Soccer circuit training for young children

This particular circuit allows for a cardio-vascular work out followed by a strengthening task. It can be adapted to suit the needs of your children.

1. Line jumps: Jumping across a line, making sure that the whole foot touches the floor. Adaptation: skipping.

2. Squats: with backs against the wall, slide down so that the legs are bent and the knees are bent at 90º. Adaptation: squat without the wall, make sure there is a straight line from ankle to knee and that bottom goes out behind the feet, back straight.

3. Spotty dogs, star jumps or jumping jacks: the movement of arms above the head makes it a much harder workout. Jumps may be slow of fast, depending on the ability of the child. BEND KNEES on landing, making sure knees don’t go further than toes.

4. Bean bag hold: arms are parallel to the floor and they have to hold the beanbags up for the whole time. This exercise can be made more difficult by asking the children to slowly rotate their arms!

5. Running on the spot: if children have bare feet, make sure this is done on a thin, gymnastic mat. Again this can be made harder by encouraging the children to get their knees higher.

6. Ball roll or hoop-la-hoop: the idea is to exercise the waist and stomach. They can either roll a football around their waists, making a large circle with their hips at the same time (large range of movement), or they can twirl a hoop around their waist. The boys tend to prefer the ball rolls. This can be made more difficult by using a small ball/ different shape ball etc.

We set up the stations like this going in a clockwise direction around the hall. We begin with 20 seconds on each station, and we change very quickly, no rest! That’s why I have built in alternating stations, it allows for a rest. We then build up in 5-second intervals, until we have reached the maximum of 30 secs. They quickly learn that their only competition is themselves, and work really hard to do more each time.

I work the children in pairs, getting them to rotate anti-clockwise after each activity.

Note: If you have a helper or two, you should record your children’s’ scores as they progress around the circuit. Over the weeks you can then work out how each child has progressed and congratulate them on their success. In this way, you add value and interest to the circuit training. You are also emphasising how much you value hard work and improvement and not just technical excellence.

Have fun!

Soccer circuit training for older children

circuit training

(courtesy of Michigan University)

This type of training involves participation in a variety of activities in succession. These activities are conducted at various locations (stations) around the soccer field. The team is divided into an equal number of players for each station. When the circuit begins, all players attempt to perform their best at the tasks assigned to each station within a set time. Successive stations should differ in the physical and technical demands they place on the player. For example, an intense leg exercise should not be followed by a dribbling drill. Recovery occurs as the groups rotate, within a specified time interval, to the next station and as subsequent stations differ in their demands.

Appropriate Age and Ability for Using a Training Circuit

Generally, training circuits are inappropriate for players below the age of 14 years. Children under fourteen years have difficulty complying with the organizational requirements of a training circuit and working independently on individual tasks. Also, coaches have difficulty controlling and observing players scattered around the field at various stations. However, if used properly, circuit training can be a valuable component of practice for players below and above 14 years of age.

Training Circuits for Young Children

To use training circuits with young children, the coach must usually recruit, train, and assign parents or other volunteers to be in charge of individual stations. With young children, relatively few stations comprise the training circuit. Instruction and quality, not quantity, of performance are emphasized at each station, with fitness a concomitant benefit. Training circuits for young children provide an opportunity for the instructors to work with small groups and meet individual needs.

Training Circuits for Older Children

For players 14 years of age and older, who have developed an intermediate level of ability and above, fitness with soccer specific activities is generally the emphasis of the training circuit. Training circuits can be regulated to create an exercise overload to enhance cardiovascular and muscular fitness.

In this type of circuit training an exercise over load is produced by:

  • -increasing the number of stations in the circuit,
  • -increasing the number of repetitions or work intensity at one or more stations,
  • -increasing the time for exercise at each station,
  • -increasing the number of times the circuit is completed, and/or
  • -decreasing the recovery period between stations,

The variety of activities that can be included in a circuit provides the opportunity to be flexible in creating different and specific exercise overloads as well as simultaneously enhancing skill.

This article contains an example of a soccer training circuit, that is appropriate for intermediate level players, and a recording form for both field players and goalkeepers (see Figures 1 and 2) These forms can be photocopied and duplicated on the front and back of a 5″ x 8″ card. Also included in this article is a blank form (see Figure 3) upon which you can write your own training circuit to meet the specific needs of your players.

circuit training


Field Player Circuit Training—Recording Form
Date  (mo./day)
Exercise/Rest Interval (secs.)
Stations Performance Scores
Sit-ups with  the ball
Wall volley  kick
Juggling   (head only)
12 cone    circle dribble
Push-ups      on the ball
Juggling       (all body parts)
Punt, sit,      and trap
Jumping over the ball

Figure 1. Example of an eight-station field player training circuit.

 circuit training
Goalkeeper Circuit Training—Recording Form
Date      (mo./day)
Exercise/Rest Interval (secs.)
Stations Performance Scores
Sit-ups with     the ball
Wall volley throw and catch
Two hands between the legs toss and catch
Side to side shuffle
Push-ups on    the ball
Arched ball bounce
Punt, sit,         and trap
Jumping over  the ball

Side 2

Figure 2. Example of an eight-station goalkeeper training circuit and recording form on two sides of a 5 x 8 card.

