“I want to be the goalie!!”

So what is wrong with being goalkeeper? Why don’t children want to play in this position?

1. Fear of letting the team down

Attackers, midfielders and defenders can all get away with making the occasional mistake but if a goalkeeper drops the ball in front of an attacker, scuffs a goal kick or lets a shot go through their legs… well, you know what happens next. For a child, the fear of letting the team down is a powerful disincentive to volunteering to go in goal.

2. The power of the press.

We are all aware of Rob Green’s “amazing howler” at the 2010 World Cup finals and there are plenty of gleeful “Top Ten Goalkeeper Mistakes” videos on YouTube. It’s no wonder young players are put off going in goal when they read about and watch a famous goalkeeper’s career crumble in one second.

But how can we convince our players, (and their parents), that being a goalkeeper is really a honour, not a guarantee of lasting infamy or a quick way to become a scapegoat for the rest of the team?

Specialist coaching for special players

It is not surprising that young goalkeepers make mistakes – many youth football (soccer) coaches never give their players any goalkeeper training. Some coaches say that’s because they don’t have the time and some say they don’t know how. But we should all devote some time in coaching sessions to our goalkeepers.

Try this: ask your players if they would like to practise passing for 10 minutes or spend the same time practising making saves. You may be surprised to find that your players actually want to learn goalkeeping techniques. OK, that doesn’t mean they’ll want to use them in a match but it’s a start.
Dress them up, not down

Don’t make your goalkeeper wear old, dirty gloves and a top that’s seen better days. Buy and use a really top-notch kit. A bright top, warm trousers and some good-quality gloves will make whoever plays in goal feel good about themselves.

Whose job is it anyway?

Make sure your players know that goals are never “let in” by your goalkeeper – they are always “scored” by your opponents and it is the outfield players’ job to stop the opposition from reaching scoring positions. So if an opposition player is within range of your goal, shoots and scores, it is not the goalkeeper’s fault.

Recognise and reward

Make a fuss of your goalkeeper at half time and during post-match chats with your players. Ensure they receive at least their fair share of “Player of the Match” awards and that they (and the rest of your players) know the goalkeeper is a special player.

If you follow these tips you might not get trampled in the rush when you ask for volunteers to go between the sticks. But it will make the position of goalkeeper in your team a desirable one, not a position to be avoided at all costs.

Put the pressure on!

When you consider that lack of pressure on the player with the ball is one of the primary reasons that goals are scored, and that goals are plentiful in small sided games, taking a few minutes to understand pressurising is time well spent.


team pressureTo be effective the pressurising player should be on the goal-side of the player with the ball at a distance of not more than two yards, diagram on the right. The pressurising player should always remember that his job, wherever possible, is to keep the opposition playing in front of him and deny the opportunity for the opponent to pass the ball forward… Players who are pressurising opponents should adopt a position which will allow them to turn quickly. It is important that the defender should turn through 90, not 180 degrees.”

In order to achieve this the defender will need to position him/herself slightly off of the attackers direct line to goal and stand sideways on. That is, the feet should positioned so that they are not facing the ball directly, but rather the space that the defender wants the attacker to move into.

Stay sideways onIn the diagram on the left the blue defender is showing the attacker to his right side. This makes the play predictable for the defender. If the attacker tries to cut behind the defender, the defender only needs to step back or turn and show the attacker into a channel on the other side. This also allows the defender to poke tackle with the foot closest to the ball, turn and block tackle with the foot farthest from the ball and if the attacker pushes the ball past the defender and tries to run onto it, the defender can easily step in front of the attacker and win the ball. These 1v1 moments are very much a cat and mouse part of the game. The attacker will try to use the ball as bait, some type of move or simply run past the defender. It’s up to the defender to exercise control and restraint and wait for the correct moment and only then attempt to win the ball.

Don’t recover too deep

tactics“Before a player can challenge for the ball he must recover either level with the man with the ball or preferably on the goal-side of the man with the ball. It is, however a mistake to recover too far beyond the ball into a position where the ball can still be played forward.”

By taking the path in fig. 1, number 9 will recover to a position where the blue player won’t have any trouble passing the ball past him. Number 9 will have to turn and run back again. The path in fig. 2 puts number 9 closer to the blue player with the ball. Now, even if he can’t win the ball he has a good chance of keeping the play in front of him.

