On your bike!

This drill was  adapted from a game in The Ultimate Football Warm-Ups Manual.

Objective: To practice passing and receiving skills.

Set-up: Put your players into pairs. One ball per pair.

Place three flat cones in a short line.

How to play:

One player is a server and his partner works round the cones.

The player working must go forward to receive a pass then back-pedal up and around the cones in order to receive another pass on the opposite side.

The players work for 30 seconds on the following:

1. First-time pass back with left foot.

2. First-time pass back with right foot.

3. Bouncing serve and a half-volley return with left foot.

4. Bouncing serve and a half-volley return with right foot.

5. Aerial serve and a volley return with left foot.

6. Aerial serve and a volley return with right foot.

7. Aerial serve and head the ball back.

When the sequence is complete, swap the players round.

Coaching notes: Players should work at speed but accuracy is also important.

  • Make the game competitive by seeing which pair can get through the entire sequence without making a mistake.

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

Walking the dog

Walking the Dog is a great way to introduce ball control and dribbling to very young football players.

It also encourages the development of spatial awareness and soccer vision.

Even children as young as two or three will learn how to keep the ball close to them while running and I’ve used this game with children as “old” as 10!

Set up: Scatter lots of flat cones in two different colours in a large playing area. In this example, I’ve used green and white cones.

Every player has a ball.

How to play: Tell your players their ball is a dog.

Now ask them to give their dog a name. Have some fun with this! Who can think of the silliest name for a dog?

Now it’s time to take the “dogs” for a walk.

Tell your players the white cones are lamp posts and the green cones are trees.

To begin with, the dogs want to sniff every lamp post. This means players have to run with the ball and pause beside every white cone.

Then: “It’s raining! Get your dog under the ‘trees’!”

Now the players run with their ball to the green cones.


  • Dribble with both feet (or just their weaker foot).
  • Who can get under a tree the quickest? You don’t want to get wet!
  • Who can let their dogs sniff the most lamp posts in 20 seconds?

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

Moving goal game

moving goal game

moving goal game

Two equal teams.

Select two players to become the “moving goal”.

These players take the ends of a pole, rope or towel and stretch it out as they move around the space.

The other players play a game trying to score in the moving goal.

Coaching Points:

  1. Players should look at the football during shooting motion.
  2. Strike the ball with the instep (laces) with toe pointing down and ankle locked. This will give the players a firm hitting surface.
  3. Hips should face the goal.

Try These Variations:

  1. Add two balls.
  2. Add a second goal. With more goals, players will get more shooting chances and must play with their eyes off the ball. This will present more complex decision making.

“They’re all bunched up!”

By Ihor Chyzowych

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the author:

Ihor Chyzowych — Director, Custom Soccer Coaching
— USSF ‘A’ License
— National Youth Instructor’s License
— NSCAA Advanced National Diploma
— ODP Region II Staff Coach
— OSYSA State Staff Coach and Licensed Clinician

What’s wrong with youth soccer?

“I know a lot of younger players don’t love the game now, but it is not a game you love anymore. When I was young we played in the street, had fun, identified with great players, thought & talked nothing but football, lived for a Saturday game on telly. Now there’s too many games on TV & you see the kids now in their teams at 9 years old, & its do this, do that with their parents on the touchlines screaming at them…” Gordon Strachen

“The young player should not be at all bothered with tactics, defending or positional elements. The focus should be on learning basic techniques. It should be ball, ball and more ball.” Zico

As youth soccer coaches, we think we know why our children want to play football (soccer).

We all try hard to make our training sessions and matches a fun experience for everyone concerned while the more enlightened coaches make sure that they offer all children the opportunity to play football, regardless of their ability.

At it’s best youth soccer really is the ‘beautiful game’: inclusive, democratic and inspiring.

But it’s not always like that. All too often the ‘beautiful game’ is tarnished by parents shouting at their kids from the touchline, clubs preoccupied with winning leagues and cups, ‘average’ players sitting out most of the season on the bench and young players being forced to play in fixed positions.