Using a Training Circuit for Physical Conditioning

A training circuit can be implemented one to three times per week during the season. The number of times per week you have your players engage in a training circuit should vary according to the number of games scheduled for a given week and other activities included in your practice. You should not have your players perform a circuit the day before or the day of a game.

The requirements of performance and scoring each station need to be thoroughly explained to the players. Players need to be informed that the correct performance of each station is as important as the number of repetitions. After all the players understand each of the items in the complete circuit, you may have them perform a partial circuit of four or five stations and then increase the number of stations by one on subsequent days of practice until all stations of the training Circuit are performed.

The prescribed time for exercise and for the rest interval, during which the Players write their Scores on their recording forms and rotate from one station to the next, should be controlled to create an exercise overload. The first day the team performs the entire circuit, 30 seconds of exercise and 20 seconds of rest between each station might be appropriate. This results in an eight-station circuit that can be completed in six minutes and 20 seconds. Gradually, the exercise interval should increase and the rest interval should decrease. You will need to judge what is the appropriate exercise/rest interval ratio for your players.

*This is based on Chapter 21 of Youth Soccer-A Complete Handbook edited by Eugene W. Brown. For information about this book visit the Youth Sports Institute web site.

Description for Figure 1.

Station Description
Sit-ups with the ball A bent knee sit-up is done with a ball held in the hands. In the upright position, a loop is formed with the arms and ball positioned in front of the shins. The number of sit-ups performed during the exercise interval is the score.
Wall volley kick A 4′ x 8′ x 3/4″ sheet of plywood is held in place vertically with its longest side in contact with the ground. On each side of the wall, a restraining line is marked on the ground parallel to the wall at a distance of nine feet. This permits two players to perform on a single wall. A ball is kicked and received behind the restraining line. The number of times this is successfully completed during the exercise interval is the score. You may specify the type of kick, whether the ball must be trapped before kicking it again, and the foot to be used.
Juggling (head only) The number of times the ball is juggled with the head during the exercise interval is the score. Scoring could be changed to count only the greatest number of juggles in a row without a miss.
12 cone circle dribble Twelve cones are equally spaced around the center circle. A zig-zag path is dribbled. The number of cones passed during the exercise interval is the score.
Push-ups on the ball A push-up position is taken with the hands on the ball and the feet on the ground. The number of push-ups performed during the exercise interval is the score. This activity can be modified to meet the needs of the players with relatively weak arm strength by having them perform the push-up by supporting their weight on their hands and knees.
Juggling (all body parts) The number of times the ball is juggled with all body parts, except the arms and hands, during the exercise interval is the score. Scoring could be changed to count only the greatest number of juggles in a row without a miss.
Punt, sit, and trap A player must punt the ball into the air, sit down on the ground, stand up, and make a first-time trap of the ball. The number of successful first-time traps is the score. The difficulty of this station can be increased by substituting a forward or backward roll for the sit.
Jumping over the ball A player jumps from side to side over a ball on the ground. The number of times this activity is completed is the score. The drill can be made to be more demanding by requiring the players to keep their hands on their hips. The activity can also be modified to a forward backward jump over the ball. In this case, the feet must be kept together and not allowed to straddle and go around the ball.

Description for Figure 2.

Station Description
Sit-ups with the ball See description for field player circuit (Figure 1).
Wall volley throw and catch A sheet of plywood is used as in the wall volley kick described in the circuit for field players. The ball must be thrown and caught behind the restraining line. The number of times this is successfully completed during the exercise interval is the score. You may specify the type of throw (underhand bowled ball, sling throw, baseball throw) and the type of catch. The drill could also be modified by substituting a drop kick for the throw.
Two hands between the legs toss and catch With both hands between the legs, the ball is tossed upward and forward over the head. The goalkeeper must then catch the ball in front of the body before it strikes the ground. The number of successful completions of this activity during the exercise interval is the score. To increase the difficulty of this station, the goalkeepers can be instructed to perform additional activities between the toss and catch (e.g., clap the hands together a set number of times, kneel down and then stand up, turn completely around).
Side to side shuffle The goalkeeper stands in a ready position facing the field of play with one hand touching a goal post. The goalkeeper then shuffles his/per feet without crossing the legs, and proceeds to touch the opposite post. This process is repeated, back and forth, while the goalkeeper continues to face the field of play The number of times the goalkeeper crosses the goal mouth and touches the opposite post during the exercise interval is the score. Note that only one goalkeeper should be in a group. Therefore, more than one set of goal posts will not be needed.
Push- ups on the ball See description for field player circuit (Figure 1).
Arched ball bounce From a prone position on the ground, the back is arched so the knees, feet, head, shoulders, and elbows are off the ground. While maintaining that position, the ball is repeatedly bounced on the ground with both hands. The number of bounces performed, while in the correct body position, during the exercise interval is the score.
Punt, sit, and catch A player must punt the ball into the air, sit down on the ground, stand up, and catch the ball. The number of successful performances of this routine during the exercise interval is the score. The difficulty of this station can be increased by substituting a forward or backward roll for the sit.
Jumping over the ball See description for field player circuit (Figure 1).