Recovery Lines

recovery lines“Should a player be in doubt concerning his best line of recovery he should follow the following guide. Players on a flank should follow a line towards the near post, players in central positions should follow a line towards the penalty spot. Once a players reaches a position on the goal-side of the ball the line of recovery and marking or supporting responsibilities should be reassessed. Defenders who are outnumbered should also retreat towards their goal.”

It’s also a problem in youth soccer that children don’t recover far or soon enough, especially on the flanks. Often outside defenders follow an attacker who has beaten them rather then recover towards the goal. This results in their staying behind the ball, close enough for a Kodak moment, but not close enough to be of any use. Young players on the opposite side of the field often fail to recognize that there is a problem. The distance across the field removes them from any responsibility, so, they don’t start running until the ball, opponent and their own goal comes into view. (This is a popular moment for coaches and parents to get involved in the game.) Recovery lines resemble a funnel. The team needs to regroup and concentrate in goal-side positions. Remember the words of Coach Kit Carson, “Head ’em off at the pass.”

Challenging For The Ball

1) Start fast, arrive slow. The defender must make up the distance between himself and the opponent while the ball is in flight. This is the time that the attacker doesn’t have control and the defender can move in for an interception or tackle. If intercepting the pass is not likely, the defender should slow down just before getting to the attacker.

2) Intercept. When a defender is marking a player that is waiting for a pass it’s best to intercept the ball. This way the attacker gets no touch. The defender will need anticipate the situation and move into the line of flight of the ball before the attacker does.

3) Tackle. If an interception isn’t possible then tackling is the next option. The defender should consider an immediate tackle if; he has a free supporting player in a good position; he arrives at the same time that the ball does; the pass is poor and gives the attacker problems; the attacker has poor control; the defender can totally dominate the attacker. These decisions must be made in a matter of seconds in a dynamic situation and the defender must be careful not to commit a foul. (5v2 is a good game to teach defenders how to pick the correct moment when to go into a tackle.)

4) Force the attacker inside or outside. There are times to force attackers into the centre of the field, i.e. the winger wants the full back to play the ball into the centre. And there are times to force the attackers down the line. In these situations it’s important that the individual decisions are in agreement with the overall team plan. This is the same thing as reducing the passing angles.

5) Prevent them from turning. If the attacker has controlled the ball and is facing his own goal then the defender needs to be close enough to prevent him from turning. An attacker facing his own goal is much less of a threat then one facing yours. Also, turning with a defender right behind you is a very difficult task. The ball is often put the ball up for grabs.

6) Stay on your feet. Going to ground is a last resort, desperate measures for desperate times.

7) Launch a counter attack. The moment of winning the ball can present a golden opportunity for a counter attack. The opponents can be spread out supporting the attack and several may have moved ahead of the ball. The defence maybe in no position to stop a quick strike.

8) If you can’t win the ball, control the situation. Finally, if the defender has done everything properly but cannot arrive in time to intercept and a clean tackle is not possible, then he should contain the attacker and show him into the least dangerous space.

Team Pressurising

There are two basic philosophies for team pressurising, high and low pressure. The first is found in the playmaking style and is marked by an aggressive, force the error approach. The second is more useful in counter attacking play where time favours the defence and mistakes by the attackers are are guided and encouraged.

Teams that allow themselves to get stretched from end to end or side to side will have a hard time pressuring their opponents. When the opponents regain possession teams need to get compact and establish their defensive shape. The following will help team pressurising:

1) Staying within the plan. One of the first things that a team needs to do is to before they take the field is to decide generally how they want to play. While this can become involved at the minimum teams should have an idea how they will defend as a team. How far up field will the team defend? What will everyone’s role be when the opponents regain possession? How will the lines react to each other and the individuals in the lines? Without a plan it’s every man for himself, a sure way to disunity and disaster.
2) By the back players pushing up. This includes the goal keeper. Teams at the higher levels now flood the midfield. Playing with a sweeper ten yards behind the backs is “so 70’s” and obsolete. Back defenders that fail to rapidly push up allow big gaps between themselves and the midfield.
3) By the top players dropping back. The days when the forwards were all glory and no work are long gone. The forwards represent the first line of defense as well as the last line of attack. Teams that play with three forwards can pressurize must deeper then a team that plays with two.
4) By shifting across the field. The entire team will need to shift across the field to counter the opponents threats. This helps to minimize the space between players in each line. It’s normal to find the right back in the centre of the field when the ball is on the left flank.

