(The information below is for coaches of players age 7 and older. If you coach U-4 or U-6, see Soccer Coaching Tips and Basic Information for New Soccer Coaches and How to Coach Ages 5&6 and 7&8 and Soccer Coaching, Ages 2, 3, 4, 5 .)
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The answer to "what are the most important things to teach" depends on how you define "important":
- If you are a beginning coach or coach age 5-8 see Soccer Coaching Tips and Basic Information for New Soccer Coaches and How to Coach Ages 5&6 and 7&8. If you are an experienced coach of U-8 or older and your team plays positions and uses a formation, the most important things for you to read might be this article and: Positions Basics & Kick-Offs, Assigning Soccer Positions, Formations, and Coaching Rules (especially Coaching Rule No. 3). If you coach U-4 or U-6, you should read Soccer Coaching, Ages 2, 3, 4, 5. See Soccer Practice Plans. Coaches of all ages should start with 29 Soccer Practice Tips and Soccer Practice Plans
- If you coach ages 3 to 8, click this link: How To Coach U-4, U-6 and U-8
- If your team is losing all of its games, it may be important to you to try some things that can quickly cause a big improvement. There is nothing wrong with wanting to win, as long as you don't sacrifice good sportsmanship or fun to do so. My experience is that by U-8 most players and parents prefer winning to losing. First, read Stopper Importance, this tip can be worth 3 goals per game. If you want to try some ideas that can result in a quick improvement, try "Quick Team Improvement Program", "22 Coaching Rules" and "23 Of The Best SoccerHelp Tips & Tactics" at SoccerHelp Premium. Also, consider whether the "Formation" and "Style of Play" you use suits your team. See "Formations" on Premium, "Quick Team Improvement Program" section no. 9, "How To Teach Soccer Positions" and "How To Teach Soccer Formations".
- If you define "important" as teaching your players the basic skills and concepts that they need to become good players, then we recommend teaching at a minimum:
- Dribbling, Turns, Shielding the Ball and "Strength on the Ball"I believe being able to dribble and shield the ball in traffic is the most important soccer skill. Your players will have a lot more confidence and will play with more enthusiasm if they know they can dribble and protect the ball (phrased differently, a player can't be confident with the ball unless he or she can dribble in traffic and protect the ball when under pressure). The "Dribble Across A Square Game" is the best way to teach control dribbling, speed dribbling, turns, instinctive dribbling while looking up, and recognition and acceleration into Open Space. I strongly recommend you play it 4 times as a warm-up to start every practice. Play it twice with the square about 10 steps wide (to teach Control Dribbling in traffic) and then twice more with the square 15-17 steps wide (to teach acceleration into Open Space and Speed Dribbling). The "Shoulder Tackle & Strength On The Ball Game" and "Attack & Defend Ball Tag" are a great way to teach shielding and strength on the ball. There are many other good Premium Practice Games that teach dribbling, such as "Dribble Around A Cone & Pass Relay Race", and the "2 Team Keep Away" game is a great way to practice controlling the ball in a crowd and while under pressure and also involves a lot of "transitions" from offense to defense and from defense to offense. See "How To Teach Soccer Dribbling" for more on this subject and for the advantages of the "Dribble Across A Square Game". If you don't subscribe to Premium, try the version of the "Dribble Across A Square Game" on SoccerHelp Basic. There are also many good dribbling games on Premium for U-6 players and the "Driving School" game on Basic and Premium is a good, fun way to teach dribbling and turning to U-6 and U-8 players. See "How To Teach Soccer Dribbling" for more ideas and games that teach dribbling.
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- Hustling, Aggressive Play and "Winning The Ball". Soccer is a physical game. It is greatly beneficial to teach your players at an early age (starting by U-10) that they must hustle and fight to "win the ball". If your team doesn't hustle and play aggressively, you will almost always lose to a team that is significantly more aggressive. When we refer to aggressive play, we mean hustling, not being afraid of making contact and "winning" the "50/50 balls", which are the loose balls that either team has an equal chance of winning (it's difficult to win these if you are afraid of contact). The most aggressive team will usually "win" most of the 50/50 balls and will usually win the game. It is critical that your defenders be tough and not afraid of contact. If a player is afraid of contact, you will give up many goals if you play him or her at Fullback or Sweeper. Any player who is afraid of contact is at a disadvantage. Ideally, you want to teach your players to not only be brave and unafraid of contact, but also to hustle and be aggressive about going to the ball and to win loose balls. Now, we aren't talking about encouraging dirty, dangerous or unfair play, we're only talking about encouraging players to hustle, be brave and do their best. This is often not easy to teach. Some kids are naturally timid (I was) and most young children have been taught that rough or aggressive play is bad because someone might get hurt. A great way to encourage hustling and practice attendance is by using SoccerHelp's iron-on patches as rewards for those who hustle or attend practice. Coach Gayla of Missouri USA said: "I can't say enough about the tried and true results of using these patches! This very same team that lost ALL 8 games in the fall, won 7 out of 8 games this spring!!! The kids wanted those patches!!!" Click here to read about our iron-on soccer incentive patches. See "How To Teach Aggressive Play" for more on this subject and for Premium Practice Games that teach hustling, tackling and aggressive play. Also see "Marking, Jockeying, Shepherding & Defensive Footwork" on Premium.