And so, sadly, many children give up playing soccer because ‘it’s no fun anymore’.

So what’s the answer?

Maybe we should play a different game altogether……futsal

Total soccer for children

When should coaches start assigning specific positions to young players?

By Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America Magazine, January 2008 issue)

We see it so often one wonders whether American youth coaches are getting their soccer advice from Garry Kasparov.

“Kids come up to the halfway line,” says Sam Snow, U.S. Youth Soccer’s Director of Coaching Education, “and actually balance themselves not to go past it, because they suddenly realize, ‘Oh my god, there’s the line that I’m not supposed to go past.’ Their arms are swinging, it’s almost like they’re on a balance beam or something.”

It’s a prime example of overcoaching – prevalent even though it’s generally agreed that pickup games or street soccer spawned the world’s greatest players.

And because it’s widely lamented that American children don’t play enough soccer in unsupervised games, where they’re allowed to experiment and enjoy the freedom of the sport, the sensible response is that organized soccer for young children replicate a pickup-game environment.

One of pickup soccer’s main characteristics is that players explore the field as they wish and decide on their own how to position themselves. I am constantly impressed with how even very young children begin to comprehend positioning without being instructed.

Snow recommends that coaches not worry much about talking to children about positions at the U-6 and U-8 levels.

“We’re saying, from U-10 on up, begin to tell them the names of the positions, show them where they are, but don’t screw them into the ground,” Snow says. “Don’t say, ‘You play here and you’re not allowed to go beyond a certain part of the field.'”

At the higher levels, teams interchange positions. Making players rely on instructions in their early years isn’t likely to prepare them to read the game on their own. Besides, the children’s instincts often make more sense than the sideline instructions. Manny Schellscheidt is the head of the U.S. Soccer Federation’s U-14 boys national development program and Seton Hall University coach. He sees older players he calls “position stuck.”

“When they don’t know exactly what to do,” Schellscheidt says, “they go to the spot they’re most familiar with regardless of what the game is asking for.”

The easy answer to the question of when to assign positions is to make it moot by using a small sided format, as recommended by U.S. Youth Soccer (U6: 3v3; U8: 4v4; U10: 6v6; U12: 8v8).

“The small-sided game environment for preteen players aids the players in learning concepts of play, for example positioning as opposed to positions,” says Snow.

Schellscheidt says, “It needs to be small enough so positions don’t matter. That’s the best solution. If coaches would have the patience to graduate their kids from really small numbers, one step at a time, that would be the most natural and the most potent education the players could possibly get.

“They would learn to deal with time and space, and how to move around and have some shape. The problem is we go to the bigger numbers too early.”

Even if the league doesn’t use a small-sided format for its games, Schellscheidt recommends that approach in practice. Above all, don’t scream orders from the sidelines and shackle players to areas of the field.

“It destroys the children’s natural instinct of being part of the game,” he says.

Bob Jenkins, U.S. Soccer’s Director of Coaching Education and Youth Development, says youth coaches are “skipping steps” when they try to organize and discipline young teams to play within a formation at a stage when they should be focused on the 2-on-1 situations.

Overemphasizing positions, Schellscheidt says, demonstrates the difference between team development and player development.

“There’s such a difference,” he says. “You can divvy up the field, make players rehearse what they’re supposed to do in their small areas, and as far as team development it works fine because they can find a quick way to get results. It’s a short cut to success, but the kids don’t become good players.”

U.S. Soccer’s “Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States” is pretty clear on the subject of allowing young players to make their own decisions on the field:
“A team of 9-year-olds who hold their positions and maintains a steady group of defenders who rarely, if ever venture into the attack, looks like a well-disciplined and well-organized team.”

But U.S. Soccer does not recommend this approach, clearly stating it isn’t how to develop good players:

“This approach hinders the player’s ability to experience and enjoy the natural spontaneity of the game. It does not allow players to have an equal opportunity to go and ‘find’ the game based on what they see from the game or to handle the ball and develop instincts for the game.

