Small-sided (“Small sided games” or “SSG”) soccer has been introduced in the States. It has, through the years, trickled down to even the smallest clubs. Courses are taught praising SSG — and that we should “let the game be the teacher.” We still have a long way to go. Coaches attend courses and hear what they want to hear. Then there are those who take it too far — whether by choice or laziness.
Letting the game be the teacher can be a crutch to a coach. Why bother preparing coaching points, questions, activities — just let them play. And, if I do that, then I am letting the “game be the teacher.”
But, if you coach/teach players U8-U13 (even older), “letting the game be the teacher” is not an excuse for lack of preparation. It is not an excuse for ignoring the needs of your team. In the U8-U13 ages, players are entering the world of team play — and advanced team play. It is in these times, a little bit of information goes a long way. What kind of information?
Here are some Coaching Fails for this age group where a little bit of information goes a long way.
1. Your team concedes lot of goals on goal kicks. The Coaching fail is not taking time to teach the players how to take a goal kick, where to take a goal kick, options to the kick, where your teammates can be, or maybe even a play. I do not buy the excuse that we should avoid tactics at these ages. A few minutes here and there, a bit of organization, and problem solved. I have no problems with my teams conceding goals, but the kids work too hard to have them give them away because they do not have a few pieces of information.
2. Your goalie doesn’t know when he can pick the ball up and when he has to play with his feet. Again, a little bit of information goes a long way. Even with rotated keepers, it doesn’t take much effort to teach them when they can pick up a ball — most kids, without the information — will assume that even an errant ball, or a rebounded ball off a teammate — is off limits. What if a teammate passes to them intentionally – hopefully we are teaching our players to include the keeper. Educate them on the Laws of the Game. I hate seeing keepers concede silly goals because they just do not know.
3. Your goalie doesn’t know she can play a higher line than the goal line. Again, a little information goes a long way. Plus, it is more fun for the keeper to get involved. Just give the keeper a little of your attention in the game.
4. Your team gives away the kickoff most times. Players taking the kickoff do not know how far the touch forward has to be or can be. Take a few minutes and teach them some options. Better yet, give them 5 minutes at the end of practice and let them design their own kickoff.
5. Your team does not know how to take an indirect free kick (or what the signal is). Incorporate the hand signal in your scrimmage at end — randomly call fouls, direct and indirect. I even let the kids act like they were fouled and they get to blame someone. Then, teach them how to take an indirect kick. Bring a phone – go to youtube – show them some cool ones. Let them create their own. Same for direct kicks – teach them the hand signal. Show them some examples — let them make their own. They love working on this.
At the same time, let your keeper(s) practice setting up a defensive plan for the free kicks. Teach them an offside line. When do they want it? How do they set it? How can they make sure everyone is marked. Let the keeper practice the instructions. Put the wall in the wrong place — let the keeper fix it. This can be incorporated into the flow of a scrimmage with little effort and disruption.
6. Your team does not know how to set a wall. Especially on an indirect kick — they can set the wall inside the box. Let them practice. Blow stops occasionally during scrimmage and let them work on it.
7. This is a horrible one — your keeper doesn’t know how far out she can go before distributing the ball. They think their area is the goalie box, not the penalty area. Explain the difference to them. Give them this information. This is particularly true if you follow U.S. Youth Guidelines and rotate keepers. A little bit of information goes a long way for a keeper.
8. Your team loses possession because of illegal throws. OK — so you have taught them to keep both feet on the ground — now teach them that the ball must go completely behind their head. A little bit of information goes a long way. I hate seeing kids making illegal throws because of this and not knowing what they did wrong (they say – “but my feet were on the ground!”).
9. Your team concedes a lot of goals on corners. Well have you worked on it? Do you have a plan? Working on defending corners is great practice because you get to work on this key defensive point: “can you see the defender you are marking and the ball?” Or, for young players, how do you “mark” a player? Give the information — give them a plan — then let them implement it, alter it. Empower your keeper to control the exercise.
10. Your team concedes a lot of goals off of punted balls (this is a small-sided games problem). It bugs you — the other coach imploring his keeper to punt the ball. It is a small field. I hate it. You hate it. It is not promoting development. It is particularly tough because players in this range have hard time judging balls in flight. Plus, I do not want players this age heading punted balls. So, what information can you share to help? Have a plan. If you know the field is small (8v8 and 6v6 fields vary), instruct your defenders to retreat when their keeper picks the ball up. If your outside backs are pushed up, focus on your center back. Have them retreat well inside your half. Yes, you can tell them “don’t let it bounce” but part of the problem is that the player you put back there may have difficulty judging balls in flight (ask Sam Snow). So, put them in a position to succeed. There is nothing so demoralizing to a center back or a team to be winning possession, using creative attacks, involving their teammates, only to concede on punted balls to a “fast forward” to a team that emphasizes win at all costs.
Try this. Tell your center back to retreat and, if under pressure, play the ball to safety. If they can control it, great. You get to teach the vocabulary “safety first.”
This is a real pet peeve of mine. At U9-12, success from a punted ball is fools gold. In a few short years, those center backs will have no trouble with the ball. Why teams emphasize it is usually because the coach has made the game about him.
Well, those are just a few examples where a little bit of information goes a long way. I am a big believer in incorporating the Laws of the Game into my sessions to educate the players on these items. I think we, as coaches, have an obligation to share this information.