This Spring the club asked me to coach a U6 team of boys. They had no coach. I said I would do it and somehow squeezed it in (it is just 1 practice/week). It has been a few years since I coached this age, but I thought it would be fun as I have never coached Zachary (my son) in any sport. So, I took Zach off of his normal team and received 5 other new boys. While my first few practices were tough (I have been working with an advanced group of U10s for a while), it ended up being a great experience. I recounted my years before of coaching, and the mistakes I made then, simplified the approach, and we made a lot of progress in one short Spring Season. Here are some do’s and don’ts of coaching U6s:
1. Tell the kids to pass.
2. Tell the kids to spread out. (Does not compute. The ball is the toy – in games, when there is only 1 toy, why would they go away from it?)
1. Tell the kids to DRIBBLE.
2. Direct them to DRIBBLE away from the Monsters (including their teammates) (you can even stand in an open area of the field and tell them to “dribble to you”.)
3. Most important, tell them to DRIBBLE, not kick or pass or even shoot (especially from long range).
4. Tell the kids to always WATCH the ball (great question to ask them during the game: “hey, what are you looking at? . . . the ball, coach (after I have asked them that repeated games – it always helped them to remember their focus point)).
The bolded phrases are the only 2 instructions I give them during the game.
1. Don’t use elimination games. They generally only help the most advanced players, who get to stay in the drill the longest, when the other kids need the work more. If you do have an activity that eliminates players, let them do some ball touches, jumping jacks, something, and re-enter.
2. Prepare lots of activities. At this age, the kids burn out quickly (no pacing). They will need quick breaks and be ready to go full speed again.
3. Make sure every child has a ball. They view it as a toy and will not share it (which is why asking them to pass is not helpful). Bring extra balls just in case.
4. Do teach them the restarts. Some may disagree with this, but based on my experience, it will take you 1 1/2 practices to teach the restarts. Go over kickoffs, goal kicks, corner kicks, and throw ins. Use the language from the Laws of the Game – they can get it. In 1 practice, this group of new boys could tell you what was a “touch line” and a “goal line”. (“Touch lines” are the side lines – you get to touch the ball to get it back in, hence, “touch line.”) The reason I go over this is because (1) it is important at every age to include Laws of the Game, and (2) because, practically, it will make for a much better game experience. The fields these kids play on is very small so the ball goes out a lot and there are usually a lot of goals. Most of the teams that we played had no clue how to restart, even by the end of the Spring. Our boys, with just slight prodding, could restart quickly and keep the game going without much help from me. That is the real reason I go over it. The fields are tiny so there will be lots of restarts — you might as well cover them to make the games better.
FINAL SPRING REPORT
The final report of the Spring is this: we looked awful weeks 1, 2, and 3, but we did know how to restart. The boys were just not that aggressive or natural competitors, but very cute kids. My last group of boys at this age were all multi-sport kids who loved to compete. So, this was an interesting experience. We stuck to our guns and by the fourth game, you could see real improvement. To get them to pay better attention, I always would ask, real nicely, “hey _____, what are you looking at? They started to recognize that was code for “pay attention.” To add to their aggressiveness, I did add some challenges, like, “which one of you can be the first to touch the ball once the other team kicks it?” That was my way of getting them to play defense and win the ball back.
But, by far, their biggest improvement was dribbling. Even the weakest kid on the team would dribble more than some of the best kids on the other team (it didn’t usually end in goal, but it takes a lot of confidence to dribble the ball). And, they started realizing that it was a game of 1v5, not 3v3. Everyone, other than who had the ball, was a “monster.” The kids, with a little prodding on direction, would dribble to open areas. My wife coached the last 2 games and couldn’t believe what she was seeing. (She watched the first 3 games).
This age is a critical age to the development of youth soccer players. It is also a rewarding age to work with kids. At the National Youth License, they made the point that our most qualified coaches coach at the higher levels where the kids need less help and we leave our least experienced coaches with the little ones. Sam Snow suggested that we have it backwards. He is the US Youth Director of Coach Instruction. Interesting thought…
Finally, just to add some more meat to the dribbling part — Sam Snow said that at U6 games coaches should only use one word” “DRIBBLE.” I thought that was awesome and consistent with my experience. I cannot speak highly enough of the instructors at the NYL (Sam Snow, Gary Williamson, and Neal Ellis). They were incredible.