Teaching positions to young soccer players (U-9, U-10, U-11)

By: Chico Borja, NSCAA National Staff Coach

When is the right time to teach younger teams field positions?

You might say, aren’t we neutralizing a younger player when we ask them to stay in one position? I then could say, even at such a young age, aren’t we neglecting the creativity of a player and his or her ability to think on the field?

I believe there is a happy medium. Continue to teach the kids the basic skills like trapping and dribbling. Furthermore, spend as much time as needed showing them how a ball can go forward but how it can also go from side-to-side and sometimes backward. This is the perfect time to introduce the word “build” in your practices. To build means to create. Let me give you a little background!

During my professional playing days in Wichita, Kan., I was asked by a good friend of mine to attend a try-out for an under-8 boy’s soccer team. About 25 to 30 kids showed up, including my son Piri. There was only one coach “committed” to training these kids, so one of the parents suggested they find another coach and create two teams.

Every parent, without missing a beat, turned their heads toward me and waited for an acknowledgment. I was and still am very critical of my son, so reluctantly I agreed to coach my sons’ team. I was still a player mind you, so coaching was not necessarily something I thought was hard to do. Boy was I wrong. It has taken me the last few years as an NSCAA National Staff member to realize that.

Well, back to Wichita and the “Stars” soccer team. We started practicing trapping, dribbling and passing and yet for the most part, during our games, the kids never used those skills. During the games, the kids would just kick the ball and run after it. The kids played what we then called “bunch ball”. Two bunches of kids, one from each team, running after the ball as it ricochets from player to player. After a few minutes, one of the kids managed to kick the ball straight toward the other goal. Another player was fast enough to beat everybody else and managed to kick the ball hard enough to score. The goalkeeper, scared to move in either direction, was just standing on the goal line.

As a former player, I figured out quickly that I needed to put the fastest player as a forward and keep him there, and have a strong kicker as a defender and keep him there. My formation was a keeper, a defender, a “bunch” and a forward; my son. Hey, I was the coach and he was fast. Well, that formation lasted about a month. Without prior coaching knowledge about when to teach players the different positions, I took a chance. During one practice, I started to teach them one by one the different positions and what each one did on the field. I placed cones at each position and took the players on a walk-through from goalkeeper to center forward. Yes, the kids were all 8-years old but I got their attention. We played what I now know to be a form of “shadow play”. The players started on each cone and we went forward! The players had to be mindful to stay together on the left, center, and right sides of the field. They passed the ball forward from one position to the other until we found the forward player. We practiced this drill for about 20 minutes each practice.

After about a month, I introduced switching the field. Yes, switching the field! They would pass the ball forward until I yelled “it’s closed,” which meant there were imaginary players in front of them and that they needed to stop and pass the ball backward. The receiving player would then pass the ball across to a player: the stopper, sweeper or midfielder in the middle, and then to a player on the other side of the field. We worked on this drill for about 20 to 30 minutes each practice. Needless to say, after about two months of practicing shadow play, there was a huge difference in our team and the rest of the league. We went from bunch ball to switching the field and thus playing a more developed form of soccer. Those were the days of 11-on-11 games for the younger ages. Now, most of the youth leagues, depending on the group, play games with fewer players on the field.

I believe, contrary to popular belief, that you should spend some time teaching younger teams the different positions in soccer. By using small-sided drills and games, it develops the player faster. You start with a basic 4-player formation on a small practice field. The players can create triangles between the back player, the outside players and the forward player, thus creating better understanding of passing and supporting angles.

The “swarm”? A legitimate team shape?

