Soccer Is Pretty Hard To Teach: A Manual for the Beginner Girls

Soccer Is Pretty Hard To Teach: A Manual for the Beginner Girls

Soccer Is Pretty Hard To Teach: A Manual for the

Beginner Girls Travel Coach

By David Perelman-Hall ([email protected])


What Do I Get Out of It?

There is something satisfying to see the joy of accomplishment wash over a kid’s face when she gets a soccer move––figures it out, executes it well, understands why she should do it, and demonstrates knowledge of where on the field is the best place to do it. When I reach out to players, spend group time and one-on-one time explaining and demonstrating and encouraging, over and over I see them learning, teaching themselves with my help. These kids learn a joy in playing soccer as their ability grows and they evolve. For me, this is always something done together, coach and student, for coaching is just another term for teaching. In a sense, their growth as a soccer player is never just theirs; to me it is ours, because the learning is done together. Each player is unique and needs a unique connection to make her better. Each player’s experience is one I help to make personal, satisfying, enjoyable, full of promise. I never leave practice without the sense of how rewarding the experience is.


Acknowledgements & Credits

Over the years I have had the good fortune to coach so many wonderful kids. Thanks kids and families. For the chance to do so much coaching, I owe the club a big thank you. This has provided a depth of experience, and given me the understanding needed to write this manual.

I also want to thank the players who stepped up and helped make the videos. I think we picked the single hottest day of the decade to try to film many of them. And to my videographer,

Bill Sheck, thank you so much for your able assistance, and for not melting away. The videos would not have been made without him. Together we present them as products of The Long and

Short of It Productions.



This manual is written from my decade-long perspective coaching girls with the Eastside

Kickers travel soccer club. It is intended for a first-year coach with a travel-level club who might already have a season under his or her belt. This is someone who most likely played soccer somewhere along the line, probably got involved in coaching because his or her daughter is playing travel soccer, and might have a newly-minted license for U10 or younger. Travel soccer is tougher than the city-provided (anyone can play) recreational soccer, and not as tough as the competitive (successful tryout required) premier level.

Travel club coaches often must be licensed at a basic level, but do not get paid to coach. They coach for a club that faces near constant turn over in personnel, regularly seeing experience go out the door when the coach’s child ages out of the club. These community-based clubs must be fairly transparent to the community they hope to attract members from, and hopefully this manual can help explain the coaching mission. While I have spent my travel coaching career with one club, this manual presents my personal views, not the club's views. My views are biased somewhat to favor a kid-centric and community-aware approach to coaching.

While written for coaches of girls, much of the philosophy and all of the skills, drills, and scrimmages apply to boys as well. Studies show, however, that girls are hard-wired differently than boys. In my experience, an overwhelming majority of female youth soccer players bring traditional gender-specific traits to practices and games. Understanding the interpersonal nature of coaching girls can help the girls coach do a better job. Having that relationship-based connection that girls favor is one reason why I prefer coaching girls.

Girls often are as interested in connecting socially as in learning to play soccer. They are wired to think of others before themselves and to engage in cooperative play. To be most effective with girls, it’s about the relationship, and the player-player as well as coach-player relationship should have true interpersonal significance.

Another difference is that girls are motivated by understanding, not just by challenge. Boys are wired to be doers. They think of themselves first, and engage in parallel play instead of group play. With boys, you can demonstrate a skill move and challenge them to do it. By their naturally competitive nature boys will try to outdo each other in showing off how well they can do the skill.

With girls, a better motivation is to connect the drill to a game-time situation and explain the positive consequences of good performance.

The first several chapters of this manual give an overview of the sport from a coaching perspective, beginning with an itemization of the broad scope of concepts that a coach might think about. These early sections also talk about bringing a personal philosophy to coaching, about the place of travel-level coaching in our communities, and about interpersonal connections between coach and player in the context of the game. The final sections treat skills, drills, and scrimmages, describing many, along with videos showing field setup and drill in action.


The Spectrum of Ideas

On the surface, soccer doesn't look very hard, does it? How hard can it be to teach kids to play a game? This kind of thinking could be in the minds of parents who may not know much about soccer but whose kids are receiving coaching in community-based travel teams. Even coaches with a few years of experience can struggle with how multifaceted the teaching of soccer actually is. The truth is, the spectrum of ideas coaches will sometimes think about is broad enough to make being good at the whole package seem downright unattainable. Here's a stab at making a list of the universe of ideas coaches could reasonably be expected to think about.

• terms/shorthand/concepts, their on-field use, their applicability during games

• numerous positional roles/responsibilities, reinforcing many of them every practice

• technique on and off the ball, foot skills

• drills, scrimmages, exercises, competitions

• respect for self, opposition, referees, teammates, coaches

• speed/power/physicality

• skillfulness/craftiness/inventiveness/creativity/self-confidence

• competitiveness/desire/urgency/endurance

• communication, what kinds of messages need to be sent, when, where

• recognition/awareness of shape/space, opposition/danger, teammates, opportunity, passing lanes, transition

• set moves, restarts, throw-ins, goal-kicks, direct kicks, indirect kicks, corner kicks, penalty kicks

• rules, of the game, of practices

• showing and carrying out good sportsmanship

• individual, positional, and team offensive strategy and defensive strategy

• joy and happiness derived from ability to play (love of the game)

• not just to practice but to practice to improve

• teamwork large and small, bonding of the whole team as well as the dynamic success that accompanies bonding with just a few players

• be an individual, take direction, compete as a member of a team

• thoughtfulness, smart play, situational understanding, helping your teammates

• last but not least, achieving a meaningful and mutually rewarding connection with each child being coached

This list is extensive, and not all of the concepts seem to translate easily to something tangible and enforceable, something that the coach can bring to practice and influence by putting the


team through drills. But they will come to mind, and the earnest coach will recognize them, and with enough experience will have something to do or say about all of them.

Bearing these in mind is all well and good, you say, but when starting out, the youth soccer coach wants little more than help with what drills to use. Tell me how to teach positions, how to prevent kids from clumping around the ball, or how about the give and go, how to run a foot skills session, how to defend, how to shield? Tomorrow a group of 12 energetic kids is going to show up for practice, and I need to know what I'm going to do. Rest assured, there are dozens of ideas for foot skills, drills, and scrimmages in the back half of this manual. And dozens more one click away on the web site

It’s normal to need years of different coaching challenges to gain experience with so many facets of coaching. Eventually the coach will be able to draw on experience, knowledge, or a bag of tricks, for help with whatever the situation calls for. Then the coach can have a sense of truly making a difference in a person’s life. For this reason, I think it is worthwhile for any coach of any experience to recognize how daunting the human endeavor of coaching soccer can be. On the surface, it’s about soccer, but so many ideas in the list above can be applied outside of soccer, and for our children a fair deal more than just soccer is being learned.

Youth Soccer's Basic Components


I see youth soccer as being comprised of the following main components:

1. The Rules. The rules tend to change slightly depending on what age a player is or whether the game is played indoors or out.  These variations are in place to make the game age-appropriate for children and so children can get the most benefit from playing at any age.

2. Individual Skills. This forms the bedrock of the game of soccer.  Players without good skills cannot execute the decisions they make as well as players with good skills can.  Skills are only attainable through routine practice––building the muscle memory of how to do each technique––under the demands of good coaching and with the love and support of strong family.  Do you know the 10,000 hours idea? (

3. Teamwork. Communication among players during the game is the most important part of teamwork, but practicing together, bonding outside of the game or practice, even entering tournaments, all play a role in how a team plays.  Better teamwork out-performs individual play. 

4. Decision Making. The most important part of the game (and of life in general) is learning what decisions need to be made, and what aspects of the game influence how to make them.

There are two different times when decisions must be made during the game, when a player has the ball, and when a player doesn’t.  The player with the ball has only a few choices: shoot, pass, or dribble.  Players without the ball have only one choice, but it is often hard to


  put into practice: where to go to help the team. Often, this is a much bigger role for the team than the role of the ball carrier. 

5. Melding The First Four Through Coaching. A team is melded by the personality of the coach combined with the personalities of the players, all mixing to give the unique spirit of a team as a whole.

