“World Cup”: Fun Youth Soccer Warmup Activity

Consistently set this game up as players arrive to practice and you will have players hurrying to your practices, rather than straggling in.

Consistently set this game up as players arrive to practice and you will have players hurrying to your practices, rather than straggling in.

Applicability: This is a great activity that you can set up while players are arriving to practice. Instead of players standing around, get them immediately involved in playing soccer!

Age groups: U8 and up. Possibly could try with U6 group. 

Area: In front of a big goal.

Activity: The coach (or someone you designate) goes in goal and it is “every player for herself” trying to score as many goals as possible. The coach has a supply of balls and serves a new ball in as soon as one goes out of play (or behind the goal). If the coach is the goalkeeper, then just keep the spare balls in the goal. As more people arrive. make teams of 2 or even 3. Give team names (e.g. England, USA, Brazil, etc.). Play first person or team to 3 goals and then mix up the teams and play again.  

Progressions: Put players on touch restrictions (e.g. no more than 3 touches before they have to pass it to a teammate or shoot), when playing in teams, make a “first time finish rule,” or mandate that all players on the team must touch it before a goal can be scored. Add a second ball. If you have access to a second goal, set up another “World Cup” (split by ability).

Coaching Points: 1v1 dribbling skills, shooting under pressure, awareness, speed of play, change of pace and direction, passing skills, combination plays, thinking ahead, communication, anticipation, and finishing skills.

Numbers considerations: This is a great game to play with any numbers up to about 12 players (in which case, I would go with teams of 3 and/or have 2 balls in play at a time).


Improve Your Players’ Dribbling Ability: The Gate Game

Gate Dribbling

Gate Dribbling is appropriate for all ages U8 and above. Keep each round short enough to allow players to go flat out (30-45 secs).

Age Group: Because there is an inherent element of competition in this activity, it is a great one to do with all ages U8 and above. Some U6 teams may be able to do this, but you will probably need to start without balls and make the gates bigger (and fewer).  

Area: 25 x 25 yards (W x L).

Activity: Set up a number of gates 2-yard-wide gates randomly arranged in your grid (the size and number of gates can vary depending on the number of players you have and their skill level. I would start with at least 3 more gates than players). Players score a point for each gate they dribble the ball through. Go for 30-45 seconds and have each player keep count of how many points (s)he scores. See how many they get and ask how the top player how (s)he got so many. Get him/her to do a quick demonstration. Repeat and see if players beat their original score. Repeat.

Progressions: Add a restriction; for example, players can only dribble with their left foot (or right foot), or can only go through a gate using a certain surface (e.g. toe, laces, sole, etc.). Reduce the number of gates. Make the gates smaller. Replace some of the gates with pinnies and say that players must go through a cone gate followed by a pinne gate. Introduce a pair of “bandits” whose job is to stop players from dribbling through the gates. Change the bandits.

Regressions: If your group of players is struggling with this game, then have them do it without the ball and get them in the habit of changing direction, keeping their head up, and being aware of space. After they have become comfortable with the structure of the game, you can give them a ball and you will likely find more success. 

Coaching points: Speed of play, weight and type of touch (heavy, soft, which surface of the foot is best suited for different situations?), thinking ahead, finding space, evading pressure, keeping head up whilst maintaining control of the ball, changing pace and direction.

Additional Notes: This is a good activity to repeat on different days, as you can have players remember their “best scores” and can compare progress over the course of the season.

Remember, what gets praised, gets repeated. Highlight and praise the players who are successful, and the rest will try to imitate them. When they do (or at least make a good attempt), praise them! 


Developmental Overview for Coaching U8 Soccer


Developmental Overview:

It is essential that you understand your players and meet them where they are, rather than imposing a certain standard or “style of play” on them…you are working with 6 and 7 year olds! The information below should help you to understand what is appropriate and can be achieved with this age group. Please note, that this is a guide and does not hold true for every player or every team; however, if you follow what is written, your practices will be much more fun and the players will learn!  

