How and When to Teach Soccer Passing

Coach Doug's Recommendations

Trying to Teach Passing too Early Can be Detrimental

A Simple Decision Process you can Teach

How to Define a "Good Soccer Pass" and a "Bad Pass"

Things to Teach Your Soccer Players

How to Teach Movement Off the Soccer Ball

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READ THIS: We recommend you NOT tell U4 and U6 players that they should pass the ball during games because it confuses them and can diminish their dribbling skills and aggressiveness with the ball - most simply don't have the mental capacity to decide when to dribble and when to pass. We recommend you focus on teaching dribbling and kicking the ball, and recommend you DON'T teach players 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. We recommend teaching passing at U8. HOWEVER, it is a good idea to practice having U4 & U6 players to kick the ball to each other (a very simple form of passing) and teach them movement off the ball. If they pass the ball on their own in a game, GREAT - just don't tell them to do it or not to do it. Read the article below.

(The following was written by Coach Doug)

I now believe it is best NOT to teach soccer passing to U4 or U6 soccer players - instead, focus on dribbling, movement, fun, and the basics. I think U8 is the right age to start teaching passing.

Trying to teach passing at U-4 had a negative effect on my daughter Mackenzie, and it took almost a year for me to correct it. The problem became that she began to pass the ball too often. The reason that it was a problem was that she would try to pass when she should have been dribbling. What I finally realized was that U4 and U6 players aren't mentally ready to deal with the complex decision-making required to determine "when to pass and when NOT to pass".

Mackenzie is once again a very aggressive 1 on 1 attacker, she has the confidence to beat defenders, but she also knows how to pass and roughly when to do it and not to do it.

The age to teach passing is not based on foot skills, it's based on mental readiness to understand the more complex ideas that I discuss below.

Sure, a 4 year can stand 6 feet away from another 4 year old and they can kick the ball back and forth, but that is not passing! That isn't why we pass the soccer ball. That is teaching passing statically like teaching dribbling by weaving through cones.

Here is the critical thing about teaching passing -- you must teach your players when NOT to pass!!! Knowing when NOT to pass is vastly more important than teaching them to pass.

I see parents and coaches saying things like "passing is good", and they give the impression that passing is good just for the sake of doing it. I bought into this myself for a while, and I know David did too. This is false! This is the trap that inexperienced coaches fall into when teaching passing. Or "share the ball" -- that's the wrong thing to teach U4 and U6 players! Teaching "share the ball" will confuse players and the point of passing will become to "share the ball" -- that's not why a player should pass.

A parent will yell out "pass the ball" and one of my good dribblers will stop dibbling, look around and pass it to a kid 3 feet away from him! That does absolutely nothing. The same defender just steps over to the new less-skilled kid that just got it three feet away, and the attacking momentum toward the opponent's goal has been stopped. I often have to tell my parents to NOT tell their kids to pass.

I teach a decision making process about passing - what I teach is not a physical skill, it's a mental skill. Teaching the physical skill of passing isn't that hard -- teaching a kid when it is a good idea to pass is what counts.

Here is the decision process I teach:

  1. If you have the ball and there is a clear path forward, DRIBBLE forward and take the open space! This is not "being selfish", this is smart soccer!
  2. If you have the skill and can beat whoever it blocking your path, beat them and dribble forward! This is good on multiple levels, it teaches 1v1 attacking and it builds confidence in skilled players.
  3. Only look to pass the ball if your path forward is completely blocked and you can't get through.

The way I look at it, the most important thing to teach young players about passing is how to make the correct decision as to whether they should pass it at all. I don't praise passing for the sake of passing -- I praise a good decision to do it and passing at the proper moment. Whether the pass is received by anyone or not isn't the most critical thing and isn't the way I judge progress or success.

My very best players can beat anyone 1 on 1, so they only get blocked if there are two or three in front of them, which means someone else ought to be open to receive a pass. (Note from David: This ability to "Take on and beat a defender" is very, very important and is one of the keys to Anson Dorrance's success. Coach Dorrance is the most successful college soccer coach ever and has won over 600 games and 19 national championships).

What I am spending most of my time on is movement OFF THE BALL. This requires stopping the action, pointing out good places to move to, and demonstrating why.

So, now I am constantly showing kids where to go to be OPEN for a pass, and to CALL for it when open.

Here are some of the things my players tend to do that I try to correct:

  1. They come really close to the player who has the ball when they want to be passed to. I show them that when they make a very short pass one defender can cover both the passer and receiver and they aren't moving the ball downfield and they aren't creating "space".
  2. They sometimes run really far down the field, beyond the kicking range of the kids with the ball, even not under pressure, so they aren't within distance to receive a pass - basically they are "out of the play".
  3. Sometimes they run all the way to the goal, even if the guy with the ball is 30 meters away (keep in mind, these are 6 year olds, so 30 meters is a long distance).
  4. They run to a place which has a defender in between them and the kid with the ball, so they have blocked themselves from a clear passing path.

Here are some of the things I'm teaching my players:

  1. I am teaching them to run to an Open Space, but they must be able to see the kid with the ball with NO ONE in the way (i.e., no one between them and the passer, so the passer could potentially pass them the ball). I teach them that once they get to the Open Space they should raise their arm in the air, and call for a pass. One good thing about having them raise their arm is that I know that when they raise their arm it means they THINK they are in a good position for a pass, and I can see if they are learning and correct them if they are wrong.
  2. I am teaching them, not too run too far away from the passer, or to be too close to the passer.
  3. I never use the word "good pass" for a pass that goes right to the receiver's feet. To me any pass in the general vicinity of an open player or open space that they can run to is a good pass.
  4. NEVER use the word "bad pass", if a player makes an appropriate decision to pass it and a reasonable attempt to pass, because it was a good decision to pass. If it's a decent pass, it is the receiver's job to get to that pass at all costs! Receivers make the pass a good one, not the passer! In my opinion, the receiver has as much to do as the passer with whether a pass is a "good pass". The problem often is that a receiver is lazy or not getting open. Now, keep in mind that my players are young so I teach them in a nice, positive way. I stress to my players that passes often don't come right at your feet and that it's your job to be ready and run to it and get it wherever it is, or if it isn't hard enough to run to it, or if it's passed too hard you still need to stop the ball. (Note from David: Doug is teaching what on SoccerHelp I call "Aggressive Receiving").
  5. Another technique I use to teach "movement off the ball" is this:

    First, I ask my kids:
    What do you do if you have the ball? Go Score!
    What do you do if the other team has the ball? Steal it!
    What do you do if your teammate has the ball? Blank stare...

    Then, I teach them: "If your teammate has the ball,
    First, get out of his way!
    Second, go someplace else, but where?

    I tell them left, right or behind. Left or right are good for receiving, back is good as backup defender. I don't teach backwards passing to this age group. I want them to pass laterally and forward.

Coach Doug