When it comes to youth soccer practices, it’s important to have a somewhat organized plan in place to keep things moving and productive.
Whether you’re coaching a team for the first time or you’ve done it for 5+ years, there are a few key things to keep in mind to ensure that your practices are engaging for your young players.
The most important thing I stress is to plan your practices out. Don’t rely on a whim or figure it out as you go. And, your plan doesn’t need to be a detailed step-by-step layout. You can just take a white piece of paper and list 5 things you will do w/ a rough diagram for each.
Additionally, it’s important to make sure that your drills and exercises are age-appropriate and tailored to your team’s skill level. This will help ensure that your players are challenged without becoming frustrated or overwhelmed.
Another important aspect of running a successful youth soccer practice is creating a positive and supportive environment for your players. Make each practice lots of fun and a little informative.
In this article, we’ll layout everything you need to know about running a successful youth practice! This guide is ideal for a coach that is running a rec or travel soccer practice for kids under 12. We’ll write more advanced strategies and tactics in the near future.
Structure of a Youth Soccer Practice
When planning a youth soccer practice, it’s important to establish a structure that maximizes player engagement and development. This is assuming you have a 60-minute practice slot. Here’s a basic and general outline I tend to follow:
- Warm-up: Start with a 5-10 minute warm-up that includes team stretching, a quick jog, and basic ball work to get players loosened up.
- Technical drills: Spend the next 15-20 minutes working on technical skills such as passing, dribbling, shooting, and ball control.
- Small-sided games: Incorporate a 15-minute small sided game. Divide players into small teams and play 3v3, 4v4, or 5v5 games. Or, consider Rondos. These games allow players to apply the skills they’ve learned in a game-like situation and improve their decision-making abilities.
- Scrimmage: Finish with a 15 minute scrimmage that incorporates the skills and concepts worked on in the technical drills and small-sided games. Encourage players to try new things and take risks in a fun and supportive environment.
Conducting a Youth Soccer Practice
When running a youth soccer practice, it is important to have a plan in place that includes warm-up exercises, skill development drills, game-like scenarios, and cool-down (if you have time) activities.
Warm-Up Exercises for Soccer
Start your practice with a few warm-up exercises to get your players’ blood flowing and their muscles ready for action. Here are a few examples:
- Jogging (as a team): Have your players jog around the field to get their heart rates up and their legs moving. Have them jog as a team and stay together. This might be difficult for some players but staying together helps team morale.
- High Knees: Have your players jog in place while lifting their knees up high to stretch their leg muscles.
- Butt Kicks: Have your players jog in place while kicking their heels up to their buttocks to stretch their leg muscles.
Basic Skill Development Drills
After your players are warmed up, it’s time to focus on skill development. Here are a few drills that can help your players improve their skills:
- Passing: Divide your players into pairs and have them practice passing the ball back and forth to each other.
- Dribbling: Set up cones in a zigzag pattern and have your players dribble the ball through the cones.
- Shooting: Have your players take shots on goal from different angles and distances.
Game-Like Scenarios in Soccer
Once your players have practiced their skills, it’s time to put them into game-like scenarios. Here are a few examples:
- One-on-One: Have your players practice one-on-one situations, such as a defender trying to steal the ball from an attacker.
- Small-Sided Games: Have your players play small-sided games to practice their game skills in a more realistic setting.
After the one-on-one or small-sided games, it’s time to transition into a scrimmage. Kids love a good scrimmage!
Divide your players into two teams and have them play a scrimmage to practice their teamwork and game strategy. Ensure that the scrimmage is controlled and you are reffing and stopping during teaching moments.
Soccer Cool-Down Activities
If you have a few minutes left over in practice, it’s important to include some cool-down activities to help your players recover and prevent injury. Here are a few examples:
- Stretching: Have your players stretch their muscles to prevent soreness and injury.
- Light Jogging: Have your players jog around the field to gradually lower their heart rates and cool down their bodies.
- Hydration: Make sure your players drink plenty of water to rehydrate after practice.
Communication and Feedback for Players
Engaging with Players
To run a successful youth soccer practice, it’s essential to engage with your players. Take the time to get to know them and their interests outside of soccer. This will help build a positive and trusting relationship, making it easier to communicate and provide feedback.
During practice, make sure to communicate clearly and effectively. Use simple and concise language, and avoid using jargon or technical terms that may confuse younger players.