Psychomotor (physical)
Still in motion – they will likely be twitching, jerking, scratching and blinking most of the time. Do not be insulted by this behavior; they are not necessarily being “disrespectful.” It is second nature to them at this age, as they cannot sit or stand still for more than a few seconds. Improvement in pace and coordination from U6. For example. They can now learn to kick a ball on the run, jump, skip, hop, chase, and dodge (with varying degrees of success!); however, the immaturity and physical limitations of the U8 player will be obvious. For example, do not expect them to be able to juggle the ball, but this is a good age group to introduce modified juggling (more on this later). They still lack a sense of “pace” and will go “flat out” until they need to stop completely and rest.

Cognitive (learning)
Jean Piaget  was a psychologist and developmental theorist whose work centered on how children perceive the world differently than adults. Specifically, he detailed how a child’s development proceeds in determined stages which always follow the same sequence (play is a fundamental part of this process). In the U8 age group, children are now in Piaget’s concrete operational stage. This means that they will have limited ability to do more than one task at a time. For example, the simple task of “controlling the ball” demands most of their attention capacity, leaving little to no capacity for “tactical” decision making. They are only just starting to understand time and space relationships (it is not fair to expect them to play a ball into the space for someone to “run onto”). Kids at this age also believe that effort is synonymous with performance, i.e. if they tried hard, they performed well (this is not a bad thing).

Psychosocial (emotional)
At this age, kids are still very self-centered and cooperation will be difficult; nevertheless, they are starting to become inclined toward partner activities (but not really with groups of players). Self-concept and body image are beginning to develop and are extremely fragile. They do not understand sarcasm or “dry humor,” so coaches should avoid pointing out physical characteristics. They have a great need for approval from adults, so be positive at all times. They play on “Coach Ian’s team,” or on the “Sharks.” On the flip side, they are very easily bruised by any negative comments. There is a desire for social acceptance – they want everyone to like them. They like to play soccer because it is “fun.” Remember, soccer is a game, so most (if not all) of your activities should take the form of games!  

Age-appropriate technical aspects to focus on during the course of the season:

  • Still focus lots of time on dribbling technique and ball mastery.
  • Encourage shooting as much as possible (even if it’s not on the “big goal”) – accuracy and repetition in lots of different contexts is most important here.
  • They should be honing their ball control skills as much as possible.
  • Introduce players to passing and receiving.
  • 1v1 attacking (every single practice should have some kind of activity based on this)
  • Introduce them to shielding the ball with their body when they are dribbling away from pressure.
  • Introduce players to juggling – this is a good thing to work on before/after practice, whenever the return from water breaks, or when you need a couple of minutes to set up the next activity.
  • With all of the research that is coming out on concussions, do not spend time on headers (heading the ball) and do not berate a child at this age for not heading a ball during practice or a game.

Age-appropriate tactical aspects to focus on during the course of the season:

Beyond “spreading out on offense” and “helping out on defense,” do not worry about tactical concepts at this age level. You should not be expecting your players to understand and execute “team concepts,” and/or things that involve anything more complex than the player and the ball. Introducing more variables, such as passing to multiple teammates, combining with teammates, etc. will result in breakdown (and a very frustrated coach!).  

Sharks and Minnows: One of the Most Effective Soccer Activities of All Time!

Sharks and Minnows

The sharks are represented by the triangles. In this “picture,” two sharks are trying to trap one minnow.

Name of Activity: Sharks and Minnows

Area: 15 x 15 yards (W x L). The mistake that is often made here is that the field is made too small. Always err on the side of making the grid too big; you can always make it smaller if you need to.

Activity: The minnows each have a ball and their task is to stay inside the grid and not have the shark(s) kick their ball out. You can start as the shark. Once a minnow has his/her ball kicked out, (s)he must retrieve it and perform a certain number of toe taps (or tic tocs) before they can return to the grid (usually I say 10-25 toe taps, but you can change it based on the skill level of your group). The objective is for the shark to clear the grid of minnows. Once you (or someone you designate) have demonstrated the role of shark, the kids will all want their turn. Play the game as many times as is necessary to allow all kids their turn at being a shark (stop games that go on for longer than 45 seconds – or join in and help!). Give the shark a pinnie/bib!