Circuit Training—Recording Form
Date      (mo./day)
Exercise/Rest Interval (secs.)
Stations Performance Scores

















Coaching youth soccer indoors

Everyone agrees that perfect technique is essential for an attractive and successful game, and age-appropriate basic training is essential for learning technical skills. To learn basic techniques, players need to practice them again and again over a long period of time, ultimately using them in exercises with opposition pressure.

In winter, the gym can be an ideal place to practice technique. The limited space, even floor surface and opportunity to use the walls all speed up the game and make it more technically demanding. And you don’t have to worry about inclement weather conditions (wind, cold, soft and mushy ground), which makes technique training even easier.

These sample exercises are intended primarily as suggestions: As a coach, you have to evaluate your players’ abilities and decide which exercises are appropriate for them. Of course, by making small changes to the rules, adding extra rules or changing the setup, you can make any exercise harder or easier. We’ve also included some tips to help you organize these exercises and use them in your own training program.

Indoor training can be an excellent opportunity for players, especially the very young, to work on coordination and effectively improve their technical skills. Indoor training equipment can open up a whole new world of possibilities for the inventive youth coach!

Dribbling & Faking

Take your eyes off the football and look at the ground about three yards ahead of it.
Keep the ball close! Touch it with the active foot often, preferably with every step you take.
Keep your body between the football and your opponent, so you can protect it. Always dribble with the foot farther away from your opponent.
Use fakes intelligently.

Indoor Training

Use lines on the gym floor as dribbling paths, with different colours for different dribbling styles (e.g. step-overs on the blue lines and shooting fakes on red).
Use boxes, medicine balls, etc. as dribbling obstacles.
Set up interesting dribbling par courses using various items.

Passing & Shooting

Make sure your foot makes solid contact with the ball.
Depending on the type of kick, either stretch your foot (point toes at the ground) or flex it (pull them up toward your shin).
After your foot strikes the football, follow through with the whole leg.
On shots, take careful aim at an open corner of the goal.
Always move to meet a pass.

Indoor Training

Use walls and long benches as “passing stations.”
Use soft mats, boxes, and long benches as “goals” for shooting practice.
Use soft mats to teach players spectacular shooting techniques (bicycle kick, hip-turn side volley, etc.).
Use boxes as targets for shooting competitions.

Ball Control

Move to meet the ball and let your foot “give” a little as it makes contact.
For passes on the ground, raise your foot slightly so the ball can’t roll over it.
Always control the ball in a free space away from opponents.
On passes in the air, don’t let the ball bounce: It wastes time and increases your risk of losing the ball.

Indoor Training

Use long benches as passing stations and “walls” for wall passes to help players learn to control balls on the ground.
Incorporate the wall as a passing station and allow players to throw or kick high balls against the wall, to help them learn to control balls in the air as well.


Pull your chin in to your chest and tense your neck muscles.
Keep your eyes open as long as possible and watch the incoming ball (follow it with your eyes).
Bend back from the waist; this provides the “wind-up” you need to hit the ball.
Meet the ball at the top of your jump.
Take a long running start.

Indoor Training

Have players practice heading on the hard and soft mats (improves motivation).
Use mats etc. as targets for heading competitions. To make this exercise even more effective, divide players into smaller groups.
Set up a “basket shooting” (heading) competition on the basketball courts.
Use the gym equipment to build a heading course with various stations.

Referee junior soccer? No thanks!

Refree junior soccer

Why can’t we have a qualified referee for all of our youth games?

by Julian Carosi

OK, let me set the scene, I (the Referee) am 10 minutes into the first half of the Under 10’s Minor Youth Cup competition, and so far I have had very little Refereeing to do. Suddenly, for no discernible reason at all, little ‘Bradley’s dad has decided to continually walk up and down, two metres inside the field of play, and right in front of all the other parents standing on the touch line who are trying to watch and enjoy the game.

“I say walk, but what I really mean is – have you ever seen those athletes on television who participate in ‘walking’ races? Not so much a walk, but a sort of funny shuffling pace.

Bradley’s dad is oblivious to everything but his little boy, and the blue mist that has descended in front of his eyes. Anyway, I am totally distracted from the game action itself. Little Bradley casts some furtive and frightened looks towards his dad. His eyes are beginning to glaze over, his head drops. Bradley’s dad continues with his funny walk and tirade of meaningless instructions to his son, interspersed with the usual pleasant expletives for me, the Referee, every time a decision is made against his son’s team.

Bradley mumbles “Oh shut up dad”. I’m glad that Bradley’s dad cannot hear him – I dread to think of the consequences for Bradley. But Bradley is right “SHUT UP DAD” !!!!!!!!!