“These are skills that they will need at the older ages and that are often lacking in the older players.”

(This article originally appeared in the January 2008 issue of Soccer America magazine.)

Futsal coaching tips

If you coach futsal (and if you don’t, you should!) I’m sure you’ll find the the tips below very useful. I know I did!

Short rosters: Teams have short roster to have more playing time. This is not the spirit of Futsal. In Futsal coaches should replace players often to get the most of their energy and coach them while they are out.

Excessive kicking: Futsal is not a kicking sport. It is a moving and getting close to the goal.

Bad transition from attack to defence and vice-versa: When your team has possession all players attack. Immediately when the ball is lost all players defend. If you have to tie your shoes ask the coach to sub you.

Dead zone players: Players that don’t move get in a dead zone. If a coach perceives a player in a dead zone the coach should replace the player immediately and talk to him. Either the player is tired or don’t understand the game.

Giving up: Do not look at the score board, a goal can be scored in 2 seconds in Futsal. If you think that your game is lost because you are loosing by 5 or 6 goals you are mistaken.

Not using the goalie as a 5th player when available: Use the goalie when you can. The goalie becomes the fifth player and gives an edge. If the opposing player goes after the goalie the goalie passes to the open player. If the goalie can’t pass he can kick to get rid of the ball after 4 seconds of possession.

Over committing on the last minute. When players see the clock on the last minute they get desperately on the attack. The odds are that they will get scored against. This tactics of over committing should be used only when the game or tournament is completely lost.

Marking: Futsal is dynamic and so is marking players.. A front player walking back slowly should be replaced immediately.

Goalie bouncing the ball to players. Goalie should roll the ball as close to the floor as possible because it is easier for the player receiving the ball to control.

Slow ball reposition: The fastest the ball is played after a game stop the better is for your team.

Distracted players: Players should have the eye on the ball as close to 100% of the time as possible.

Controlling the ball with the side of the feet: in Futsal the ball is controlled with the bottom of the feet.

Players losing focus: There is no time in Futsal for getting upset. Getting upset with a play or the referee may cost your team dearly. If you don’t have the focus the odds are that your team will suffer.

Physical games: Futsal is skills; it is not a physical game. Instead of play physical players need to focus on the game.

Playing Futsal just to enhance skills: To benefit from Futsal you have to understand the spirit of the game.

Lack of movement: When attacking, players should be moving constantly. Rotation is highly desirable. When attacking, players need to be constantly looking for open space.

  • The kick start is a forward kick. Place the receiving player close enough so he can get the ball before the opponent.
  • Place the ball on the line and have your body outside of the field to restart a play after the ball goes out of the boundaries.
  • The goalie must use his hands for a goal clearance.
  • The opponent player should allow 5 yards in a kick in play.
  • When the goalie throws the ball it must hit his own court or a second player before it hits the opposing court.
  • There are no shoulder charges, slides or even play the ball when you are down allowed in Futsal.

The numbers game – building up from small sided games

How 1v1 leads to 4-3-3 and it’s role in player development

a youth soccer coaching article by Larry Paul of the Burke Athletic Club

Changing the number of players in a team can change the way the team plays. It can mean new responsibilities or opportunities for everyone. The structure, or form, that the game takes is called systems of play. Here, Eric Cantona argues, tongue in cheek, against these systems in favour of a high risk 1-1-8, takes you to YouTube. It’s the “Just let them play school” taken to extremes. While this is good theatre it’s not practical advice. After all, Eric couldn’t have played the role of the playmaker at Manchester United without those six or seven players behind him doing the dirty work. And he never could have learned all of his great attacking qualities by “Working harder, not smarter” as a youth. Someone else was moving the piano.

In youth soccer development the numbers 1v1 to 11v11 play an important role. They provide a clear starting and ending point for evaluations and learning, a simple path that provides both the tools to measure and assist in the process. This one element of the game, the number of players, provides you with a powerful way to help the players develop their TIC and to make a greater contribution to the game. In the end that’s all the players want; to have an impact and to play a role in the outcome.

