Whether you are coaching U4 or U19, every practice needs to end with a scrimmage. I have found the best percentage of a practice devoted to a scrimmage is around 25-33% of the total practice time. That’s right, at the very least, you should let the kids play for a quarter to a third of your entire practice!
Ok, so, you let you kids scrimmage, but you notice a couple of defenders tend to hang out with the goalkeeper and don’t really do much of anything. I often see this on game day, too. First of all, when the play is down the other end of the field, the defense should be pushed up to the half-way line. Yes, the half-way line! Otherwise, you are attacking with 2 or even 3 less players. Are we trying to score goals, or go for a boring 0-0 game?
You might say, “well, I don’t want my defenders to go up because they will get beat over the top.” Yes, you are correct, because if your defenders stay back in games, they more than likely do in your scrimmage games, too. Thus, they never get practice in anticipating when to step up and when to drop back. Because they never get put in situations where they have to make these decisions, they are not able to do so in games, so the safe course of action is to tell them to stay back…and so we have a self-fulfilling prophecy that leads to boring soccer and players that don’t think for themselves.
You must be bold!
Here is the answer!
Add a half-way line in your scrimmage games. That’s it!
Ok, that’s almost it. Tell your players, that in order to score a goal, the entire team must be over the half-way line for the goal to count. You should take up your coaching position off to the side by the half-way line (so you can fairly judge if players are over or not), and watch the magic happen.
The first time a team “scores,” but their goal doesn’t count because a player didn’t make it over the half-way line in time will change everything. Try and see.
The benefits of playing this way are:
- All of your team’s players will be engaged all of the time
- Players will start communicating with each other, telling each other to “get up,” or “step” (the coach doesn’t even have to say anything!)
- The defenders will be forced to make decisions about when to step up the field and when to drop off…they are forced to think!
- Your teams will quickly discover that it is beneficial to “press” even when they lose the ball in the opposition’s half because if they win it, they win it close to their opponent’s goal, which makes for an easier goal scoring opportunity!
- You will train your team to counter attack with game-like speed
- You will bring a whole new level of intensity to your scrimmages
Added bonus: Once the players have got used to this game, make a new rule that makes each goal count double if the attacking team “catches” one of the defending team’s players on the other side of the half-way line. This will encourage the defending team to get all of its players back “goal-side” of the ball.
This works best with U8 teams and up.
Let me know if you try it and what results you experience.