Are you beginning to get the picture?

Refree junior soccer

Officiating at ‘Youth’ games where young children are involved can sometimes be likened to being attacked with a double-edged sword. Not only does the Referee have the dissenting players to contend with, they are very often given the extra bonus of parent abuse! And all for no extra cost.

“So…….is it is all doom and gloom?”

After a very long-playing career at local level, I had Refereed in the English County of Wiltshire for a number of years. Why did I decide to become a Referee? Probably for the same simple reasons as everyone else who is involved with football – because we all love this beautiful game. It’s in our blood. It is addictive to both players, and to Referees.

This article attempts to give just a very small insight into some of the real problems that Referees have to face. There are a number of Referees who are totally committed to Youth football, and I admire them for their fortitude. A close Referee colleague of mine, is the local County Youth Referees’ Appointment Secretary, and he is one of the best Referees in the County. He is totally dedicated to Refereeing both in Youth and in Senior levels of football. There is also a very dedicated band of Youth Team Club officials and parents in my County, whom are dedicated to improving the relationships within youth football – so it is not all doom and gloom.

But officiating as a Referee in youth matches is not my ‘cup of tea’. – And I’ll explain why.

Refereeing is mostly a very thankless task. When a Referee travels to a game, their destination is akin to visiting the Coliseum in Rome. The Referee standing in the centre circle at the beginning of each game – is much like being thrown into the lions’ den. Surrounding the Referee, and waiting for the first sign of weakness or excuse, are 22 passionate players; 6 or more substitutes, managers, coaches, spectators and of course let’s not forget ‘The Parents’. The Referees role and responsibilities at the lower Park levels can be very daunting. This job is certainly not for the faint hearted. Conversely – the buzz that a Referee can get from officiating can only be explained by experiencing it yourself.

Contrary to popular belief, Referees are human. When first arriving at the ground, Referees like to be sociable, yet at the same time, they must not be seen to favour a particular team. This means that Referees can sometimes seem aloof. This is one way that Referees can use to distance themselves from becoming over-friendly. Experience has taught Referees that no matter how friendly they are, it only takes one incident in the game to turn pleasant everyday people (and more so ‘The Parents’) into what can best be described as ‘monsters out of control’.. And that is why………

“It’s not really my cup of tea”

These incidents are known as ‘flash points’. Referees are well aware of ‘flash-points’ and you can almost guarantee at least one of them appearing in every game. To become a Referee, you have to pass exams on your knowledge of the Laws of Associated Football (commonly referred to as the LOAF). Passing the exam is the easy bit. The hard bit comes during the Referee’s ‘baptism of fire’, when he suddenly realises that Refereeing is not so much about learning and applying the Laws, but more about single-handed man-management of the most difficult situations a person can ever be confronted with.

When I trained new Referees with my local Melksham Referees’ Society. We organised three of four Referee training weekends throughout each year. This voluntary training takes up the whole of a Saturday and a Sunday (0900-1830) each day. The training was provided free of charge, and the instructors are NOT paid. Of the approximately 15 candidates per session, about half will have come from a Youth Football Club background, some of them parents, some players, some managers, some Club Linesmen etc…..

In a normal year, the Melksham Referees’ Society trains approximately 40 or 50 new Referee candidates. At a very rough guess – about half of them (say 25) actually go on to start Refereeing, the remainder being content with just learning the Laws. After a year or so, we would be very lucky to have 10 out of the remaining 25, who are still Refereeing. The others will have already decided that the abuse is just not worth it. Counteract this, with the ever-increasing departure of our experienced Referees, and you will begin to understand why there are ‘just not enough Referees to go around’.

A number of our Referee recruits are teenagers, who go on to officiate in the local youth games. These new recruits are the seeds of the next English Premiership Referees. They need all the encouragement and protection that can be provided. Some of these 14 or 15 year old Referees are initially very efficient and confident. I would never have dreamed, or dared, or been brave enough in my youth, to be a Football Referee at their young age.

To give you a flavour of what these young Referees have to contend with, at a recent Youth 6-a-side tournament, an Under 10’s game had to be decided on the taking of penalty kicks. The Referee was a very capable 14-year-old, whose dad was a very experienced Referee. During one of the last penalty kicks, the young Referee correctly spotted an infringement, and correctly made the penalty taker re-take the penalty kick. This resulted in the penalty kick being missed, and the team losing the game. The young players of the losing team took it in good grace. But wait!

One of the losing teams’ parents (a very angry man of about 35) confronted the young 14-year-old Referee. Luckily, his disgusting outburst was dealt with by the Referee’s parent, and a number of other senior Referees (including myself) who where nearby. In everyday life, such an outburst against a young child (for let us not forget that the 14 year old Referee is as much a child as any other 14 year old) could easily have been seen as a criminal offence by an adult against a minor. But no. Because the child had a Referee’s shirt on, a certain section of the population see this as immunity against the Laws of our Country. It is not. This is what each Referee (no matter what age) has to contend with.