In addition to these elements there are the parents. Parents can be their most supportive if they understand where you as a coach are coming from. Communicate your coaching ideas with them at the start of the season, even if it just a five minute meet and greet session. If nothing else, send them a two paragraph email introducing yourself and setting forth a few ideas for the upcoming season.

You should let them know your expectations about how practices will be run, and how important you feel regular attendance at practice will be. Let them know that you will keep them in the loop if you have any concerns or issues with one of their kids. Be prepared to explain your approach to questions like giving equal playing time to all players, how important the win/loss record is, and your expectations for fair play and sportsmanship. Parents want to know something about you, so if you don’t have a history with the parents of the players, provide a way for them to get to know you.

Have A Coaching Philosophy

Be aware that you bring a coaching philosophy to practices and games, whether it's consciously done or not. The best coaching philosophy stems from your love of the game and your love of the children. If this doesn't work for you, make it about respect for the game and for the children. Always keep in mind that this philosophy should guide your actions in a way that is kid-centric. The soccer experience is for them, should be about them. They will pick up your energy, your feelings for the game, your enjoyment in the coaching experience, your warmth and enjoyment when interacting with them, whether you intentionally transmit it or not. If it’s not there, they will pick that up too. My experience has always been that the reward that flows back into my life is at least equal to the effort I make in connecting with the kids. I actually think it is far greater, since I get to connect with so many kids at a time.

My philosophy in short: make the game fun.  Learn by playing.  Require personal skills and teamwork to solve challenges.  Bring only a few players at a time into “line drills” so there aren’t that many players standing idly around.  Coach positively.  Coach positively.  Coach positively.  

Be able to demonstrate what you expect, and have high expectations.  Have attainable goals for each player, and never back off on coaching each player to meet that higher goal. Keep adjusting expectations as the player evolves. Emphasize foot skills, being able to run and dribble with a ball, turn, stop, pass, fake, shoot, juggle, and control a ball.  Show how much more fun the game is when these skills are developed well. Compare it with how much more fun it is to be in such control that you are able to pop a wheelie on a bike rather than to be just learning how to ride.


Require players to be able to back up their decisions when they play, but give them the ability to see the choices first.  Coach positively.  Development is foremost, not winning. Winning might be more important starting from high school on. No matter how or where we play, there will always be a team better than us and always one worse than us. Playing to win is often an easy temptation, but it usually equates to unfair playing time across your squad. If you want your poorer players to improve, play them more. The score of a game is not going to be remembered next season, and probably not next week. But how much your team improves will show next season and next week. Keep that in mind and use it to guide your decisions about playing time.

Keep in mind that all players of all levels have some measure of self-confidence, whether they are aware of it or not, and that your decisions about playing time do not go unnoticed. You have the potential to have real impact on the lives of these children for good and for bad, so be certain you have valid reasons for your decisions.

Require every player to show the same respect and good sportsmanship, win or lose, that they would want from their opponents. This will go far in life outside of soccer.  As adults, expect the parents also to require it, and model it, especially at games––you are allowed to let parents know when they step outside of acceptable sideline behavior. Also, did I mention to try to coach positively?

Refrain from over-coaching during games. It is OK to help with the occasional direction about position, awareness, space, shape, urgency. It is not OK to be constantly yelling directions to every player all the time. The results of this are likely to be that you aren't paying enough attention to the big picture, that players and team feel like they are never good enough, and players will learn to ignore the constant stream of yelling. It sends the message that you as coach don't believe the team is smart enough to play the game without telling them how to. The truth is, they are the ones playing the game, making all the decisions, learning what works, and you need to let them figure out how best to play instead of crippling their ability to learn on their own.

Also, it probably does not need saying, but never shout out criticisms during a game. Players, referees, and coaches make mistakes. Take ownership of your own mistakes. But taking referees to task is pointless, changes nothing, and makes you look like a hot-headed fool. As a learning tool, you can take individual players aside during games or practices and discuss mistakes. You will be happily surprised at how easily most athletes can recall specific situations that happened in the flash of a few seconds during a game. When doing this, place the soccer issue in the context where it took place, and show both positive and negative sides, and let the player see for herself what the results of the positive side would be. Be Socratic, prodding with questions if possible, and try to have the player come up with answers and ideas on her own.

It is always OK to shout out positives, to laud a good play by any player on either team. This is such a potent reinforcing technique.

You can learn a lot from listening to your squad during a game. Are they even communicating at all? Are they helping each other figure out the game? Are they warning about unmarked players, or calling to offer support, or helping each other keep shape? Is the communication appropriate, or distracting? Do they congratulate each other on good plays? You can get a sense of where the communication is working or not by paying attention to the game-


time chatter of your girls. You can get a sense of where they are developmentally by listening to their game-time talk.

Pay attention to the game professionally. Adopt a team at the highest level and watch their games, go to see local games, take in high school matches, college matches, games on the television or web. If you're a fan of another sport, like football for example, think of how deeply your understanding of the game is informed by the analysis given to it by commentators. This is part of the fabric of sports that soccer somewhat lacks in the USA. Over years and decades of public discussion of something like football, there is a rich history of understanding and a common vernacular of how to break down and analyze football in our culture. Help to make this happen around the water cooler with soccer, if for no other reason than to improve your coaching.

Soccer, Life, and Your Community

I believe soccer is about a myriad non-soccer mental and emotional aspects that follow from practicing and competing, individually and as a team. Many follow from the community-based volunteer foundation of the travel club, whose mission is less about competing successfully and more about developing successfully. These include having responsibilities while being part of a team, winning or losing together, learning that hard work has rewards and practice has its place, learning as an individual to work together with others, having to make decisions that impact others, learning to take direction and coaching, learning the impact on team mates of withholding criticism and extending praise, and being sometimes called upon during the heat of the game to accept seemingly unfair circumstances––just like real life.

It is also about having fun, just like it was fun for us as kids to run and jump and feel the air as we rush along––it's a blast to play soccer. To me, all of these reasons form part of player growth, especially because the emotional and mental kinds of lessons apply to broader spheres of life than just soccer. These lessons are being taught whether a coach consciously applies them or not.

They are among the child-oriented experiences of life that we all hope are being taught well to our children when they go through the community-based travel soccer program.  For many kids in the club, they will be longer-lasting lessons than soccer itself, because not all children going through the travel soccer program play soccer in high school or college.

For me it is important to remember that my team and I are part of a community-based soccer program that draws from our neighborhoods and schools, and those of us who participate in it are brought together because of this.  If we do our jobs well, we will give our kids the ability to play, a love for the game, and the joy of being part of a team. Hopefully they will have an eye out for a pickup game as they get older.



Running Practice, Coaching Games

More than one adult, preferably an able assistant coach, must be present at practices in case of emergency and to have an extra set of eyes on things.  I expect the girls to be attentive and oriented toward practicing for the hour and half we are together––and I let parents and child know if I am having a problem along these lines.

I let my team know that I will make a decision about holding practices due to rainy weather or poor field conditions maybe just moments before practice, so we need to maintain a responsive communication network. The Team Manager should help implement a call tree or email list so a single person does not do all the communication work.  

Be sure the team knows that you need to know ahead of time when a player will not be able to make either a practice or a game.  Missing practices and games happens with every player, just as you might miss a practice or game, so ask the team to especially let the coach know.

Try to arrive at the practice field early enough to assess field condition, set up drills, and lay out a field for a small-sided game. Have a practice planned out and even written on a piece of foolscap that you can carry it around and refer to whenever necessary. My players arrive knowing that they will start every practice scrimmaging. They arrive for practice, grab pinnies, form or join teams, and just play. This is a tradition with me, and for the most part I let the kids play without inserting myself. Sometimes I'll join in, sometimes I'll balance the teams, sometimes I'll make up game conditions to get them thinking about specific ideas, sometimes I'll actively coach the scrimmage just to ensure that the level of play is not too sloppy.

This usually is the least intensive part of practice, and is a time of welcoming, catching up, warming up, loosening up, playing soccer. How long I let it go until breaking and moving into the pre-planned practice is different practice-by-practice. If the scrimmage is affording us a way to work on some aspects that I want to cover, we may never break from it for the duration of that entire practice except for water breaks, team huddles, or foot skills breaks. Or it may last only five minutes, after which I focus right in on pre-planned activities.

