The Laws of the Game have been in place in some for or fashion for over 150 years. Taking root in the Sheffield Rules of Football in 1858, the Football Association (F.A.) approved the Laws of the Game in 1863. Association Football was said to begin at this point, while clubs that did not incorporate the rules played what we refer to as rugby. Minus a few minute changes, they have remained largely the same since 1925. As coaches, board members, professional trainers, referees, etc., we can help players, even at a young age, learn the Laws of the Game while we teach the game. I have taught and coached the game from 4 year olds on up. I find that even at the early ages, there are opportunities to teach the Laws of the Game. I was impressed when reading the presentation from US Youth Soccer on how to Write a Training Session. On the 5th page, it states: “In planning the training session be sure to account for the modified rules to the Laws of the Game for the age group. During a match (scrimmage) in a session, enforce the rules of play. The coach is on the front line of teaching the rules to the players.” Here is the link for the presentation.
For example, if you are coaching a 3v3 team of U6s, you can teach a few restarts. My experience at that age is that the ball is constantly out of play and in need of restarting. Too much of the time, game time for the players is sacrificed because the players have not been adequately taught how to restart the game. They can understand it if we give them a chance. A few minutes at practice each time, blending in to what your are already doing, and they can learn them (you will still have to remind them, but reminding is much easier than stopping their saturday match to position and tell them how to do it). I also think it is important to use the proper language from the beginning: a goal kick, a kickoff, a corner kick, a throw in. Believe it or not, they are dealing with much more difficult concepts on a daily basis. For example, teach them what a Touch Line is — it is a “Touch Line” because you get to “touch” the ball with your fingers to put it back in play over the line.
But, even as they age, we can incorporate Laws of the Game in our sessions. In a crossing session, you could include offsides. To ease into the concept, try this — teach the players that “they are never offside as long as they are behind the ball.” I find that statement to transfer to them easily and it teaches an important offside rule. Have some fun with it — place different body parts for the off the ball player beyond the ball and ask the kids if it is offside. They love it when you use your behind (answer is “yes, because you can use it to play the ball!”). They will struggle with the timing of offside – I just keep it simple: “It is not where you receive the ball that makes you offside, it is where you are when the ball is played).”
For direct and indirect kicks, in the scrimmage portion of your session, occasionally stop the game and restart with an indirect kick (they seem to get direct, although we cover it anyway). I like to go over the hand signals on that day for indirect — tell them why the referee has his arm pointing to the sky and when it will come down. My experience is that players generally struggle with indirect kicks. Covering it in practice will remove the players from an otherwise stressful situation where, in the middle of the game, they are being screamed at from their coaches, the sidelines, etc. Teaching a simple two player restart for indirects will take 10 minutes. It can blend into your session during the scrimmage.
The same is true for kickoffs. Goal kicks. Throw ins. These are easy fixes and part of the game. Dedicating a few minutes in a scrimmage where you restart the game a certain way for the day is a great way of doing it. Penalty kicks are great fun to end a session – but, if we do them, we should teach them the rules. Where can the goalies stand? How many people can be in the penalty area? What is the penalty area (does it include the half circle?) Why is it called the penalty area? When can players enter the area? These are easy questions that many of us take for granted but, I would guess, if you asked your players, they may not know the answers.
Just as it is important to cover restarts as laws of the game, we can spend time on other laws. I asked some U9 and U10s the other day what part of my arm can I touch the ball with? Again, it was part of a scrimmage where a boy had lifted his elbow and played the ball. So, we paused for 1 minute, used my arm, and pointed to areas to see what the boys thought. They all agreed I could not use my hands. But, the higher up my arm, the more disagreements there were. Roughly half of them thought that they could use their bicep area. Only half thought that they could use their shoulder. So, in 60 seconds, using my arm as a model, we covered the rule. So, it was material relevant to the game and helpful to them. And now they know that they can use their shoulder!
For charging, are we teaching them how to properly use their body in defense? At young ages, they all want to use their hands and arms. While we tell them no, are we substituting the negative with a positive? We could ask, “what part of your body can you use to touch the other player?” The same with slide tackles. Now that I work with mostly boys, they are always on the ground. I personally do not like it. I do not think they know how to slide properly and, similarly, many of the boys do not know how to avoid the tackle. We could reinforce the rule at an early age — playing the ball is no excuse for a reckless challenge.
Similarly, we can cover dissent, language, dangerous play, etc. In any event, while each session should not be a lecture on the Laws of the Game, there are opportunities to educate the players on them during the course of your session.