The Gate Dribbling Game: Sample Activity from the Volunteer Soccer Coach

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Session #1: Dribbling to Keep Possession:
Activity #2: The Gate Dribbling Game with Pressureactivity2_session1

Time: Approximately 15 minutes.

Area: 25 x 25 yards (L x W) or larger depending on how many players you have.

Activity: This activity is a progression from the previous one, which will allow you to give your players a quick water break and then get straight back into action. This time, start with a “bandit” whose job is to stop players from dribbling through the gates. Change the bandit every 30-45 seconds (get them to keep score of how many balls they kicked away).

Possible Progressions:

  • Add a restriction whereby players can only dribble with their left foot (or right foot).
  • Add another bandit (2 bandits at a time).
  • Replace some of the gates with pinnies (or different colored cones) and say that players must go through a cone gate followed by a pinnie gate (or different colored cone gate).
  • Add another bandit (3 bandits at a time).
  • Make the gates smaller and/or reduce the number of gates.
  • Add another bandit (4 bandits at a time).
Volunteer Soccer Coach Image
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What Makes a Great Warmup Game in Youth Soccer?

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Why should warm-ups be the same every day? Many coaches consider this part of practice “lost time,” but they don’t know that they are already setting the tone for the session. In my experience, the best warmup games activate the primary muscle group the players will be using, gets them in a competitive mindset, and connects to your session’s topic. Also, they should be fun and include lots of movement!

For example, if I am planning on doing an attacking dribbling that day, I might start with Freeze Tag, Sharks and Minnows, or Gladiator.

My new book, It Pays to Win on Offense: A game-based approach to developing soccer players that score and create lots of goals, contains 7 warmup games that are lots of fun and easy to set up.

“World Cup”: Fun Youth Soccer Warmup Activity

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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).

 

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

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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.

~James

Stretching in Youth Soccer

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There are different types of stretching for youth soccer players. For the purposes of this post; however, I am going to discuss “static” and “dynamic” stretching. It should also be noted that at the younger age groups (U10 and below) stretching is not necessarily as important as in the older age groups. I think it is always important to “warm up” and “cool down,” though.

Many coaches have their players do static stretching before a practice/game. In this scenario, these coaches send their players on a couple of laps’ jog around the pitch, and then upon their return, have them get in a circle/line and go through a series of stationary “touch your toes” type stretches. I know this routine well, as I grew up doing it! This is not necessarily the best way to prepare your players for practice, though. In other words, aside from the social aspect, you are wasting precious minutes of practice.

In order to maximize your practice time and keep the players safe/reduce the risk of injury it is important to view the first few minutes of practice as the time to “activate” the major muscle groups that your players will be using. By “activate,” I simply mean “warm up” and this can take various forms. You should never go straight into sprinting and/or shooting exercises because it increases the risk of injury, as your players’ leg muscles will probably not be adequately warmed up.

Click here for a blog post that includes 7 great ways to do dynamic stretching. For example, instead of having players “reach for their toes,” you can have them do hand walks, which activate the hamstrings, core, and shoulders. These can be done in 5-10 minutes (or less once your players get used to them).

The best warmups for soccer start with dynamic stretching and then move to work with a ball. This is a great time to do technical work, as you build up to going “full speed” with your players. For example, each player can have a ball and be working on dribbling with a designated surface of the foot for a specified amount of time. You can progress this to every 7th touch, they should change pace and go in a different direction. Finally, you can have them explode (go their fastest) after a certain number of touches. Now you have worked up to going full speed instead of starting out that way. You have also gotten your players more touches on the ball and given them an opportunity to improve their technique.

Static stretching is not bad, it should just be done at the end of practice. For example, as part of your team’s cool down, you can have them get into a circle and take them through a series of “static” stretches, which will now (that their muscles are warmed up and “stretchy”) be of benefit to them. Stretching at the end of practice is important because it allows players to increase their flexibility, which in turn reduces their risk of injury and soreness. This is also a good time to talk to your players (as they stretch) and review the practice session you just conducted.

Click here for another informative article on the appropriateness of static stretching at the end of practice – it includes some examples, too. In short, you want to go through all of the major muscle groups that soccer players use (calves, hamstrings, quads, groins, hip flexors).

My advice is to build dynamic stretching into your team’s warmup routine, and then progress to some individual ball work where you can simultaneously work on technique and layer in more physically demanding exercises in order to prepare them for a game-related activity in your practice. Do not start with static stretching…end practice with it!

~James