When I run a practice I will variously do many of the following: let the squad play unsupervised soccer, run intensive foot skills, hand out paper quizzes, run agility races, have them play leap frog or tug-of-rope, practice communication and passing, drill ball handling moves and feints, run through situational strategy drills, use the dry erase board, play a carefully organized and controlled scrimmage, run length-wise races across the field, allow water breaks pretty much whenever the team asks for one, run aggression-oriented drills, teach specific rule-based situations such as indirect kicks or corners or throw-ins, sit together with the team and just be a team huddled together analyzing a recent game or prepping for the next game.

Always strive to keep explanations simple and understandable while they build the vocabulary that will let you discuss the game in a more sophisticated manner. Make certain they understand you, and let them know you are OK with them asking for more clarity. Be inclusive, involve all players in every drill, scrimmage or questioning. Stay calm and patient with bad behavior, but do not allow disruptive behavior. Sit poorly behaved players out if need be, but allow them the opportunity to join back in after a drill is completed. Consistent disruptive behavior needs to be brought up with parents.


Have a contingency plan if the practice is not working or they find it too easy or too hard.

Ensure fair play. Don’t ignore breaches of rules. Encourage creativity and point out creative success when it happens. Your players should never be afraid to make a mistake.

Games Are Not Like Practice

Games are different from practice in one huge way: they are the real thing. During practice you can control everything, but during a game you can control almost nothing. This should influence the depth of your emotional investment in games, helping you be a little more detached than you might imagine. It's much harder to change your squad's play during a game than during a practice, so, despite the natural inclination to be deeply invested and even emotional during games, you should be prepared to be calm and observant, giving yourself a chance to see how the squad can improve.

Games may seem important, but actually it's the development of the team through a full season that is most significant. Throughout a season it's likely that you are going to play teams that are better than you and teams that are worse than you. You should let your squad know that there is nothing to be upset about when getting beat by a better team. You can matter-of-factly tell them, "They're better than we are." Coach them to know the difference between failing and giving up. You might fail to win the game, but you never want them to give up trying to do better.

Tell them that that’s where you draw the line, and win, lose, or draw, you expect to see that they are still trying and improving.

Your team should never intentionally run up the score. At the age of these teams, the focus should be on development, and an evenly competitive game makes for a more competitive learning experience. If your team continues to add to a large lead, the result is there is no competition for them or you. Find a way to even up these kinds of games by reducing your numbers or allowing the opposition to add numbers (or both), or by instituting restrictions that make the game tougher for your team. I have played games where our team took such a lead that

I forced them to play the ball to every player including the keeper before being allowed to attack goal.

You should spend time observing the game-time play of your squad to see if what you've been doing in practice is making it into the game. Encourage them, point out the obvious, keep them lined up with what you covered in practice. Don't expect them to know more than what you've gone over in practice.

Be prepared with one or two 10-15 minute pre-game warm up exercises that will get your players loose and warm, and give them a lot of touches on the ball. It is important to do both, to get the heart rate up a little, the legs warmed up and loose, plus get a feel for the ball. It’s always better to go into a game having plenty of touches on a ball than to jump into a game with no feel for the ball. I like to play a group game that involves some running and passing, and then in a separate drill get them paired up and do 100 touches passing drill. This way they start the game warmed up, and have plenty of experience on the ball.

Take mental notes of what the game-time deficiencies are, and explain them to the players during half time or in a brief after-game meeting. If you can point out the obvious to your sideline players, do so––maybe they can correct it during the game. Let it be known to your


whole team that you, as coach, can see what's going on in the game, and have ideas for improving where needed. If you can implement some ideas during the game, try to do so. Use the ideas to inform your next practice.

At the very youngest ages, 8-10 or so, stretching is less of a concern than warming up by getting the heart rate up, the blood flowing, and the leg muscles warm. There is nothing wrong with actually doing stretching exercises as part of practice or pre-game warm up. If nothing else, this certainly establishes a good practice/game habit. At the younger ages, however, it is really not needed as long as the players are properly warmed up before playing hard. Stretching should be introduced when the players are older, and should be done after the players are warmed up for a little and the muscles are loose and prepped for stretching.

Making Demands and Enforcing Them

One of the things I do every practice is make demands. This means upholding expectations of the team. These build on each other over time as the team evolves and gets better. Demands are things like, no just kicking the ball except to clear it from in front of our goal. No clumping together and ball chasing. No standing and watching when you don't have the ball. No hanging back on defense when the ball moves upfield. No overlooking the scoring chance by passing or dribbling when the shot was the best choice. A concrete example (that I will elaborate below) would be requiring that the support player communicates verbally with the ball carrier using proper terms so that we retain possession.

And once the girls understand the expectations my demands are based on, I never back away from the demands. Never. I see it as the team having reached a level of play that is just expected of the team. It becomes a part of the team psyche, embedded in the way we play.

To continue the example, if the ball carrier's forward motion is stopped by a defender and a support player is not heard from with a loud call of "back," or "drop," or "square," the team soon knows there is a problem because I will freeze practice, asking what problem just happened, what decisions went into the situation, how could it be fixed. I will ask specific players for answers to these questions before the scrimmage can resume, spreading the questioning around in order to keep the players on their toes and focused.

Example: Teaching The Need For Possession

There's a lot going on here in this small example. The problem was that by dribbling into pressure we lost or risked losing possession of the ball, and it is crucial that kids think possession is vital. It's crucial that they gain enough understanding of this kind of situation to be able to recognize it and react decisively. Dribbling into insurmountable pressure recurs frequently at this level of the game, all over the field.

To be successful as a coach, to get the team to recognize this situation, the coach must start by teaching them to recognize that trying to dribble through the opposition is tantamount to giving


away the ball. Keeping possession is not just the dribbler's job. Her teammates must recognize the situation, show for support, and insistently shout themselves into a support role in the game using terms like back, drop, wide. So first, did both dribbler and support player recognize the potential for a struggle for possession? Then, if so, did the supporting players offer support both by making a show and by communicating properly?

Almost always youth players will start out communicating by calling out either a name or the word "here." But this is not really sufficient, or not really accurate enough compared with, say,

"back" or "left" or "drop." The ball carrier, with her head down dribbling against an opponent, may not know where here is. So one of the lessons that turns into a demand is to use the proper vocabulary at the right time. Teaching the terms, of course, is the fundamental that comes even before that.

Teaching the terms can take most of a full practice and scrimmage. You can have them put in playing positions and pass a ball around to the calling position where caller uses proper soccer terms. Whatever you do, insist on the team using terms that are most meaningful, especially during scrimmages. You can also use a dry erase board and ask them what terms would be needed to have a player at a certain position know to send a ball in a specific direction.

They also must know quite a number of other things, such as their positional roles, being aware of circumstances like how far from our goal the play is, thinking about whether to take the player on by dribbling, or should they be turning, shielding and seeking support. How to decide which is the best choice, or that there even are choices? Did we have a ball carrier who has the skill to dribble around the opposition? Were we too close to our goal to risk dribbling? How much open space would there have been for that dribbler to move into? If the dribbler is not that strong, or even if she is, is there a more certain way to keep possession? Is the ball carrier likely to just know where the drop pass should go in order to keep possession? How would it have helped to have had a support player communicating with her? What does the supporting teammate need to do to offer support and make possession more likely? Is there such a thing as too much insistence when a support player is showing/calling for the ball? Based on position, what players should the ball carrier find in what directions? Is just making a drop pass enough, or should the ball carrier move after making the pass?

If the support players are not moving, communicating, and showing for the ball carrier to find, I freeze scrimmage and have a discussion about responsibilities and investment in the game.

I take support players to task if they are not showing, talking, and inserting themselves into the game loudly and insistently. I will ask which is likely to draw more attention, a person standing still and watching, a person moving and then calling for the ball, or a person running, gesticulating, insisting on getting the ball, calling repeatedly, impossible to be overlooked.

Connecting With The Individual Player

Anson Dorrance, the hugely successful womens coach at the University of North Carolina, once gave a presentation where he discussed his experience going from coaching men to coaching


women. He described successfully motivating one of his mens teams by urging them to unleash the fury inside and ram the ball, the goalie, and the other team into the opposition net. It worked because the men connected immediately to the raw, aggressive, just-do-it nature of his demands.