Our young Referees, and those older ones, who regularly officiate on youth football, can only be admired for the way in which they handle themselves.

Regardless of all the recent Law changes, Football is still a very emotive physical contact sport. It thrives on high passion and emotions that lead to heightened excitement – long may it stay that way. I am a great believer, that the mistakes made by Referees (and more so players) are an actual integral part of the game itself. Take away the mistakes and you might as well stay home and watch paint dry. Nevertheless, Referees are a very genuine people, striving to make little or no mistakes in each game. But it is impossible to be perfect, and to be honest, anyone who tries to be is a fool. Referees will always aim to be relaxed and fully concentrating – and most of all FAIR.

Like the majority of Referees, I’ll sometimes hold my hands up – we do make mistakes, but we also try very very hard, on the field and off the field, to do our very best for the game we love. Why else would we suffer such abuse. There is a whole Referees’ World away from the game itself. They hold Referees’ Society meetings, seminars, and conferences. They get involved with training, officiating at friendly matches, attending disciplinary hearings, sorting their masses of correspondence, providing information via the Internet etc. etc…… The 90 or minutes that a Referee officiates, is just the sharp narrow end of the wedge as far as a Referee’s responsibilities and freely volunteered time is concerned. And sometimes, they even get time to spend with their family at the weekend!

“There are ‘just not enough Referees to go around”.

There is no easy solution for improving the relationship between Referees, players, spectators, parents and Team officials. The malaise is symptomatic of the lowering standards of society in general. Manners have long been forgotten or not taught. Respect – well, that no longer exists these days. That is not to say that we as Referees can all do our own little bit to improve both our own lifestyle and ‘football’.

How difficult would it be for team managers to insist that youth players shake the Referee’s hand after every game – especially if the game has not been to their liking. Why can’t the team managers always welcome the Referee cordially, and thank him after the game, irrespective of the result. I have had many an irate manager or player venting their anger at me immediately after games. I’m big enough (6ft and 15 stone) to look after myself, but I do worry about our youth Referees and the increasing departure of our experienced long standing Referees. I too, have considered ‘packing it all in’ on many occasions – all due to abusive behaviour received whilst officiating.

I am not advocating that football should only be played by perfectly behaved players in front of robotic parents – of course vent your emotions, but not in an openly aggressive and abusive manner. Our children will be the ones who suffer in the long run. They are suffering already.

Is winning everything?


winningWinning is everything… There’s no prize for coming second… If winning isn’t important, why do we keep score?

Heard these clichés? Of course. But, in the context of youth development, how important is winning a game?

Clearly, if you are going to play a game, there is little point in not trying to win it. However, the problem with much of youth football today is that winning has become too important and the development of players has been sacrificed for the result.

In England, as elsewhere, we have many youth leagues. Success is easily and invariably measured by results each week and the league standings. But if the emphasis is predominantly on results what mindset does this put the coach and the players in? Training, tactics and team selection will be based around the next game. Long-term development of players is sacrificed for the ‘quick fix’. Ask yourself these questions in relation to your team:

1. Does everyone get equal time?
2. Does the coach encourage players to express themselves and learn in a game?
3. Does the team selection and tactic revolve around a few more physically able/mature players?
4. Does the coach invariably bench perceived weaker players even when the team is winning?

If your coach were doing these things then I would challenge his/her emphasis. Players need to learn a variety of positions. They need to be encouraged to express themselves and make decisions without fear – fear of being criticised or fear of losing.

Coaches, parents and players must think in the long-term. Training, development programmes and matches must be based around a long-term development programme that works on every aspect of player development and caters for individual needs. Chances are your coach doesn’t have such a plan and just ‘lives’ for the next game. But as in any other educational activity there is (or should be) a syllabus or plan to work to.

Don’t forget that an individual, and a team, can play well and lose. So when your son or daughter comes home from soccer don’t ask ‘Did you win’? You should be asking ‘How did you play?’

The second question also reinforces in your child that her performance is not being measured by the result of the match. The result is just one indicator of performance and, at youth levels, not the most important one.

Children want to make their parents happy. If a parent over-emphasises the result, so will the child. Don’t say winning isn’t important, just don’t make it the most important thing.

Winning – what does it mean?

Maybe we as coaches and parents need to redefine winning.

Winning to me is to have everyone still playing at U12 that started at U6.

Winning is giving the children a passion for the game they can enjoy for life.

Winning is challenging every player to achieve realistic goals based on the child’s individual abilities.

Winning is giving them positive role models.

Think of the difference the child sees in coaches who want their kids to have fun versus those coaches screaming at the players, the ref and each other across the field.

Soccer can be enjoyed at all ages. Let’s not drive the next Mia Hamm or David Beckham from soccer at U7 because of our misguided concept of winning.

Let them have fun and remember it’s their game!

Understanding why children participate in soccer

By: Dr. Colleen Hacker, NSCAA National Academy Staff Coach and Professor of Sports Psychology at Pacific Lutheran University; Tacoma, Wash.

