The importance of good planning

If sessions are not planned, they will turn out to be haphazard at best. Consequently, the players will also be haphazard in their playing habits. Long, detailed, written plans are not necessary; however, jotting down main ideas, and taking some time and thought to plan the day will greatly enhance the experience for everyone.

A well-planned session which moves quickly from one activity to the other adds to the satisfaction of the players, commands respect and improves performance. Plus, focused, enthused players are seldom injured and almost never present discipline problems.

Planning a successful session takes skill, a skill which is developed with time. Each time out should be a learning experience, both for the coaches and players.

Training sessions have three parts:

The Warm-Up; Should stimulate and prepare the players for the more intensely physical part of the session. It involves activities of low intensity, high repetition, fun and generates enthusiasm. Stretching should also be interspersed throughout the warm-up for older players. In the perfect world, the warm-up should be related to the main activities of the session.

Main Activities; Lays the emphasis on the technical or tactical development of the players through the use of small-sided games. Some of the basic principles to follow are: Progress from the simple to the complex, Progress from the easy to the difficult, Gradually increase the physical and mental demands.

Concluding Activity; At the end of each session, the players should be given the opportunity to play the game with big goals, with even-numbered sides. This will enable them to practice the ideas they have learned during the session. Here the players will gain invaluable experience using their skills in live, game-like conditions with minimum interference from the coach. Here, the game is fun and the natural competitiveness of the environment serves as the motivation.

The game is the best teacher; let them play!

Soccer patterns

While you can’t predict the twists and turns that every football (soccer) game brings, the team can and should practice game-like patterns to simulate live playing conditions. Essentially, it’s like setting up a dress rehearsal—except that instead of wearing the team uniforms, you wear the mentality and the effort you hope to create during the actual game.

For example, have a defender, who is positioned on the right side, play a forty yard ball towards the top of the box. There, a forward is checking back to receive the ball. This run back by the forward can be just a five to ten yard run, first dragging the defender towards the goal and away from where he wants to receive the ball, and as a result creating the space he wants to check into. The forward then lays the ball back to a centre midfielder, who plays the ball down the line to the defender who has made an overlapping run, and then crosses the ball into the box. The midfielder and forward make near and far post runs, and the defender picks one of them out with a cross.

Have each of these players rotate into the next position. The forward becomes the defender, the midfielder becomes the forward, and the defender becomes the midfielder.

Next, develop and create your own patterns. For instance, a defender plays the ball into the midfielder, who plays it back to him and then serves the ball into the forward. The forward lays the ball back to the midfielder, who then plays the defender down the line. Then the defender crosses the ball (picking out a player with the cross). Vary the passes, make all the passes in the air, keep all passes one touch, add in a cross-over exchange (where a player dribbles at a teammate and then exchanges the ball), and/or make it so all passes are played with your weak foot. Make the passes sharp and play them away from where the defender would be. Add more players and increase the number of passes that are made before a cross or a shot is taken on goal. Have a player overlap the defender and serve the ball in for a cross; have the midfield begin the play with a pass to the defender who then plays it to the forward and back to the midfielder. Have the ball played down the line to the defender, who swings in the cross.

Always try to finish with a shot on goal after running through a few patterns. Also, make sure every player or position gets a touch on the ball before a shot or cross is taken.

Make the patterns game-like by playing the ball with pace and making all of your touches sharp, as if you are under pressure. Start out walking through these patterns and then build up speed as your team becomes accustomed to the runs (patterns). When you are beginning to run through the patterns at a faster pace, make sure the angles of the passes are sharp and the runs are at a game-like pace.

All the players should try to check back to the ball as if they have a defender on them and make angled runs back to the ball. These runs don’t have to be long – even just two or three yards (quick cuts). Again, the overall idea is to concentrate and make these patterns game-like, turning them almost into exact set plays, to the point where your team could run through them in their sleep.

Some drills, patterns, and tips you can use in your practice:

Full Field (11 players):

Have the keeper throw or punt the ball to the forward, who controls the ball and plays back to a defender. Developing a passing pattern, where each player on the field gets a touch on the ball and a series of a wall passes, dribble exchanges, overlaps, and a long switch, are included in the routine.

