I love soccer. Soccer taught me how to be a team player, how to think on my feet, and many other things. I did not love all of my soccer coaches. As a youth soccer coach, you have great power, and of course, with great power comes great responsibility. You can use your power to teach youth athletes all of the things soccer taught me and more. Or you can use your power to teach youth athletes how to hate exercise and sports and/or have a lack of confidence.
Here are some soccer coaching tips on how to use your superpower as a youth soccer coach in the best way possible.
Keep it Simple
As a youth soccer coach, teaching the fundamental skills of how to shoot, pass, and dribble are important. What is more important is to do it in a fun way that keeps youth engaged. There are a ton of fun soccer games that are designed for kids to learn the basics while having fun.
As you coach more and more, you will start to learn what works and does not work with certain players and your team as a whole. That’s when you can get creative and change a few things from certain drills, take something out, add something in, or combine certain ones, to make the activities benefit your specific players.
Keep in mind that even when players get a little bit older, the basics are still important. Christiano Ronaldo, Megan Rapinoe, and even Carly Lloyd, in retirement, still work on the basics.
Creativity and Play
Once players learn the basics, you can teach players how to be creative. One of the reasons I love soccer is because, unlike sports such as basketball and American football, there are no set plays. Players not only get to create the plays in soccer, but they also get to do so on the fly. Good, fun ways to teach this include games such as keep-away, small-sided games, and the beloved partner World Cup game.
For the really young players, anything that gets them to spread out will be beneficial. Setting up multiple goals on a small four-sided field is a good one for this. Also, four versus two or three versus one keep-away games without goals are good as well. All ages can benefit from keep-away. They incorporate the basics plus a level of creativity.
Patience comes with the gig. If you are not ready to step onto the pitch as a youth soccer coach with patience, then youth soccer coaching is not for you. In fact, for all youth coaches, patience is not only a virtue; it is a necessity.
For soccer specifically, patience is needed when the ref makes a call or two, or seven, in a row that you disagree with. Or when an opponent keeps fouling a player and no one sees or calls it, or when certain teammates keep making mistakes, etc. When these things happen, your players are looking at you for how to act. It is important to keep your cool because players will do as they see you do.
In a world where the youth has instant gratification technology at their fingertips all day, every day, your power of influence is huge here. Soccer is a long game and usually a low-scoring game. You and your players are going to need to not only persevere but to persevere with patience. You will be down by several goals. You will lose. Remain patient and calm in those situations and teach your players how to fall forward. Have discussions with them about how to fall forward individually and as a team.
Sometimes a player will do all they can do to play their position well and then turn around and watch another teammate get nutmegged. What you do at that moment is powerful. Again, they are watching you. There will also be times when a player really messes up, and the other team should have an easy goal, but the goalie makes an awesome save. What you do in that moment is also powerful. You have the power to make both of these teachable moments for the whole team.
During practices, drills that incorporate teamwork are ones that involve making sure everyone touches the ball before scoring. Soccer-themed scavenger hunts and obstacle courses are also a great way to do this, plus they help build team unity.
Here are examples of how to bring this all together and organize a practice:
No matter what you do for your warm-up, do it with intent. Intent should be behind every part of your practice, even the warm-up. Use the warm-up to not only get them moving but get them moving well. The warm-up is a great way to introduce basic movement patterns such as squats, crawls, hip hinges, and plank variations. From there, tag is always a great way to get their bodies ready for the speed and agility involved in soccer. Tag can also be a great transition game to and from exercises with and without the ball.
Start with the basics
After the warm-up is a great time for drills or games that involve a basic skill you want to emphasize that day. Knockout or Sharks and Minnows are great for dribbling drills. A drill involving multiple gates to pass through with a partner is a great on-the-go drill for passing.
Play the game
Once the basics get some practice and everyone gets touches on the ball, small-sided games, 1v1, or partner World Cup are great options to get players thinking while still working on basics. Prior to starting these games is a good time to bring up discussions about falling forward, if necessary at the time.
Tag games are wonderful here. Anything that builds teamwork through bonding and unity. Handball is another great option, too. Soccer-themed scavenger hunts or obstacle courses work as well.
And, back to the basics again
You can have so much fun incorporating juggling into your practices. Juggling can even fit in towards the beginning of practice. Either way, giving your team 5-10 minutes per practice to juggle has great benefits. It will teach them soft and controlled touches. You can make a competition out of it and even get them juggling at home! This is applicable for levels.
End with a scrimmage or small-sided game. This is another area where you can find game-like examples that teach your team how to fall forward.
Almost done, but can’t sign off without emphasizing the importance of two more things. These two things are especially important for older kids. They are strength and conditioning. And believe me, I’m not just writing these as a biased soccer player turned strength and conditioning coach.
Strength training will help your players bond and will help your players avoid injuries while becoming faster on the field. There are a ton of other benefits to strength training for not only soccer players but all athletes. Finding a good strength and conditioning coach in your area is a great way to set your team up for success.
The second thing is that long, slow-distance runs do not target the primary energy system in a soccer game. Neither does sprint training without ample rest time in between reps. Short to medium bursts of speed target the body’s energy system for soccer. It is important for soccer coaches to know the difference between running a conditioning drill and running a speed drill. Make sure that you are using work: ratios of about 1:6 for speed. And just because I am writing this at the end does not mean that speed work goes at the end of a practice.
No matter what age you are coaching soccer, you have great power. Use responsibly.
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