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.

“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

Piaget for soccer coaches

Not all of Piaget’s stages are relevant to youth soccer coaches – unless you are into coaching six month old babies!

His theory of intellectual development, however, (when combined with what we know about how children develop physically), provides a very useful framework for all our children’s soccer practice sessions.

The article below takes Piaget’s theory and combines it with what we already know about how children develop physically.

It gives an indication of what most of your players will be able to do and how they might be thinking at a variety of different ages.

Ages 7 and 8

  • Begins to understand the concept of teams,
  • Can catch a gently thrown ball,
  • Can learn and understand the rules of soccer,
  • Thinks playing is the major thing,
  • Winning is not a major concern,
  • Is easily embarrassed by negative criticism,
  • Might get overloaded by parents and fans giving instructions so needs direct, unambiguous directions from one person only (you!!).

Ages 9 and 10

  • Has more mature motor skills — can throw, catch and kick a ball in a controlled manner,
  • Has a well-established team concept,
  • Is still easily embarrassed by negative criticism.

Ages 11 and 12

  • Can begin to understand soccer tactics,
  • Can throw and catch while being challenged by an opponent,
  • Can accept decisions of officials, even if they disagree,
  • Understands that practice improves skills.

Ages 13 and 14

  • Combines physical skills at a more competent level,
  • Has tendency to practice skills learned in practice on own,
  • Shows growing interest in keeping body fit,
  • Understands ethical and unethical behaviour,
  • Recognizes the long-term physiological and psychological benefits of physical activity,
  • Accepts instructions of coach (usually!),
  • Might become angry at a negative fan or parent yelling during games.

Putting theory into practice

So…if you know something about how children develop you won’t:

  • Expect six year olds to understand rules,
  • Be surprised when some children are embarrassed by negative criticism, no matter how constructive you think it is,
  • Waste your time trying to teach tactics to children under the age of eleven,
  • Expect younger children to practice skills on their own.

If you combine this knowledge of child development with what we’ve already learnt from psychological studies about why children play sport, all your sessions will have the following elements:

  • Gentle competition,
  • A focus on learning appropriate new skills,
  • Build on existing fitness levels,
  • More fun!

Soccer coaching and pre-school children – what to expect

What to expect from U-6s

Coaching pre-school, (i.e., under six), children is a lot of fun!

Their enthusiasm knows no bounds, they will turn up for practice in the most severe weather conditions imaginable and they smile all the time!!

Developmentally, however, they are very different from children who are just two or three years older.

For example:

  • Most of your players will cry immediately when they get hurt. Some cry even when they are not hurt,
  • No matter how loud you shout, or how much they “practice” it, they can not or will not pass the football,
  • Somebody will come off the field in need of a toilet. Somebody will stay on the field when they should be going to the toilet!
  • The only player to hold a position is the goalkeeper (if you play with one.) Don’t even consider teaching positional play,
  • Twenty seconds after the start of a game, every player will be within 5 yards of the ball.
  • Several players will slap at the ball with their hands, or pick it up. Several parents will yell at them not to do that.
  • A model rocket that is launched from a nearby field will get 99% of the player’s attention. By all means, stop whatever you are doing and watch for a couple of minutes.
  • During a season, you will end up tying at least 40 to 50 shoelaces
  • They will do something that is very funny. Make sure that you laugh.

How to coach pre-school children

It is important to understand at the outset that players coming to any sport prior to the age of 6 years old, in general, do not do so by their own choice. As a result, their coaches need to give them something about which to get excited. Further, at this age, learning to play soccer is secondary to most other things in their lives.

With the above assumptions, let’s look at some things that we can do to energise the U-6 players, and, hopefully, get them to the point where they will enthusiastically initiate the sign up for next year.

Each session should be geared around touching the ball as many times as possible. Basic movements such as running, skipping, hopping, etc. need to be emphasised. If these can be done while kicking, catching, rolling, or dribbling a ball… all the better.

Training should not last for more than one hour. This is primarily due to physical fatigue and attention span considerations. Train once or twice a week.

Have as many different kinds of activities ready as you can get into one hour. The emphasis must always be on FUN.

Encourage your children to bring their own size 3 or 4 ball.

Although your children may be very much the same age chronologically speaking, their physical and/or mental maturity may vary by as much as 36 months. You need to be aware of this and plan your activities accordingly.

Team play and passing is an alien concept to these players because they know that if they pass the ball, they may never get it back. In fact, they often will steal it from their own team-mates. So don’t be concerned if they won’t pass, just let them dribble to their heart’s content.

Plan for at least four 90 second drink breaks, especially in warmer weather. Their “cooling system” is not as efficient as in older players.

Sharks and minnows

sharks and minnows

sharks and minnows

Play in a large grid.

Half the players have balls and are the minnows. The rest don’t have a ball and are the sharks.

The Minnows start at one end of the grid. The Sharks stand on the opposite line.

The Minnows must try to cross the Shark’s line without losing possession of their ball.

The Sharks defend their line, trying to kick the Minnows’ balls out of the defined area.

Minnows who successfully dribble across the Shark’s line go back for round two.

Each Minnow who loses their ball join the Sharks. The last Minnow left in is the winner.

Bumper cars

Objective: This game improves dribbling skills, passing technique and encourages players to keep their heads up.

Age group: U5s to U9s (you also need a few willing adults)

Number of players: Whole team.

Set up: Create a 20×30 yard playing area with flat cones and a smaller rectangle just outside the playing area.

How to play: The players and the adults dribble a ball around the playing area. The children try to bump (pass) their “car” (the soccer ball) into an adult’s “car.”

If an adult’s car is “bumped,” the adult must take their car to the repair shop (an adjacent, small area designated by cones), and cannot leave until they count to 10.

Adults (coaches and parents) should encourage the children (“you can’t catch me” etc.) so that the kids try very hard to bump their car.

As many parents as possible can play – kids LOVE to send their parents to the repair shop. Older siblings also are great targets.

Beep, beep!

This simple little game is excellent for improving the co-ordination and balance of very young players. It also helps them get used to finding space and changing direction.

Number of players: Whole team.

Equipment required: Flat cones, a ball for every player.

Age group: U4s to U8s.

Set-up: Create a playing area big enough for all your players to move around in freely.

Give each player a flat cone to hold. They are told to pretend that they are cars and the cone is their steering wheel.

How to play: Begin the game by telling your players to move in different ways around the playing area – forwards, with little steps, big steps, hop, move sideways, go backwards, etc.

  • Encourage your players to keep their heads up and avoid crashing their car. Tell them to use their horn and go “beep, beep” if another “car” comes too close.
  • Progress the game by giving the players a ball each. Now they dribble their ball around in the grid, again trying to avoid “crashing” into another player.

Coaching points:

Encourage players to move around the grid with their heads up and look for spaces to move into.


  • How can you avoid crashing your car?
  • Should you look at the ball while you’re dribbling? Why not?

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