Half Field (6-9 players):

The left defender plays the ball to the centre midfielder, who then plays it to the right back (switching the field). Right back plays the ball to the right midfielder who plays again to the right back. From there, the ball is served into the forward who is checking back. The forward lays the ball back to the centre midfielder – who plays the ball to the right or left back, with both overlapping on the outside. The forward and centre midfielder make near and far post runs and the midfielders crash the box for a ball that might pop back to them.

Small Space (top of the box; 3 players):

Begin the drill on the far corner of the top of the box. Right midfielder does a dribble exchange with the center midfielder, who takes the ball down the line and whips in a cross to the forward and right midfielder. Incorporate the wall pass and overlap into this pattern. Vary the passes. Play the ball short so the player has to come back to the ball. Play the ball sharply so they have to play one touch, and then when playing the ball to the player for the cross, play the ball hard to their feet and down the line so they have to run on to the ball.

Elements to focus on:

  • Communicate. Say man on or turn, dictating how the pattern will evolve. If someone says ‘turn,’ then the ball or pattern will need to go forward. If someone says ‘man on,’ then the ball will come back again before it goes forward.
  • Move in your position’s sphere. Make short, angled runs back to receive the ball or cuts into space.
  • Every player should get a touch before a cross or shot is taken.
  • Add in a few defenders as the drill progresses.
  • Vary the passes: all in the air, on the ground, or chipped (lofted passes). All passes with right or left foot.
  • Play driven balls.
  • Require the players to score with their heads.
  • Insert one long switch before you can go to goal (switch must be in the air).

More Drills and Exercises

1) This is a good warm-up and also good to do once a week: In pairs about five yards away from one another, one player tosses the ball in the air to his or her teammate’s right and left inside of the foot, top of the foot, thigh, chest, and head. Go through the cycle about ten times each – ten times on the left inside of the foot and instep and so on. Keep your ankle locked and hit sharp passes back to your teammate.

2) Keep away in a tight square, starting out without restrictions, and then go to two touch, and then one touch. Towards the end, make it a competition where the team who completes ten passes first wins.

3) Follow your pass (groups of three). This is a good warm-up drill as well as good for improving and maintaining your technique. Remember to always play crisp and sharp passes. You can set this up at various distances to work on both short and long passes.

Start out ten to twenty yards apart and simply pass the ball to your teammate who then passes the ball to the next player in a rotation; you get a good warm-up by following your pass. Start this drill using only two touches and then move on to one touch. Have the player who is making the initial pass close down the player who is receiving the pass, acting like a defender – force the player to go one direction. Make them control the ball to one side or the other with just two touches, one for control and the other to make the pass. Make one clean touch to the side and then make the pass.

Next you can spread out to thirty or forty yards away and play the ball in the air, trying to maintain the rotation and sharpness of the drill with two touch play and driving the ball into your teammates. A lofted pass is easy for the defence to intercept and gives them time to close your teammate down. You can practice all types of passes – chips, bending the ball, half-volleys, and low driven balls.

4) It’s a good idea to finish a day of practice with some crossing and finishing. Have your defenders and midfielders serve the ball into the forwards who make near and far post runs.

When doing a crossing drill or any drill, try not to hit a ball that is still. Have a teammate play the ball into the players who are crossing the ball – either a crisp pass into their feet or play a ball ahead of them. It is not a game-like situation if the ball is dead and not moving. The next player in line plays the ball to the person who is crossing the ball. Use a crisp pass to start the play. Forwards line up at the top of the box – making near and far post runs, midfielders and defenders out wide.

Soccer coaching objectives at U8 and U9

U-8 soccer coaching objectives (7 Year Olds)

  • Tell me and I will forget
  • Show me and I will remember
  • Involve me and I will understand

1. Developing a general understanding of the basic rules of the game

• Goal-Kick

• Corner-Kick

• Kick-Off

• Throw-In

• Ball In and Out of Play – throw-in, “goal” and no goal”, corner kick, etc.