Encourage players to ask questions and provide feedback on drills and exercises. This will help them feel heard and valued, and will also improve their understanding of the game.
Providing Constructive Feedback
Creating a positive environment is very important.
When giving feedback, be specific and focus on the player’s actions rather than their character. For example, instead of saying “You’re not a good passer,” say “Let’s focus on your passing today to help you become a very good player.”
It’s also important to always provide positive feedback and praise when players do something well. Kids love when they are told they are doing good. This will help boost their confidence and reinforce good behavior. Be sure to give feedback in a timely manner, so players can make adjustments and improve their skills.
Also, as a coach, you don’t know what’s being said outside of practice by parents. If a parent is overly difficult on their son or daughter, you can create a positive experience for them by complimenting them. This will go a long way for a child.
Safety Measures at Soccer Practices
When it comes to youth soccer practice, safety should always be a top priority. Here are some preventive measures you can take to ensure a safe practice:
- Always have a first aid kit on hand and make sure all coaches and assistants are trained in basic first aid.
- Warm up properly before each practice to prevent injuries.
- Make sure all players are wearing appropriate soccer gear, including shin guards and cleats.
- Ensure that the playing field is free of trash and hazards, such as rocks or holes.
- Set clear rules and expectations for behavior and sportsmanship, and enforce them consistently.
- Don’t let kids be silly like squirt water at each other or push other kids. This is when players get physically or emotionally hurt.
Despite your best efforts, injuries can still occur during soccer practice. Here’s how to handle them:
- If a player is injured, stop the practice immediately and check on the player. If the injury is really serious, call for emergency medical assistance.
- If the injury is minor, administer first aid as appropriate. This can include cleaning and bandaging cuts and scrapes, and applying ice to sprains or bruises.
- Find the parent of the injured player after practice to let them know what happened. This will help the parent understand if they need to continue treatment at home.
How to Handle Players Not Showing Up For Practices
It’s not uncommon for players to miss a practice due to various reasons, such as sickness, family emergencies, or conflicting schedules. As a coach, it’s important to have a plan in place for handling players who don’t show up to practice.
The first step is to communicate with the player and their parents or guardians. Find out the reason for their absence and determine if it’s a one-time occurrence or if it will be a recurring issue. If it’s a recurring issue, work with the player and their family to find a solution that works for everyone.
Next, adjust your practice plan accordingly. If you were planning on running drills that required a certain number of players, modify the drills to accommodate the smaller group. You can also use this as an opportunity to focus on individual skills and give players more one-on-one attention.
If a player is missing practice frequently without a valid reason, it may be time to have a conversation with them and their family about their commitment to the team.
It’s okay for players to miss a couple of practices or games during the season but when it’s many then it makes your job harder and it’s not fair to the other kids.
Final Thoughts on Running a Soccer Practice
Coaching a youth soccer practice can be a fun and rewarding experience for both you and your players.
By following the tips and strategies outlined in this article, you can help your team develop their soccer skills and improve their overall performance on the field.
Remember to keep your practices engaging and varied, with a mix of drills, games, and scrimmages to keep your players motivated and interested.
Encourage open communication and feedback between you and your players, and be sure to listen to their ideas and concerns.
Be a positive role model but also relate to them. Try to be that ‘fun’ coach that everyone wants to play for. This will not only help your attendance but players will give that extra effort for you!
At the end of the season, if they are excited to sign up again then you did your job.
Frequently Asked Questions
To keep the players engaged during a soccer practice, you can make the practice fun and challenging. Use drills that are age-appropriate and that focus on different skills. Use games and competitions to keep the players motivated. Encourage players to work together and communicate with each other. Make sure that each player gets a chance to participate and that they feel included. Lastly, never let any one kid stand still for more than a minute.
Some important skills to focus on during a youth soccer practice are dribbling, passing, and shooting. Dribbling is the ability to control the ball with your feet while moving. Passing is the ability to accurately pass the ball to a teammate. Shooting is the ability to shoot the ball towards the goal. Focusing on these areas as a youth soccer player will help their development.
Some common mistakes to avoid during a youth soccer practice are using drills that are too advanced for the players’ skill level, not providing enough breaks (or too long of breaks), and not giving players enough opportunities to practice different skills. You should also have a good mix of technical drills and free-play.