Lessons From Coaching Youth Soccer

Coaching a youth soccer team can be an intimidating but rewarding activity. As soon as the kids were old enough we were enlisted to help organize them during practices and “Coach” starting as young as 4 years old. The time out on the field has been increasingly fun, but could have been even more so had we known some of these lessons earlier in the journey. 

If you find yourself in the same position, coaching a AYSO soccer team or other recreation league, these things may help you avoid learning on the go. While the instruction provided by leagues was helpful, the information below is a different interpretation of what worked for us coaching 5U, 6U, and 8U soccer. 

Keep in mind that at this level, for the most part there are no referees or goalies. Kids are still learning not only the game, but how to interact with other kids, listen to coaches, and control their emotions. Still there is a great opportunity for first time coaches and assistant coaches to get some experience. There is more reason to coach than getting a cool coaches gift, the real benefit can be a whole experience for a coach that is open to it. 

First, If you want to know how to manage communications with your team, check out our review of GameChanger. You can also find out how to keep everyone updating on practice and game schedules with syncing Gamerchanger to a calendar or syncing Team Snap to a calendar.

Practice Themes & Words of the Day

Having a practice plan and something to focus on makes the time go quickly. It also ensures that you maximize the chance to make an impact and have an actual goal.

Every practice can begin with a theme describing a soft skill or word of the day. Each word or theme also can correspond to a superlative award for the end of the year (Bravery Award, Sportsmanship Award, etc.). During the practice players can earn points every time they exhibit the skill needed.

  • Bravery. Being brave means getting into the scrum, in a safe way. Dealing with shoulder tackles form the opposing team. Taking the ball away as a defender.
  • Sportsmanship. Being a good sport includes encouraging your teammates AND the other team. High fives after a goal, paying attention when not in the game and cheering on the team, and taking part in team cheers. We also show good sportsmanship after the game with high five lines and saying thanks to the other coaches and any referees.
  • Composure. We show composure by maintaining our feelings even when we lose a drill, have a goal scored on us, or when others break a rule. Focus on our own feelings and on the things that we can control.
  • Fun. When we are out of the field we aim to have fun and encourage fun from others. We can take things seriously, win or lose, and work hard while still having fun. 
  • Communication. We can communicate with our coaches, teammates, and the other team verbally and through our actions. Talking through situations, “pass the ball”, “get into your places”, “shoot” are all good communications but we can also have phrases that express a whole situation “corner kick – Player 1”. Communication is helped when we know our teammates names, and understand what is happening in the game.
  • Focus. Paying attention to the game, the drill, and our coaches helps us have fun and enjoy the game. Practice time is practice time, not for running around to other fields, or doing other things. By focusing we make the most of our time, get better quicker, and help others and ourselves learn and develop. 

Drills That Work for 6U Soccer

For the younger soccer players there is a balance between making a useful drill, with technical skill basics or game mechanics, and still having a fun game. The easiest thing to do is add in some flavor of light competition, “coach points” or daily awards seem to work well. 

  • Oklahoma. 1v1, 2v1, 2v2. Good for attacking the ball and being competitive.
    • Can also be played where you have kids start next to each other and you throw ball away from goal, they then need to control, turn, dribble, pass and shoot on same goal
  • Sharks and Minnows. Good for ball control and dribbling. This gets even better if you add in a coach as a shark. Done correctly a coach can try to win as a shark simply by making players dribble out of bounds, highlighting how important ball control is.
  • The Beast. Good for finding space, ball control, getting around a scrum.
    • Can be set up with one set of stakes or two
    • Early on, dribble around the beast; then progress to dribble at the beast and then lay off ball to teammate (first pass, shoot drills with two teammates) 
  • Dribble-Dribble-Shoot. Basic Shooting lines.
    • Add a chaser to take it up a notch.
  • Dribble around the field. Good for warmup and start of practice. Ball control and running.
  • Bowling. Kids love it. Setup 6 cones, put a ball on each one (or just setup a triangle of balls). Start from 10 yards away and have players take turns kicking until they collectively get a strike/spare. 
  • Corner Kick Drill. Setup basic corner kick, add defenders as needed.
  • THROW IT! – take full set of balls and kick or throw out from goal; kids run as fast as they can and return
    • Start with picking up ball and running back
    • Progress to chasing down ball and dribbling back
    • Finally, progress where two kids chase one ball, and then pass back and forth as they return to goal and shoot
  • What Time Is It Fox?
    • Good for teaching RUN fast. Kids enjoyed it as a simple game, keeping control, flick backs.
  • Chase – Everyone touches
    • Throw a ball and have players run to and return it. Players must each touch the ball before taking a shot or delivering it back to the coach. A stopwatch for time adds a competitive structure. 

