How to Conduct Your Practices
Soccer practices for recreational youth soccer should be a fun and exciting experience for the young player, taking care not to overwhelm young players with the demands and expectations of organized athletics. Therefore, how you do your practices will depend in large part to the ages of the kids on your team. At younger ages, soccer education should be focused on the individual player’s motor control skills over their own body and becoming comfortable with the ball at their feet (rather than in their hands — a perfectly natural tendency). As kids progress through the various age groups in the program, that focus shifts to more advanced skills like positions, offense and defense.
What to Teach
When coaching, your main priority is simply to act as a guide, a facilitator and role model while reinforcing each player’s passion for the game. When you create a positive learning environment in a fun and exciting way, the children will develop their own physical and social skills all on their own.
While the technical skills like passing and dribbling are fundamental to the game of soccer, you should also teach kids to stop when they hear a whistle (since that’s how the officials will signal the players to stop game action) and to form a line when they hear the coach command them to "line up."
For a more detailed look at the kinds of technical skills you would teach kids in your particular age group, read one (or both) of the following:
Tips for All Ages
Here are some more detailed pointers for your consideration.
- Show up a few minutes early for practices. Parents will show up early, but some won’t let their kids out of the car until a responsible adult representing the soccer program is present.
- As kids shuffle in, release the practice balls onto the field and tell any kids you see standing around to go warm up by passing the ball amongst themselves or take some shots on goal. Within minutes, you’ll see a mob of kids in their natural-born state: The state of play. You’ll probably have 3-6 kids standing on the goal line trying to stop shots, and the rest chasing balls on the field trying to steal one to take shots with. Monitor the action to detect any unsafe play and reprimand rough or unsafe play - such as people taking shots more than one or two at a time, pushing, shoving, wrestling, and so forth - and do not permit children to leave your sight or to climb on the goal posts.
- Allow the kids to enjoy this state of "free play" until practice start time, or a little after start time if you need to wait for more latecomers to get their numbers up.
- Once you decide to stop "free play," condition your team to line up along the goal line when they hear you blow your whistle. During practices, the whistle should be used to signal the kids to line up, such as at the beginning of practice or between drills. It also teaches them to "stop" when they hear the whistle, which is important on game day!
- After having a quick talk with them, run through the roll call. (You may need to separate kids who are talking by moving one of them to another position in the line-up!)
- Use a printed roster that shows first and last names for the roll call. It will take time for you to memorize each kid’s name, and conducting roll calls will make it easier to match a name to a face. Also instruct your team not to leave without checking out with you, and notate on the roll call sheet that the child has left. I used to allow the kids to check themselves out as long as they acknowledge with me that they are leaving before doing so. I would leave a clipboard with the roster on the bench for this purpose. The value of this step can’t be understated: It’s very often that parents need to pick their child up early, and the child will often leave with a parent without letting you know. Later, you’ll realize that the child is missing and usually, other kids will be able to tell you that the child in question left with a parent. However, this is still a little unnerving and training them to check out and sign out before leaving will prevent this from happening.
- Between each drill or at the start of any practice activity, start by lining the kids up or assembling them on the field. If you plan to speak to them for any length of time, allow them to sit. The line-up is always a good idea, because it signals the kids that it’s time to stop playing and time to start listening.