2. Teach the correct method of the throw-in; but don’t over do it, encourage players to shoot the ball with both right/left feet; how to dribble the ball; how to stop the ball. Show players that passing is another option to dribbling.

3. Encourage the players to cooperate – examples through passing; helping in defense by running back towards goal.

4. Do not expect the keeper/sweeper (supportive player) to grasp the concept of moving out on attack and defense right away.

5. Do encourage the keeper/sweeper (supportive player) to come off the goal line when play is at the other end of the field to support the attack. The back player can also serve to reduce the amount of space between the goal and an opponent attempting to shoot. This provides a smaller view of the goal for the shooter. The sweeper/keeper player also serves as support on defense, which provides coverage for the teammates in front of goal.

6. Do emphasize and encourage the idea of a team triangle when attacking and defending.

(A) Understanding of the basic principles of team play :

1. Appreciation of space – Width, Length and Depth. Understanding the team triangle

• Support in attack – The Big Triangle

• Support in defense – Smaller Triangle

2. Develop the role of the goalkeeper (Keeper-Sweeper)

• How to use hands to defend the goal

• Coming out to narrow the angle on shots (Makes view of goal smaller)

• Moving out to clear long kicks with feet when necessary

• Moving out to edge of goalkeeper zone and beyond, encourage goalkeeper to join in attack

3. Greater Cooperation by the field players

• Collective attacking and defending

• Rotation of all players to play in all roles

4. Further appreciation of space in team play by:

• Attacking shape on goal-kicks and throw-ins

• Use of width on the field.

5. When in possession of the ball, stretching the opposition by the most advanced player pushing deep toward opposition goal

6. Development of attacking opportunities from corner kicks & throw ins.

Overriding Consideration

The game is for all players – everyone should be encouraged to participate, particularly the “non-assertive” player(s). Always encourage in practices & games the use of skill, creativity & decision-making. Don’t expect youngsters to play a “passing game”, don’t get caught up in tactics & formations or positions.


Systems of play at young ages will only lead to “Agriculture Soccer” since they dictate that players be “planted” rather than “playing”. Also never stifle the creative, gifted dribbler. Eventually all players will learn to pass as they get older. This is the time for players of all abilities to experiment & learn from trial and error. Encourage talking in practices & on the field, let them know this is their game and that they own it. If you believe that the difference between kicking and passing is thinking, and the difference between drills and activities is thinking, then you should understand the premise that “Soccer Is A Player’s Game” and your sessions should give players as many opportunities to both play, think & communicate as possible!

Remember the 3 evils: Lines, Laps & Lectures!

U-9 soccer coaching objectives (8 Year Olds)

  • Tell me and I will forget
  • Show me and I will remember
  • Involve me and I will understand

1. Further development of U-8s objectives

2. Development of the appreciation of space through the fourth player in what is called “third man play’ (see “Coaching 9, 10, and 11 Year Olds”)

• Diamond Shape at goal-kicks and throw-ins must be continually emphasized

• Continued encouragement to use the “width” – both sides of field

• Encourage the most advanced player to stretch the opposition by pushing toward opposition goal – when own team is in possession

3. Encouragement in practices (and games) of the importance of team support-particularly in 3 v 3 and 4 v 4 games and practices, e.g., Micro Soccer, Zone Game & Change Soccer

4. Encourage all players to be ‘two-way players.’ Suggest all players should recover to help defend after losing possession; all players should look to contribute to every at- tacking play (even where their “role” is as the “covering” rearmost defender).

5. Development of the role of the goalkeeper

• Basic catching techniques

• Coming out to narrow angle on shots

• Distribution by throwing

• Moving out to edge of goal area and beyond to support attack and using the feet (4 v 4)

6. Continued development of basic techniques such as dribbling (to keep possession and to beat opponents), accurate passing and ball control Introduction or reinforcement of longer passing


• Appreciation of space – through the diamond shape – Use of width; stretching opposition from end to end (length)

• Continued development of basic skills

• Encouragement of ‘two-way play”

• Awareness of “Third Man” when on attack

Soccer coaching objectives at U10, U11 and U12

It is vital that you have a clear idea of what you want your players to learn before you step on to the training field. If you don’t, you will waste valuable training time, bore your players as you struggle to make the transition from one unrelated activity to the next and, just as importantly, you simply won’t enjoy your ‘career’ as a soccer coach.