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

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

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

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

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

Practical suggestions for coaches:

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

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

Deconstructing youth soccer

This article suggests ways to restructure entry-level and early experience youth football (soccer) programs based on the needs of the children. It does not seek to reinvent street soccer, but it does seek to offer a balance between the ideals of street play and the realities of the over-organised youth sports world in which our children find themselves.

At its core, is the belief that adults should not be partner to the “JonBenet Ramsey Phenomenon” of dressing children up to participate in miniature versions of professional sport.

Although it was written with the US soccer scene in mind, it is relevant to the increasingly competitive youth football culture in the UK.

A big thank you to the Ohio Youth Soccer Association North for their permission to reproduce this article.

Deconstructing Youth Soccer: creating the ideals of street play in an organised soccer world

by Tom Turner

Children and Play

Fascinating rules emerge in the streets and parks and sandlots and alleyways when children are left to their own devises in sport. In Shane Murphy’s excellent and insightful book, The Cheers and the Tears: A healthy alternative to the dark side of youth sport today, four basic principles were reported in describing the ways children govern their own organizations during free play. These four principles, Action, Involvement, Excitement and Friendships, are briefly described below.

Action. Games must be motivating, and children always seem to find ways to structure play into “competition” when they are left alone. Competition is fun, so long as the rules make sense! Mostly a set score determines the winner, sometimes a mealtime. Children never line up to practice a drill when play is an option; hence, “scrimmage” time is taken for granted. Older children will eagerly wait on the sidelines until a game ends for the right to play the winner and attempt to hold the field against the next challengers. Children often know intuitively what game numbers create the best balance for competition, and they will create multiple teams when space limits the option to play multiple or larger-sided games.

Personal involvement. The following question has probably been offered to thousands of children over the years: “Would you rather play on a team that may not win very often, or sit on the bench for a team that wins all the time?” The response is always the same. Children would rather play and lose than sit and win. One of the compelling features of youth sport, from the youth’s perspective, is participation. For athletes of every age, there is very little enjoyment in watching someone else play, and very little learning takes place without the opportunity to participate directly; most commonly, everyone plays! Children will often modify their rules to allow the weaker players second chances at success; more importantly, this practice also served to reduce the risk of embarrassing their weaker peers.

Excitement. Blowouts are no fun for children and characteristic of youth orchestrated play is the need for excitement and challenge. Ironically, while being the last player picked from a group can often be embarrassing, the practical outcome of this age-old tradition is relatively balanced competition. No youth sport contest begins with the two best players starting out on the same team. If the sides turn out to be uneven, either the game is concluded and new sides picked, or players trade places and new hope is given to the trailing side. Young players often modify their rules to accommodate imbalance or inequity and, particularly in lopsided contests, “next goal wins” serves to produce the required adrenaline rush in pursuit of last-minute glory.

Friendships. Young children enjoy being with their friends. They enjoy competing against them and competing with them. They also enjoy meeting new friends through sport. Social order is often created through sport, with the bigger or older kids appointing themselves as captains, picking the teams, settling the arguments and setting the rules. The first real sports heroes many of us remember were often the older, bigger or most advanced players involved in our daily games.

The Demise of the Street Soccer Culture and the Rise of Small-Sided Games

The small-sided games movement evolved worldwide in response to the steady demise of street soccer. As a part of youth culture, street soccer remains strong in only Latin America, Africa, and in some parts of the Middle and Far East.

In street soccer cultures, children as young as five can be found playing with their peers and older “friends” in ever-varying configurations of games. Two or three players are enough to start the days’ play and, on occasion, the numbers may swell to resemble small mob scenes. Goals are made from whatever is available and play is always between two goals. The ball may be nothing more than a bundle of rags, there are no scrimmage vests, no referees and no coaches. Rule disputes are settled by the players and the outcome of games is often decided by family meal times, evening curfews, the availability of light, or some agreed upon number, such as “ten halftime-twenty wins.”

The severity of the bug bites in the summer was, as I remember, reason to keep moving, not reason to quit!

During school days, arriving early meant more opportunities to play in smaller-sided games before the sleepyheads wandered in, and the lunch hour game was interrupted only long enough to gobble down food before resuming play.

Behaviour, misbehaviour and adult involvement in youth football

These touchline tyrants should take their bawl home!

By Jim White

In six years coaching my son’s football team I have come to the following conclusion: short of excess intake of alcohol, there is nothing that alters the behaviour of adults for the worse as much as youth football.

Every weekend I stand on the touchline and watch allegedly mature adults screaming at their children, abusing match officials, carrying on as if they were eight years old and had just been denied the present of their choice by Santa. And the team coaches are among the principal offenders. In Britain, almost uniquely, youth football works like this: the dad of one of the team players becomes the coach. In the overwhelming majority of cases he does so without any training, experience or scrutiny. Sometimes, the result is little short of child abuse.