When he tried this approach with his womens team, he related, it was met with blank stares of incomprehension. What he eventually came to realize was that in order to motivate women, you needed to start with a personal relationship that is rewarding in both directions.

Example: The Story of C

There is a player on my team, C, who has the biggest heart of any player on the team, and the biggest engine, the highest work rate, the best endurance, the most obvious pure joy in play.

She is the kind of player every coach wants, with that extra innate level of fight which is permanently 100% on, and which can not be taught or learned. C always asks to be played up as striker, and then plays with intensity all over the place. She tends to follow the ball because she is so quick and never waffles about whether or not she could win that loose ball. In her mind it's hers, no matter what.

I want to talk about C to illustrate my approach to connecting with my players. Because she plays so all out, she sometimes reacts impulsively, and tends to be out of position much of the time. In fact, she's impulsive enough that she tends to make several kinds of poor decisions. The energy of her play is so far off the charts, though, that it all evens out and her play helps rather than hurts the team. The coach rationalizes that with time and a little channeling, C could be a dominant force in the game.

After being with C's team for nearly a season, which gave me enough time to understand how she plays, I began doing two things to help C's game. First, I made sure every player understood all the positions and their responsibilities. I played C in the striker slot, as she desired, and the team understood that position to be our "target" player––the forward player the team would try to get the ball to who would shoot or set up another player for a shot.

To help do this first thing, I used the dry erase board for several practices, drawing out positional scenarios, explaining them at first, and later asking the team to identify positions, ours as well as the opposition's. I was very matter of fact about it, drawing, say, a left mid, then asking the squad to name by position who this player should see in front of her, behind her, beside her, and what position on the opposition would be marking her. It is rewarding in its own small way to have your squad all huddled together over the white board working things out, and then have them come up with the right answer.

Then I would do this during scrimmages, especially when players got out of position. I would stop the game, freeze everyone in their out-of-position places, and start asking questions like, what position are you, who should you see in front of you, what is the responsibility of a player in your position. Over time, I would play every player in every position because this is the best way to make sure that everyone understands the positions and their roles. When asked, the educated player knows who should be in front or behind, so the coach should always be able to test this during scrimmages. And I could ask this of C and see that she understood what I was asking her to do, and why. For the most part, it would result in getting her to take a better position.


Example: Connecting and Motivating

C’s impulsiveness was strong, and it showed in a variety of ways not related just to staying in position. For example, she sometimes reacted to situations in what seemed like an offhand way–– by just kicking the ball blindly down the field. Or she would put her head down and dribble furiously until losing the ball instead of making the better choice to pass to a nearby open teammate.

The second approach I took to helping C was to reach out to her personally, to try to connect with her and motivate her based on a personal relationship. I always approach coaching discussions with individual players as though I'm talking to another human being who has learned a bunch of soccer and is working hard to learn something new about soccer. Both parts of this interaction, the human part and the learning part, are critical, are what allows me to be both supportive and demanding at the same time.

When I sit down with a player and have a private conversation, I want the player to realize that 1) I am not criticizing, 2) I am aware of and proud of existing abilities/strengths, and I think she should be as well, 3) I believe in the player, believe that she can learn to add the new part to her game, 4) I make sure she understands what I am asking, and 5) I expect her to follow through with it, and will help her to do so in any way I can.

When I want to talk to a player personally, I try to make the human part as important as the educational part by showing open, warm, and friendly body language. I look for eye contact. I begin by emphasizing the positives about the player. After all, every player does some aspects of the game well. And I will get the reason for our talk out in the open between us as soon as possible. I never portray the issue as a fault in the player, only as an observation I have made.

These interactions are unique per player because every one has a different personality, and each player has a unique set of soccer issues. Not all issues have the same scope. Someone's inability to shoot with the left foot, for example, is mostly only significant to her and myself. C's issue, however, has the possibility of impacting the whole team, changing a game maybe, and that colors the way I discuss it with her.

We will sit in the grass and chew on the subject together for a while. I'll explain what I see happening, what the problem is, and as I go along I make sure the player is on the same page with me. I want her to see the problem as a problem, and agree that it should be fixed. Together we will work out a solution, which almost always is a solution I will have come prepared to offer.

Maybe for a player like C, what turns up as we sit and talk is that striker is not where she should be playing. I'll often ask a player what she likes about the game. C plays harder than anyone on the team––so I want to know what's driving her. Her reply is a little vague: that she likes to run and be involved in the play. She says that if playing midfielder would get her more time on the ball, that would be her preferred position.

Talking one-to-one establishes for me an understanding of the player, and forms a relationship that I tend to value forever. It is possible from that time forward to have a one-onone with that player whenever I need to. This is the basis of coaching. From this point on, when I talk with C, I know I am talking to the real person. I know how to reach her if it looks like she


isn't tuned in. She knows I care about her and she knows I want her to improve. She knows I will know if she is improving. I can think about her as a person, and begin to formulate ways to motivate and inspire her.

I ask her if she realizes that she sometimes just kicks the ball away. Does she not think she has time to do something better with it? How can she decide if she has time to do more than just kick the ball? How do you get situational awareness? (try to slow the game, be attentive to where other players are, reduce the number of options in your own mind) If you just kick the ball away, which team benefits? When you run back to midfield or further chasing the ball, where is our striker when we want to play the ball to her?

I will also begin during scrimmages to reinforce her awareness of the more obvious of her infractions by making her wrong decisions impact the team as a whole. If she just kicks the ball without purpose, for example, I will freeze the scrimmage, point out what just happened, ask her to explain the reason for just kicking the ball to no purpose. This focuses right in on the issue in a public way. I explain to the whole team that it is important for the ball carrier to see her options, which means teammates need to help her keep possession. This makes it not necessarily only up to C to make better decisions. Then if she does it again, I will freeze the scrimmage, explain that we are better players than kids who just kick the ball, and have the whole team do pushups.

Pushups as a team thereafter whenever she does it, or anyone else does it as well. The kids take it very good heartedly, but they get the message.

Set A Goal For Every Player

I set individual goals for each and every player on my team. I strive to have a relationship with each player, based some individual improvement that it is reasonable for them to reach over the course of a season or shorter.  And I spend time during games and practices talking with many players on the sidelines about what they should be doing to reach their goal.  I laud the good I see in each player’s game and I never let down with regard to holding each player responsible for meeting her individual goal.  Goals get adjusted and moved as players improve.  I point out situations in games or practices where a player did or did not make the effort needed to meet a goal––so players can see what they are doing or not doing.

Sometimes the goals go beyond skills, strategy, or game. There is a player, M, on one of my teams who has great skills, great speed, great determination, and is liked by every player. She is seen as one of those players who can be counted on, who has excellent technique, who rarely makes mistakes, who never complains when asked to do something, who covers for others. My challenge became, what can I add to her game to lift it and make her experience better? It clearly wasn't going to be something in the way of skills like those that the team was working on as a whole.

Soccer is competitive, and one of the most important elements making up a team's success is communication, the verbal glue keeping the parts working together. It is surprisingly difficult to get girls to be vocal, especially to take the role of on-field captain. It sets them apart from their teammates to be seen as a director, and girls are socially loath to be separated out. This was the challenge I gave to M: I told her I wanted her to help the team by talking during games about situations like unmarked opposition players, open players on our team, positions during restarts.


I specifically asked her, but without using the term, to be a leader on the field for our team. My hope in doing this is that M would both help the team and begin to fashion an understanding of herself as someone who sees the game very well.

Skills, Drills, Scrimmages

When motivating girls, I've found that foot skills and drills are undertaken more successfully when done for a reason that is explained to the team, and under the pressure of a little friendly competition. Just because they’re girls doesn’t mean they don’t want to win. It doesn't work, however, to just show something and then say, "Let's see how well you can do it." This often works great for boys, however. Just not as well for girls.

One very good reason for doing foot skills is to strengthen soccer muscles. And by way of explanation, I can tell the squad as they complain about having to do them that muscle strength and muscle memory are reasons why we are doing the foot skills or drills. But I have learned from experience that tying skills to some aspect of game play makes girls so much more receptive to practicing them. So, as you look through the skills and drills that follow, keep in mind how to make them fit into the context of a real game, and always be prepared to show that connection, to use it and rely on it as a way to get more effort from your players.