You should also have an idea of where you want your team to be in terms of soccer skills at the end of the season.

Before you can prepare for a training session or set out the framework for your season, you have to know what children should be able to do at different ages. If you don’t, you may set unrealistic goals for your players. This results in frustration for you (“why don’t they get it?!!”) and for your players (“what is he talking about?!”).

U10 soccer coaching objectives (9 Year Olds)

  • Tell me and I will forget
  • Show me and I will remember
  • Involve me and I will understand

1. Further development of U-8 and U-9 objectives

2. Cooperative attacking – all players involved but with an awareness of cover (by the goalkeeper and at least one covering field player). Develop an understanding of the roles that players have in supporting the attack: player with ball, players providing immediate support of ball and other players who create length and unbalance the defense. All this needs to be shown in an environment with greater numbers of teammates and opponents on a larger playing field.

3. Cooperative defending-all players participating, even the most advanced players getting “goal side” of opposing players. Continue to develop show the principles of defense so all players gain the understanding of all the roles when defending. The role of the players that delay and put pressure on the ball; the players that provide support (cover) and the players that provide balance (width).

4. Triangles and diamonds are still the dominating team shapes but more complex because of the larger team numbers.

5. Continued development of the basic skills: passing, dribbling, shooting, ball control, and goalkeeping. The introduction of light heading.

6. Developing an understanding of team shape when attacking, and balance when defending.


• Continued emphasis on the concept of triangular supporting play

• Continued emphasis on combining with teammates (third man running)

• Cooperative attacking (all players)

• Cooperative defending (all players)

• Continued development of the basic skills

Overriding Consideration

Encourage all players to provide good support whether attacking or defending. The game is for all players – everyone should be encouraged to participate, particularly the “non-assertive” player(s). Always encourage in practices & games the use of skill, creativity & decision-making. You can now introduce concepts of “team play”, youngsters are now more receptive to playing a “passing game”, but do not fill their heads about tactics & formations. KEEP IT SIMPLE! Also never stifle the creative, gifted dribbler. This is the time for players of all abilities to experiment & learn from trial and error. Encourage talking in practices & on the field, let them know this is their game and that they own it. Teach players to use “soccer terms” such as “man on” etc. If you believe that the difference between kicking and passing is thinking, and the difference between drills and activities is thinking, then you should understand the premise that “Soccer Is A Player’s Game” and your sessions should give players as many opportunities to both play, think & communicate as possible!

Remember the 3 evils: Lines, Laps & Lectures!

U-11 soccer coaching objectives (10 Year Olds)

1. Preparation for moving into 11-a-side play

2. Developing a basic understanding of the concept and rule of off-side or modified offside.

3. Continued concentration at this age on the more important developments of:

The Triangle in team play

The Diamond in team play

“Third Man running”

Appreciation of the team principles of play and their roles when the team is attacking or defending
High concentration on basic skills in cooperative play, i.e., passing, control, shooting and introduction to heading; goalkeeper techniques and role

4. Continued development of the techniques (basic skills) with limited pressure but in a challenging environment

5. Continued emphasis on the principles of play; and the roles of players when attacking and defending introduced at U-10. Players will need to understand their particular role on the team in supporting the attack and regaining possession of the ball when defending. The players will need guidance in the performance of these roles due to the greater number of players on the field and the increased size of the field. The players should have a basic understanding of how to interchange roles during the course of play.


• Readying players for 11 v 11

• Basic understanding of the offside rule and for tactical play

• Triangles, diamonds plus further development of basic skills

Overriding Consideration

Avoid over-coaching at this transitional time as players get ready to move into 11-a-side.

