One commitment I have made to myself is to remain involved in grassroots soccer coaching, at the club level. Last year my son and I coached his daughter’s U10 (7v7) team, this year we’re coaching his son’s U7 (5v5) team. My granddaughter was recruited by a competitive team and now plays U12 (9v9). This gives me the opportunity not only to develop the teams we coach, but also to observe many other teams as they practice and play the game.
In our particular club the structure is to start with 3v3 at U3 on very small fields and add players and increase field (and net) size gradually to regular 11v11. I like the approach as it allows for more involvement and ball touches at younger ages. Our club also has a technical director/club head coach whose responsibility it is to oversee both coach and player development. The club conforms to the regional umbrella soccer organization’s mandates and programs. Sound familiar? Sound good?
It would be really good if the program that was developed by the umbrella organization were based on all four pillars of soccer and applied consistently throughout the club. To review the four pillars, which by the way, are used in each and everyone of our soccer practice books:
- Technical (Skill) Development
- ball control – receiving, second touch, passing
- 1v1 moves
- shooting, heading
- Tactical Development
- systems of play suited to number of players on field
- learning positional roles
- essential game elements – overlaps, give and go, switching play, etc.
- recognizing other team’s tactics
- Physical Development
- Mental Development
- decision making, anticipation, perception
- team atmosphere and environment
- peak performance states
What we see dominating in our particular organization is skill development. The result is teams/players on the field who can control the ball, but don’t really know what to do with it. At the younger ages they bunch up, at the older ages they hang on to the ball too long.
I recommend that coaches train all four pillars from the beginning. Our practice plans, which I use for my own teams, are structured as follows:
- Warm-Up – moving with ball and without ball, dynamic stretching. Less/no stretching at younger ages
- Technical – drills that teach or reinforce essential skills
- Fitness – typically aerobic and anaerobic exercises, with ball involved. More game like for younger age groups, but the heart rate goes up.
- Tactical – tactical element appropriate for age group. For example we’ve had no issue teaching our U7 team’s two defenders for one to attack the player with ball and the other to cover open players. Took a while, but possible.
- Scrimmage – a game in which positional play and/or tactical elements can be trained and reinforced
This model works. Last year our U10 Girls learnt a 2-3-1 formation, improved skills and positional play and improved endurance. The team had fun as we included siblings/parents in the scrimmages. We were organized during games and with some good fortune went undefeated (13W – 1T -0L). This year our boys team has learnt a 2-2 formation which we expanded to a 2-1-1 to introduce the concept of midfield. Fitness isn’t an issue with 6 year old boys so we added more skill training time. A challenge is the mental aspect as these kids are full of energy and have a relatively low attention span. So we keep emphasizing listening skills and teamwork concepts (passing) and keep them busy with a varied program. We adjust drills during practice when we see that players have even seconds of idle time, which they use to pursue their own interests. Again, we are the team that looks like a soccer team and other teams just aren’t having as much fun during the game.
The point I want to make is that regardless of the program that is handed to you from your organization, be aware of these four pillars. If what you’re given includes them – great. If it doesn’t, then modify your approach to maximize the learning opportunity for your players.