For the most part, I can not claim ownership of any of the following drills, skills, or scrimmages. Over time I have learned, modified, and interpreted them in my own ways.


About once a week try to give out paper quizzes that the whole squad can work on together.

Print out a four or five question quiz and hand one printout to the team, telling them they have two minutes as a group to come up with the answers. There really is no limit to what you can quiz your squad about. My quizzes usually cover concepts done in recent drills or scrimmages.

Subjects I have quizzed them on include:

• What three things can the ball carrier do? What order of importance?

• When we have ball, what should our players without the ball do?

• When we are taking a corner kick, where do want to stand, and why?

• What is touch-tight marking?

• When should we do touch-tight marking?

• What is a good decision for defenders to make when we are under attack near our goal?


• What is a recovery run?

• When we turn the ball over to them, what part of the field do we want to deny them?

• What is the difference between how we take direct versus indirect kicks?

• Name two things defenders should do (mark a player, cover a passing lane).

• Who should initiate a give and go, ball carrier or teammate?

• What are the main parts of a fake (shoulder dip or body turn to make opponent turn in one direction, quick mostly lateral acceleration with ball in other direction)?

• What do square, drop, and through mean?

• What is the difference between marking and covering, between zone defense and person defense?

Foot Skills

Every one of the following soccer skills may need to be taught, and will need to be practiced:

• dribbling

• receiving

• shooting

• juggling

• faking

• goal keeping

• shielding

• defending

• chest trapping

• thigh trapping

• heading

• push passing

• using the laces for power

• using the outside of the foot

• movement laterally

• volleying

• keeping the head up


• turning

• accelerating

• separating from defenders

• slowing ball carriers without lunging

coerver-style foot skills (a Youtube video of some can be found here)

Intensive Foot Skills

Based on the Youtube video above, space all players apart, each with a ball, and do a nonstop 15 minute’s worth of ball moves: toe-taps, boxes, push-pulls, w’s (pull, switch feet, push), v’s

(pull, same foot, push), sole roles, step overs, scissors, triangles, inside-outsides. Start each new exercise slowly to be sure every player understands what to do, then pick up pace and have players count off fifty iterations of each skill. Go straight through all ten exercises in about twenty minutes. Do this every practice in as quick a time as possible, it is a demanding and toughening skill drill.

100 Touches

Pair players up ten to fifteen feet apart and have them perform 100 1st touch push passes between them using the inside of the foot to serve the ball, being as accurate as possible, alternating feet. Keep passes on the ground, show where on ball to strike––center––to prevent lofting it, emphasize best pace of pass to help teammate receive the ball. Have pair count aloud to 100, which would be only 50 touches per players. Emphasize with the team that this is a very fundamental skill, should be managed easily, and is important to teamwork, being able to make accurate quick passes with either foot. Add 100 more passes where ball is received on outside of foot, dragged away from body and then returned as a push pass. Tell the team this is akin to moving the ball laterally in an effort to keep it away from an opponent. Add more passes where players receive outside and pass instep while they move together laterally across the field.



Around The Cone

Players work in pairs passing a ball back and forth around a cone. First touch is a "pass to your self" that redirects the ball across the cone, and next touch serves ball to other player. Ball can travel clockwise, receive inside right or outside left and served inside left. Ball can travel counter-clockwise, receive inside left or outside right and is served inside right. Place a ball on center cone and if ball is knocked off cone, pairs must do 3 push ups and them continue.


Lateral movements with outside of foot between cones

Place two cones about 10 feet apart. Player starts at one cone and uses outside of foot to push ball to opposite cone, then immediately switches feet and, facing the same direction, uses outside of other foot to push ball to other cone. Repeatedly go back and forth between cones. Emphasize quickness, acceleration after first touch. Can collect ball at other end with inside of foot, but first big acceleration toward opposite cone uses outside of foot and is made with quickness and separation in mind. Emphasize how important lateral movement is for keeping ball away from opponents. Almost never practiced, but should be practiced to the point where it is natural to use.


Fake And Go with Outside of Foot

Place three cones about 30 feet apart, so the center cone is 15 feet from either end cone. Line players behind either outside cone facing the center cone. Players are to dribble simultaneously at the center cone, then at about five feet from cone step over ball with left foot, dip left shoulder in a feint, then take ball to the right of cone with outside of right foot. First touch with right foot is for separation and acceleration. Players continue after their move with their ball to back of opposite line. Emphasize technique until players are comfortable with basic movements, then have them increase pace. Emphasize making them move early enough, a good five feet from center cone, to provide enough distance between defender and ball carrier to make the move, or defender will win ball away.

Replace center cone with a person who offers "helper" resistance, not really tackling ball away, but is light pressure and the ball carrier must make move around person. Run this drill with pairs, and ball carrier feints around center person, goes to opposite cone. Repeat in other direction, and eventually swap roles.

Play 1v1 in small field, put feints to use to beat the opponent.


Around the Triangle

Set 3 cones in a triangle with about four feet between each cone. A pair of players plays at each triangle. Triangles are spaced far apart so players at each triangle don't interfere with each other. Game is to play the ball two-touch back and forth through a different face of the triangle than it was received. To do so in only two touches, first touch must move ball quite a long ways.

Don't worry about getting the ball to go exactly through open faces, but rather emphasize working together to play the two-touch ball. Players must react to each other in order to move around the triangle effectively. This drill is very good at showing the way proper body angle for receiving and passing makes the drill easier. Body should be square to triangle when receiving or passing. Emphasize using both outside and inside of foot to make first touch.


One or Two-Touch in Shapes

Using cones, set up three or four shapes with space enough to accommodate three players moving randomly about in each shape. Shapes can be squares, rectangles, diamonds, hearts, circles, half moons, whatever. A rectangle of 15x15 feet would be about right. Put a team of three in each shape. On coach's signal, players move about inside shape making two-touch passes.

Players must be constantly moving. Consecutive passes are counted. If ball leaves shape, or player takes more than two touches, count starts over. Play for two minutes or so, then teams switch shapes, bringing score with them. After all teams have visited all shapes, team with highest score wins. Reduce touches to one touch to make game harder. It is best to have assistants helping keep players moving and counting touches at each shape.


Volley Return Using Laces

Pair players up and space each pair about 15 feet apart. One player tosses ball to other player who returns ball out of the air to server using the laces. Switch roles after ten serves. Emphasize locking toe down and using a flat kicking motion that drives the ball like a line drive back to the server. This will prevent ball from going high over the head of server. Have kicker be dancing on balls of feet in anticipation of needing to move to get in kicking position. Do not be flat footed.


Teaching Moves

Pair players and have one track other as ball carrier performs cuts back and forth across 20 foot space. Provide no-touch defense where helper defender is merely running alongside. Make it a contest by having ball carrier try to beat defender back to opposite line by making move at a surprise time of her choice, then moving with enough acceleration to push ball back to line before defender can react and run back to line.

Hook turn cut, when carrier hooks ball behind standing leg, changes direction, accelerates away. Ball is behind body, and body is used to shield ball.

Pull with toe part of sole, roll away instead of cut away. The turn is used to shield the ball, so make move with opponent in front, pull ball then place turned body between ball and opponent.


Teaching change of direction

When teaching moves, they should first be done in slow motion focusing only on learning technique, repeating over and over with no pressure until the technique is mastered and can be done fairly quickly. Moves should then be done under light "helper" pressure, repeatedly until the player can perform the move at the player's quickest speed. Finally, player executes moves under full pressure usually in a 1v1 situation.

Teaching the inside cut or the outside cut away from pressure. Inside 20x20 box, repeatedly have player carry ball toward cone at opposite edge and cut back before reaching cone. Practice inside cut and outside cut. Technique involves 1) reach across ball, 2) cut ball in 180 degree direction, 3) use body to shield/block other player, 4) touch ball with outside of foot and accelerate away. Repeat in both directions using different feet to make the cut. Add limited pressure by replacing cone with a player who merely lunges toward ball carrier but doesn’t leave the edge line. Teach this as "helper defender" who helps teammate by offering light, non-tackling pressure. Player A dribbles at player B who lunges, forcing player A to perform cut move. Player

A dribbles back to his line, turns, and passes ball to player B.