How many times have you heard a coach or parent call out “John, remember your position!” or “John, you’re supposed to be playing fullback!” during a game? How many times have you done it yourself? I’ll plead guilty right away. Sometimes it seems like coaches (and some parents) are obsessed with getting the kids to play position. Is this ok or are we making unreasonable demands on the kids and as a result spoiling their enjoyment of the game? Remember, in AYSO, the game is for the players, not the coaches or parents. The short answer is that there is no short answer, but in this note I will try to cast some light on the matter, and perhaps help you see the issue of playing position from a different perspective, that of “team shape”.

First, the answer depends a great deal on the age of the kids. I would expect that by 12-14, most players understand why positional play is important and what the field positions are, but I would not expect everybody to succeed in translating that into actual game play until 14-16. In contrast, at age 5, I would expect no understanding and no interest at all in playing position. Obviously sometime between ages 5 and14, coaches are expected to teach positional play and (we hope) that the players will catch on. The key question is when and why? My belief, based on many years of coaching this age group, is that we generally try to do this too early, and that this is the root cause of a lot of the sideline shouting on the subject. Sadly it sometimes also leads coaches to teach bad habits that become a liability in later years.

Anyone who has watched 11-a-side (or even 7-a-side) at the 6-8 age is familiar with the “swarm” – everybody chasing the ball and nobody playing position. In contrast, you may also have seen players standing in fixed positions on the field, especially defenders standing on the edge of the penalty area. Which mode of play is more fun? Since the kids will chase the ball if given the chance I think the answer is the swarm. It is obvious which is better exercise. You might be surprised that I also believe that the swarm is better at developing soccer ability. But isn’t it important that the kids learn to play position? Certainly, but not until it is necessary, and definitely not at the expense of developing the basic instincts that a soccer player needs. If I had to pick the most important characteristic of a good soccer player, it would be “hustle” – the desire to win the ball, get open for passes and deny opponents space to play or receive the ball. These abilities can go a long way to make up for pure soccer skills. Every coach loves a player with hustle! Yet it’s hard to teach, especially if the formative years are spent standing around playing position!

Playing position only matters once the skill level and mental development of the kids has risen to the point where it makes sense to them and is also actually useful in the game. This happens rather later then most people think, not usually before the age of nine in average kids. Defensively, the need to play position arises once the opposition can kick the ball a long distance or can dribble or pass out of the swarm and break away. In either case it becomes more important for the defensive team to cover the strategic areas of the field. As defensive abilities improve, the offensive team has to pass the ball to find open space and try to isolate defenders one-on-one. This requires that the players spread out and stretch the defence. Once players mature enough to loft the ball thirty yards or more, as happens between age eleven and fourteen on average, good positional organization becomes very important, both offensively and defensively. But playing position away from the ball requires mental maturity, putting team before self, something that also only develops in the early teen years. Fortunately the game moves much faster at this level and frequent changes of direction and location of play occur, so that participation is ensured for everyone, even when playing position. This is simply not the case in the younger age groups and playing position often literally means no touches of the ball for long periods. This can’t be right for young players.

If you watch a top-level game, you will see that the players position themselves so that the team as a whole has a definite “shape”, with the players generally spaced evenly in that shape, so as to cover the whole territory. As the game develops, players are constantly adjusting their positions relative to one another and to the actual play. On defence the shape contracts in an attempt to deny space and put more players near the ball (a kind of swarm!). On offence the team shape expands to try to create space and break the shape of the defence. What you will hardly ever see is a player standing still. Players are constantly in motion, fine-tuning their position, covering for their teammates and compensating for changes in the opponents’ strategy. The offside law plays a key role in encouraging a compact shape on defence. By making it illegal to for an opponent to receive the ball in an offside position behind the defence, the law encourages defences to push towards their opponents’ goal and limit the space for their opponents to play in. This is another reason why teaching defending players to stand on their penalty area is wrong – it allows the opposition to freely use the space between the half-way line and the penalty area without the risk of being offside and develops a bad defensive habit that is hard to break later.

Team shape is what I concentrate on when introducing positional play. More than anything else, I want the players to “stay connected” as a unit and not break into separate groups. I want the whole team involved all of the time, so I am always encouraging my defence to move up the field to at least the half-way line when we are attacking. Sometimes my team will give up goals on breakaways that might have been prevented by having the defence on the penalty area. That’s a small price to pay for teaching the right long-term strategy and having all my team involved in the game.