U-12 soccer coaching objectives (11 Year Olds)

1. Introduction to 11-a-side play.

2. Reinforce basic understanding rule of off-side.

3. Continued concentration at this age on the more important developments at this age of:

o Application of age-appropriate activities
o Emphasis on individual possession
o Emphasis on individual defending
o introduction of basic combination play (Wall pass and takeovers)
o High concentration on basic skills in cooperative play, i.e., passing, control, shooting and heading
o Individuals start to emerge and will begin to focus on role of goalkeeper (Develop foundation of basis techniques.)

4. Continued development of the techniques (basic skills) with greater pressure in a challenging, motivating environment and involve transition.

5. Continued emphasis on the principles of play; and the roles of players when attacking and defending introduced at U-10 and U-11. Players will need to understand their particular role on the team in supporting the attack and regaining possession of the ball when defending. The players will need guidance in the performance of these roles due to the greater number of players on the field and the increased size of the field. The players should have a basic understanding of how to interchange roles during the course of play.


• Introduction to 11 v 11

• Stress importance of individual possession and de- fending

• Further development of basic skills

Overriding Considerations

Implementation of developmentally appropriate activities. Stress the need for development of the individual player versus the success of the team. Avoid overloading this age player with too many tournaments.

courtesy of the Abbotsford Soccer Association

Planning age appropriate soccer practices

Youth soccer coaches need to bear in mind the physical and mental age of their players when planning their training sessions.

This might seem like stating the obvious but many coaches experience discipline problems simply because their plans are too ambitious or too easy for their players.

Also, some coaches expect their players to master skills or techniques that they are simply not capable of at their age. For example, children up to the age of about ten may lack the physical ability to lock their ankle; a skill that is necessary to accurately strike a ball. There’s not much point, then, to get frustrated with an eight year old who can’t hoof the ball from one end of the pitch to the other!

Coaches whose players are aged up to six or seven years old should also bear in mind that young children 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! So don’t be surprised that it’s difficult to get six year olds to stop swarming round the ball. Also, 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.

So….when designing practices coaches need to take into consideration the age characteristics of their players. Activities should be picked that fit the developmental needs of the children, rather than trying to make the children participate in activities that are developmentally inappropriate for them.

What are developmentally appropriate exercises?

When picking activities always remember what the game of soccer is like – players are moving around constantly. Because everyone is moving the environment is constantly changing which requires players to be constantly making decisions.  It is because of this that practice games are more effective than ‘drills’ at teaching kids how to play soccer, even when dealing with techniques like how to pass the ball.

Many coaches choose to do drills that involve players standing in lines waiting to have a turn.  This type of drill is not ‘soccer-like’.  No child should be encouraged to stand in a line and wait a turn.  There are plenty of ‘soccer-like’ practice games that can be used to teach any technique or tactical concept.


Enjoyment is the unifying motive. Some children don’t want to learn. Some don’t care about winning. A few have no interest in hard work and one or two can’t remember which goal they’re attacking. In spite of all of their different agendas they all want to have fun and play a game, that is what brings them there.

They also want to be children. Too often the coach sees them as an extension of his vision and they become puppets to it. The time spent at practice and at the games is a part of their childhood. It should not reflect the adult world. Some adults forget this and their expectations take the fun out of the experience. Take time to consider your coaching style and understand that your expectations and hopes may not be shared by the children you’re coaching.

In praise of 4v4

How can we improve the game?

Some would have you believe that “Football is a simple game”, Breaking it down to its component parts, it’s an extremely complicated game e.g. in an 11-a-side game one player has the ball, he now has the option to pass it to one of the remaining 10 players or dribble with it himself, if he chooses to pass, what kind of pass? What height? How weight on the pass?   To the player, in front, slightly behind or straight on?

Therefore we have to make a single decision from all of the above choices, its complicated even before we factor in the opposition, the space available and position on the pitch. Yet we expect children as young as 6 to make similar choices.  Some expect these choices to be correct every single time.

We don’t ask children to write sentences on the first day at school or to read novels when they are just starting, they start at the beginning by writing/reading single letters before moving onto words.  Why do we do the exact opposite with kids and football?   5 + 6 year olds playing 7-a-side, 9 year olds playing 11-a-side, it’s too complicated for their young minds to comprehend and hinders their true potential.