Forward/Backward Relay Race

Divide into two teams. Set up field with two cones at either end. Distance between cones is roughly 30 feet lengthwise and 5 - 10 feet width-wise. Each team has one ball. Game begins with one player from each team dribbling most of way across field then passing ball to first player in other line. A race then begins, new ball carrier trying to dribble across field and pass to next player before original ball carrier can run backwards to her starting line. If ball carrier completes pass before other player can run backwards to her starting line, award her team a point. But if former ball carrier runs backwards across her starting line first, award her team a point. First team to 5 wins. Change up teams and play again. Emphasize making good pass, and get them to understand what kind of first touch is required to quickly gain speed in effort to dribble as fast as runner is going backwards.


1v3 In A Square

Lay out a square with cones, place three players at three corners and a fourth player inside.

Size of square varies depending on ability of players, with 15-20 feet for less experienced players.

The three outside players move along edges of square forming a triangle with each other as they keep the ball away from the middle player. Teach them to see the open passing lanes as the ball moves corner to corner. The triangle needs to shift so there will be two passing lanes at every corner, so players must move quickly to get to the new open corner. Try to play one touch as much as possible. [


Teach your squad the difference between direct and indirect restarts due to fouls. Teach them the referee hand signals to watch for. Practice quickly setting up a wall, practice quickly taking an indirect kick that brings two players together to pull it off. Scrimmage and intentionally call and signal indirect kicks, even if no foul took place, so the squad can practice them close enough that an indirect kick could result in a goal. Show how the goalie can direct the wall to move if she feels it is not doing a good job covering the shooter. Teach the squad that it is alright to begin setting up the wall closer than the rules permit; all that will happen is that the ref will push the wall back, but setting it up even with one or two players will slow the game down and give your team time to organize.


Teach your squad how to set up for corner kicks both offensively and defensively. When younger and not strong enough to flight a ball into the box, teach them to bring one player near to the corner as a possible short. If the opponents cover the short, have her pull wide, taking cover with her, and so try to make a gap that can be exploited by the kicker. If she is unmarked, the ball can be played to her and she can either turn to goal with it or play a give and go with the kicker.

Teach your squad how to take goal kicks, and emphasize that a ball kicked off the field of play because it was kicked so far wide is a better ball than one which was kicked down the middle of the field, to be picked up by anyone, including an opponent who could then be just steps away from firing a shot. Kicking far downfield becomes a viable restart once the team has the strength and confidence to boot it to midfield in the air.


Pair players up and have them practice technique, practice technique, practice technique.

Discuss how options for throw-ins might change depending on where they are taken. Discuss throwing down the touch line, especially if deep in your defensive zone. Discuss awareness of gaps when you are taking and defending a throw-in. Teach "touch-tight" marking where your players are close enough to put a hand on the opponent. Teach proper positioning when you or they are taking the trow-in. If they are taking it especially near our goal, position goal-side and let your opponent know you are touch tight marking by touching her. You can allow your opponent goal-side marking when you are taking it so long as your team is trained to run onto balls played into the gaps. Practice taking throw-ins down the touch line.


Shield Ball in Square

Place four cones in a square where sides are about 3 feet long. Pair players per square, one inside square with a ball, one outside who tries to win ball. On coach's signal player inside uses body to shield ball from outside player. Teach how to keep body oriented width-wise to maximize difficulty in reaching ball, and how to shoulder outside player off ball. Emphasize positioning ball as far away as possible with opposite foot. Outside player does not kick at ball but simply tries to poke it out of box. Switch roles when outside player succeeds.

Agility Run

This is a whole-team contest. Mark out an agility race course with cones. For example, form four race lines where each race line is the same course. A race line could be a starting cone followed simply by 4 cones spaced 15 feet apart. An even number of players form a team behind each start cone. On your signal, first player in each team runs course. You can make up the course to be different every practice. A sample course would be: sprint from start cone to first cone, turn to face left and run sideways to second cone, turn and run backwards to third cone, turn to face right and run to last cone, then sprint back to start cone and touch hand of next


player in your team. Each team runs course 3 times, and when a player has completed all 3 runs she sits down. Race is won by team where all players on team are first to be sitting.

This is useful for several things. First, the game of soccer is made up of running, much of it backwards, sideways, any which way. Very few kids have experience running, especially running backwards quickly. The more of this they do, the better runners they will be during games. It is also useful because it increases the player's awareness of competitive running, trying to beat someone. It gives the quickest players a little more confidence. It also raises awareness among team members of who the fast players on the team are.

You can run whole team cross-field races. I do this at the end of practice. Players line up on a touch line and sprint to opposite touch line then back again. First three across touch line do not have to repeat. Done at end of practice is when they really have to reach into themselves to find the determination to compete. I ask them to give it their all, telling them that speed and endurance make a difference if they want to be winners. In actuality, these races might make little difference in fitness or endurance at the very young ages, but they do raise team awareness of the importance of speed, confidence in running, and add an intra-team competitiveness that the kids react to.


Pass to Player with Recovery Run

Run this drill from the middle of the field. Set up two lines of players at midfield, one line near the center of the field, one near a touch line. Also place a player in goal as keeper. Players at touch line have balls and first player in line serves ball to player at center field. As soon as player at center touches served ball, but not sooner, player at touch line must make complete recovery run in attempt to cut off ball carrier before she can get a shot on goal.

Emphasize that this run must take defender goal-side of ball carrier. It is not enough to run back to goal and end up alongside the shooter because this will not prevent the shooter from getting off a shot. Must run to position where shooter will have to go around you in order to have clear shot. This all about instantaneous recognition and speed that allows defender to recover space and cut off shooter. Rotate roles. Rotate goalie as needed.

Put Move on Player with Recovery Run

Drill practices both making a feint and making a recovery run. Set up drill with 3 cones in a line. Center cone is about 25 feet from either end cone. Two players per drill. End player starts at one end cone with ball, dribbles at other player who is standing at center cone. Ball carrier practices a step-over fake and takes ball around defender in opposite direction from fake, headed for other end cone. Center player should offer "helper" resistance only. As soon as player puts move on defender, defender counts aloud to 2 Mississippi, then turns and tries to beat carrier to cone.

Drop Pass to Support Under Pressure/Evolve to Give and Go

To make this is a game-like situation, set drill up on field length-wise along one flank. 3 players are involved, two attackers and one defender. Start two attackers at same cone just about level with the 18, while defender holds position on other side of midfield anticipating the attack.

One attacker plays up and runs upfield, turns and receives ball from other attacker who stayed back. Both attackers are now on offense, and ball carrier is pressured by defender.

Back attacker must make crisp outlet pass to start attack and then must accompany forward attacker by running with her but play behind as back support. She must be taught to recognize the defensive pressure situation ball carrier is met with and offer support for a drop pass. It is responsibility of back attacker to call and show for the drop pass as a means of ensuring her team retains possession.

Emphasize that back attacker must have awareness of situation, and insert herself into the play by communicating. Drill involves this situational awareness and communication, and can repeat even this part until players understand it is crucial to success. Then forward attacker turns with ball and passes back to support, then makes a run to open space and receives the ball back from support player. This is just short of a give and go because play is made from player back to


player instead of from player to open space. Emphasize forward must move to open space immediately following drop pass.

Evolve this drill to a give and go by having the support player play further up the field, almost square with ball carrier. Drill starts the same way, with back player making opening pass for forward to run on to, but back player moves further upfield and square instead of staying behind.

Then when ball carrier meets defensive pressure, support player will be more square than behind, and she will make square pass to retain possession. Because support is now nearly square, support player's return pass can now go into space behind the pressuring defender. Emphasize that support player must show and call insistently, and make pass into space behind defense as quickly as first touch if possible. Forward should look to run behind defender after making pass to support player.

Emphasize that this evolution of the drill moves ball down field faster than just playing back and forth directly to player's feet. Show that after ball is played into space behind defender, defender has been eliminated from the play. This is a useful motivating tool, the concept of eliminating players. Use the dry erase board to diagram for your team how a ball played behind a defender can be run onto, leaving the defender out of the play.


Passing with Communication

Place 3 cones in a line across at least 50 feet of field, with one cone at each end point and one at center. Three players perform drill per line. Each line should be separated by at least 20 feet.

