Coaching Tips for Youth Soccer
Tips on running a great practice
For the 5-7 year-old age group; practicing about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Each player should have a ball for every practice. A good equipment bag for the coach contains several disc cones, some regular cones, and colored practice vests (for dividing up the teams).
Focus on one main skill for each practice
When planning your practice, select one main topic to focus on for the day, such as dribbling, passing, or defending; all your drills should focus on this one skill. Start with the most basic drill and then advance to more complicated drills. By focusing on only one skill, you can teach the basics; you will see improvement in the players and a better understanding of what you are trying to teach for the day. That said, some skills (such as throw-ins) warrant less focus, unless you incorporate other skills into that practice such as trapping, getting open for the ball, and passing into space when the player receives the throw-in.
Allow for maximum touches on the ball
To increase ball foot-skills, it should be your goal to make sure that each player gets as many touches on the ball as possible. Minimize and limit the amount of time players stand in line waiting. If the drill requires a line and you have a large team, break it into smaller groups. Have an assistant or parent work with one group while you work with another.
Chapters are based on specific skills. As noted in the “Skills" section of each drill, in each chapter drills can focus on more than one skill. Sometimes you will be working on more than one skill (i.e., during a dribbling drill players may be acting as defenders while also challenging the dribbler). However, remember to focus on teaching only one skill for each practice and to give teaching tips only about that one skill.
Plan more than you have time for
When coaching a young team, with children who have a short attention span, you need a variety of options. You have to be prepared to change to a new drill when you can see the children have lost interest or when something simply isn’t working. With several drills on a list you can quickly refer to, you’ll have an essential ‘back up plan" for when you need to move on.
Limit the amount of time talking
Explain the drill by demonstrating. Don’t give too much instruction. Give the kids one thing at a time to focus on. If you give them more than this they won’t easily remember any of the things you said.
Limit the amount of time you scrimmage
During a scrimmage, one ball has to be shared by every player. During drills, each player can have maximum touches on the ball to work on his or her skills.
Fitness should be done with a ball
Practice time is short. To maximize your coaching time, do any fitness type of work with a ball and, better yet, make it a game. For example, when running a lap run while dribbling a ball, the coach also dribbles a ball at the end of the line at a slow consistent pace. If the coach isn’t the last one to complete the lap, everyone has to do another lap or sing a crazy song or something similar.
If something is difficult, encourage players to slow it down
When teaching a skill, there will be a speed that each player can manage when doing it correctly and a speed that exceeds difficult. For example when teaching dribbling, encourage the players to go as slow as necessary to do it correctly. Once they master the technique at a slow speed, encourage them to step it up and go faster the next time.
Use practice to break bad habits
Children often begin playing soccer at a very young age where kicking every ball with the toe is common. Most players will continue to kick with their toe, but you should still teach correct kicking techniques so they do not form bad habits that are difficult to break as they get older. Eventually they will start to ‘get it". Be patient. It can take several seasons of play before some succeed. But, taught correctly at an early age, they will eventually develop the skills. Don’t worry about them using these bad habits in the games, but, during practice, do work on breaking these habits.
Competition is good
In our culture where everyone is a “winner," young children sometimes do not do well in competitive games with a winner and loser; even so, you can incorporate an element of competition to make the drills more fun and make the players want to try harder. If the losing team has to sing a song or do the likes of a silly dance, it makes the game more enjoyable, as long as the coach approaches it in a spirit of fun. And the coach should make sure that the same players are not always the ones on the losing side.
If a drill is designed so that players get “out," make it so they can quickly get back in
Some games call for players to go out when their ball is kicked out or when they get scored on, but if the drill is designed so that the player can get back in by doing a quick exercise, he or she will be getting fit and be able to rejoin the game quickly.
Remember winning teams often have natural athletes - focus on skills, not winning
Young children develop at different speeds, and sometimes a child can be 11 months older than the youngest player on the team and have a huge advantage at these young ages. As a coach it can be discouraging to lose every game, but as the younger ones age, the teams with natural and more mature athletes are often the teams that are winning. During the games focus on using skills taught during the week and not so much on the number of goals scored; emphasize this as your focus for parents worried about their 5-year-old having a winning season. At 12-years old, the basics learned when young matters far more than how many points their team scored.
When learning soccer, young players especially need praise and encouragement. Find the small things each individual is doing well and point these small things out to foster a sense of accomplishment and pride. As an example of how to give praise while also adding feedback to help a player improve, say something like, “I like how you were _____, and if you add _____ you may find it becomes easier."
Teach a love for the game
One of your many jobs as coach is to teach soccer skills in a way that is fun and that fosters a love for the great game of soccer.