By David at SoccerHelp and Coach Doug Burgoyne
Below is part of an article published in the Sept/Oct 2013 Issue of the NSCAA Soccer Journal
Below are suggestions for soccer leagues about how to organize and manage a great U4 and U6 soccer program. The suggestions are based on letters we have received from hundreds of experienced coaches. In this case, it is true that "Hindsight is 20/20" and experienced coaches can see in hindsight the best way to train U4 and U6 players. We are writing this article at the urging of U4 and U6 soccer coaches.
Consider the New Ball Method for Soccer Games for U4, U5 and U6. This approach is sweeping the world because it is a better way to play soccer games. In the New Ball Method, whenever a ball goes OUT OF PLAY or a GOAL IS SCORED, a coach or the Referee announces "New Ball" and rolls another ball into play. There are NO KICK OFFS after a Goal, NO THROW-INS or KICK-INS, NO GOAL KICKS, NO CORNER KICKS and NO FREE KICKS. There often is no referee (you can have a Referee who rolls the balls into play OR the coaches can roll the balls into play and stop any rough play). Substitutions are done "on the fly" like hockey. In some of these games, each team scores 15 or more goals, which is great because it means they are getting lots of touches on the ball. Studies have shown that the New Ball approach results in the ball being in play up to 90% of the time versus 50% or 60% of the time using the "old" approach, and that results in more fun, many more touches on the ball and a better work out.
Another approach a League can consider is Soccer Fun for Ages 3, 4, 5, 6 - This approach only has a combined practice and game once a week for about 45 minutes and there are no lined fields, no Refs, no uniforms and no scheduling - it is very easy and low-cost and parents and kids love it and parents don't even bring a ball - it uses parents as "Fun Leaders" instead of Coaches. It is also a great way to recruit new coaches and to get a LOT more kids to sign up for your league. Coach Doug had huge success in Florida with this program where for U4 and U6 they just played the Coach Doug U4 and U6 Practice Games for about 45 minutes. Instead of coaches they had "Fun Leaders". There is an article about it at www.soccerhelp.com/soccer-articles/100701-u4-soccer-u6.shtml. A church bought enough soccer balls so each kid had one and I think they charged $45 and maybe the kids got a T-Shirt. The kids didn't keep the balls - the church kept them to use the next season. The church also bought some pop up goals - those are nice but aren't required. As I recall, they had so many kids sign up that they ran out of parking spaces. Doug showed the Fun Leaders how to play the Practice Games, so he was sort of the Master Fun Leader, which he is great at. We actually got the idea from a league in CA who grew from 500 kids to 1,500 in 2 years using this approach. The Fun Leader approach makes it so much easier because anyone can do it so you don't have to line up "coaches" - no soccer experience is required to be a Fun Leader and it is a great way to get parents started as coaches, so you will have plenty of coaches by the time the kids reach U8. There aren't practices and there aren't "teams" or scheduling, so the paperwork is greatly reduced. Everyone who wants to just shows up once a week for FUN to play the Practice Games - each age group have its own time (U4, U5 and U6). If someone is late or leaves early or want to take a break, NO problem, no hassles and no pressure, SO, it is perfect for busy parents and the kids actually have more fun and get many more touches than they do in a "real game".
Split the Game into Quarters, Not Halves - Quarters allow for more short rest breaks and for giving kids tips and encouragement.
If You Play Real Games, Don't Let Coaches Stack Teams - Assign Players to Balance the Teams - Stacking teams is one of the very worst things that can happen. That encourages the wrong attitude for U4 and U6.
Don't Use Goalkeepers, Throw-Ins, Goal Kicks or Corner Kicks - If you use the New Ball Method or the Soccer Fun approach described above, you won't have a problem with this, but if you play regular games, it will be better if you don't use Goalkeepers, Throw-Ins, Goal Kicks or Corner Kicks because that way players will get many more touches on the ball. Not using goalkeepers encourages young players to learn to defend and to not rely on a goalkeeper.
Insist that the coaches and parents don't say anything negative or yell at kids on the other team and teach your referees to enforce that rule - Believe it or not, some parents and coaches will yell or say mean things to kids on the other team. That is TERRIBLE - it can obviously have a very negative effect for adults to say mean things to small kids. As a parent or coach, we would absolutely not tolerate that. In order to avoid the potential problems that could result, it is best if Leagues have rules prohibiting such behavior and tell the referees to strictly enforce those rules.
Encourage Parents to Celebrate the Success of Kids on BOTH Teams, to Cheer for BOTH Teams and NEVER to Boo the Other Team - Encourage coaches and parents to cheer when a kid on either team scores a goal or does anything good.
Share Players If One Team Doesn't Have Enough - If a team cannot field the proper number of players for a game, they should ask the opposing coach to borrow a player or two for the game. Emphasis should be to have a fun game and not worry about who wins.
Don't Keep Score or Post Win/Loss Records or Statistics on the League Website - Doing so only encourages coaches to put too much focus on winning and running up the score.
Encourage coaches to avoid lines and to maximize touches on the ball - See ideas above. The Leagues that do so will produce players that are more skilled than the Leagues that don't - it is simple math. Other things being equal, if players get 2 or 3 times as many touches on the ball, they will improve faster than those who don't. Kids will have more fun and player retention will be significantly higher. The key to this is for there to be a ball for every kid, so you will need to encourage the coaches to buy some balls or the league or a sponsor will need to buy some balls to loan to the coaches. Another possibility is to ask parents to buy some extra balls to bring to practice. If you have budget problems, you are better off to switch to the New Ball or Soccer Fun approaches and save money by not using Referees for U4 and U6 - a ball for every player at practice is critical for both fun and skill development.
Keep Games Short - Our recommendations are below. These are very young kids with short attention spans. Don't look at these as real matches - look at them as a way to get kids to love soccer and try to maximize fun and touches - avoid stress, hassles, boredom and anything that would diminish a kids love of soccer. If you keep practices and games short, busy parents are more likely to sign up their kids and practice and game attendance will be better.
** We recommend you allow unlimited "on the fly" substitutions and 2 minute breaks between quarters.
U3 (2 year olds) - Four 4 minute quarters**
U4 (3 year olds) - Four 6 minute quarters**
U5 (4 year olds) - Four 7 minute quarters**
U6 (5 year olds) - Four 8 minute quarters**
The best way to let every kid have the special experience of scoring a goal while making game-day more fun - See number 9 at 18 Tips for U4 & U6 Soccer Coaches. That idea only takes about 7 minutes, makes a lot of kids and parents happy, and will result in better player retention.
Encourage Parents from Both Teams to Sit on the Same Side of the Field - That will make it less competitive so it won't be an "us against them" attitude. It will make it clear that at U6 the parents are "all on the same side", which is to encourage the kids. The parents will be more likely to celebrate every kid's goal and to be inclusive. It will help the kids avoid stress and pressure. At U6 it should feel more like a "play date" than a competitive soccer match and al the parents should have a nurturing attitude. If the parents sit together, you are much less likely to have situations where a coach runs up the score.