Tag Archives: drills

Thoughts on Coaching U6s

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:

DON’T

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?)

DO:

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.

PRACTICE TIPS:

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.

Dutch Youth Coaching Handbook & 4v4

I have been reading Coaching Soccer, The Official Coaching Book of the Dutch Soccer Association.   Many people regard the Dutch as world leaders in youth soccer training.  The coaching book, written by Bert van Lingen, is a bit dated (1997) but covers their basic philosophy.  For coaches, they say the demands are:

1.  The ability to “read” the soccer situation.
2.  The ability to “manipulate” soccer obstacles (make them easier or more difficult, organize them in a methodological sequence)(obstacles include the ball, opposing players, teammates, rules of the game, stress, time, space, and goal orientedness).
3.  The ability to explain clearly the problems involved.
4.  The ability to provide the right example and to demonstrate it.
5.  The ability to engender the right atmosphere for learning.  (Coaching Soccer, p.9).  

The book covers all aspects of teaching, but primarily focuses on teaching the three moments of the game:  (1) Own team has possession, (2) Opposition has possession, and (3) Change of possession – the moment the ball is lost or won.  


The basis for all of the training outlined is a formula called T.I.C.  It stands for technique – Insight -Communication.  At young ages (5-7), focus is on TECHNIQUE with less emphasis on insight and communication (labeled T.i.c.).  From 7-12, more insight is added by playing small-sided and basic games (T.I.c.).  It is not until age 12 that they heavily focus on all three (T.I.C.).  


The other thing that really stood out from the book was the emphasis on a fun atmosphere in training.  At the young ages, it is critical that the kids enjoy the game.  The author writes that years ago, many kids learned by playing on the street.  That is not as prevalent today so, in training, we need to try to replicate the atmosphere of street soccer as best we can.  In other words, think of the parents’ role in a street or yard soccer game . . . some measure of that needs to be carried over to training sessions in small-sided games. 


The book strongly advocates the use of 4v4 as a training tool.  In fact, a whole chapter is dedicated to espousing its benefits, complete with multiple variations of the game.  It is recommended that some rules by placed in the games and, while the coach should not interfere too much, there are great opportunities to teach from the exercise.  “4v4 is the smallest manifestation of a real match.”  Coaching Soccer, p. 104.  Players are rewarded for learning to read soccer situations.  They will also maximize touches.  There will be plenty of opportunities to take a player 1v1, and ball control is at a premium.  


We have been experimenting with this with our U10s.  I found that basic ball control was lacking.  We could drill on it OR…play 4v4.  4v4 on a smaller field demands good ball control.  If a ball is played to a teammate and it is not trapped appropriately, there will be a defender or a boundary nearby to frustrate the offense.  It is my passive-aggressive way of telling boys to concentrate on the first touch.  If they are on a big field, they have a wider margin for error.  What I mean by that is the ball area (after it touches them) can be within 5 yards and they can still have possession with time and space.  In 4v4, that is not the case.  Not only is there limited space, the limited space means an opposition player is nearby.  


I will write separately on this later, but it leads me to an observation I have learned over time.  Many times I hear coaches exhorting players to pass the ball at an opportune time.  (Assuming that is the correct thing to do at that moment rather than challenging a defender).  My problem with that is I think it skips a step.  First, they have to catch the ball.  I find that if kids properly catch the ball, they tend to be smart with it.  A lot of the frenzy I witness in youth games is because they lack mastery over the ball.  For example, a pass is directed to Player A.  Player A touches it but it bounces 5 yards away from her.  While no one was near her originally, now it is a 50/50 ball and the opposition sees a chance to regain possession.  This adds stress and pressure to the player who is now attempting to collect the ball.  By the time she regains, she has a defender on her.  To tell a kid in that situation to pass is giving the wrong instruction.  What they need to learn is to catch, then passing will come (or dribbling).  Just my two cents.   


Finally, in 4v4, the book points out that, while playing a 1-2-1, the shape manifests to soccer situations in a full-sided game.  Also, with 4v4, “there are options in all directions of play.”  He writes that the forward pass as a function of the square pass more readily arises in 4v4 versus 3v3 or 5v5.  (Coaching Soccer, p.104).


We are using 4v4s now and I can tell you that the kids love it.  I hope to see some of the benefits for our kids while at the same time keeping the game fun for them.