Progressions: You can make the grid larger or smaller, based on what you are seeing. Also, you can add/take away the number of sharks. With older age groups, you can have the players perform a certain number of juggles with the ball before they are allowed back in the grid.

Coaching Points: Highlight change of pace, change of direction. Most kids this age won’t know how to go from slow to fast, but some might. All know how to get away from the shark! Ask if they should go to a small space or a big space, towards the tagger or away from the shark. Ask how they were able to stop the ball from going out of the grid (get them to show you). Also, find ways to praise the players who use their brain to accomplish the objective of not getting their ball kicked out; for example, they may shield the ball, they may be stood completely still, they may be moving slowly. In short, don’t tell them what to do or what not to do. Rather, lavish praise on those players that are being successful, ask them what they are doing to be successful, get them to show you, and then sit back and watch all the other players try to copy them!

Numbers Considerations: If you have more than 8 players, you will want to have 2 sharks. If you have more than 12 players, consider using 3 sharks. This a popular game for youth soccer players of all ages and abilities.


Easy Partner Passing Game for U8s and Up: Soccer Pong





Soccer Pong is a fun warm-up that encourages improved passing technique through light competition.

Soccer Pong Ladder

Area: Big open space

Activity: Two players play against each other and share a ball. Two cones are placed anywhere from 2-8 yards apart to make a gate. Players pass back and forth to each other through the gate. The only rules are that the ball must never stop, must always stay on the ground and must go through the gate without touching the cones. Whenever a rule is broken, the other person gets a point. Because of the rule that the ball must never stop, players have to play 1-2 touch and use both feet. The narrower the gate, the closer the pairs are probably going to be. The wider the gate, the more the players will have to move laterally and look more like the old arcade “pong” game.

Coaching points: Ball mastery, appropriate foot surface, weight of pass, movement of feet, thinking ahead (to get into position for the next pass).

Make it into a competition: Make a ladder of gates and play games of 30-45 seconds. The winner moves up the ladder, while the loser moves down the ladder. Break a tie with “rock-paper-scissor.” This is a great introduction to passing and can be used at the beginning of practice to great effect. By making it into a competition, you will drive the players to improve their technique and it’s a whole lot more fun than just standing and passing for no apparent reason!




Stand Still, Be Quiet, Wait Your Turn: My Mission to Get Rid of Lines in Youth Soccer!


Think about these questions and answer them honestly…

Do players spend the majority of your practices stood in lines waiting their turn?

Are you and your assistant spending too much time explaining things?

Are you constantly having to tell your players to stop fidgeting and pay attention?

Are you aware of the developmental differences between age groups and that what may be appropriate for U14 players, will probably not work for U8s?

Are your practices boring?

If you answered yes to one or more of the above, it is because you are falling into the trap of trying to “manage” your group, rather than allowing them to “play” the game.

My mission this year is to show how easy it is to be an effective soccer coach. Basically, it means that you need to approach your sessions from the perspective of the kids you are coaching. They want to play the game. They want to play games. They want to play. They want to have fun. They want to get touches on the ball.

Can you design every activity you do at practice to be a game? I challenge anyone out there to give me a soccer topic that can’t be turned into a competitive game. We must get rid of lines in youth soccer! They are a waste of time, both yours and the players. Also, other than for shaking hands at the conclusion of the match, when do you see players in lines on game day?


Coaching Kids aged 3-6: A Developmental Overview For Soccer


Overview of this age group:

For children aged 6 and under, they are more than likely playing soccer because a parent signed them up without their knowledge and/or because friends are playing. This doesn’t mean that your players won’t learn to love soccer; however, as the coach, you have a huge responsibility to keep them interested in a game that they may not have chosen for themselves. As such, it is important to understand some basic developmental information about your group. Please note that all kids develop at different rates and they will not develop evenly across all of the domains listed below. Practices should not last longer than 45 minutes and should include a technique-based warm-up, 2-4 activities, followed by a scrimmage. When you include water breaks every 5 or so minutes, the time goes by fast! Leave them wanting to play more soccer! There are no assigned positions in these age groups!