- Proper Technique for Passing and Receiving with the Inside-of-the-Foot. 75% of all passes and receptions at all levels of play are with the inside of the foot, yet over 50% of all Rec players use incorrect technique. If a player has used incorrect technique for several years, it is difficult to correct. So, it is very important to start teaching the proper technique by age 7 or 8. See "Skills" for how to teach Inside-of-Foot passing & receiving. I strongly recommend you teach "Passing to Space" and "Aggressive Receiving" -- Passing to Space is easier for beginning players and will result in much better ball movement, better ball possession, use of Open Space and "field vision". Aggressive Receiving is a better way to teach receiving and will result in a big improvement in your players and their ability to retain the ball. The Premium Practice Game "Dribble Around A Cone & Pass Relay Race" teaches Aggressive Receiving and how to teach Passing to Space is explained in Premium "23 of the Best SoccerHelp Tips & Tactics".
When you teach passing, do NOT teach passing and receiving by having your players stand still and pass to each other's feet - real games aren't that way. Instead, use the Dribble Around A Cone & Pass Relay Race where the passing and receiving is under pressure, at game speed, and passes are made while running - that teaches players to be able to play fast, while under pressure. Another important thing the Dribble Around A Cone & Pass Relay Race game can teach is "One-Touch Play". I think "one-touch play" should be taught as soon as possible because it is a way of thinking about how to receive a pass and it is a much superior way to play as opposed to stopping the ball at feet. It helps teach the use of Open Space and allows players to play faster. "One-Touch Play" allows a much more creative and faster attack because opponents have less time to react. At high levels of play, fast play is required. Why would you want to teach your players an inferior way to receive a pass and then later try to get them to change? It is easier to teach them the best way to play the first time. To teach the concept of "one-touch play", I don't mean to start with one-touch passing or one-touch shots. An easy way to teach the concept of one-touch play to teach kids that when they receive a pass they can move faster by one-touching the ball into open space either away from a defender or in the direction they are moving so they can accelerate faster. The best way to teach this is by playing the Dribble Around Cone & Pass Relay Race Practice Game - the game instructions explain how it is a very effective way to teach the concept of "one-touch" because the receivers who one-touch the pass they receive into Open Space in front of them and run onto the ball will probably win (because they are able to play faster) and those who stop the ball at their feet will probably lose, so the Game makes it obvious to the players why one-touch play is better and players will want to learn how to one-touch the ball so they can have a chance to win the game. It is a self-teaching game that works well with a "Guided Discovery" method of coaching (how to use a Guided Discovery approach is also explained in the instructions for the Dribble Around Cone & Pass Relay Race Practice Game).
NOTE: Coach Doug now thinks it is better NOT to teach passing to U4 and U6 players, because it confuses them and can diminish their dribbling skills and aggressiveness with the ball. He recommends focusing on dribbling and recommends you DON'T teach them that it's wrong to dribble and score, and DON'T teach them that it's better to pass the ball than it is to dribble. He recommends teaching passing at U8. For more about this, see the article titled How and When to Teach Passing.
- Basic Terminology So You Can Communicate With Your Players And They Can Communicate With Each Other. "Far Post". "Near Post", "Center of the Field", "Middle of the Field", "Cross the Ball", "Center the Ball", "Ballside", "Goalside", "Mark", and "Win The Ball" are among the terms that are important to teach. A more extensive list is at SoccerHelp Premium at "Expanded List Of The Most Important Things For A Rec Soccer Coach To Teach".
