How to Coach Youth Soccer

Coaching Kids in Soccer

Have you ever thought about becoming a youth soccer coach? Soccer is the sport played the most by kids under 8 in the United States. At some point the majority of parents in the US will have a son or daughter playing youth soccer. Many parents hesitate to coach due to a lack of knowledge about coaching or experience with the game of soccer. They think that coaching a young group of kids will be too much for them to handle. It is not as complicated as you may think or as others like to make it appear. However, you should also understand that coaching a youth soccer team is not an easy task. You do have to learn how to handle young kids’ behavior. 

Soccer is a simple sport that is made difficult by the defense. That’s it! Just think about how easy it would be if it was like Golf and your opponent stands next to you while you try to score….. That would be easy right? But the soccer Gods added a defense to make it a real sport and that’s what makes the game so difficult. 

You should also know that “the game is the best teacher”. So don’t try to over think the training, developing, and coaching of soccer. If you run out of things to do, just go back to the game itself and play a small sided game of 3 v 3 or 5 v 5, etc. It all depends on your numbers. 

Here are the top 8 tips on how to coach youth soccer teams. These are geared more towards the beginner coach in the youth ages of U6 soccer teams, and other younger teams like U8 and U10. Hopefully they help you get started in becoming a great youth soccer coach and you can influence the lives of many young players. After all, that’s what coaching is all about. 

Top 8 Tips on How to Coach Youth Soccer

1. Let them play! 

At this age the kids are looking to just have fun. They are not interested in your organized Barcelona Tiki Taka tactics. They are there because kicking a soccer ball is fun. So you may want to keep your Barcelona Soccer Drills DVD and booklet at home. I am a huge proponent of “Free Play”, which is a form of pick up soccer. You don’t coach while they play, you let them figure out the problems on their own. You can easily find a ton of soccer drills, try them all, your kids may like one or two, but don’t focus solely on drills. Let them have some fun and keep coming back. 

Learn more about the Free Play Model here, which was introduced by Ted Kroeten.

2. Chaos is part of the youth soccer game. 

Don’t expect every coaching activity you try with the kids to be perfect. They are going to run around because they don’t understand the training activity half of the time. Do not take this as a sign of incompetence on your part. You must understand that they have a difficult time understanding soccer tactics, no matter how well you explain it. At this time they are still trying to figure out how to control the ball, run, and kick at the same time. 

Also remember that chaos is part of soccer, don’t expect everything to be perfect. It’s not Football where everyone lines up and gets set before each play. Soccer is a game of transition, back and forth, with teams getting organized, unorganized, and attacking or defending. It is rare that you get set pieces where you can restart play in soccer. So embrace the chaos in youth soccer and don’t stress over it. 

3. Forget Soccer Tactics. 

As mentioned earlier, the kids are not interested in winning as much as you and the parents are. To them it’s just a soccer game. They may ask if they won or lost, but they are not training to beat the next opponent. They are there to kick the ball around with their friends and have a good time, it’s in their nature as young kids. 

Don’t waste your time trying to teach kids too many tactics at this age. You have to understand that tactics can only be learned after they have mastered control of the ball, dribbling, passing, receiving, and shooting. You can spend a year explaining tactics to a 5 year old soccer player, but when the ball is passed to his feet, if he can’t control, there is nothing he can do and you just wasted a year of development. 

4. Focus on Soccer Player development. 

If you truly care about any youth soccer players you coach, and you want them to be successful when they get older, then you must assist in developing them. If you take this approach, you are not necessarily “coaching the team” but rather “developing players”. Your wins will be every time a player can dribble with the ball properly (close to their feet and in full control), or pass and receive with the inside part of his/her foot. That’s how good coaches of young players measure success, by the development of their players. 

Winning is not everything at this young age when coaching youth soccer. It does not help if your team is winning every game because there is one player that runs past everyone and scores all the goals. The rest of the kids have to develop as well, but they can’t do it by just watching, they have to get involved. So don’t measure success by wins, instead celebrate every time your young players learn something new. 

5. Practice is more important than games. 

Many parents think that the actual game is what helps develop kids and what will make them good players. You must understand that their development happens during practice and free play. It is during practice that each child can have a ball and play with it, compared to a game with 14 kids and only one ball. Remind parents about the importance of practice if they care about development. It would be better to miss a game instead of practice. Unfortunately, parents will miss practice first before they miss a game.

That’s just the culture of youth soccer in America. Games are the only time parents are screaming and hollering at the kids. Why don’t they do that at practice so their child improves even more. It’s during practice that a soccer player will have a ball at their feet the majority of the time, it’s during practice that they can make as many mistakes as they need to perfect their skill set. 

6. Drills are overrated. 

Don’t look at soccer drills as the only way to optimize player development. Remember that too much structure is bad for development of creative players. One of the funnest games or activities that I have found that kids enjoy are some of the most simple training drills. 

Remember that before we decided that we could manufacture players, there were already great players. Where did they learn to play? They learned to play at home and on the streets. Remember that most of the big names you know of today, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Messi, Ronaldo, were all very poor kids growing up. They did not have great coaches, equipment, clubs, teams, or drills. They all had a passion for soccer that was developed through their environment. Through their passion to play, they developed into great players. They all started playing at small clubs, and eventually sold to larger clubs that we know today. 

7. Create a nurturing environment. 

As stated earlier, all the great players were part of a great soccer environment. They were not trained by Mourhino or Guardiola as youth players (most were trained by parents or local coaches) they were trained and developed by their soccer environment and their passion. This combination is what creates great players. 

As a coach, you want to create the best soccer coaching environment for youth soccer players to develop. You want the young soccer players to keep playing after they leave your team because that’s the only way they will continue to learn and develop into good soccer players. Development is a process and will end when the player is done playing. But you need to either plant that seed or keep nurturing it so that it can blossom. The environment for young soccer players should be positive, all inclusive, and fun. They should have nothing to worry about but having fun. 

8. They look up to you. 

Remember that kids this age look up to all most adults, including their soccer coach. They don’t know weather you’ve played professional soccer or half can’t even spell soccer. They won’t discriminate, they just want to have fun. Be confident and show them a good time. Whenever they do something special, they are looking for positive reinforcement from you, make sure you praise them. 

Behave in a positive manner around them and give them a great example to follow. Be aware that they watch your every move and are ready to emulate you. So teach them to be good respectful players. 

Coaching U6 soccer team or a U8 soccer team can be so much fun and a great learning experience. But don’t set high expectations, they are just kids. 

Conclusion:

In closing, let us again recommend to try and make this a fun experience for both you and the kids. There is absolutely no reason to stress out about wins and losses at this age. You will get burnt out as a soccer coach and never come back. The whole point of playing sports is to have a good time competing and make great friends while getting in great shape. 99.99% of kids will never play professional sports, there is no point in getting upset over a u5 soccer game. Have fun and enjoy. 

For the more serious parents who have kids with some promise, you can read our article on Training Like Ronaldo.

Ready to get started coaching? Then it's time to find the best soccer balls for your team. 

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