1v1. The basic form of soccer. Each player is learning opposite lessons in the game. Without a basic grasp of this level what follows will be much more difficult.

2v2. Working with a teammate. Cooperating to achieve an objective.

3v3. If two’s company and three’s a crowd you had better sort it out here. Now the game revolves around a shape and a centre.

4v4 is special. It’s the smallest form of real soccer and the fastest way to develop an appreciation of all of the basic tasks and skills. Generally the four players assume a diamond shape, it’s the most efficient and effective way to cover the field and that creates the following learning opportunities.

The sweeper can learn to play as a centre-back. Their basic task when in possession will be to build up the attacks and support the midfielders. When the opponents have possession they’ll have to mark the striker 1v1.

The midfielders first defensive task is to neutralize their immediate opponent, again 1v1. In possession they also have to help in the build up and then support their own striker. Getting forward to score goals is a bonus, a supplementary task. They learn the roles and skills of the right and left midfielder through their position and responsibilities.

The top player can learn the role of the target player and/or striker. These jobs require different skill sets and will depend a lot on the qualities of the player themselves. They will also have to defend against the opponents sweeper, a la 1v1.

The beauty of 4v4 is that the players interchange positions as they see fit, as the situations dictate. They change within the flow of the game to meet the needs of the team. This flow cannot be effectively controlled by the coach, it’s up to the players to see and develop their “Feel” for when to go, when to stay and which job is most important. If a player is comfortable in a specific role they can develop a level of expertise in it. They adopt it as their own. In any case, over time players will have to use both feet in attack, defence, to dribble, pass, tackle and shoot in all of the areas, i.e., right, left, top and back, of the field. They have to fill all of the basic roles, i.e., ball winner, goal scorer and playmaker, of the real game. They have to deal with hundreds of 1v1’s, 2v1’s, 2v2’s, all of those smaller forms in the context a real game.

5v5 – Without goalkeepers. With the addition of an extra player one of the basic tasks from 4v4 will be duplicated. This affects the distances, angles, space and tasks of all of the players. On the smaller field it also encourages the use of two line play.

3-2, adding the 5th player up top. This creates a three player back line because the midfielders don’t have to go forward as much and have less space to do so. It changes them to a right and left fullback’s that work alongside the center back. When the opponents also play a 3-2 one of the back players will be free. If it’s one of the outside players they can practice playing as a wing back. If they are marking the opposition, the centre back is free and can play as a libero. Up top the second striker can play off of the first. One player can assume the role of target player while the other plays as the striker. The 3-2 alignment encourages building up from the back because the team’s balance favours it.

2-3, adding the 5th player to the back. Now the midfielders don’t need to come back as often so they play farther up. This works well when you are better then your opponent. If not, the two back players will be under constant pressure and will have a hard time building up the attack. When both teams play this way the game usually degenerates into two different 3v2’s, one in each half of the field. A team must make up in superior qualities what it lacks in numbers. Since the build up precedes the attacking phase if back players aren’t up to the task the game can get ugly fast.

1-3-1, adding the 5th player to the midfield. Only the best players and teams should try this. It demands a high level of technical and tactical qualities, especially from the central midfielder. Not only do they have to understand their own game but they need to know where everybody else is at all times. The central midfielder will need to fill in all of the other roles as players move and be comfortable in them all.

5v5 – With goalkeepers. This is basically the same as 4v4 on the field. The addition of a goalkeeper has little effect on the other four players roles.

6v6 usually means the introduction of a goalkeeper. The five players on the field follow the same outline as 5v5 above. 6v6 without a goalkeeper is not seen in competition. In training it’s a good way to present the basic tasks of 7v7 and to force an aggressive defense.