- Proper technique for an "Advanced Throw-In" and how to defend Throw-Ins so your opponent can't use them to create scoring opportunities. Throw-ins are important because both you and your opponent will get 15-25 of them in a typical game. Good throw-ins can create scoring opportunities for your team, but incorrect form will result in the assistant referee giving the ball to the other team. If you don't defend Throw-ins properly, they can result in scoring opportunities for your opponent. How to teach an Advanced throw-in is described at "Skills" and how to teach defense of Throw-ins is described in SoccerHelp Premium at "Quick Team Improvement Program" section 2. (To teach throw-ins, play the "Throw-Ins Teaching Game" on Premium)
- The concepts of "Positions", "Support" and "Shift & Sag" teach teamwork and, when combined with a "Formation" and "Style Of Play", they provide the organization for your team's play. Starting at U-8, you should teach your players the concepts of "Positions" (i.e., that there are "Forwards", "Midfielders", "Fullbacks" and a "Goalie"), "Support" (i.e., "First Defender/Second Defender" and "First Attacker/Second Attacker/Third Attacker") and to "Shift & Sag". These concepts are easily taught and, in essence, teach teamwork. They can make a huge difference in your team's play. How to teach "Positions" is explained in SoccerHelp Premium at "How To Teach Soccer Positions". How to teach "First Defender/Second Defender" is explained at "Quick Team Improvement Program" section no. 3, at "10 Defense Tips & Tactics" section no. 7 and at "Support" in the Dictionary. How to teach "First Attacker/Second Attacker/Third Attacker" is explained at "First Attacker" in the Dictionary, and In Premium at "Scoring More Goals" and "Attacking Plan". How to teach "Shift & Sag" is explained in Premium at "Quick Team Improvement Program" section no. 4 and at "Shift & Sag" in the Dictionary. On Premium, also see "How To Teach Soccer Formations", "Formations" and see "Styles of Play" in the Dictionary.
- A Lofted Kick. This is important so your players can clear the ball when on defense and so they can send lofted passes or take lofted shots when on offense. How to teach this is found at "Skills" and the "Chips / Lofted Passes" Practice Game in SoccerHelp Premium. It is important to practice this and to try to teach it to your players starting at U-8.
- Teach the concept of "Passing To Space" and the concept of "Movement Off The Ball" as a way to "Create Space". "Passing To Space" will greatly improve the speed and flow of your attack. It will also teach your players to think about the use of space and it will teach receivers that they must go to the ball and not wait for the ball to come to them. It is a superior style of play to only "Passing To Feet". How to teach "Passing To Space" and the 2 basic types of Movement Off The Ball that all coaches can easily teach players U-10 and older are described in SoccerHelp Premium in "23 Of The Best SoccerHelp Tips & Tactics" (see no. 19 & 20). I strongly recommend you teach "Passing to Space" and "Aggressive Receiving" -- Passing to Space is easier for beginning players and will result in much better ball movement, better ball possession, use of Open Space and "field vision". Aggressive Receiving is a better way to teach receiving and will result in a big improvement in your players and their ability to retain the ball. How to teach "Passing to Space" and "Aggressive Receiving" are explained in SoccerHelp Premium.
- Teach "Coaching Rule No. 3", Which Explains How To Defend The Opponent's Throw-Ins, Goal Kicks, Punts and Free Kicks. This is very important because there are so many throw-ins, goal kicks, punts and free kicks, and each one is an opportunity for your team to win the ball, or at the least your team should not give the opponent an easy goal-scoring opportunity. See "Coaching Rules" and "Quick team Improvement Program" No. 2 in Premium for how to teach this. Coaching Rule No. 3 Allows Team to Dominate Opponents
- 1 vs. 1 Attacking and Defending Many Premium Practice Games teach dribbling, shielding, ball control under pressure, defending and aggressive play. The best game for teaching 1 vs. 1 Attacking and Defending is the "/premium/practice_games/Win_The_Ball.shtml">Win the 50/50 Ball or be the First Defender 1v1 Attacking and Defending" Practice Game.
- If you define "important" as teaching good sportsmanship and fair play, we agree 100%, but you don't need our help to teach those things and your players will learn a lot by watching their Coach and Assistant Coaches.
- VERY IMPORTANT - READ THIS ABOUT WHY IT IS IMPORTANT TO KEEP SCORE and GIVE TIPS DURING PRACTICE
There are 2 reasons why you should try to keep score in every Practice Game and to play SOccerHelp Practice Games that involve keeping score as much as possible:
A good way to coach soccer skills (teach soccer skills) is by giving "tips". A good way to give tips is by noticing what caused a player to have a low score. Another good way to give tips is by pointing out why the player with the highest score had the highest score. For example: In the Dribble Across a Square Practice Game, most players get a bad score in the Control Dribbling version of the game because they either don't keep the ball near their feet when in traffic, or because they kick the ball too far in front, lose control and can't make a turn. The players who win the game are those who do those who keep the ball near their feet when in traffic, who look up while dribbling and make their turns.
