What are you trying to do?
It is comparatively easy to construct a team
of young soccer players who can win matches. All you have to do is
teach them the basics, ensure
they obey your instructions to the letter and (most importantly) don't let them think for
is better to:
your players to recognize and
solve the challenges of the game on their own and
be as concerned with developing
life skills as their footballing ability.
Following such a policy will, in the short
term, mean that you will lose matches that you could have won. However, in
the long term you will produce a set of clever, confident players who can
go out and win a game without being told what to do.
And more importantly, they will enjoy their
soccer regardless of the match result.
Do I need any special attributes to be a
good youth soccer coach?
Of vital importance is the coaches
personality and character. Working with children
requires patience, kindness
How should I go about it?
The most fundamental skill
in soccer is individual mastery of the football and the creativity that
comes with it. This should be a priority in training and
in the early years. As this skill is mastered, the rest of the game
becomes easy - both to teach and to learn.
Practices should be built
around facilitating the development of the skills necessary to move and
control the ball well. As these individual skills and the creativity to
make them come alive in the game are developed to a level of competence,
the finer points, first of
passing skill and later of
team organisation can be
taught. You need a plan.
1) Set up situations where
the players can learn by playing the game. Avoid the three Ls -
lines, laps and lectures - and remember that the game is the best teacher
for young players.
is key. Coaches can often be more helpful to a young player's development
by organizing less, saying less and allowing the players to do more. Set
up a game and let the kids play. Keep most of your comments for before and
after practice and during breaks. Comments should be kept short and
simple. Be comfortable organizing a session that looks like
street soccer. Communicate your
philosophy and expectations to parents and players at an early stage.
3) Teaching and learning the
game of soccer is a process: make your goals seasonal, as well as daily
and weekly. Often, at the younger ages, the developmental efforts of one
season are not noticeable in children until sometime in the next season.
age-appropriate goals i.e., know what the child is able to do at that
5) From a developmental
standpoint, the young ages are the best ones for learning skills. Spend
the time now encouraging this growth. By the age of 17 the capacity to
pick up new motor skills begins to wane, while the ability to
conceptualize team organization, tactics and strategy increases. As a
coach, work with these strengths, not against them.
6) Do not expect games and
practices to look like professional soccer. If you want to use high level
soccer as a teaching tool, focus on the
individual skill level of professional players, not their
organization. Give your players opportunities to see what older, more
skilled players, i.e. a high school, college player or an older brother or
sister, can do with the ball. On occasion, invite some of these players to
participate in your practice. Use them to model good soccer qualities. Let
your players learn by experiencing the game alongside or against these
better players. Older players can also be used as "neutral players." In
this case, the neutral player helps whichever team has the ball i.e. he or
she never defends. Maybe the neutral player has limited touches and/or
can't score, but he or she gives the team with the ball a better chance of
keeping the ball. By helping to maintain possession, the neutral player(s)
helps the game maintain some rhythm, and gives the kids a clearer picture
of the game's possibilities.
7) Recognize and understand
how the skills learned at each age are connected to preparing the player
to move into the next phase of
his or her
development. Know what the next level of play is, and the general
tools that your players should carry with them as they move on. Help them
to be prepared.
8) Allow your players to
develop these requisite skills in an environment where the main goal is to
have fun with the ball.
9) The value of matches is
that they provide youngsters with an opportunity to showcase their newly
acquired skill and creativity. It is always nice
to win, however that should not be your focus at the younger age
Have a clear
idea of what you want to accomplish at practice. Create
exercises/games that replicate and repeat the movements and situations
that are found in soccer and that allow the player to grow comfortable and
confident with the ball at his or her feet. Encourage players to move with
the ball at his his or her feet and deal with boundaries, opponents,
teammates and goals. Keep in mind that soccer is a pretty simple game. If
you're involved in soccer long enough, you begin to realize that all the
many little that work are really just variations on the same basic
concepts. As long as the parameters that you have established in your
exercises/small-sided games are true
to soccer (goals for scoring and defending), creates the problems that
you want the kids to solve (protecting the ball while dribbling, etc.),
and allows your players to be challenged and find some success, you're on
the right track.
11) Don't be afraid to
experiment to find what works best.
12) Remember that the game
is the best teacher for the players. Coaches and parents should think of
themselves more as facilitators, monitors, guides or even participants, to
provide a rich environment for the kids to learn from and enjoy. Your
coaching style is important.
with thanks to