Light crew: What to do when only a few players turn up to practice?

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At some point, it’s happened to every coach at every level: only a few players turn up to practice. After the practice plan goes out the window, how do you still put on an engaging and meaningful session in which your players can get better?

This happened today at one of the sessions I visited. We played World Cup the entire practice with just 5 u10 players.

With one player going in goal (and rotating after each game), we started with every player for himself, sometimes rolling two balls out at a time (initial rounds were played to 2 goals).

After a few rounds, we played with two teams of two and went through the following progressions/tweaks after each round:

– First team to score 2 goals
– First team to score 2 goals, but goals could only be scored with left foot
– First team to score 3 goals; goals with left foot counted double
– First team to score 3 goals; goals from outside the 6 yard box counted double
– First team to score 2 goals; goals can only be scored with a first time finish
– First team to score 3 goals; goals scored off a first time finish count double
– First team to score 3 goals; goals scored from outside the 6 yard box count double; goals scored off a first time finish count double; first time finishes from outside the 6 yard box count triple

We played with each set of rules 1-3 times (to allow rotation of goalkeeper and mixing of the teams) with a lot of success. I asked guided discovery questions at water breaks or in natural breaks (e.g. After a goal had been scored or between rounds).

I would recommend this set up for 3-7 players and it is very easy to implement.

What sessions do you run when you have a light crew?

~James

Focus, Focus, Focus: Doing More by Doing Less in Coaching Youth Soccer

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As coaches, we seem to have a natural impulse to correct everything on the field, all of the time! We also want to construct amazing and imaginative practices and end up having to 10 minutes to just explain it!

In this post, I will demonstrate how you can use Target Ball once per week for 20-30 minutes per session for 10 weeks and focus on something different every time. I have found Target Ball to be hugely popular for U8 players and above. Because they get used to the game, you can set it up quickly and get into playing with minimum fuss.

Here is the basic progression I would use (change them as you like, but you will see they go from simple to more complex concepts/skills. Also, you can and should still use the Target Ball progressions (as outlined in this previous post).

So, you should only stop the game in order to coach the focus for that week. This is where you can use the Guided Discovery Questions and highlight players doing it right (or “catching them being good”):

Week 1: Side foot passing technique
Week 2: Shooting with the side foot
Week 3: Making the field bigger on offense (spreading out)
Week 4: Possession
Week 5: Switching the point of the attack
Week 6: 1v1 attacking
Week 7: 1v1 defending
Week 8: Position of the weak side defender(s)
Week 9: Getting the defense to step up from the back
Week 10: Pressing high up the field

Of course, these are just sample topics, but the point is that if you want your players to really learn something, you have to keep your message focused on ONE THING! You don’t have to reinvent the wheel for practices; find a game they like and use it as a vehicle to teach soccer concepts/skills…one at a time.

The Use of Small Sided Games for Technical and Tactical Development in U6-U10 by Adrian Parrish

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The content of this post is excerpted from an NSCAA coaching webinar presentation write up. The NSCAA is the world’s largest soccer coaching organization. Find out more information about the NSCAA at http://www.nscaa.com.

About Adrian Parrish, Technical Director, Kentucky Youth Soccer Association

Adrian joined Kentucky Youth Soccer in October of 2005 as the Association’s third full time Director of Coaching. In this role, Parrish is responsible for the Coaching Education Program and the management of the Olympic Development Program. Adrian was the former DOC for Amherst Soccer Association in Buffalo, and Coaching Education Instructor for New York State. Adrian, a native from Louth in England has played extensively at youth level and played with Boston United, a semi-professional team playing in the league below the Football League. Adrian possesses a USSF “A” License and the US Youth Soccer National Youth License. He is currently the US Youth Soccer Region II Coaching Chair, is a Region II Boys ODP staff coach, a USSF Coaching Educator and on the US Youth Soccer National staff.

