Monday, September 24, 2007

JT's Blog - Coaching the Young Player - Sept. 24

JT's Blog will be a weekly addition to the US Youth Soccer Blog. John Thomas "JT" is the Assistant Director of Coaching Education for US Youth Soccer.

Anthony Cook was a member of the Pittsburgh US Youth Soccer National Youth License Course, hosted by Pennsylvania West State Soccer Association. We had a great discussion about the development of young players. Anthony then typed some of our conversation and some additional information that he feels is helpful and I want to share that will you.

Background on Anthony: In addition to coaching, he is a professional photographer for National Geographic. He stated in a newly published book by David Elkind, Power of Play, the author writes that in the last few years children have lost an average of 12 hours of play a week.

The approach today for introducing children to soccer is about taking soccer and discovering the game in the child. Soccer for the young player is about children having fun and playing. Coaching young soccer players is undertaken with the long-term goal of preparing the player to successfully recognize and solve challenges of the game on their own.

“Developmentally Appropriate” is a concept that is very important to grasp when developing the fundamental soccer skills of the young player. Developmentally appropriate is the term used to define young players “soccer age” when determining proper training activities. For children, learning the game of soccer is an ongoing process that can begin at a very early age and continue well into the teenage years. A coach should recognize, understand and be patient with the development of young players. A young player’s mental and physical health should be given primary consideration when training occurs. Children have limited capacities while performing certain activities, especially when comparing them to the behavior patterns of an adult. These limitations are dependent upon many things. Developmentally, an activity presented to the U-10 player is more than likely inappropriate for the U-6 player. There are different rates of maturity between genders. Physical and psychological differences between boys and girls become substantially apparent between boys and girls within the U-12 age group, while the U-6 and U-8 boys and girls are generally far more evenly matched physically and mentally while performing on the soccer field.

“The most important things that must be seen in youth soccer are those things that are unseen. We can not see/learn if we are in the middle barking orders all the time. We must stand back and simply observe once and awhile,” said Dr. Ron Quinn former coach at Xavier College.


Dr. Muska Mosston’s Slanty Line Theory is a concept that takes the traditional method of straight-line concepts as typified in the old rope game of high-water low-water, where the rope starts low to the ground where everyone can jump over it. As the rope is slowly raised by two children holding each end, children begin to be eliminated from the competition until only one is left on the field. The approach is counter productive in the development of young children because the ones that need the activity the most are eliminated first. If you take the rope and slant the rope where one end is lower than the other those children who want to run and jump and feel successful can do so. When the players feel comfortable they will seek new challenges. With this approach players participate at their own level and children of all levels can play together. Given opportunities, children seek out challenges and take risks. Children will not continue activities in which they are continually eliminated or wait to take turns. Games of exclusion use the straight line concept that excludes players from participation. Games of inclusion use the slanty-line approach and keep players involved in the activity.

Make an effort to select, design and provide training sessions or practices that motivate each player. Allow for more turns, increased ball contacts or touches, reduced down time between activities and select activities that allow everyone to play. Coaches should think about every training session and what they would like to accomplish. As a coach you may see your players only once or twice a week so it is important that you prioritize what you want your players to learn throughout the short season.

No Lines – No Lectures – No Laps

Drills vs. Activities
-To structured
-No thought
-Age inappropriate

-Less structured
-Free movement
-Decision making
-Age appropriate

“Readiness for sports is the match between a child’s level of growth, maturity and development, and the task demands presented in competitive sports” …. R. Malina

Under-6 Players:

Beginning with U-6, a proper and consistent methodology of training should be followed as a player grows and improves. U-6 children are usually very self-centered seeing and responding only to the here and now. For the most part they are interested in playing directly with the ball and kicking it – anywhere. Appropriate activities should be short in duration because the players will tire easily. However, they will recover quickly for the next activity. They have very little sense of space – back up a few feet, or spread out does not mean much to them. It is okay and natural for them to bunch around the ball. That is their focus at this stage of development. It is important to keep them active. Exploring motor skills is important emphasizing coordination, ball touches and dribbling activities. Cognitively, playing games using their imagination is critical and find activities that encourage one task problem solving. U-6 players process small bits of information. Development for the U-6 player requires substantial praising and play without pressure. Warm-up should include movement and soccernastics….

These are a few ideas for you to keep in mind when planning each practice session:
Kids want rules at U-6 and give everyone the same amount of time. Try to take any negative situation and turn it into a positive situation as it may develop on the field.

Under-6: Objective to provide an all around athletic experience. Emphasize dribbling … Dribbling is nothing more than passing the ball from one foot to the other. As they become more efficient dribbling the better they will be able to pass.

-Everyone has a ball

-Becoming comfortable with the ball dribbling

-Lots of movement like skipping, jumping, running, throwing and catching … there is ample time for them to learn eye to ball level skills

-Explore rolling and bouncing ball

-Games that teach dribbling and turning the ball with their feet

-Play small sided games of 3v3/4v4 – goals are not necessary, simply end lines

-Start them out in a shape like a diamond or triangle, however don’t become disturbed when it becomes a 1v6 match

-All activities should emphasize coordination – players at this age see the field one way with no

Under-8 Players:

Building the player’s skill level from previous experiences is an important goal for this age group. Self concept and body image are beginning to develop. They still have a great need for approval from adults. They are still very sensitive and they dislike personal failure in front of peers. Line drills tend to set kids up for failure in front of their peers. They like to show what they can do with individual skills. True playmates begin to emerge with an inclination toward pairs activities. Their attention span is a bit longer than the U-6 age group. They still lack a sense of pace so they will go hard and tire quickly. At this age effort equals ability in their mind. They have limited experience with personal evaluation so effort is synonymous with performance. Focus on effort – not the result.
In training keep in mind that they have a limited ability to tend to more than one task at a time. They are just beginning to grasp the concept of time and space. They hear how you say something not always what you say.

Under-8 Training:

-Introduce partner activities. Add more maze activities and target games

-Develop the first (controlling) touch

-Teach them to open “out” when receiving the ball (not trapping) on the ground

-Games that teach dribbling with the head up, turning and keeping the ball away from opponent

-Passing in two’s - done in motion, not static
-Playing 3v1 games and learning to support the player that has the ball

-Teach shape, not positions. 3v3 is a triangle, 4v4 is a diamond

-If an elimination game is played have the player that has been eliminated do a couple of star-jumps or something similar then re-enter the field of play – keep them all active

-Conclude with small-sided games of 4v4 with two goals

-They like (need) to be recognized for good performance

Every now and then it’s great to hear what the candidates have learned in class and are able to express not only on paper but to others face to face. Thanks Anthony for your hard work!

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