Make it simple

By reducing the number of players we also decrease the number of choices an individual player has to make.  The options (do I pass? what height? etc) remain the same but there are less of them.  Playing 7-a-side decreases the options by 40%, playing 4-a-side decreases the available options by a massive 70% compared to the full adult sized 11 a-side games.

7v7 or 4v4?

4v4 is the simplest form so it follows that if we are to coach the simple things first 4v4 is the way to go from a young age.

In 4–a-side all three principles of play (length, width and depth) are present; any less then elements are missing.

The players are ‘total’ players.  They do everything attacking and defending, everything that needs done is done with the four on the pitch. There aren’t strikers or defenders and midfielders simply players.  Because the players are playing all positions they become better all-round players and know each position well. They become footballers.

Due to the players playing all the positions they are more involved. They get more touches on the ball and more touches equals better technique.  Better technique equals more time on the ball. More time on the ball equals more time to look.  They begin to work things out for themselves looking for the answers themselves rather than the coach at the sideline telling them what to do.  Kids learn the where, why and when of football.

More kids can be involved, on a full sized pitch 22 take part in 11-a-side and 28 for 7-a-side, depending on age between 32 – 48 kids on one full sized pitch.

Still need convincing?

Separate studies by Manchester and Abertay universities produced some quite similar results there wee more touches, more scoring, more opportunities, more goals and more fun, that’s why we all coach isn’t it?

The Games

4v4 games are easy and fun, just use your imagination. If you want to he team to use width more play the ‘four goal game’ want more dribbling – play the ‘line game’.

How to plan, organise and run a youth soccer coaching session

The training area

Indoor facilities can be useful in the depths of winter when outdoor training is impossible and Astroturf pitches are actually very good for teaching the basics to younger children as the smooth surface encourages them to play with a soft touch knowing that the ball will run true.

Nearly all experienced soccer coaches, however, prefer to hold training sessions outdoors on grass simply because children need to be able to dribble, run and play on a realistic (i.e. bumpy and often muddy) surface.


Before the children arrive you should get into the habit of checking the field for hazards. Make sure there is no broken glass around, (especially in public parks) and if you are using goalposts ensure they are securely anchored and not damaged. You should also try to avoid rutted or bumpy areas.


  • A sufficient number of small cones to mark out playing areas;
  • Some coloured bibs so that you can identify teams;
  • A ball for every player – if you don’t have enough ask the children to bring their own!
  • A whistle – essential for gaining attention and to stop/start activities.
  • A stopwatch – very useful for timing games and tests.
  • A first aid kit (more on first aid later).
  • Some spare water – there’s always one child who forgets to bring their own. A big bag to put everything in!!

Last but not least, you must have assistants – never try to run a training session on your own.

Help is essential if your transitions from one activity to the next are to go smoothly but – and more importantly – what will you do if a child is injured when you’re on your own? Who will supervise the others while you administer first aid? And what if the child has to go to hospital – you can’t leave the others on their own!

It is sensible to have an assistant of the opposite sex if you are training mixed sex teams.

Make sure your children know that they must:

  • Wear suitable clothing and footwear – waterproofs if it’s raining and a warm tracksuit in winter are important if you’re not to end up with twenty or so soaking wet and shivering kids who just want to go home. Trainers can be worn in summer on dry ground but proper football boots are essential in wet or slippery conditions.
  • Bring a drink.
  • Wear shinpads.

Be on time! – nothing is more frustrating than to have children turning up five or ten minutes after you’ve started explaining a new activity to the group. Don’t allow it – children who keep turning up late without good reason should be taken to one side and told why their timekeeping must improve and parents should be told that they must try to get their children to the training on time.