Concepts to Reinforce

  • Don’t kick with your TOE. Use the inside/outside of your foot
  • Move the ball forward, don’t back up to take a shot
  • Find space. Don’t be next to a team mate, or take the ball from a team mate.
    • Left side/right side. Where should you be, and where should you stay.
  • Proper positioning and acceptable level of aggression when playing defense
  • Pay attention and play soccer!
  • Work back – if you get tired, take a breather while you play defense
  • Game flow. How to setup a corner, goal kick, kickoff, side kick-in/throw-in. Players should know the context of each situation to avoid yelling/sideline coaching (or on field coaching) as quickly as possible. 

Fundamentals for Youth Soccer

At the youngest ages it can be a challenge to set a goal for the season, but understanding what kids can learn is helpful. Ensuring that players are at least exposed to different concepts is critical. These are things that can be reinforced through practices and can become things to coach during games, which helps avoid shouting “Shoot” or “Pass” dozens of times a minute.

Players should be competent in each of these skills. This list is designed for 6U:

  • Toe taps, bells and pull-backs, basic drills/techniques.
  • Dribbling. Keep the ball moving.
  • Pass/shoot with Inside of foot or laces. 
  • Basic concept of spacing. Find green space!

How Do You Teach u6 Soccer Positions?

The concepts of soccer at 6U are different in part because of the number of players on the field. Most 6U is played with 4-5players and no goalies. Still it is possible to begin instructing simple ideas around where players should be and what the concept of a position is. Generally, the 6U soccer positions can be described as “away from team mates”, “up/back”, and “left/right”.

“Find green space” is one of our favorite sayings on the field. Kids will pickup on the concept of staying away from the scrum of the ball. The ball tends to pop out of the scrum anyways and players will better understand that is is easier and less intimidating to get the ball away from other players rather than try to take it form a pack.

We also try to reiterate simple directions, left/right and up/back. This aligns to normal language (“get back!”) that you can coach and is something that is easy to understand. Trying to describe what an “attacker” or a “midfielder” is impossible when there are only 4 members of a team and the field itself is <25 meters. It is possible to work in the idea and name “winger” which can work while for more imaginative players but in general keeping things simple will be most effective.

How to Run 6U Soccer Practice – Sample Practice Plans

Plans for practice do not have to be complicated. At the younger age having practice scheduled down to the minute is unrealistic, and continues to be if fun is part of the plan. Even so a simple outline of drills will make organizing a team of 4-8 year old much easier. 

A list of drills is sufficient, and make sure that there are one or two extras. Starting with a game helps get the energy levels up. Below is a sample plan from one practice, in reality we got to 5 of the 7 listed drills in a 60 minute session with 5 year olds.

At the youngest ages most of practice can be productive, so long as you can manage crowd control. Having two on field coaches helps to ensure the players who continue to kick a ball into a bush, knock over cones, or trample a goal are brought back into the fold. 

Water breaks are a great way to help with attention spans. When the team is not paying attention or a player is having a hard time interacting, it can be used as a good time to send everyone for a quick drink before regrouping. 

While kids can pick up some technical skill and some game mechanics in practice, talking too much by a coach is a sure way to lead to bad listening by players. Alternate a game mechanic drill, like practicing corner kicks, with the favorite variation of sharks and minnows to keep everyone focused. 

Similarly, any game drill that includes one ball but multiple players can be alternated with a one ball to one player style drill. This increases the touches of the players who are less aggressive at getting in the mix at full team drills.