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.


7 thoughts on “Sharks and Minnows: One of the Most Effective Soccer Activities of All Time!

  1. Brad Thibodeaux

    I tried this game with my U-5 team and it ended with almost everyone crying. Just a warning to younger team coaches.

    • Thanks for the feedback, Brad. I’ve used it many times with the younger age groups and not had this happen, although every group is different. Perhaps they are just not ready to have “their ball” kicked away yet? Has anyone else experienced this with a younger age group? Please post your experience here.

  2. Brad Thibodeaux

    Yes they did not like having their ball kicked away. They are fine when we scrimmage at the end of practice and are pretty aggressive but they did not grasp the concept of having their ball kicked away during the game. I ended it quickly and moved on to something else.

  3. Good stuff, Brad. Maybe you will be able to reintroduce the game later in the season. In the meantime, have you tried the “Busy Bees” game or the “Follow my Leader” one with your players? These may be more appropriate for them at this point in time, as they don’t involve someone taking their ball?

  4. medrano111

    I tried this game for my U5 group and it was a mixed bag. Some kids lost interest when they lost their ball. In any case, when I have introduced a new game, I give out stickers for everyone’s effort. Kids try harder for concrete rewards like stickers. I think it kept disappointment to a minimum.

    • Thanks for the feedback. I have also found at the youngest ages the kids don’t always get the concept of a “grid.” Maybe this game is best suited for U6 and up? I would be interested to hear other coaches’ experience with this game at the u4-u6 level, too.

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