Developmental Information:

Psychomotor (physical)

At this age, kids are in the fundamental movement stage of life. Locomotive exercises, such as running and jumping are possible, as are stabilization exercises, such as hopping on one foot, balancing on tip toes, and stopping. Players will likely display high energy levels, but only for short periods of time – this means that activities shouldn’t last for more than 30-45 seconds, as they will give full effort and then stop. Water breaks every few minutes (e.g. 5 minutes between breaks) at this age are a must. Always allow players to get a drink of water if they ask. Keep water breaks short; for example, 60 seconds. You can also do a countdown to make sure the players are hustling to get back for the next activity.

Cognitive (learning)

Abstract concepts like “space,” “offside,” “pass and move,” etc., are completely foreign to these kids! They are in Piaget’s “preoperational” stage of cognitive development, which means that they explore and understand the world through direct sensory and motor contact. They will focus on themselves and on concrete objects; for example, I often hear, “that’s my ball.” At this age, players have no concern for team concepts, they will best learn experientially (by doing) and they need constant positive reinforcement and praise. Again, they have very short attention spans. If you talk for longer than 30 seconds, they lose focus. In fact, if you have to take longer than 30 seconds to explain something to them, what you are saying is likely too complex for them to recall and implement (working memory at this age is still at its infancy stage, too). As the coach, you should make your instructions as clear and concise as possible. A good rule of thumb is that for every activity you do, every player should have a ball and has the opportunity to be successful (see section on model activities for some examples).

Psychosocial (emotional)

At this age, kids are “ME” oriented. This means that they have difficulty understanding team concepts, they likely do not want to share their ball, and will want lots of attention from the coach (“Am I doing it right, coach?”, “Look at me, coach!”, “Watch this!”, and so on). Again, give as much positive reinforcement as possible. If they are struggling with something, help them out by modifying the activity for them and/or by going over and modeling what to do. Keep the kids moving and having fun! If they really enjoy a game; for example, “freeze tag,” allow every player the opportunity to be the “tagger.” This means that the activity will likely take longer (as you will need to give them a water break during the activity), but each player will get his/her “turn.” They may not understand complex concepts like “justice” or “equity,” but they know when the kid next to them got to do something they didn’t!

Age-appropriate technical aspects to focus on during the course of the season:

Coordination; for example, running without falling over, moving feet and arms together (marching in place), “toe taps” and “insides” with the ball. Lots of repetition and fun games are key here (e.g. freeze tag is always a favorite).

Balance; for example, standing on one leg, hopping. Competence comes with repetition and progress is not necessarily linear!

Dribbling technique; for example, utilizing both feet and as many different surfaces of the foot as possible (toe, laces, instep, side foot, outside of foot, sole, heel). Also, focus on players’ ability to keep the ball as close as possible without losing control of it and when it is appropriate to take big (heavy) touches versus little (soft) touches.

Ball mastery; for example, being able to manipulate the ball with all of the various surfaces mentioned above. Ball manipulation is fundamental, as it is the foundation for everything in soccer! The more comfortable they get in being able to manipulate the ball, the more confident they will get to do other things.

Stopping and turning; for example, utilize both feet and their various surfaces to stop the ball and move in a different direction with it.

With all of the research that is coming out on concussions, do not spend time on headers (heading the ball) and do not berate a child at this age for not heading a ball during practice or a game.

Age-appropriate tactical aspects to focus on during the course of the season:

Scoring in the correct goal!

Do not worry about tactical concepts at this age level.

You should not be expecting your players to understand and execute “team concepts,” and/or things that involve anything more complex than the player and the ball. Introducing more variables, such as passing to teammates, combining with teammates, etc. will result in breakdown (and a very frustrated coach!).