Coaching 4-10 year olds: An Overview from David Newberry, ELearning Coordinator, NSCAA

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Below is a nice overview of coaching 4-10 year olds. I particularly like how David Newberry discusses “developmental stages of development,” as opposed to age or grade levels. Also exciting is that this is the age group where the most gains can be made!

“This series is written for coaches working with players who

are between the ages of 4 and 10. It is however important

to consider development does not typically follow the

convenience of school years or age groups, but instead

player development occurs on a continuum where physical,

cognitive, emotional and psychological readiness is more

important than the chronological age of the child. Due to

significant differences in the development pace of young

players of the same age, I prefer to focus on developmental

stages than age of players when planning coach training.

The series provides director for Coaches, Directors

and Administrators with varying levels of knowledge,

experience and qualification who are responsible for

teaching and nurturing youth soccer players. In the series

the presenters detailed an approach to coaching – a

concept known as ‘Player Development’, which is an

education philosophy that has gained a great deal of

attention. Essentially, the critical years for shaping a child’s

successful participation in soccer are between the ages

of 4 and 10. The speed and capacity for pre‑adolescent

players to learn are high and the gains in performance

and understanding the most dramatic. It is essential that

children receive coaching that considers the developmental

stage of each child and that coaches focus on individuals

before the team. Players should be competent in:

• Basic soccer skills, such as dribbling, turning,

creating space and passing.

• Understand the essentials of attacking and

defending.

• Perform fundamental movement skills, such as

running, jogging, jumping, skipping, throwing and

catching.

Players must develop competency in these essential

elements before graduating to large-sided games (8v8+).

Elementary skills and techniques not only provide the

foundation for soccer, but also provide the basis for

participation in most other sports.”

Red Light, Green Light: Fun Soccer Activity for the Youngest Players

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Red Light, Green Light

Applicability: You can use this activity every single practice because it focuses on coordination, movement, and basic dribbling skills.

Area: 20 x 20 yards (W x L).

Activity: Each Player has a ball and finds a space inside the grid. When you shout “Green Light,” players begin to dribble around the area. When the coach shouts “Red Light,” players stop the ball, then keep this foot on the ball and put their arms out to the side for balance. Continue.

Guided Discovery Questions:

  • What part of your foot can you use to move the ball fast? Show me!
  • What part of your foot can you use in this game to stop the ball? Show me!
  • Should we always take big touches or little touches? Why?  (depends, but the rule of thumb is little touches to maintain better ball control)
  • How do you stay inside the grid?
  • How do you not run into other players?

Progressions:

  • “Yellow Light”: players do another command, be creative! For instance, players must put both knees on the ball
  • “Blue Light”: players pick the ball up, hold it on their heads and run around making as much noise as possible. Like a police siren!
  • “Monster Truck”: when the coach shouts, “Here comes the monster truck,” he/she tries to steal the players’ balls before they can safely get outside the grid (or designate a safety zone (e.g. behind the goal)

Guided Discovery Questions after you have added Progressions: 

  • How do you put both knees on the ball? Show me!
  • What is the fastest way to pick up the ball and put it on your head? Show me!
  • How can you escape the monster truck? Show me!

2v1+1 to Goal with Counterattack Gates

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2v1 to goal with the added complexity of another defender and counterattack gates.

2v1 to goal with the added complexity of another defender and counterattack gates.

In my last post, I discussed the importance of “numbers up” when teaching offensive concepts. This post continues that theme, but adds extra conditions that make the activity even more game-like.

Applicability: Playing numbers up on offense is a great teaching tool because it allows attacking players to experience lots of success. On the other hand, it is good for defenders, too, as they struggle to deal with a numbers down situation they are forced to figure out what works best, as well as the importance of pressure and angle of approach. Additionally, this is a shooting drill, but under game-like conditions. 2v1+1 increases the difficulty for the attacking team and encourages even faster speed of play to capitalize on the “numbers-up” situation.

Area: If you have a marked 18-yard box, use it; otherwise, put a cone 5 yards to the side of each post. After that, put a cone facing it approx. 18 yards away.