Summary of Presentation

At the start of Adrian’s presentation he compared two common terms one hears regularly in coaching – a ‘drill’ and a ‘game.’ Adrian suggested that a drill is associated more with a regimented activity that has a definitive and prescribed response, often with players waiting in lines for their turn. With young players it is important to play games and stay away from drill-like activities. Similar to the other presenters, Adrian mentioned a coach should be prepared to see large disparities in player ability and cognitive understanding between individuals in the same age group.

Adrian mentioned the idea of a slanting line approach – whereby a coach is able to offer challenging activities to children of varying abilities within the same session, by manipulating variables such as differences in technique and pressures of time and space. Another concept he introduced is anchoring an activity – an approach where the coach remains in the same space, but manipulates different components of the game to change the emphasis and challenge to the players. Before describing the practical activities, Adrian referred to ‘marrying techniques with tactics’ – suggesting that a coach can find opportunities to teach basic tactical concepts while focusing primarily on technical training. To do so, he suggested that a coach should use low order and high order guided discovery questions.

Adrian shared 6 activities that progressed in complexity and challenge.

Common to all activities however were a number of objectives:

1. High-energy – in the vast majority of occasions, the best approach with young players is to get them active as quickly as possible and to manage the session in short duration bouts of high-energy activity interspersed with drink breaks and short rest periods.

2. Soccer realism – a responsibility of the coach is to correct movements that are not realistic to playing the game. For example, in the first activity – tail tag – Adrian suggested that players should be encouraged to face each other as it is unrealistic that in a game a player will run aimlessly with his or her back to the play.

3. Become a storyteller – being able to relate to young players is essential particularly with the U6 and U8 age groups. To this end, Adrian advised coaches to become familiar with activities built on characters and stories children watch and listen to on TV and in books.

4. Technical emphasis – Adrian provided a cautionary note suggesting that we should avoid getting caught in a trap as children moved from the U6 to U8 and U8 to U10 age groups. Some coaches transition too quickly with young players from almost exclusive focus on technique to spending an inordinate amount of time working on tactics and correcting issues with game performance.

5. Challenging activities – finding the right balance between activities that players can perform too easily and those that invariably result in failure is important. It should be noted that a growing body of research suggests young players need to be challenged and in doing so they will experience necessary failure as they strive to reach a higher level of performance.

6. Move from simple to complex – it is easier for coach to manipulate variables to increase the difficulty of an activity than try to recover from setting the bar too high for the players at the beginning. Once the coach becomes intimately familiar with the ability levels of individuals and the group, it also becomes easier to select content that caters for the majority of players.

7. Add a scoring mechanism – challenging players to complete a set number of repetitions, beat a time restriction or better a previous score are all ways to help players focus and add a modicum of pressure.

“New Ball” Scrimmage Game for U6 and Below

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New BallArea: Full field (if you have it), or half field (put a cone goal on the halfway line).

Activity:

  • Whenever a ball goes out of play or a goal is scored, a coach announces “New Ball!” and rolls another ball into play.
  • The ‘new ball’ should be rolled to neutral space or toward the disadvantaged team.
  • After a goal, roll the new ball in near the center of the field toward the team that was scored against.
  • Do not bounce the “new ball” as it is difficult for these players to judge a bouncing ball at this age.
  • Favor the team on the wrong end of a one sided game.
  • Favor individual players who are not becoming involved in the game.
  • Have parents retrieve lost balls and return them to the coach who just rolled the new ball in so he/she now has 2 balls once more!
  • Play 3-4 minute halves with a halftime break.
  • This is a fast paced game and they will tire! Remember to put the players in different color pinnies/bibs.
  • Modify as necessary!

Guided Discovery Questions: To be asked one at a time to give the players a rest, or during a water break.

  • Great goal! What part of your foot did you use to score it? Can anyone else do that? Show me!
  • Great move? Show me again. Can anyone else do that? Show me!
  • How did you score that goal? Did you run fast or slow?
  • How do you stop the other team from scoring? Show me!