Levels Of Kids And Youths
Coaching children under six years of age
presents some additional challenges due to
their immaturity, short attention span, and
less developed muscles. You will also need
to deal with a great variation between
personalities, physical size, and abilities.
Your objective should be for all of the kids
to have fun, make friends, and learn some
soccer skills that will help them should
they decide to continue to the next level.
You should not expect to win all of your
games or expect everyone to listen to long
lectures. Your goal is to introduce them to
basic concepts like dribbling and kicking
and make it enough fun that they want to
keep playing as their bodies and minds
mature. Go down to their level of thinking.
Don't try to bring them up to yours. What
was fun when you were four years old? The
kid who is watching seagulls will tell you
were the greatest coach in the world if he
had fun. He will have fun when he kicks the
ball or at least when he makes an attempt
and gets praise instead of criticism.
Here are some good principles to follow:
Keep practices and matches fun. Play "games"
that cause kids to learn skills, not "drills."
If practice is fun, the kids will want to
attend. If it is not fun, their parents will
sometimes have to force them to attend and a
potential star may drop out.
Maximize touches on the ball per player in
practice. Avoid lines - the kids won't
behave well while waiting for their turn to
play the ball.
Minimize lecturing - they have very short
attention spans. You have maybe ten seconds
to make your point.
Play lots of small-sided games. 3v3 is ideal
for this age. Why doesn't 7v7 or 11v11 work
at this age? Imagine putting 14 or 22 six-year-olds
on the field to share one toy. When Billie
finally gets the ball, will he pass it? No,
because he knows he won't get it back! And
shy Freddie may play a whole game and get
only two touches on the ball.
Concentrate on improving individual skills,
i.e., dribbling, trapping, shielding the
ball, shooting, getting around an opponent,
etc. You will develop more skilful players
this way and win more games in the process.
Some passing will develop naturally if you
play small-sided games, but you will get
frustrated if you try to force it. Do not
let anyone on your sideline yell, "Pass the
ball!" during games.
Don't keep standings or statistics. The kids
will be having fun playing something else an
hour after the game, win or lose. Only the
parents and coaches will still be replaying
the goals and mistakes in their minds the
2. Organization (items of
particular interest to the U6 coach)
It's important to make sure parents
understand what you are trying to accomplish
and how you will be going about it. So,
explain the objectives to the parents at the
beginning of the season and get agreement.
Some of the parents will be new to soccer,
so (In addition to following the guidelines
on the pre-season meeting) give the parents
a written summary containing the following:
safety rules (e.g. spikes and shinguards
required at games and practices),
the names of all children on the roster (this
will help the kids get to know each other),
the coach's rules or the additional
guidelines that you ask the parents to
Some that are appropriate for wee ones are:
need to make sure kids go to the bathroom
just before leaving the house,
You should have one ball for each child plus
one for yourself. You should ask the kids to
bring their own balls as most associations
only give out a ball for every two kids At
this age group, it is more important than
ever to get a couple or more parents to help
with the practice. Believe me, you will need
extra help to chase balls, tie shoes, and
wipe noses to allow you to move among the
kids to ensure they are practicing what you
instructed. Ideally, you will have at most
two or three kids per parent/coach.
Keep things moving quickly. Participate in
all of the warm-ups and drills -in fact;
exaggerate your motions to illustrate the
proper procedure. Do the actions at the same
time as you are explaining a stretch or a
drill (not after).
Do the same warm-ups and stretches each
practice. It is less important to do a lot
of stretches with U7s. A warm-up regime may
consist of 5 each of inside right, inside
left, outside right, outside left passes and
5 gentle chest traps.
Encourage 15 min of practice at home on the
days we do not practice. You may encourage
the parents to participate in the warm-up
exercises with their own child. This allows
the coach to teach the proper technique to
the parents, too, so that if they work with
their child, they will reinforce proper
technique. The coach my give the parents
others suggestions for at home practice,
i.e. dribbling and passing (working on
leading your partner).
Have the kids hold a ball for the stretches
where it is appropriate. This increases the
fun and familiarizes them with the ball so
they won't be alarmed when the balls comes
their way on game day.
Avoid drills with line-ups. Try to
incorporate skill development into soccer
related games. They each should have the
ball at their feet almost all of the time.