Many of the difficulties of teaching positional play are made worse by playing too many players on a team, because this increases the “need” to assign them positions in an attempt to avert the swarm. The right answer is to adjust the number of players on the team to the development level of the players! AYSO National is committed to reducing team sizes in the younger age groups and we are in the forefront of this process in the Palo Alto region. In 1998 we introduced the 4-a-side program for the boys Under-7 age group and it has been very successful. It has many benefits, not least that teaching positional play is a non-problem by design. In the 2000 season, 4-a-side was extended to both the Under-8 and Under-7 divisions, and 7-a-side was introduced for the Under-10 and Under-9 divisions. In 2002, the Under-9 divisions switched to 5-a-side, as the jump to 7-a-side was too much for many players. The gradual increase from 4 to 5 to 7 players allows coaches to teach the beginnings of positional play, without becoming overwhelmed by the complexities of 11-a-side.

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!

In praise of futsal


My goal in writing this article is to share some of the benefits my team and others have gained by adding futsal to our regular winter soccer program.

Futsal has been such an effective development tool that we have replaced the conventional US walled indoor soccer game with it this winter. Our soccer week follows a pattern of one formal skill session on Tuesday using the futsal format, outdoor pick-up games on Saturday, and organized league play in futsal on Sunday. We are not using the walled indoor soccer game to train players at all this winter. The cost of court time and available space makes this prohibitive. I believe that when given a choice for player development, futsal does it better and more economically.

Futsal may be new to some coaches, so I’ll describe it briefly here. This is a court soccer game. Its origins are credited to Uruguay some 30 years ago. This game is common in certain areas of Brazil where the shortage of open space encourages short-sided court games and beach soccer. Because of it’s availability and small-sided format, Futsal has impacted on the early development of some of Brazil’s finest football (soccer) players. It is also played in parts of Europe, the Middle East, and Asia and is the indoor game favoured by FIFA and the English FA.

Quick definition: the name ‘Futsal’ simply combines the Spanish words for ‘Hall’ – Sala and ‘Football’ – Futbol into Futsal. It is a five-a-side game, played with hockey sized goals and a smaller ball with a reduced bounce.

Futsal is played with a goalkeeper and four field players. The character of this game is outdoor soccer played indoors. It is played in soccer’s fundamental shape, which the 4 vs. 4 format is so good at presenting. The futsal ball is smaller and heavier than the outdoor soccer ball and has dampened bounce. Players, U12 and under, play with a ball about the size of a No. 3 outdoor ball. U13 players and above, play with a ball approximating a No.4 outdoor ball. Since the court surface is usually fast and the space small, these modified balls scale the game to the size of the court remarkably well. The smaller circumference makes precision touch and the sweet spot on the ball more challenging to hit.

The rules of the game are similar to the outdoor game with some friendly modifications that fit the game to the smaller space. Throw-ins are replaced by kick-ins and the goal kick is replaced by a goal clearance. The goal clearance is a restart by the keeper using his hands to put the ball back in play with restrictions similar to those of the outdoor soccer goal kick.

Substitutions are made on the fly, including the keeper. Most importantly, the game is played with touchlines and goal lines, with all the consequences that go with them. Simply put, a bad play with the ball may result in the ball leaving the field of play with the resulting loss of possession being the consequence. This game also emphasizes skill and control. Rough play is discouraged. Shoulder charges and slide tackles are forbidden. Fouls are tracked and teams penalized for playing too roughly. As in basketball, a sanction is placed on a team after 5 fouls have been assessed in each half. In futsal, this sanction takes the form of a revised free kick process. Only the goalkeeper may defend the goal during the taking of the kick. The offending team loses the privilege of their wall and the ball is spotted on the second penalty spot 10 meters from the goal. As you can see, this is a strong deterrent to rough play. I have rarely seen a game get to this point with young players.


Futsal is great for young players.

It provides numerous ball touches in a short period of time and it presents many of the fundamental tactical patterns of the big soccer game. The game contains many of the challenges faced in the final third of the field and provides repeated opportunities to finish. As a requirement of all teaching, futsal provides repetition and recognizable consequence for poor execution. Conversely, it also reinforces good play with tangible results, mostly shots and goals. In most coach’s training sessions, the 4 vs. 4 format is often used. Its effectiveness in teaching players both skill and tactics is widely recognized. The 4 vs. 4 game can present all the primary combination plays. It emphasizes both offensive and defensive support, but most importantly – immediate transition.