  • Utilise 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;
  • Keep coaching sessions short, clear and well-planned;
  • Be positive – focus on what the player does correctly (“catch them being good”);
  • Make the sessions meaningful, fun, challenging and exciting,
  • No static line drills! Play fun, soccer-like games instead.
  • Don’t play “elimination games” – the players most in need of improvement and repetitions are usually the first to be eliminated;
  • Don’t play large sided games for more than 10 minutes per hour. In 8 v 8 or 10 v 10 etc, players don’t get enough touches on the ball, the weaker players tend to get the fewest touches and bad habits can be reinforced because players tend to do the same things they have always done. If you do play large sided games, do so without a goalkeeper.
  • Be organised and above all – have a training plan.

This last point is perhaps the most important of all.

Nothing is more likely to create discipline problems then a coach who fumbles their way through a session with no clear idea of what they’re going to do next.

Spend ten minutes or so before every training session considering exactly what it is you will be trying to achieve.

Have one clear objective (to improve passing technique, training shielding the ball etc.) and think about how you will organise each activity.


1. Write your objective down on a small piece of paper or a notebook that you can refer to during the training session then

2. Make a note of how you’re going to teach the skill or technique to the children and finally

3. Write down how you are going to warm them up and what equipment you will need.

The teaching part of the training (number 2 in the list above) should normally have three distinct phases:

Individual/Fundamental: Players working individually or in pairs on desired technical or tactical topics. (Your chosen objective may be impossible to instruct in this phase. If this is the case, use this phase to reinforce fundamental technical skills and start coaching your topic when you move to the small and large group phases.) Progress your activities from low to high pressure. Start slowly and gradually increase the speed at which the skills are performed. 1v1 and 2v2 games are ideal in this phase.

Small Group/Match Related: This is the phase of training where coaches need to show the greatest amount of creativity. Here we create competitive games (usually 2v2 to 4v4) that have imposed conditions/restrictions that allow the team to easily learn and experiment with the chosen topic. Players are under increasing pressure when compared to the individual phase. Four vs. four games are the preferred method of teaching in this phase.

Large Group/Match Conditions: Bearing in mind what was said earlier about large sided games, we now let the game be the teacher. You should be aiming to create fun, competitive games, 5v5 up to 11v11. Remember, the smaller the number of players in a game, the more each player gets to touch the ball and practice what they have learned earlier in the session. This is also an opportunity for coaches to watch and evaluate their team’s performance under match like conditions.

Coaches should also be asking themselves, “Are my players using the skills they’ve just been taught?”

Coaching the practice (from

When introducing practice, make sure you’ve scaled it to your group. Make sure it is appropriate for the age. U10 boys can not drive balls 40 yards in the air, so crossing attack at U10 should finish on the ground, there will not be any lofted balls to the far post from the opposite touch-line.

  • Get to action within about 20 seconds. Introduce and start.
  • Gather team in semi-circle, step back a step, state your topic. Go.
  • At all costs, avoid taking 10 minutes to set up cones and don bibs.
  • Don’t share common grid boundaries
  • Don’t talk every minute of the practice. Let them play.
  • Look for your coaching points in play, freeze action, make one point.
  • Keep corrections short. Encourage, correct, encourage, restart.
  • Keep moving to good positions to observe.
  • Coach the group doing your topic, not their opponents. For example, in teaching shooting, coach the shooters, not the defenders.
  • Coach in sequence, first things first. Teach in a progression.
  • Keep it moving – move on to the next stage when you get success.
  • Adjust the space or conditions if you are not getting success.
  • Compliment good play.
  • Incorporate all the elements in your practice for efficiency.
  • Show is better than Talk, and Do is better than Show.
  • Get right into your topic. If it’s 4v4 defending, don’t start 1v1.
  • Use neutral players when you need to give one side numbers up.

Recognize when to rest. It is better to work for 5 minutes at full intensity than it is to drag on for 25 minutes at low intensity. Matches can’t be played at low intensity, so work towards longer periods of high intensity play.

Relax, smile, and have fun. Your demeanour should say “this is cool”.

Take it to the game. Get to a game at the end to see your topic played.

Stop the game if the players aren’t doing what you want them to do. But don’t stop the game too much – beware of over-coaching and don’t be afraid of letting your children think for themselves.

