Decision making for very young soccer players

This practice session will help young soccer players to make their own decisions. It uses the well established and successful technique of guided discovery – a technique that should be understood and used by all youth soccer coaches.


The purpose of this training session is to encourage informed decision making by young players regarding where to pass the ball, receiving the ball, and moving off the ball.
Too many coaches of young children tell their players where to run, when to pass the ball, and where to pass the ball to. Making decisions for your players may result in short term wins for the team but it stifles player development. Players from a young age who are encouraged to make decisions for themselves, to experiment and not worry about the consequences will turn out to be more skilled and capable players in the long term .
Even 5 and 6 year olds can be taught simple ideas and encouraged to think about their options with regard to passing and moving without the ball.

The approach of using guided discovery is used during this practice session. It is a simple process – begin by asking questions and then encourage the players to work out the answers for themselves. This is a proven and more effective method of learning than simply telling children where and how to pass the ball.

A word of warning – guided discovery requires you to really know and understand what you want to get out of the training session. You need to think carefully about the type of questions you need to ask.

Warm-up: passing in pairs

Players get in pairs and pass and move within a designated area.

Begin with free-style passing then make it more directed by telling them to run around a cone that is on the outside of the grid after they pass and before they receive the ball back from their partner.

Key coaching points

  • Technique of passing ball
  • Eye Contact
  • Passing to correct foot
  • Passing to feet or space
  • Pace of pass

Some of the questions that can be asked during this activity (not drill) are:

If a player without the ball is running toward you, where you should pass the ball? Answer: To their feet. As the coach, you may have to give them the choice of saying either “feet or space”.

If a player without the football is running away from you, where you should pass the ball? Answer: To space. As the coach, you may have to give them the choice of saying either “feet or space”

How do I know my partner (teammate) is ready to receive a pass? Answer: Because they are looking at you. (Eye contact)

Even in the warm-up, you have asked them good questions, without you necessarily having to show or tell them. Ask them! You will be surprised at what they can tell you.

Then play a small sided game (scrimmage).

The point of this game is to get into a winning position and then keep the ball away from the opposition for a set period of time. It provides young players with many opportunities for making decisions relating to running into space or a supporting position.

When players are participating in this game, you will find many moments as a coach to ask them the following questions:

If a player with the ball has pressure, where do you run support or space? Answer: support

If a player with a ball doesn’t have pressure, where to you run support or space? Answer: space

You are planting a seed in their mind of where they run during a match. As a player, you can only run to either support or space. The amount of pressure that is on the ball determines where you run when you are close to the ball.

The entire training session then is continuing to ask them these questions, not demanding anything, but asking them constantly what are their thoughts?