Soccer players up to age of about eight or nine tend to be self-centered.
That’s not to say they’re selfish – they just lack the ability to see the pitch in 3D and find it hard to see spaces and team-mates to pass to, unless they’re virtually standing on their toes!
But as your youngsters get older they begin to see that there is more to a soccer pitch than the patch of grass they’re standing on.
That’s when you can start thinking about teaching some simple combination play.
At it’s most basic, combination play is simply passing the ball. So that’s where you should begin: practising passing between groups of players as they move up and down the pitch.
It’s easy to do. Split your squad into two groups of four or five (if you have more than ten players divide them into three groups and have one group play a game of keepaway while they’re waiting).
Then put a group of players at each end of a 30yd x 40yd grid.
Ask the groups to spread out so that they make a diamond shape. If you have four in a group it’s one back, two wide and one up front. If you are playing with five it’s one back, three in the middle (two wide and one in the middle) and one up front.
Ask your players why they should always try to keep this shape while they’re playing (clue: it gives them passing options and provides cover if one player loses the ball to the opposition).
One group has a ball.
Ask the group with the ball to move it quickly from one player to another and from one end of the playing area to the other while they maintain their positions and the diamond shape.
Then they leave the ball for the other group to do the same exercise.
Make it competitive by timing each group and give them objectives such as ‘every player must touch the ball twice before you get to the other end’ or ‘make two short passes followed by a long pass’ etc.
When they have mastered this, start each group off at the same time so that they play through each other. Again, make it competitive – who can get to the other end first – without making a mistake?