How to use “windows” drills

“Windows” drills are a particular type of exercise that I was taught in several different coaching clinics.  Each instructor had his own method of using them but the main idea was the same – a large circle of cones with half the players inside the cones and half outside the circle.  The players on the outside of the circle served the balls to a player on the inside. Those players on the interior of the circle had to perform some specific activity and then return the ball to the server (or to a different player other than the one who just served the ball to him) on the outside of the circle.  If the task was a header the ball would be headed back to the same person who served the ball.  On the other hand if the task was a trap and turn the player would look for a different person to return the ball to.

These are very active exercises and required good fitness. The drills lasted about two minutes each and then the players on the outside would swap with the players on the interior of the circle and perform the same activity. This allowed the players to rest while they are serving the balls so that they could perform at peak fitness when it was their turn to be inside the circle.

Windows drills can easily be adapted to any age group and are suitable to almost all ball skills.  The size of the circle depended upon the number of players involved, ages, and the type of activity performed as well as the players’ proficiency.

The term “windows” applies to the open spacing between the cones which served as the “windows” where the server stands. Most of the exercises specifically referred to by the instructors as “windows” exercises were passing and receiving drills.


The drills usually start with each of the players on the exterior with a ball. For example one would be a large circle (25 to 30 yards in diameter) with players on the outside of the circle with a ball and an equal number of players on the interior.

Players outside would toss a ball to a player inside the circle who would head it back. The interior player would then move and look for another outside (of the circle) player to toss them a ball.

These are continuous movement exercises. Most were similar where the player inside the circle had to perform some task (trap, pass, move, etc.) and then look for another outside person to pass to them.


  • Defensive Headers – clearing headers – up and away
  • Attacking Headers – down at servers’ feet
  • Pass on ground from server – one touch back to server and then look for a different server. Do right foot only for one minute and left foot only for one minute.
  • Pass on ground from server – receiver makes first touch away from pressure and then finds another open player (one without a ball” on the outside of the circle.
  • Chest traps
  •  Inside of foot volley back to server – often used on throw-ins to drop ball back to thrower – You can have the server use throw-in technique to serve the ball.  That will require a larger circle.
  • Volleys on laces back to server – use proper shooting technique

There are many more tasks that can be used.


  • Keep head up – the number of bodies inside the circle requires the players keep their heads up to avoid collision and, in some cases, to be sure that they are returning the ball to a player who does not already have a ball.
  • Change of speed – after performing the task and returning the ball to an outside player have the player move half-speed toward the opposite
  • Constant motion 
  • Good Technique – sloppy technique means that the balls go in wrong directions and the servers spend too much time chasing balls.  Since every player is supposed to bring their own ball there should be twice as many balls as needed.  Have servers put the extra ball behind them so that they can use it rather than chase an errant pass.
  • Proper weight on passes – one problem I often see in these drills is soft “hospital” passes
  • Proper distance – passes should be at least five yards – preferably more like ten yards as you would want in games.
  • Good serves from servers – serves for headers should be underhand at proper height and speed, etc.
  • Movement of players to ball rather than waiting for ball to come to them.


I remember one other drill a coach called a windows drill. He had a large circle lined with cones with spaces (windows) spaced periodically between some of the cones with four players inside and four outside the circle. There was also a cone in the very centre of the circle. In his drill it was both the exterior and interior players who had to move. The exterior players moved one direction (clockwise) until they came to an opening and there they passed to a player coming towards them from the cone. The interior player received the ball and returned the pass. The interior player then ran back touched the cone and moved in the opposite direction (counter-clockwise) and received a pass from the next player at the next opening.

He had lots of variations in the drills, number of players, both inside and outside moving the same and opposite direction, traps, headers, passes etc. The main difference was that both inside and outside players had to move so there was no chance for rest. It got sloppy pretty quick with out of shape coaches.
I preferred the drills that allowed one group to rest and just serve balls while the others worked on tactics. They wee still very intensive but the rest allowed the exercises to stay at full speed without falling apart. Two or three minutes performing a single task (i.e. chest traps and returns) was enough to tire you out quickly. I loved the rest period when I just got to serve the ball.