7v7 one of the standard small sided games. The examples below assume a goalkeeper;

3-3, the basis for three attackers in 11v11. This is the smallest form for developing wingers. Each flank player in the top line, each winger has an immediate opponent, i.e. they need to develop their 1v1 skills. They have a marked central striker, i.e. a target to play to and an opposing goalkeeper who cuts out the poorer crosses. The large goal offers the choice to cross or shoot. This is a good form for introducing 4-3-3 and 3-4-3.

4-2, the basics of the counter attacking game. You can use this form for teaching either, the four back players behind two central midfielders, or, the four midfielders behind the two central strikers in 11v11. The former encourages a counterattacking philosophy and develops a holding midfielder while the latter can help to develop the playmaker. He or she has three players behind them to defend and two players in front of to find. That means fewer defensive responsibilities and many opportunities to find a target or carry the ball forward. The communication and the separation of tasks between the two central back players is a key learning point. This is a good form for introducing the 4-4-2 forms.

2-3-1, this structure asks a lot of youth players. First, the lone striker will find themselves isolated quite a bit. The outside midfielders must be able to cover the entire length of the field, corner flag to corner flag. Because of this they will constantly find themselves chasing the ball, an opponent or both. Because of their defensive responsibilities they will be starting their attacks, and making crosses, from deep positions and this does not develop the wing play qualities of the 3-3. Because the lone striker won’t be able to pressurize the opponents back line effectively, one or more of the midfielders will often push up. However, if they are starting from positions too far back they get forward too late. The ball passes by them and the back two are exposed. Finally, unless one of the three midfielders drops back to play with the back two, the back two players will not have many chances to carry the ball forward or join in the attack. They have problems building up and resort to the long ball. Teams that use this form will need to rely on strong physical qualities as opposed to technical/tactical ones. This is a form for developing the 3-5-2 form.

3-2-1, the Christmas tree. With an emphasis on defence this takes the 2-3-1 to a new negative level. The difference between the two forms is that in the later there are two full time defenders and three part timers while the former is reversed. The change is in one players basic tasks. The problems are similar to the 2-3-1, an isolated striker and midfielders who have to cover a lot of ground. The advantage is the increased strength of the back line. The extra defensive player can help to reduce the midfielders need to come back. Two players can cover the back when the third joins in the attack. This is a good form for developing the 4-5-1 or 5-3-2.

8v8, the other standard small sided game. The biggest change between 7v7 and 8v8 is it’s easier to play three real lines in 8v8. When you use three players as the basis for a line there are only three players left. (Some coaches try to use a 2-2-2 but this does not adequately cover the field.) By using the basic forms from 7v7 some of the forms you can make are; 3-1-3, 3-2-2, 3-3-1, 4-2-1. All of these forms use three lines with a minimum back line of three players. The eighth player creates the need for an even greater separation of tasks, the extra line and that lengthens the team. A four player line might be overkill in protecting the width.

9v9 to 11v11. These are considered to be full sized games.

The bottom line on player development.

Player development should have a clear starting and end point. – It’s not a random set of technical skills without context. 1v1 to 11v11 contains all of the moments, tasks and TIC. You have to know where you are, where you’re going and how you are going to get there. This progression does that.

It should follow a simple and logical progression. – The different sizes of the game. Use uneven numbers to bridge the gaps.

It should take into account to individual differences. – The coach should look for, cater to and develop the players strengths first. Build on what they can do before obsessing on what they can’t. Also, avoid mass solutions. Not all of the players suffer from the same diseases.

The coach must balance between the present and potential qualities. – Use the different forms and roles to explore potential. Todays striker is tomorrows centre back.

Ultimately a players development is measured by their contribution to the game. They don’t get style points, they need to get the job done.

Their contribution to the game rests on their general and special qualities and how they are applied to the game. – Everybody is different. This is why Festival play is such an important part in development. Players learn about differences in themselves and others.

These qualities can be enhanced or hindered by the role they are assigned in the team. – With older players match the qualities to the role. There are only two reasons why players fail. They are at the wrong level or in the wrong position. In recreational soccer having players at the wrong level goes with the territory. Having them in the wrong position goes with the plan.