular group – even though you are a good person and may be a terrific coach. If you are the wrong person for the job which is being offered, then you need to know this – or you will be beating your head against the wall in frustration.

In most cases, the vast majority of parents have no interest in coaching; are very grateful that you are doing the job; and will be supportive once they understand the problems which you face when players are tardy or absent. Often, they can help to bring pressure to bear on the Club to provide another player to your team and/or help to locate an extra player. If this isn’t possible, they may be able to help you to talk the Club into disbanding your team and placing the responsible kids on other teams. So, the chances are good that you will manage to work things out in a manner which suits the majority. However, if you are offered a job by the majority which you just don’t want, don’t be afraid to turn it down

Attack the play of 5 and 6 year olds or….

By Mike Parsons, former Director of Coaching Education for the National Soccer Coaches Association reproduced by kind permission of the Abbotsford Soccer Association

It’s good to know that some things never change in life – like the play of 5 & 6 year olds on the soccer field.

We can all agonize over how to discover the special training techniques that will enable them to score more goals – certainly those who have been in the game for a long time must know the secrets! Or we can stay up late at night and draw diagram after diagram that reveals in precise detail where every player should be in relation to the ball – that will solve the bunching up problem and it will look like real soccer! Or one might infiltrate the marketing department at Mickey D’s to figure out why the Happy Meal is more important than the score! However, to Mom and Dad (especially Dad – he’s a winning machine!), the game of soccer at 5 & 6 years old remains a game – with the thrill of winning taking a back seat the excitement of merely chasing the ball!

Anyone… and I mean anyone… can look at a situation and tell you the problems. Instead of that approach, I’m going to make some suggestions for possible solutions to some of the common problems coaching the very young in “chase-the-ball-no-matter-where-it-goes-until-I-need-a-break-and-then do-it-again-‘til-the-game-ends” (that’s what soccer for 5 & 6’s should be called). Here we go;

Bunching Up Around the Ball. God forbid that all of the kids chase the ball – that would mean that every child would be having FUN!! You see, that is what every player at this age likes about the game – they can run anywhere they like – no adult is going to tell them to walk – and they love the challenge of touching the ball all by themselves! We tend to forget that there is very little organization in the mind of a 5-6 year old and that sharing is not on the top of the list of their favourite things to do. (Do they share their favourite toys with their brothers and sisters???) Remember … It’s my ball !!!!!! Soooooo…..let them chase the ball!! They will spread out as they learn to play with their teammates.

Scoring Goals … is an accident most of the time at this age. Let’s be honest-that clump of grass has more to do with the direction that the ball travels than the one who kicks it (at this age shooting and passing are merely “kicking”). However, scoring goals should be the only thing on their mind at this age. Remember this…we can all focus on one thing at a time – focus the young on scoring goals – that’s the object of the game!

He/She is a Ball Hog…. Which brings us to the question – Are Ball Hogs good or bad? As a parent the answer is (like it or not) bad if the neighbour’s son/daughter won’t give the ball to our little cherub – good if the ball is always with our “talented little child prodigy”. Wrong!!! This age is the beginning of individuality – flair for those who really want to exaggerate. Encourage them to dribble the ball and try to beat other players – my best friend boldly told his son at six years old…“ don’t pass the ball until you are eleven – and don’t worry about the coach when he screams at you to pass. His son can’t dribble!”. In fact, all training sessions at this age should be based around each child and a ball. Acceptance of failure (it’s OK not to succeed at first …try again) and the encouragement to try again will help the learning process.

Practice Sessions…the longer the better! What a great way to turn play into work! Ever try to play golf every day on your vacation – double rounds if possible? It gets old fast. So why do we keep 5-6 year olds at the practice field for an hour or more during training? Mom got some more shopping to do? Or is Dad feeling a win coming on after 90 minutes of practice? More is not better at this or any age. Train them for the same amount of time that the game will take on Saturday. Thirty to forty minutes will be long enough to wind them up …then give them back to their parents to calm them down. The excitement of the soccer experience will then remain fresh.

WINNING … it’s why we are here… Wow, I hope we all have had childhood experiences that were fun and not necessarily based on winning. Everything in life is based on winning… Do we really want to emphasize the down side of competition – losing – to 5-6 year olds? They are not concerned (except for that Happy Meal) what the end of the game brings – so why should we? Remember that youth sports were started so that kids could have fun. So, bring a chair and your favourite beverage to the next game and save some room for a Happy Meal of your own afterwards!
Work on the Fundamentals in Practice… While other sports work on fundamentals (and soccer’s numbers keep getting larger) we have found that the most important things to teach at this age are motor skill development – the ability to control my body – and an appreciation for the fun aspects of the game – me and the ball – look at what we can do! We tend to forget that soccer is not a hand-eye coordination activity like all other sports in the U.S. In addition the kids are presented with an incredible challenge to make their bodies do what they want them to (kind of like Dad playing in the over forty league in any sport – he gets it going, you better get out of his way cuz’ no one knows if he’ll be able to stop). As a result, the objective becomes one of making my body and the ball work together as one.

Goals and Objectives for the age group…Are they necessary? Can a teacher instruct a group of students if he/she doesn’t know where to start – to end – or what they should be able to accomplish at a particular age? Obviously, the answer is no. Therefore, it is necessary for all clubs and programs to develop a list of goals and objectives for each age group. Has your club or league given you – the coach – your goals and objectives for the season?

