“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!

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 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.

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.

How to Positively Cheer From the Sidelines in Soccer

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PraiseIn my last parent post, Coaching vs. Cheering in Youth Soccer, I discussed the differences in how we might best support our youth soccer players from the sidelines. In short, I said it is best to leave the coaching to the coaches, and for parents to focus on cheering.

Well, the question has been asked, what constitutes positive cheering? This becomes especially important when parents have little or limited soccer knowledge. A big kick upfield is not always the best thing to do, nor is physical contact always a foul.

My advice for parents on the soccer sidelines is to keep everything positive. In fact, this is my advice to coaches, too. Instead of getting frustrated and upset with what your child or team is not doing, encourage the effort that they are putting in. If you praise their effort, then they will likely attempt whatever they tried to do again, even if it ended in failure the first (or the second time, or the third time…).

This is a difficult concept for many of us to grasp because we live in a culture where expertise is associated with how well we can critique something or somebody. My question is, who are we really helping when we get mad at a youth soccer player when he misses a tackle or a shot, or when she gets scored on, or when she makes a mistake?

Here are a few things to think about when making comments from the sidelines:

  • For whose benefit are you making the comments? The player? the team? The coach? The referee? Other parents? Yourself?
  • Are you trying to show what you know, rather than support your player?
  • Are you 100% certain what you are saying is correct? Really?

When trying to positively cheer from the sidelines in youth soccer games, here are a few things to consider:

  • Be specific – for example, “good pass, Johnny” or “nice shot, Jane” or “great effort, Luis.” Even if they don’t show it, the players hear you on the sidelines. If you are trying to coach them, you will put them off. If you recognize their effort and encourage them to continue, you will inspire them give their best.
  • Be genuine – kids know when we are giving false praise. Sometimes, it’s best to say nothing. Or, if you do say something, I have found it best to say something to the effect of “next play” – meaning, don’t dwell on the mistake you just made, make it right on the next play. These two words and your player’s name will help them refocus on the game and you don’t have to have any previous soccer knowledge or experience to do this!
  • Above all, be positive! Praise the other players on your team. The parents will likely respond in kind! Also, it is okay to praise the other team’s players when they do something good! Remember, this is recreational youth soccer, not the World Cup Final. Besides, next year, that player and his parents may be on your team.

Everybody is going to make mistakes, whether it is the player on the field, the coach in his substitute rotation, or parents’ comments on the sidelines. What if we were able to create a culture of recognition instead of negativity. Here are a couple of closing thoughts:

  • Have you ever been to your child’s game and ONLY said positive things?
  • Have you ever told the referee (s)he had a great game?
  • Have you ever thanked the coach after the game for coaching your son/daughter’s team?
  • Have you ever congratulated a parent of an opposing team on the effort of their son/daughter?

I guarantee, if all the readers of this blog committed to doing just one of these things on game day, we could start a positive revolution in youth soccer.

Remember, what gets praised, gets repeated.

I look forward to your feedback and input.

Have a great game day!

~James

Increase Your Scrimmage’s Intensity: The Magic of a Half-way Line!

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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. 

~James