Activity: Divide the players into 2 even teams. Have the defenders line up behind the 2 cones level with the posts. Have the attackers line up in 2 lines on the edge of the box (far cones) facing them. The balls should be with the attackers. To begin, have one of the attackers dribble towards the goal and try to score. As soon as the attacker takes his/her first touch, one defender can come out to pressure her (but not before). If the attacker passes the ball to her partner, then the second defender can enter the play (from the other side) and they play 2v2. Players go to the other line once they have had their turn (e.g. attacker goes to the other attacker line and defender goes to other defender line). Give them a time limit (e.g. 75 seconds) to score as many goals as possible (keep count) and then have the two teams switch roles. Review guided discovery questions points, and repeat as necessary, then add progressions one by one.

Offensive Guided Discovery Questions:

  • Is it easier for you and your partner to beat the defender when you go slow or fast? (See what they say and ask why)
  • What is the best way to eliminate the defender from the drill? (See what they say and ask why – dribble straight at defender and then pass it before she she can recover/dribble past her or the second defender can impact the game)
  • If you pass the ball to your partner, what is the best type of pass and why?
  • When you receive the ball, where should you look to take your first touch? Why?
  • What types of shot can you employ to be successful in this drill?
  • How does shot selection pair with which foot you favor?
  • If you lose the ball, what should you immediately do? Why?

Defensive Guided Discovery Questions:

  • Do you want to pressure the attacker quickly or slowly? Why?
  • Do you want to defend high up the field, or near your own goal? Why?
  • Why is it smart to show the attacker away from her partner? Why?
  • What is a good way to tackle the attacker without over-committing and getting beat? (Poke tackle)
  • What can and should the goalkeeper be communicating during this activity? Why? Give some examples
  • How does the game change when the attacker makes a pass? What are the challenges in this situation? What are the opportunities?

Progressions:

  • Move the balls to the other side (move defenders over, too)
  • Move the starting positions of the defenders/attackers (e.g. more centrally/more to the side, start the attackers closer/further away).
  • Have the coach play the ball to the attacker.
  • Add counterattack gates for the defenders to score through.
  • Allow both defenders to enter the game on the attacker’s first touch (which makes it a traditional 2v2 activity)

Guided Discovery Questions after you have added Progressions:

  • How has moving the balls to the other side changed this game? What are the challenges? What are the opportunities?
  • How has changing the starting position of the defenders/attackers changed this game? What are the challenges? What are the opportunities?
  • What has changed now that the coach is playing the ball in? What do you now have to ensure with your first touch? What are the challenges? What are the opportunities?
  • Now that counterattack gates have been added, how has the game changed? (e.g. if the goalkeeper catches a ball, she can roll it out to her defender or thrown/kick it directly through a gate) What are the challenges? What are the opportunities?
  • How has the game changed now that it is a 2v2 situation? What are the challenges? What are the opportunities?

Numbers Considerations: Again, this activity can easily accommodate 20 players; however, if you have access to another big goal, I would make two fields, as this will increase the number of repetitions/opportunities players have to participate.

Additional Notes: This activity can be used on its own and/or as a progression to 3v2, 3v3, or one of the “continuous” games. It is an important activity because it not only gives your players shooting practice, but it teaches the benefits of the overload in soccer.

2v1 to Goal: The Importance of “Numbers-up” for Teaching and Success in Youth Soccer

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2v1 to Goal

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Applicability: Playing numbers up on offense is a great teaching tool because it allows attacking players to experience lots of success. On the other hand, it is good for defenders, too, as they struggle to deal with a numbers down situation they are forced to figure out what works best, as well as the importance of pressure and angle of approach. Additionally, this is a shooting drill, but under game-like conditions.

Area: If you have a marked 18-yard box, use it; otherwise, put a cone 5 yards to the side of each post. After that, put a cone facing it 18 yards away (see diagram).

Activity: Divide the players into 2 even teams. Have the defenders line up behind the 2 cones level with the posts. Have the attackers line up in 2 lines on the edge of the box (far cones) facing them. The balls should be with the attackers. To begin, have one of the attackers dribble towards the goal and try to score. As soon as the attacker takes his/her first touch, the defender can come out to pressure him/her (but not before). Players go to the other line once they have had their turn (e.g. attacker goes to the other attacker line). Give them a time limit (e.g. 75 seconds) to score as many goals as possible and then have the two teams switch roles. Review guided discovery questions points, and repeat as necessary, then add progressions one by one.