Success is related to the attempt not the
outcome. As a coach you must get excited
about the attempt, not the outcome (if the
attempt is genuine the outcomes will
continually get better). This is difficult,
because we as coaches (and parents) are
conditioned to see the end results.
Emphasize technique rather than speed.
At this age, there is less emphasis on
progression than with older groups because
they are too young to put several moves
together successfully and they will get
bored if there is not much variation between
drills. For example, you may progress a
drill to do it with the other foot, or
complete a drill and then take a shot on
net, but much more than this will bore them.
However, a new drill or soccer related game
can work on the same type of skill. An
example might be:
Dribble across the field.
Dribble through some pylons.
Play "Pirate", all the kids dribble the ball
in a marked area and the coach tries to kick
a ball out.
Skills should be broken down into smaller
components. For example, passing may be
learned by one kid rolling the ball to a
passer, who tries to pass it back. Then have
the kids slowly push the balls with the
inside of their feet and finally have them
pass it back and forth at regular speed.
4. Soccer drills for
Drills for small children must be tailored
to their abilities and promote the
development of individual skills rather than
team skills, which will come later. We've
included a short collection of good soccer-related
drills for children under 6.
Soccer-related games put the fun in learning
soccer skills and teamwork so we've put
together a collection of good soccer-related
games for children under 6. Dennis Mueller
has also allowed us to use some suggestions
for games and activities.
Ensure you are familiar with your
association rules for matches.
Some of the kids may lose their
concentration as soon as the game starts.
The short attention span of children this
age is why kindergarten programs are
generally for a half day. Kids lose focus is
if they do not get to handle the ball enough.
Smaller rosters and smaller sides help solve
this problem. If your association rules call
for a large number of players, say 7 or more,
per side, try to get agreement from the
other coach to play fewer players to allow
all players more opportunity to handle to
ball. To accomplish this, you will need some
help from other coaches and parents. An
ideal set-up for U5 is 4 vs 4 with no
Put any difficult children in at the start
of the game. That way, as they start to lose
focus they can come off and you can put in
more mature children who will be focused for
the duration of the game. There should be
unlimited substitutions at this age. Have
the parents help with substitutions so you
can concentrate on the game.
Depending on your local club rules, at this
age both coaches may be on the field for
games. Note this is an exception to normal
guideline of no coaches on the field. For
the first couple of games you will have to
give some direction ("the goal is the other
way, Johnny") but you should reduce this as
soon as possible to allow the kids to find
their own. At the beginning, to get them to
actively participate you may only need to
point at the ball or tell them to "go get
However remember that it is not your game!
Avoid active coaching on the field as it
only encourages the kind of shouting that
continues on into older age groups. If the
coach does the thinking for them, they will
never learn to do it for themselves. Same
principle applies for doing the talking for
As the adults on the field, both coaches
should assist kids on both teams. Each coach
should cover one half of the field. Try to
rotate throw-ins and free kicks among all of
the kids, and give the ball to a nearby kid
to reduce the time wasted. It serves no
purpose at this level to call most fouls as
they would be called at higher levels.
Allowing the play to continue keeps the kids
interested and provides a much better
learning experience than for the players
whistling down every foul and lining up for
free kicks. At this level, the idea of "keep
it safe, keep it fair, keep it moving"
Don't spend too much time setting up
formations at the beginning of the game or
set plays. A simple "spread out" or "give
five big steps for the free kick" is enough.
At this age there is a universal tendency
for the kids to bunch-up around the ball.
You will see a swarm of kids move around
with the ball popping out occasionally. This
is normal and there is nothing you can do to
prevent it, so don't worry about it or try
to correct it. You may assign some kids to
defensive duties but they are likely to make
a run for the ball like the rest when they
Some advice on how to "coach the bunch" is
found in the section on teaching basic
Under 5 (3 or 4 years old) is generally too
young to expect any teamwork. Even Under 6
is pushing it! If you see a pass, it is more
likely than not an errant shot on goal. The
USYSA mandates no keepers for up through U8.
Where goalies are used, the selection of a
goalkeeper may create some competition among
the kids. In general, let every kid have a
chance in practice. For games, putting a kid
who is not capable in goal may hurt their
confidence and cause resentment from the
other players. Tell the players that goalie
is an important position and you will watch
them playing and select the kid who you
believe is trying the hardest. If you chance
the goalie, tell him or her they did well in
net and now you want them to help the team
by scoring some goals. Remember the
objective: HAVE FUN!