At start of drill, players are at each cone, and ball is with center player. Center player starts drill by serving ball to an end player and then runs to take her place. End player has 3 touches to play ball to opposite end line. She serves ball within 3 touches while running to take opposite end line player's spot. New ball carrier rushes forward to collect the pass and now has 3 touches to serve ball to opposite end line while making her run to take the end line spot. Drill continues this way until coach stops.

This takes at least one walk through for young players to catch on. Many aspects of play can be coached from this one drill. When first starting out and the drill is running at a decent pace, emphasize moving quickly to the ball and collecting it with the first touch. The ball will be coming at a player from a relative distance, so one crucial skill to master is being able to first touch that approaching ball back directly in front of you so you can set up the long pass to the opposite cone. Discuss which part of the foot will give best control for receiving and first touching the ball in a specific direction. This is one of the best drills for pointing out how crucial first touch is, and you will soon get a feel for which players understand and execute first touch ability. It is also critical for the coach to emphasize that the player go to the pass, close on the arriving ball as quickly as possible, understanding that the urgency comes from beating an opponent. This makes the first touch that puts the ball in the desired direction even harder and more valuable.

Emphasize accuracy in passing. This is a good drill for using the laces to drive a swift pass. Do not make it acceptable to make a poor pass. Tell them that the point of this drill is to pass right to your team mate, not to make her go fetch an errant ball. Because the ball server will be running to make her first touch, she will then be running when making her pass. Emphasize finding the recipient before making the pass, so the player must make first touch, look up and find her team mate, then look back at ball to find it and make accurate pass. Be specific about the need for these steps, and observe the drill closely to enforce whether they happen or not. Never let the ball server get away with not looking for her team mate.

Require the team mate receiving the ball to be actively showing and communicating to the ball carrier. The receiver should be almost excessively demonstrable about showing and calling for the pass. Have her yell the ball carrier's name, wave her hands, point to her feet, shout "cross, cross, cross" or something like that, move in a way that attracts attention, be insistent about letting her team mate know where she is.

Get it running smoothly, then add the following: require the receiving team mate to make a wide run on the end line, 10 to 20 feet away from and on the same line as the end cone.

Receivers are to randomly select which direction to move every time they receive. The ball carrier will still be serving the same distance, but the receiver will never be in the same place, so the carrier will have to find her to be accurate with the pass, and it makes the receiver's showing


and calling more significant because now she can actually communicate her new position to the ball carrier.

Finally, once the pass has been made, have the carrier run wide enough to be out of the way of the play going in the opposite direction back at her.



Line your team up in a file by height, tallest to shortest. From this line, pair them up in twos, the nearest in height forming each pair. This will help assure that kids of roughly equal size and strength are paired with each other. Put each member of a pair on opposite sides of a line such as a touch line, shoulder to shoulder. All pairs are facing the same direction. Teach them to get low to the ground, take a wide stance as though sitting on a piano bench, feet well apart. A wide stance is less prone to loss of balance. Teach proper shouldering technique, especially demonstrating elbowing versus shouldering. Show that an airplane wing shape is permissible, but cocked arms with elbows pointing out isn't. Demonstrate that the airplane wing shape can be used to shield a ball, to carve out space.

This is a lesson in shielding, shouldering, aggression, power. On your mark, the pairs push against each other and the winner is the one who pushes her body across the line against the resistance of her opponent trying to push her body across the line. The drill goes very quickly, a matter of seconds. Do not let it run on for very long. Switch shoulders by having all pairs stay together and turn around. Repeat drill with other players less matched in size. Sometimes you will find that the players want to test themselves against everybody else. I allow this because it lets them experience a more real game-like mismatch. This drill should not be about much else than powering and aggression. It is not specifically designed to allow for use of the airplane shape. It is intended to heighten the sense of how physical the game is.


Long Passing

Set up three rectangular areas anywhere from 25 to 50 feet apart. Players pass between areas, receiving and passing on to next area. This can also be done with just two players and two areas.

Mark areas with two cones about 5 feet apart. Usually there is no need to place a middle cone.

Player receives ball with either the outside of foot or inside, and 1st touch is intended to move ball across area. Player then serves ball to the next area with laces. Player can serve with opposite side of 1st touch as well. Have players alternate which side of foot receives 1st touch. Have players intentionally use the left foot or weaker foot to serve balls. Focus on accuracy, keeping ball on ground, and pace when using laces. Tell players it is always preferable to have too much pace, and never OK to have too little.

Keep Away to Target Player

Two teams play keep away in middle zone, where each team has a target player in a separate zone they are trying to play the ball to. Target player's zone is marked off with cones as a 5 foot wide zone down one flank, while other team has target player in zone down opposite flank. Team tries to play the ball to their target player after completing 3 consecutive passes, and target player attempts to play ball back to a team mate. A point is awarded every time a team con complete 3 passes and get ball to target player and back. Target player can be used any time, but point is awarded only after 3 consecutive passes.

Eliminate the Defender

Point for every ball played behind a defender that results in offensive player receiving ball and having time to stop ball with foot on it, then play it out the end line. Evolve to eliminate defender then offense taking shot.


An acceptable goal of scrimmaging should be to better the team at one or more aspects of the game. Practices at this age are fairly short, so the number of scrimmages that are not in some way goal-directed should be few.

The focus of the controlled scrimmage should be determined by the needs of the team at that point in their development. Early on, the focus could be just to make certain that all players


understand all positions, and that they can be moved around from position to position and the game does not break down. As the season progresses, your understanding of where the team is and what needs to be worked on will improve. The following scrimmage ideas can be used to improve team play. They are identified based on the aspect of team play that each scrimmage focuses on. As always, keep ideas in mind for adjusting the game, evolving it, making it harder or easier, fitting it to the number of players who show for practice.

Ways to make games harder or more focused:

• Restricting space always makes the game more challenging. Opening up to more space makes the game less challenging.

• Increasing the number of players in a space can make the game more challenging, reducing numbers opens the game and makes it less challenging.

• Reducing the number of allowed touches makes games more challenging.

• Forcing teams to play through a certain player makes games more challenging, and is useful for including players who by their nature do not insert themselves into play as much as others.

• Requiring shots or passes to be taken with the left foot adds a challenge.

• Requiring your advanced forwards to put a move on someone before being allowed to shoot adds a challenge to them.

• Not allowing the same person to score more than one goal in a row forces the team to spread the ball around.

• Requiring a drop to midfields from forwards, or a drop from midfielders to defenders adds a team-wide challenge.

• Requiring a switch to weak side before shooting is allowed adds a challenge.

• Challenges can be given uniquely to specific players, so if you have someone who holds the ball too much, give her a 3-touch rule

Long-Passing Scrimmage

Divide field into offensive third, middle third and defensive third using cones, making the middle third slightly smaller. Play only 2v2. Either team can only score by first passing all the way through the middle third. Turnovers need to be long-passed through the middle third to the other offensive third. Score in either direction. Set up two games side by side if you have more players, or rotate after scoring.


Quick Shooting Scrimmage

Bring goals unusually close, separated by no more than 40 feet. Use large goals, or make goals of corner flags separated by 15 feet. Teams play with a goalie. Play at most 3v3. Players play 3 touch and must shoot or pass within that 3 touch limit. Can score from anywhere since goals are close. Coach has a supply of balls on hand and tosses one into play as soon as a shot is taken or ball goes out of play. Encourage frequent shooting from anywhere. Players should look to separate from pressure with one of the 3 touches and shoot. Teach players to use one of the touches to set up shooting foot.

Get Whole Team Involved Scrimmage

Play regular game 4v4 or 5v5. Using cones, divide field across midfield into offensive and defensive halves. Every player on a team must be in the offensive half before a score counts.

Keeps everyone involved in the game, aware of whether they have a scoring chance, moving together up and down field, and especially prevents defenders from hanging back and losing interest. Lots of movement and good for endurance. Play to 5.

Get Different Strikers Involved Scrimmage

Play regular 4v4 or 5v5 on a somewhat shortened field. Each team can score on two goals placed near the corners. The same player can not score twice in a row. Or every player must score before a player can score twice. Play to 5. Having two goals allows for increased chances of scoring, changes of direction, fast counter attack, play to open space. Encourage awareness of where the open space and fast break is to the goal where fewer players are. Emphasize deciding to switch fields to gain an advantage.