Futsal can be a brutally honest game. It will isolate and expose your team’s deficiencies. It will also showcase your teams strengths. The game is fast and numerous finishing opportunities are offered when played well. Technical and tactical speeds are emphasized. A bad touch or a slow recovery will almost always result with a loss of possession. Quite frequently the lesson is driven home with a goal scored by the opposition. These lessons learned hard are not easily forgotten. The satisfying thing about this game is that these lessons are quickly learned and that players readily adjust themselves to the game’s demands. Coaching clinicians have often stressed that the game is the best teacher. By putting players in learning situations, the results of the decisions and their technical execution will educate them with a minimum of coaching involvement. In futsal, you can see this happen.

When teaching young players, I think some coaches struggle with getting effective player movement off the ball. Players tend to feel that their work is done after they deliver the ball to a teammate or when a shot is taken. In this game, supporting movements and management of space are keys to success. Slow transition and lazy supporting play will result in turnovers and goals to the opposition. This game requires strong play in these areas. If not shored up, the score can get ugly. Team success requires good spatial management, patience, and poise. Goalkeepers must be more than an obstacle standing in front of the goal, they must also play in the field and support the attack. A good futsal goalkeeper plays is a sweeper and a goalkeeper. Because of the speed of the game, communication and anticipation are necessary and are usually rewarded with ball possession and finishing opportunities. Finishing opportunities generate enthusiasm and reinforce quality decisions and execution. This is a position-less game (excluding the goalkeepers). Players must continually rotate between defensive positions in the back and attacking runs to the front. Players must organize themselves to maintain both defensive and attacking shape.

I think futsal’s advantage over 5 a side is that it naturally teaches good habits. My experience with 5 a side is that it doesn’t punish bad play or bad decisions. In some cases, a bad decision can turn into an assist with a lucky carom off the wall. Since the ball is kept in play by the boards, players don’t have a consequence for a misplayed ball or for bad tactics. A player in trouble can be redeemed with a kick off the wall that sometimes results in an accidental assist or an opportunity to maintain possession. I have watched my young player’s movement and work rate diminish steadily over a 9-week season in walled soccer. Sometimes the game declines into a long kick and chase game where possession and control lose importance. Futsal demands play to feet or to playable space. Players learn good possession habits, how to make space, and how to attack space.

Futsal’s most powerful selling point to players is that they get more playing time and shots on goal.

“In a 40 minute Futsal match, a field player on a team using a dynamic system of play…will touch the ball once every 29.5 seconds . . . that’s just over 80 possessions per player per match, if the player plays the entire match. This compares to only 30 to 40 possessions per player in a full 90 minute outdoor soccer match.”


Because of futsal’s smaller pitch, touches and shots per minute are also increased. Possession and shots in futsal are more frequent. This playing time differential sells the game to kids.

One of the powerful attributes of this game is its accessibility. Any basketball gym will work. Any open warehouse space will do. You can even play futsal on grass or concrete!

Bottom line? Futsal is a great training tool for developing soccer players. It is also a very fun and safe game to play and an excellent alternative to traditional 5 a side indoor soccer.

How to use small sided games (SSGs)

4v4 can be misused as a tool.

It is not just a matter of putting eight children on a small field and making some random comments. Even with a properly constructed game learning can be left to chance. The following are some ideas, which help to insure that proper learning takes place. In the end though it is the coaches knowledge of the game, the children, the learning process and his role in it that will make the most out of any practice.

Have a clear topic. A correct analysis of the soccer problem must be in mind. This brings into focus certain players at a specific moment in a clear-cut situation.

The starting point leads into the learning point. In small sided games there are numerous restarts. Most of them should lead back into the learning moment. For example, the soccer problem is the sweepers poor distribution out of the back. The rules of the game are that all throw-ins, kick-offs and corners for his team will restart with a goal kick. The sweeper may dribble or pass out the goal kick. This way the coaching moment will be repeated often giving him many chances to succeed or fail and to learn.