Once, in a game my lads were playing, the rather dopey opposition full back gave away a penalty through a somewhat avoidable handball. Instead of explaining what he had done wrong and advising him on how he might avoid such problems in the future, the boy’s coach chose instead to bawl profanities in his face. The attack was personal and sustained. The boy was, the coach informed him, useless, fat and stupid. After what seemed like minutes, standing there with his bottom lip quivering and his eyes filling, the boy could take no more. He ran from the pitch in tears and headed into a copse, where he climbed a tree and sat on a branch for the rest of the match. “Good riddance,” the coach shouted after him. “We’re better off without you, you useless tosser.”

It is worth adding that the game did not involve two teams from the grimy inner city. This took place in leafy Oxfordshire. And the lad concerned was seven years old.

Nor was it an isolated example. Such attitudes are everywhere, smothering our national game in an atmosphere than can be as poisonous as it is claustrophobic. For far too many, winning is all that matters. And everything that facilitates victory – cheating, bullying, poaching players from other teams – is not just tolerated, it is encouraged.

Oddly, the desperate urge for vicarious victory seems only to obtain in boys’ football. The other day I refereed a game between two sets of 12-year-old girls and suddenly I felt as if I could breathe more easily. The girls played with smiles rather than snarls. On the touchline parents laughed and encouraged, their coaches were paragons of good cheer.

In its training courses, the FA preaches an enlightened doctrine of sportsmanship and relaxation. Professional clubs enforce strict codes of parental conduct. But that is at the top of the tree. For too many small boys their experience of the beautiful game will be limited to red-faced coaches and snarling parents. No wonder once they reach adulthood, they are giving up football in droves.

Our generation should be ashamed.

first published in the Telegraph

Violence and abuse in youth soccer

Violence and abuse in youth sports generally has escalated to an alarming level. News reports like the examples below are not uncommon. From parents tackling opposing players to threatening coaches with firearms to physical fights resulting in arrests, it’s not always fun and games in the world of youth soccer:

“A 42 year-old adult man strikes the soccer referee, who happened to also be the town’s mayor, during a match between 11-year-old girls. The coach was sentenced to one year in jail (all but 45 days was suspended), required to attend anger management courses and banned form all youth sports events for a year.”

“An upset coach attacks the game referee near a concession stand following a soccer game of 12-year-olds. The coach head butts the official and breaks his nose.”

“The American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) has banned one parent and two soccer coaches for life and disbanded two boys soccer teams following the worst brawl in its 35-year history. About 30 adults were involved in a post-match melee in the southern California town of San Juan Capistrano after a tournament game between the Palmdale Eagles and the Chino Chiefs. Three adults were arrested, one parent needed treatment for a bite, another suffered cuts and a swollen eye and others reported being hit on the head with umbrellas and being threatened by a man swinging a metal rod. The cause of the melee after the San Juan Capistrano game was unclear but reports from the sheriff’s department at the time said violence broke out after an assistant coach for the winning Chino team allegedly tried to pick a fight with a Palmdale player.”

“In 2006, two soccer coaches got into a fistfight at a game for 7-year-old girls. A youth football coach attacked a referee, and another went after a 13-year-old opponent. A parent allegedly pulled a .357 Magnum at a football game for 5- and 6-year-olds as he argued over playing time for his son.”

“The structure of team sports is outdated and broken,” says Scott Lancaster of Somers, N.Y., the senior director of youth football development for the National Football League and author of Fair Play, a book that aims to take the negatives out of youth sports and encourages positive parental involvement. “Preconditioning children to value only final results in sports competitions robs them from the joy of spontaneous play and learning new skills in a positive environment.”

Lancaster believes it is the way that youth sports are organized, taught and implemented that is at the very root of the problem : “Kids are forced to play adult versions of games to satisfy an ‘adult’ thirst for experiencing what they watch on television.”

Often the emphasis is on winning at all costs. Parental behaviour at youth sports events often teaches our children that confrontation and cheating is the way to resolve conflict.

In the UK, John Allpress (in charge of player development at the FA) observes:

“It’s the attitude of the people. It is certain because the facts bear it out, the statistics show that the minute adults get involved; some children get excluded from the programme. They are seen not to be effective in matches and therefore they are left out or become sub. The kids don’t get a game and there is a danger in that because what is the basis for excluding kids from the programme?

When the kids decide, everyone is involved. There is no bias; people don’t get excluded from the programme.

It is a fact that 50%+ of players at an academy are born in September through to December and less than 10% are born in May to August. Why is that? They are exactly the same as the other children only they are a bit younger, so why does that discrepancy exist? It is not just the academies; it is all the way through football and grass roots football. The minute adults are involved the bias kicks in.

The reason why the bias kicks in is because the adults have a team and they want their team to win so they pick the stronger kids. Your team got beat 4-0 so you are crap, our team won so I feel good and I can go to the tyre factory on a Monday morning and I can say my team wins every week. That is where people get their self-esteem and it is understandable and maybe even human nature but it is only there because people want to win games. When the kids decide, it’s not there and the players that could make it through are among the younger group.”