Learning to Pass Back Scrimmage

Play regular soccer but team can not score without playing ball to keeper first. Make it harder by requiring ball to go all the way to forwards and then back to keeper before allowing a shot.

Require ball to go through both/all defenders and keeper before allowing a shot.

Getting Everyone Involved in Playmaking Scrimmage

Play regular 4v4 or 5v5. Game is won by first team where every player makes the last pass to scorer. Players should rotate positions during play in order to bring defenders up so they can make through pass to scorer. They can learn to switch on their own. Or switch roles between defenders and forwards. at coach's insistence. Make it easier by placing multiple goals around perimeter that either team can score in.


Attacking the Net Scrimmage

Play regular soccer but no score can count unless all forwards touch the net or step on the goal line in the goal within three seconds of the score, with the coach counting aloud to reinforce.

Emphasize the need to attack instantly and possibly score off of rebounds or loose balls.

Playing Through Balls Scrimmage

Play regular soccer. One approach is to set up two rather wide goals using corner flags or cones on the end lines so there are two opportunities to score for either team. A goal is scored when a player standing in the goal receives a pass from teammate. Or another approach is to set up two four-foot wide goals near the opposite touch lines around mid-field. Goals are scored by passing to teammate through either goal.

Improved Vision/Passing/Quickness Scrimmage

Play regular soccer, but play 3 touch or 2 touch with coach counting touches aloud. A touch too many results in immediate forfeiture of ball to other team.

Ability to Play Balls in the Air Scrimmage

Play regular soccer except either team can score in either goal. All balls are gathered off to one side at midfield. Coach tosses a ball up into the air and it must be touched before hitting ground. Either team can touch it in air and both teams attempt to take possession and score. If ball hits ground before being touched, a point is deducted from both team's score. Score can not go below 0. First team to 5 points wins. A ball that goes to ground without being touched is deemed a dead ball and ignored, and coach immediately plays another ball into the air. Balls that leave the playing field are deemed dead balls too.

World Cup Scrimmage

Play regular soccer but play against one goal only with coach as keeper. Divide squad up into three or four teams and let them designate themselves as a country playing in the world cup. You might end up with Brazil versus USA versus Italy versus England, for example. Coach has plenty of balls on hand and begins game by playing one or two of them way out into the field. Players must shoot from outside a marked-off area, goal box usually works. If a team scores, they sit. Last team to sit is out of next round. Go until one team winds the cup. Great way to wind down a practice.

Moving to Space/Communication/Teamwork Scrimmage

Play "catch soccer" where ball is passed by throwing and catching it. Play in front of only one net. Play must start outside the goal box, so if ball is turned over, possessing team must take ball outside the box. Rules are that a ball carrier has only 3 seconds and can take only 3 steps


before needing to pass ball. Coach counts steps and seconds aloud during play. Goal is scored by heading ball into the net. No goalies, but defending team can swat or grab the ball out of the air.

A player can play to her own head in front of goal if she has time. Coach emphasizes movement to space to receive pass, communication, thinking about best run and best pass––which is obviously the one that would result in a goal. This game is great because it contains the very same patterns as soccer, but because the players are throwing and catching the ball their heads are not down, and they can see the necessary movements, spaces, teammates, etc. It should run quickly because the 3 second time limit forces ball movement or forfeiture. It is easy for coach to point out good movement and passing, and get players to think of doing the same movements during a game. Nice warm up for whole team before a game. Draws attention of other teams because it feels unconventional to be using hands with a soccer ball.

Switch for Opposite Goals Scrimmage

Play any number from 3v3 up to 5v5. Set four goals on field facing each other width-wise, one pair in defensive half and other pair in offensive half, about ten feet from touch lines and end lines. Each team tries to complete two passes through two catty-corner goals. A team must pass first through one pair of goals in defensive or offensive half and then through goal on opposite side and half of field. Point is awarded when a team completes a pass through both goals before opponents intercept ball. Teams can start with any goal.


Emphasize fast transition to both other side of field and other half. Players can practice calling out "switch" if they are open and on opposite flank. After players understand game and have been playing it successfully, coach can increase tempo of game by requiring players to do the switch within a set amount of time, say 4 seconds, by counting off the time limit aloud. Praise fast transition to other half of field, and fast switch to opposite flank, especially the player making the run who gets open for the transition pass.

Many-Target Scrimmage

Set up field with goals at all four corners and a goal at center field. Corner goals are marked with cones and are semicircle areas about four feet wide. Center goal is a square about six feet wide on all sides, marked with cones or corner flags. Two teams play, one scoring at corners and the other in the center. A goal can only be scored by passing to a teammate standing in one of the goals. Team scoring in corners has many options and can change direction to create a quick opportunity. Team scoring in middle can approach goal from any direction, so it has similarly free-form opportunities. Emphasize surprise, change of direction, communication. This is a tiring scrimmage. Switch team goals part way through scrimmage.

Get Out of Here Scrimmage

Divide team into two squads. Field is big enough to accommodate 4v4, but not too big for

2v2 or even 1v1. Use small goals without keepers. Coach has all balls on sideline at midfield.

Teams are on sideline beside coach, each team on either side. Game begins when coach rolls a ball onto field, then calls out the number of players (2v2, 3v3, so on). Players figure out on the fly on their own who should play in the round. When ball goes out of bounds or goal is scored, players "get out of here" and coach starts a new round. Players do not chase out-of-bounds balls.

When all balls have been played, play stops and everyone gathers balls for next round. Let the players figure out who is going on for each round.



Included here is a letter written by Darrell Burnett from coach to parent that offers suggestions for guiding a parent's approach to the child’s soccer experience.

A Coach's Letter to Parents

Dear Parents,

Here are some hints on how to make this a fun season, with lots of positive memories for your kids and your family.

1. Make sure that win or lose you love them, as the person in their life that they can always look to for support.

2. Try to be completely honest with yourself about your kids' athletic capability, their competitive attitude, their sportsmanship, and their level of skills.

3. Be helpful, but don't coach your kids on the way to the game or at the breakfast table. Think about how tough it must be on them to be constantly inundated with advice, pep talks, and criticism.

4. Teach your kids to enjoy the thrill of competition, to be out there trying, to be constantly working to improve their skills, to take physical bumps and come back for more. Don't tell them that winning doesn't count because it does, and they know it. Instead help them develop a healthy competitive attitude, a "feel" for competing, for trying hard, for having a good time.

5. Try not to live your life through your kids. You've lost as well as won. You've been frightened and backed off at times. Sure they are an extension of you but they may not feel the same way as you did, want the same things, or have the same attitude.

6. Don't push them in the direction that gives you the most satisfaction. Don't compete with your kids' coaches. A coach may become a hero to your kids for a while, someone who can do no wrong, and you may find that hard to take. Conversely, don't automatically side with your kids against their coaches. Try to help them understand the necessity for discipline, rules, and regulations.

7. Don't compare your kids with other players on their team - at least not within their hearing - don't lie to them about their capabilities as a player. If you are overly protective you will perpetuate the problem.


8. Get to know your kids' coaches. Make sure that you approve of each coach's attitude and ethics.

Coaches can be influential, and you should know the values of each coach so that you can decide whether or not you want them passed on to your kids.

9. Remember that children tend to exaggerate. Temper your reaction to stories that they bring home from practice or the game about how they were praised or criticized. Don't criticize them for exaggerating, but don't overact to the stories that they tell you.

10. Teach your kids the meaning of courage. Some of us can climb mountains, but are frightened about getting into a fight. Some of us can fight without fear, but turn to jelly at the sight of a bee.

Everyone is frightened about something. Courage isn't the absence of fear. Courage is learning to perform in spite of fear. It's overcoming it.

11. Winning is an important goal. Winning at all costs is stupidity.

12. Remember that the officials are necessary. Don't overreact to their calls. They have rules and guidelines to follow representing authority on the field. Teach your kids to respect authority and to play by the rules.

13. Finally, remember, if the kids aren't having fun, we're missing the whole point of youth sports.

Darrell Burnett, Ph.D.  


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