From Soccer Journal, Sept/Oct 2003, pages 39-41

Practice Games Beat Soccer Drills

More can be achieved in less time and they are fun for players

by David Huddleston, SoccerHelp

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The SoccerHelp program started in 1995 as a soccer training program based on the use of practice games instead of soccer drills. The objective was to find a way for recreation coaches to achieve more in very limited practice time. Although the SoccerHelp Program is designed for recreational coaches, the objective of effective, efficient practices that achieve more in less time has broad applicability to all coaches.

Why Good Practice Games Are Better Than Soccer Drills

Practice games involve competition and pressure. Drills don't. SoccerHelp Practice Games better prepare players to perform under pressure in match-like conditions and at game speed. It is one thing to perform an activity without pressure, but it is very different to perform the same activity at game speed and under pressure.

Standards We Use For Practice Games

  1. They should be fun. Games that are fun keep players interested, improve practice attendance and generate more player enthusiasm at practice. Children are more likely to continue to play soccer if they have fun playing at early ages. The challenge is to develop games that are fun but still teach how to play soccer. The use of silly games such as Crab Soccer, that are fun but of limited benefit, are not recommended. Most games that involve everyone are by their very nature more fun than drills.
  2. Activity should be maximized and lines and standing around should be minimized. Players will learn more in less time, get a better workout and there is less opportunity for horseplay if they are active and not standing in lines.
  3. Each game should teach either important skills, teamwork or legitimate soccer concepts.
  4. The ideal games are "self-teaching" and players learn by simply playing the game.
  5. Games should maximize touches on the ball so everyone learns the most possible during practice and more is achieved in less time.
  6. One coach should be able to easily set up and manage the game. Assistants should not be required. This is critical, otherwise a lot of time will be lost setting up the games.
  7. Games shouldn't require large fields, lined fields or real goals. They should be able to be played in an area the size of one-half of a field or less, that is outlined by cones and using cones for goals.
  8. Games shouldn't require a certain number of players (such as 6 per side). The Coach should be able to use the games no matter how many or how few come to practice and they should work with an even or odd number of players.
  9. Games should work for players of different abilities so there isn't a problem if players have different abilities, as is often the case with Recreational teams.
  10. For Recreational players, we believe in positive motivation and don't believe in punishing a child who has tried their best but lost a practice game. Our games don't make the losers leave the game or run laps. Nor do we use knock-out or elimination games that leave the players who need the most practice on the sideline. From a practical perspective, punishing players slows down practice and elimination games don't produce as many touches on the ball.
  11. For each hour of practice, the objective is 45-50 minutes of effective learning experience versus the 15-30 minutes that is typical for most Rec practices.
  12. Most of our Practice Games involve competition, pressure and match-related conditions. Players learn much more when they practice at game-speed in match-related conditions. The best way to achieve this is by playing games that are match-related and involve competition and pressure. Our Practice Games also teach players to hustle, win the ball, play aggressively, they get a good work-out and have more fun.

SoccerHelp Tips For Good Recreational Practices

  1. You must have at least one ball per player.
  2. You must be organized, have a practice plan and get to practice early.
  3. Minimize lines and standing around.
  4. Maximize touches on the ball.
  5. Avoid general scrimmaging for more than 10 minutes per hour. In general scrimmages players don't get enough touches on the ball, the weaker players tend to get the fewest touches and bad habits can be reinforced because players tend to do the same things they have always done. If you scrimmage, do so without a goalkeeper (see "Small Sided Scrimmage Without A Goalkeeper" below).
  6. Praise hustle, improvement and a good attitude. Measure each player's performance by his or her personal improvement and effort, and not by comparing them to someone else. Try to motivate in a positive way that builds self-esteem.
  7. A good game must be easy and quick to set up, and should be simple to explain and manage. If you are spending too much time on set up or instruction, simplify it.

Evolution From A Bad Drill To A Good Practice Game

A Bad Drill: There is only one ball, players stand in one line and dribble one at a time thru a row of cones and back. Disadvantages include: it is boring, inefficient and does not simulate match conditions.