Stay on the topic. When things go wrong outside of the topic ignore it if possible. Fix what you came to fix, don’t get distracted.

Freeze the moment. When the problem occurs have the players freeze. Address it with questions. Was that a good pass? Why did you run there? What could you do better? Ask for solutions. Demonstrate. Begin again. You capture the moment and present them a snapshot. After all a picture is worth a thousand words.

Don’t over coach. Experience teaches the coach when to step in. Over coaching kills the game and ruins the fun. Avoid language that the children don’t understand or don’t need. Slogans and mottos work well. Over coaching hinders the development of concentration. Constant stoppages relieves the pressure that is necessary for developing the proper mentality.

Coach those that need coaching. Mass explanations generally waste time and fall on deaf ears. Addressing comments to the parties involved is much more effective and efficient. After all it’s their problem.

Don’t argue against success. If a team has just scored a goal don’t try to tell them how to do it better. In objective based training it’s the result that counts. Wait for the opportunity when the problem presents itself, then it is real.

Ask questions avoid statements. If I say it they tend to doubt it, if they say it, it’s true. Get them to tell you what is wrong and how to fix it. They can’t argue against themselves. Also, by asking them questions they have to think for the answer as opposed to waiting for it to be given to them. They are an active part of the problem solving.

Coach what is real. If the topic doesn’t present itself adjust the game. If it still doesn’t then drop the topic. Don’t coach a coach’s problem, it must be the players problem. Coach the children that are playing the game, not what is convenient at the moment. Coaching must be relevant to the picture and the problems.

Stand where you can see. If you’re interested in the sweeper, stand behind the goal. Try to see the picture from their perspective.

Bring the game to life. The colour of the coach. Enthusiasm, humour, emotion and timing all play a part in making the practice enjoyable.

Think of three stages. First, get the game going. Give just enough direction and instruction to start play. Boundaries, goals, any rules specific to the game. They can learn the game by playing the game. This introduction might take a whole practice.

Next, what are the big mistakes?

Do they understand the soccer problem?

If they don’t, provide clues to the answers.

Finally, by fine tuning you can introduce new demands that require new solutions.

Four main moments in soccer games

Current thinking in soccer divides games into four main moments; own team in possession, losing possession, opponents in possession and regaining possession.

This should not be confused with attack, defence and transition. It is larger than that. Thinking in the latter leads to isolated responsibilities and positions. Players become attackers or defenders in mind and action. This results in back players that do not support effectively when their midfield is in possession and top players that don’t contribute when the opponents have the ball. This limited view opens the way for a disconnect within the lines of the team.

From a practical point of view the majority of youth coaches will be concerned with own team in possession and opponents in possession while training. This results in most small sided games restarting with one team in possession and the other without. This offers a very clear picture for both teams and the coach to start from.

Thinking in terms of the main moments can help to bring structure for the player and the coach. For the player, they need to understand what their primary task is in each moment. Understanding their task leads to better positioning which helps technique. But possession in youth soccer changes rapidly, so rapidly that many young players cannot keep up with the game either physically or mentally. They either can’t get to the correct position or have no idea where it is. This creates a stressful situation for the player and is a major reason why team play breaks down.

Simplifying observations provides structure for the coach. So many things go wrong that a list of errors and mistakes would be endless. Too much information is as bad as not enough. When the focus is kept in one moment a clearer picture of a real problem will emerge. Since you cannot cover everything in a session, concentrate on the biggest problem you can find. This starts with defining which main moment contains the biggest problem.

After settling on the main moment comes the smaller moments. Example, own team in possession, our goalkeeper has the ball. Where should the outside backs be? How deep should the centre forward be? Or, the opponents have possession and their central midfielder has the ball. When does our central defender have to step up and assume responsibility? At what point can he stop conceding space and must commit to the ball? Seeing “moments” can aid in a better understanding of soccer situations and problems. A soccer game is an event, it is not a a thing. Events exist in time, things exist in space. Viewing soccer as a thing leaves out the very important temporal element. Opportunities and situations in soccer appear and vanish in a fraction of a second. Coaches need to consider this when reading the game and setting up their practices.