But what can we do about it?

In the UK, many senior Centre of Excellence and Academy coaches believe there is an urgent need for the English Football Association. to:-

Initiate independent research into the effect youth football currently has on the moral development of young people.

  • Discourage “win at all costs” mentality.
  • Stress the importance of individual child development
  • Re-define winning.
  • Encourage parental involvement (other than coaching) into the management/ administration/social side of non-league and grass roots youth football clubs.
  • Closely monitor and examine all current aspects of youth football particularly at non-league level.
  • Investigate the possibility of an OFSTED type inspection process for Youth Football Clubs including on going coach assessment.

There needs to be three different levels of rules, control, management and supervision of youth football, e.g :–

1. League clubs.

2. Non- league clubs.

3. Grass roots clubs.

In addition, coaches should think seriously about why they want their children to play in local leagues. Is it really in the best interests of the players if their only experience of ‘the beautiful game’ is to compete for points on Saturday mornings surrounded by over-excited adults?

Should we not make sure our players also experience the other side of the game, where adult involvement is confined to providing a ball for them to play with and something to eat and drink afterwards?

Let your players play in organised leagues by all means, but try to also let them have a bit of disorganised fun now and then!

An alternative match day programme for youth soccer teams

This time of year many of us are attending league fixture meetings, submitting registration forms and generally getting involved in the usual pre-season paperwork chase.

But do you ever stop to wonder why you’re entering your team into a league?

If they’re aged 10 or over it could be because they enjoy playing against different players every week.

But if they are younger than that, do you think they really care if they play football for points or just for fun?

Could they be just as happy (or happier) if they were all fully involved playing in-house tournaments on a Saturday morning rather than standing shivering on the touchline, waiting to go on so they can be shouted at by over eager parents? Or maybe not even getting on at all (“it’s 1-0 to us with five minutes to go, I can’t risk changing the team now, sorry”).

It’s even been suggested that some youth soccer teams are only in local leagues because their coach/manager wants to win something he (or she) didn’t win for themselves when they were younger.

And some teams play in leagues simply because they don’t know that there are alternatives.

Now Paul Cooper of the National Children’s Football Alliance has produced an alternative match day programme for youth soccer clubs.

It’s worth considering – would your players like to play all the time, get lots of touches and score goals in a pressure free environment?

Or would they prefer to play for points in a traditional league and spend most of the day travelling to/from grounds, standing around and getting told to ‘get stuck in!’ ?

An alternative match day programme for youth soccer teams

by Paul Cooper

The current match day programmes have not always been working in the best interest of children, especially the younger ones.

There is at present little choice and as early as U7s, coaches are sucked into a competitive environment which makes it difficult to cope with and let all the children play as well as keeping parents happy.

So what are the needs of the children for a match day programme?

  • Games that are fun
  • Games that are both player and child centred
  • Every child plays for every minute (NO SUBS!)
  • A chance for children to put on a kit and be part of a team
  • Lots of touches of the ball
  • Lots of goals

U6/7s/8s Match Day Programme

In house/friendlies/festival fun days

This is the age group where there are most problems, as there are large numbers of children who join a club, but due to the rigid structure of the leagues many children do not get into the teams.

Also many parents are not prepared at this early stage to commit to being a coach responsible for a team, but may be interested in helping as a facilitator in an in house situation.

4v4 where possible, but most important is that every child plays for every minute, so 3v4, 4v5 also

  • Play round robin games
  • Select roughly even sides
  • 8-10 minute games (5-6 games) on a round robin basis
  • Children referee themselves (with an adult pitch organiser on the side)
  • Different coloured kits or World Cup t-shirts
  • Standard Game for the U7s
  • Standard Game and Four Goal Game for the U8s
  • Keepers Optional

U9/U10s Match Day Programme

Friendly League with points awarded for fair play.

4v4, 5v5, 6v6 (variety is good for the children)

  • All children play every minute, so coaches let each other know how many they have in their squad e.g. Team A has 9 players & Team B has 13 players. 2 x 4v4 games and 1 x mixed 3v3 game.
  • The players in the 3v3 game rotate with the players on the 2 main games
  • 10 minute games (6 games in total) this allows for players to be rotated around the teams
  • Children referee themselves (with an adult pitch organiser on the side)
  • Standard Game, Four Goal Game, Line Ball Game
  • Keepers optional

U11/U12s Match Day Programme

Friendly League with points awarded for fair play.

  • 8v8 or 9v9
  • Sub games on the side, which players on the main games rotate from
  • Standard Game
  • Referee
  • 3 sections of 20 minutes

U13s+ Match Day Programme

Leagues, 3 points for a win etc

  • 11v11
  • Standard Game
  • Referee

We would also like to see more 4v4 fun days during times that club games are not being played.

We believe the above formats would be more beneficial for children in terns of fun and development. It still allows for a match day environment but one in which every child is catered for.

Paul Cooper