A Better Practice Game: Every player has a ball and his own row of cones. On "Go" all players race to dribble thru the cones and back to the start. Advantages include: it's more fun than the drill and involves competition and game speed. Disadvantages: dribbling thru cones is not the same as dribbling thru players, the set-up is too time consuming and it teaches dribbling but it doesn't teach shielding or to look up while dribbling.

A Good Practice Game: Use 4 cones to make a square about 10-15 steps wide, smaller or larger depending on age and the number of players. Each player has a ball. Spread players around the square with each facing inward toward the opposite side of the square. On "Go" the players dribble straight across, turn at the opposite side of the square and dribble back. Each player keeps count of his or her trips across the square, each time the player turns is "One". The first to ten wins. To monitor progress, ask each player his score at the end of each game. Players will be dribbling across the square from four directions, will have to look up to avoid running into each other and will have to shield the ball when in traffic. Advantages include: easy set-up and management, provides competition and pressure, self-teaching, teaches dribbling and shielding, players must look up while dribbling, the coach can specify the part of the foot players must use to turn, and enlarging the square will teach players how to speed up when out of traffic. In brief, this is a very efficient and effective practice game. It has the added advantages of causing player's to learn to make quick, instinctive reactions in a crowd and of improving peripheral vision. It can be played 3 times in less than 10 minutes. We call this game "Dribble Across A Square".

3 SoccerHelp Practice Games and The Classics They Replace

  1. "Dribble Across A Square" (for U-8 and older). This is the game described above. It replaces dribbling thru a line of cones. This game works indoors.
  2. "2 Team Keep Away" (for U-10 and older). Replaces "Monkey In The Middle". Use cones to outline a field about 20 steps by 30 steps (smaller or larger depending on age and number). Divide into 2 teams, if you have 5 or more an odd number is okay, otherwise the coach or a spectator plays. Have the teams face each other from opposite sides of the field. Give each team one ball for every 2.5 to 3 players (e.g., teams with 5, 6 or 7 players get 2 balls). On "Go" each team tries to keep their balls and steal the other team's balls. The team with the most balls at the end of 2 or 3 minutes wins. This game has many quick transitions and teaches teamwork, support, movement off the ball and many other things. This also works well indoors.
  3. "Small Sided Scrimmage Without A Goalkeeper" (for U-10 and older). This is a better way for Rec teams to scrimmage. Divide your team in half, don't use Keepers, and goals only count if shot from within The Scoring Zone, which is identified by a Red Cone. This game is better than a regular scrimmage in 2 ways: (1). All players learn to defend and play tough defense and block shots, and not rely on the Keeper, and (2). To score, they must work the ball close to the goal and not take long shots, so control, dribbling, passing, and movement off the ball in the Attacking Third are encouraged. The field should be 30-50 steps long and 25-40 steps wide. Use cones to make goals 4 steps wide. A Red Cone should be 7-10 steps out from each goal. Goals can only be scored on shots from inside the Red Cone. Call offside if it is blatant. Rec teams should only scrimmage for about 10 minutes of each hour they practice. This game can help evaluate players.


We have had excellent feedback from coaches of Rec teams of teams ranging from U-6 to Adult, from coaches of select youth teams to U-15 and from coaches of Jr. High teams. In brief, coaches have been able to achieve more in less time, with better practice attendance and noticeable improvement to dribbling, passing, defense and scoring. The result has often been rapid and sometimes dramatic improvement to win/loss records and greater satisfaction for coaches and players. We have not had feedback from coaches of High School teams, but believe practice games could be a beneficial part of a High School training program.

The Soccer Journal is published by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America ("NSCAA"), which has over 30,000 members. David has been a member for years, and we encourage all coaches to join the NSCAA. A special membership is available for youth coaches at a low price. Members receive the Soccer Journal magazine and liability insurance that covers most soccer-related activities. David found the liability insurance alone to be worth the cost. Go to for more information. Prior issues of the Soccer Journal are available for viewing at