So – Sit Back – Relax – and Have as Much Fun as They Do!!!!!

Allocating playing time

be fairThis is a subject many youth football coaches often struggle with. The head coach is either a win-at-all-costs coach who cares little about getting all the kids in the game or he’s a guy that lets the soccer mom Nazi parents pressure him into playing all the kids the same amount.

I don’t think either approach is right. This is youth football, if a player comes to practice, pays attention and does his best, he should get some playing time in every game regardless of what the score is. However playing all the kids the same amount, makes no sense to me either. If Tommy comes to all the practices, pays attention to the coaches and tries his best, and Joey misses practice, is inattentive and rarely tries very hard, the two should not play the same amount of time. What message do you send to Tommy?: That excelling is not rewarded. What message does Joey get?: That slacking off has zero consequences. In this example, neither player is being done any favours, they are both being set up to fail in life, thanks to the soccer mom Nazis.

I’ve coached in youth football leagues that had minimum play rules and those that didn’t. The minimum play rule is set to require coaches to play kids a certain amount in every game. As a youth football coach I have always had a minimum play standard, whether there was a rule or not. I’m a firm believer in getting kids into the game regardless of their ability. Now we are going to play to win, as I have both an offence and defence that can accommodate the minimum play player and not significantly impact the scheme in a negative way. But the weaker kids are going to get in and I strategically sub from the opening gun.

The way we address this with the parents and players is through a mandatory parents meeting the first day of practice. We let the parents know that each player will play X plays per week if they attend practice, listen to the coaches and hustle in football practice. But we also stress that just like in life, we will reward those that are paying better attention, playing harder and excelling, by playing them more than those that do not. We also stress previous years statistics that show we play our kids more than any other youth football team in our league and that we spread the scoring around quite a bit as well. We also stress the playing time will vary based on the game, and the players effort for the week and some weeks they will play more than others. But everyone knows they will always get the minimum standard we set, regardless of the score and that our best players will start.

I let the parents know this policy is not negotiable and if they feel uncomfortable with it that there is nothing wrong with that, but maybe we aren’t the right “fit” for their child. I always have pieces of paper in my pocket with the names and phone numbers of competing youth football programs in my pocket. I let the parents know if they are looking for better “fit” options, to come and get the phone numbers of other programs from me before football practice starts.

Coaching youth football well means setting proper expectations with your coaches, parents and players. Don’t be ambiguous, don’t surprise anyone week three of your season with your playing time policy. Let the parents know how it will be day one. That way the parents have no legs to stand on if they decide to stay. It will make your life SO MUCH EASIER getting it out of the way right in this fashion right off the bat. It’s kind of like taking that band-aid off in one quick swipe. It’s always much less painful doing it that way.

They’re all bunched up!

youth soccer - young children

youth soccer - young children

That’s what I hear at every U-8 youth soccer coaching course I teach. My reply is always the same: “That’s OK!”

Then I get the puzzled looks from nearly every coach or coach-to-be.

The kids know what they’re doing, it’s the parents and the new coaches who are confused.

Adults see the bunch of players as unorganized — not as a team. That’s the first problem. Because, at this point, it’s really not a team.

The players at this age don’t understand what being a “team” means. At their age, they are selfish in their game. Me, my ball, my game. Most kids can’t even remember the name of their team or their coach. They won’t even practice with any one else’s ball! How can you expect them to understand or embrace teamwork or fixed positions?

The ball is their magnet, so let them try to get it. In doing so, they’re actually building good instincts that they’ll use in the game when they are older and “team” actually begins to mean something.

For example, many good coaches struggle to “re-teach” 14 to 17 year olds the working concept of zonal defending and zonal pressure defense. Two concepts that they knew instinctively when they were 5. What happened? It was drilled out of them by a youth coach who kept telling them to spread out.

When they’re 5-plus years old, they already have a natural instinct for this kind of defending. They’re already figured out that five of us versus one of them means that we’ll probably get the ball.

To parents, this is a mess on the field. They want the kids to spread out — so that the one player with any skill can have the space to dribble around every one else like cones. Not a very good defense.

A good coach will definitely have to adjust these players’ instincts as they get older, but surprisingly not much. The game itself makes them smarter as they continue to play more and more.

Another reason why “bunching up” is OK for young players: the kid in the center of that bunch is learning early on how to play in tight spaces and not to be afraid of traffic or contact — invaluable skills that will be second-nature to him by the time he’s older and able to play in fixed positions.

So, as hard as it is for parents to believe, young players learn how to solve problems and be creative while bunched up. These skills actually help them with their game when they’re older and that game is more structured.

As a coach, I’ll want on my older team the youth player who consistently came out of the pack with the ball. He might be my striker because he’s not afraid of crowds in the box, or of being marked by two players. He’s been getting through the traffic and scoring in those situations since he was 5. Playing in “the bunch” has made him tough, technical and smart.

My advice to new youth coaches and to parents is to stop worrying about the kids being bunched up. At U-8, just let them play.

You’re role at this point is to teach them some basic ball touches, point them in the right direction and let them go!

Let the game teach them for now. Let them teach themselves. And most of all, let them enjoy the game. Seems simple? It is. But that’s OK, too. That’s the beauty of soccer.