Offensive Guided Discovery Questions: 

  • Is it easier for you and your partner to beat the defender when you go slow or fast? (See what they say and ask why)
  • What is the best way to eliminate the defender from the drill? (See what they say and ask why – dribble straight at defender and then pass it before she she can recover/dribble past her)
  • If you pass the ball to your partner, what is the best type of pass and why?
  • When you receive the ball, where should you look to take your first touch? Why?
  • What types of shot can you employ to be successful in this drill?
  • How does shot selection pair with which foot you favor?
  • If you lose the ball, what should you immediately do? Why?

Defensive Guided Discovery Questions:

  • Do you want to pressure the attacker quickly or slowly? Why?
  • Do you want to defend high up the field, or near your own goal? Why?
  • Why is it smart to show the attacker away from her partner? Why?
  • What is a good way to tackle the attacker without over-committing and getting beat? (Poke tackle)
  • What can and should the goalkeeper be communicating during this activity? Why? Give some examples

Progressions:

  • Move the balls to the other side (move defenders over, too)
  • Move the starting positions of the defenders/attackers (e.g. more centrally/more to the side, start the attackers closer/further away).
  • Have the coach play the ball to the attacker.
  • Add counterattack gates for the defenders to score through.
  • Keep score and make it a competition!

Guided Discovery Questions after you have added Progressions:

  • How has moving the balls to the other side changed this game? What are the challenges? What are the opportunities?
  • How has changing the starting position of the defenders/attackers changed this game? What are the challenges? What are the opportunities?
  • What has changed now that the coach is playing the ball in? What do you now have to ensure with your first touch? What are the challenges? What are the opportunities?
  • Now that counterattack gates have been added, how has the game changed? (e.g. if the goalkeeper catches a ball, she can roll it out to her defender or thrown/kick it directly through a gate) What are the challenges? What are the opportunities?

Numbers Considerations: Again, this activity can easily accommodate 20 players; however, if you have access to another big goal, I would make two fields, as this will increase the number of repetitions/opportunities players have to participate.

Additional Notes: This activity can be used on its own and/or as a progression to 2v2, 3v2, 3v3, or one of the “continuous” games. It is an important activity because it not only gives your players shooting practice, but it teaches the benefits of the overload in soccer. Once you have exposed your players to this concept–that it’s far easier to create scoring opportunities when you are numbers up in the attack–you will be able to introduce it in other situations and your team will see the benefits of supporting the attack.

Target Ball!

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Target BallApplicability: I have used this as a fun warm-up game, as well as a stand-alone activity in the middle of a practice. It is effective because there are multiple targets, it gets everyone moving, and it is game-like!  

Ages: U12 and up.

Area: 40 x 50 yards (W x L) – make as big as possible!

Activity: Put a cone in each corner of the field, then 2 or 3 others (equally distributed) along each end line (see diagram). Balance a ball on top of each cone on the end line.  Divide players into 2 teams. The objective is to successfully knock a ball off the cone (with the game ball). Team A defends their side and attempts to score on the other end (vice versa for Team B). If a player shoots and misses, (s)he must run to retrieve the ball, while the defending team can take the ball off the cone that the attacker missed (meaning that they will be temporarily “numbers up”). Play first team to 3 goals, then review the guided discovery questions and move through progressions.

Regressions: If defenders are just standing by cones, say that 5 consecutive passes equals a goal. This should entice the defending team to come out and play.

Guided Discovery Questions for the Attacking Team:

  • Do you want to make the field bigger or smaller when you have the ball? How can you do this? Why should you do this?
  • What is the first question you should ask yourself when you have the ball? (Can I pass knock a ball off?!)
  • Given that you have multiple goals in which to score, what are the opportunities and implications for attacking? For team shape?
  • Because you are aiming to serve a penetrating pass to a specific end zone, what implications does this have for your team shape?
  • If you miss the target, what should you immediately do? Why?
  • What types of communications will be most effective in this game? When and Why?

Guided Discovery Questions for the Defending Team:

  • Do you want to make the field bigger or smaller when the other team has the ball? How can you do this? Why should you do this?
  • What type of team shape should you have in this activity? Why?
  • How does pressure, cover, and balance come into play here because of the five target goals?
  • How important is good communication in this activity? What types of examples are there?
  • Is it possible to transition immediately from defense to offense in this activity? How so?

