The biggest challenge that is faced by a coach is consistently providing an engaging and fun environment for their players. In providing a quality training session soccer coaches assist players to unconsciously improving an array of skills, such as motor, technical, and social, in each training session.
For starters, it is rule of thumb to depart from using “The Three L’s”, which is Laps, Lines, and Lectures. This is old school and it isn’t very effective any more.
Laps do not fulfill a purpose in the drills since young players are naturally fit. Long lines are non-engaging and don’t simulate very well the amount of touches and game play that a player will have. If a lecture is too lengthy for even top pros like myself to be engaged, when you apply this to a developing child there is simply no chance to the child to focus their attention on what you are saying for an extended period of time.
However, with the three L’s in mind, it is the responsibility of the coach to organize a clear, concise game plan that will facilitate growth for each player in all relevant aspects of the game.
I’ve played and coached soccer in the U.S. and Europe for years now.
In England, a typical professional academy will train their youth players from age 9-13 for an hour and thirty minutes. There must be an easily understood focus on each practice. When the player is on his car ride home with his parents and they ask the all to familiar question, “what did you learn today in practice?” The player should be able to answer the question without hesitation, “spacing.” So choose your words wisely so that the player can interpret them and KEEP IT SIMPLE.
Although you have organized a topic on how to coach youth soccer practice, the practice must always be divided into three sections.
- The warmup,
- The main focus,
- The scrimmage.
A warm up has the potential to take care of multiple aspects of the game. What I mean by that is a coach is able to intertwine the warm up and stretching with technical work.
A simple warmup drill that can be used is by having a start cone, and end cone 16 yards away. Set a cone diagonally every 4 yards until you reach the end cone. With the lines from 2-4 people you can now modify the drill to work on specific aspects. (Example. Each team has 2 minutes, using only your left foot for each player to go around the cones twice) Young players love time challenges and it keeps them engaged. Set aside a few minutes in between each relay for stretching. Total time should be about 20-25 minutes. Technique is one of the most important characteristics of a soccer player and there should always be a part specifically dedicated to it in every session.
Now it is time to work your magic and put your game knowledge into your players mind. We discovered the topic of spacing and now it’s time for the players to learn it. It is all about taking baby steps, and not giving the players more then what they can handle. Every team is different so be patient since it may take a week or two to grasp a single concept.
In the main part of the practice the team will be performing modified “possession,” which is essentially keep away inside a grid. The 16 players will be separated into 2 separate grids(12 x 12) with 4 vs 4 in each. *The modification is that they will only be able to use their hands, and are allowed 3 steps. Once it becomes congested, which it will, you will provide your feedback. (Coaches point: everyone needs to be at least two arm lengths away from there teammates at all times.) The competition within the game is the first team to successfully complete 5 passes. The ball cannot drop, and it is a turnover if you are caught within arms distance of a teammate. This drill is strictly to get there minds working about the concept of spacing.
As the midway stage of the practice approaches, it is time for the players to grasp the concept with a ball at their feet. The area will be enlarged to 25×25 and although we are allowing pressure, it will be minimal. It will be 12 vs. 4 using the teams that were already assigned from the previous drill. This allows the players a little more time to think on the ball, as well as find open space. Give players feedback that they can easily remember and interpret themselves. (Coaches point: You are all clumped together like a bunch of grapes!) After the drill finished and the teams have switched roles it is time to put the material to action.
The scrimmage should always be performed at the end of a practice because it allows the players to show what they learned, as well as grow as players. Leave 20 minutes for the scrimmage and try not to stop it too often. Experienced coaches can always identify new problems by the second, and although it is your best intention to provide a new point, stay on topic with the main focus. Ultimately you are trying to win the interest and attention of the players so continue to praise good work and provide a fun environment to grow within.
This is an example of an excellent structure for a soccer practice for kids in the 9-13 range. You know you’ve done your job well when they can clearly talk about the one concept you’ve taught them at this practice.