Here are instructions about how to keep score and how to give tips in the Dribble Across a Square Practice Game:
Each player should keep count of his or her trips across the square. A player gets one point each time he or she turns. Have the first player to reach the target score (e.g., 12 or 10) yell "Done" and raise their hand. As soon as a player yells "Done", blow your whistle and have all the other players stop as soon as they get back to the closest side of the square. Then, ask each player his or her score so you can monitor each player's progress and give tips for improvement. What I would do is start with one player and ask: "John, what was your score?" and then quickly ask each of the others. It is also an opportunity to praise anyone who has improved or to give tips such as "It is very important to keep control of the ball on your turns. If you lose the ball it will cost you several points". This only takes 2 or 3 minutes. The game is self-teaching, but it is helpful for the coach to be encouraging and to point out at the end of each Game how players can improve their performance by giving "tips" on how they can improve their score. A simple way to do this is to point out what the player did who won the Game. For example, in the smaller square, the winner will be the player who keeps the ball near his feet, "Shields" the ball from traffic, and makes the turns without losing the ball -- the winner will keep control of the ball. In the larger square, the winner must still keep control of the ball, BUT the winner will also look for Open Space and kick the ball into it so he can Speed Dribble, and he will still make the turns, so he can't kick it too hard. This is very much like a real game, where if you don't keep control you will lose the ball. This approach works because the players want to improve their score and if they use your "tips" they will see immediate results and get higher scores.
Here are instructions about how to keep score and how to give tips in the Dribble Around Cone & Pass Relay Race Practice Game:
How to Get Your Players to Listen to You (Tips for This Game):
This is easier than you think: Let's say you're playing "Dribble Around Cone & Pass Relay Race". Play it once and ask "Who wants to win this game?" Tell them you will give them a tip that will help them win. Here's an example of a tip: Tell them that the player who starts with the ball can kick the ball in front and run to it as a way to go faster. Tell them they will just have to be sure to not kick it too hard. (Demonstrate or have a player demonstrate). Another tip: Pass the ball as soon as you can after you have rounded the cone. Another tip: The Receiver must stay on his toes and watch for whether the pass is going to his left or right and start to immediately move that way - the Receiver's most important job is to STOP the pass, because if one pass gets by him his team will lose the game (this will start to teach Receiver's that they can't just stand still and wait for the ball to come to their feet - the Receiver MUST stop the pass, just as they must in a real game). Another tip: The Receiver can start moving toward the ball as soon as it is passed (that's the rule in this game and probably would also be how you want the receiver to play in a real game), but the Receiver can't just rush at the ball... it's not that simple... he must be sure the ball is coming at him, because if it's a bad pass he may have to move sideways to stop it. Another tip: The Receiver can block the ball in front of him and run to it as a way to speed up (again, this is good training for a real game). Another one: The pass MUST be accurate... one bad pass can lose the game... the pass needs to not be too hard, but it can't be too easy either... they will learn the proper "weight" by playing this game. These are some of the things this game teaches, and your players will learn by playing the game. If you use this approach, it changes your role from a nagging coach to a guy who is giving his players tips so the can improve. The reason it works is that when they are playing our games they will see IMMEDIATE results... so they are getting immediate positive feedback and seeing that your "tips" really work. They will see that the players who follow the coaches' tips win more games than those who don't... those who listen will win, and those who don't listen will lose.
- Keeping score creates pressure for players to do an activity faster and better, so players learn how to perform an activity under pressure and at "Game-Speed", which is "Game-Realistic". Drills that don't involve keeping score are NOT Game-Realistic because there isn't pressure, they aren't at Game-Speed, and players aren't trying their hardest. Drills that don't involve pressure and that allow players to practice at less than their fastest speed are actually counterproductive, because they are training players to play slower than Game-Speed and without pressure. In most cases, which player will perform better in a real soccer match - the player who has trained without pressure and at a speed that is less that "Game-Speed", or the player who has trained under pressure and at "Game-Speed"? The answer is obvious. If your players practice at top speed, they are learning to "play fast" - if they practice slow, they are learning to play slow. Drills that don't involve competition and pressure aren't preparing your players for competition and pressure.
- Keeping score is a sort of diagnostic test that can show the coach where attention is needed. So, keeping score is critical for both the coach and for the players. Keeping score alows you to see if players are improving and which players need your help.