Progressions:

  • Add a neutral(s), so that the attacking team is always at an advantage
  • Put all players on a touch restriction (e.g. 3 touch max)
  • Add a halfway line and mandate that to score, all of the attacking team’s players must be in the attacking half
  • Mandate a certain number of passes (e.g. 5 before a team can attempt to score)
  • Play transition (whereby once a team scores at one end, they then go and try and score at the other end).
  • Finally, mandate that “goals” must be first time (e.g. players must knock the ball off the cone with their first touch!)

Guided Discovery Questions after you have added the Progressions:

  • How does the addition of a neutral(s) change the game? Why? What are the challenges? What are the opportunities?
  • How do the touch limitations for the players change the game? Does this it make it easier or more difficult to score? Why?
  • How is the game changed by the rule mandating all attacking players must be over the halfway line to score? Why? What are the challenges? What are the opportunities?
  • How does the addition of “transition” change this game? What are the challenges? What are the opportunities?
  • How does mandating a certain number of passes before you can score change the game? Does it make it easier or harder to score? Why? What can you do to counter this?
  • How does the “first time finish” rule change the game? What are the challenges? What are the opportunities?

Additional Notes: There are a number of progressions you can run through that legitimately make this activity significantly different each time, so you can easily spend 30-40 minutes on it (including water breaks) and keep the players engaged.

Numbers considerations: Depending on your numbers (e.g. if you have 16 or more), you may want to go for two smaller fields in order to maximize players’ touches on the ball and exposure to learning situations. It is best to experiment and see what works best for your group.

Changing the Game in Youth Sports

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Check out the following TED talk on youth sports participation:

Some takeaways from the speaker, John O’Sullivan (former professional soccer player and D1 college coach):

  • The single greatest effect on performance is an athlete’s state of mind
  • Youth sports used to be about children competing against other children; now it is often adults competing against other adults through their children
  • Children play sports because it is fun; winning comes in way down the list
  • Children quit sports when they don’t get to play, and when winning becomes more important than enjoyment
  • 90% of children would rather play on a losing team than sit the bench on a winning team
  • Competition is important, but being competitive comes from putting the needs and priorities of our children first
  • We can all start changing youth sports for the better by learning five simple words (watch to learn what they are)

1v1 Soccer Ladder: The Heart of the Game

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Applicability: 1v1 defending and attacking is at the very heart of soccer. The more comfortable players are in these situations, the more they will be likely to do them on match day.

Area: Make a number of 7×10 yard (WxL) “tunnels” (can be smaller or bigger depending on how many players you have and their ability levels).

Activity: For each tunnel, one person starts as the attacker (can do rock-paper-scissors to see who goes first). The aim for the attacker is to dribble the ball past the defender and stop the ball on the far line. The defender becomes active when the attacker touches the ball forward.  If the defender tackles the forward, she becomes the attacker and tries to “score” at the opposite end. If the ball goes out of bounds, whomever the ball touches last, the other player restarts with the ball. Go for 60-90 seconds, review coaching points, and then have the loser move down the ladder, the winner move up. This is a good activity to see who the best dribblers/defenders are.

Offensive Guided Discovery Questions:

  • Is it easier to beat the defender when you go slow or fast? (See what they say and ask why)
  • Is it easier or harder to beat the defender when you change pace and direction?
  • What else can you do in this drill to be successful?

Defensive Guided Discovery Questions:

  • Do you want to pressure the attacker quickly or slowly? Why?
  • Do you want to defend high up the field, or near your own end zone? Why?
  • Why is it smart to show the attacker to her weak side? How can you do this? Show me
  • Is it a good idea to slow the attacker down? Why?
  • What is a good way to tackle the attacker without over-committing and getting beat? (Poke tackle)

Progressions:

  • Change where the defenders and attackers start from on their line (e.g. defenders on the left, forwards central, diagonally across, etc.).
  • Add gate goals (a couple of yards wide) in each corner (both ends) – have players dribble through/pass through to score.
  • Replace the corner gates with a central goal (4 yards) at each end.

Guided Discovery Questions after you have added Progressions:

  • How has the different starting position changed this game? Who does it favor? Why? What are the challenges with this new starting position? What are the opportunities?
  • Does having gate goals make it easier or harder to score in this game? Why?
  • Does having one central goal favor the attacker or the defender? Why?

Additional Notes: This activity should become a staple in your coaching repertoire because it offers the basic principles of attack: penetration, change of speed/direction, as well as the basic principles of defense: pressure, move feet, patience/delay, with emphasis on poke tackles. The more comfortable your players are in 1v1 situations, the better soccer players they will become.