21 Soccer Coaching Tips

How to Teach Positions and Formations
Attacking Strategy
Where to Hide Timid Players
Motivate Players
Train a Goalie in 30 Minutes
No Lines Practice Games
Stopping Breakaways
Control the Flow of the Game

21 Soccer Coaching Tips for Fast Results

This article has 21 soccer coaching tips for how to improve a weak youth soccer team in 2 practices. The tips below were for a U10 team in CA.

Four days after I replied to Coach M's letter I got this reply: "We had our best practice of the year yesterday. The girls are getting very good at dribbling across the square and the Shoulder Tackling game is working beyond belief. Some of my timid girls are now amongst the toughest on the team. My co-coach is fired up and can't believe how much we turned it around in a couple of practices. I ordered soccer patches and mentioned them before yesterdays practice and all of the girls stepped it up. Thank you very much!"

Hi Coach M,

Thanks for being a Premium member and for the kind words.

I think you can make a few changes and see a big improvement in your team.

For more tips and tactics see More Soccer Tips and Tactics and the Coaching Navigation Page at Soccer Coaching Navigation.

Below are my thoughts:

  1. Soccer Practice Amount and Don't Practice the Day Before a Match - I recommend cutting back to two one hour practices or one 90 minute practice a week. I think you are practicing too much. You can let your players who want to stay for Goalie practice BUT what I found was that if you practice too much it reduces the enthusiasm and energy level for the game ALSO, I would NOT practice the day before a match and ideally not the 2 days before so your players are rested and eager. After 2 weeks, Coach Mark wrote: "We do hour and half on Tuesday practices which is a lot of goalie training in the last thirty minutes and girls are free to go home if they need to after the hour. Our Thursday, practice is under an hour which makes us coaches and the players more focused to get everything done. Thank you for that advice on practice times."
  2. Don't Scrimmage, Even Small Sided - Do NOT scrimmage at practice. I think your practice attendance will increase if practices are shorter. I would not do small sided scrimmages because:
    1. There aren't as many touches as in the Practice games (the original advantage of small-sided was more touches but the Practice Games have more touches and don't confuse players)
    2. That can reduce enthusiasm for the real game
    3. You aren't playing 3v3 or 4v4 on the field in real matches and practicing that way is confusing to players - spend that time doing a "Situational Walk Thru" as described below.
  3. Soccer Formation and Importance of a Stopper - You need to change your formation to the formation that gives your team the best chance of success 8v8 is great because you have lots of choices. DEFINITELY switch to a formation that uses a "Stopper" (Read http://www.soccerhelp.com/premium/Soccer_Stopper_Soccer_Formation_8v8.shtml ). Put your most athletic, fast player with the best endurance who is also brave at Stopper (Athletic, Stamina, Fast and Brave, BUT does NOT need good ball skills maybe Player 2 below) AND put your most skilled player who is brave at Center Midfield (Skilled and Brave, but doesn't have to be fast - maybe Player 1 below). I would play a 2-1-3-1 and Defend Deep as described below. Read Style of Play below for selecting Fullbacks. Your best 3 players will be at Stopper, CMF and Forward. Put your timid players (players who are timid) at RMF and LMF. You can read over 40 articles about 8v8 soccer formations at www.soccerhelp.com/premium/Formations_And_Tips_8v8.shtml
  4. Situational Walk Thru to Teach Your Formation and Positions -- You will need to do a "Walk Thru" of your new formation to teach it and positions. Do that by putting players in positions where they will play (it is okay to put more than one player in a position). You hold the ball and walk around the field and make your players Shift & Sag as you move so they keep position on Defense relative to the ball and the goal you are defending. THEN walk thru how they will move when on Attack by starting with the ball in your Penalty Box and YOU hold the ball and walk around with it and let them move to be in the correct positions and ask them what they should do (e.g., if the ball is in your Defensive Third a Fullback or Stopper should clear it straight ahead - do NOT dribble it because they can lose the ball and that will lose the opportunity because the opponents will move to the ball - and the CMF and Forward should shift to be straight ahead of the ball in positions to win the cleared ball - the CMF a pass away and the Forward a long kick away)
  5. Style of Play - Keep Defending Deep. Let your Fullbacks Push Up to the top of the Penalty Box when you are on attack and STRESS do NOT go inside the Goal Box except in an emergency. You can put slow players at Fullback IF they are brave. You should not put timid players at Fullback who are scared of being hit by the ball or of being bumped - you will get killed if you do. The best strategy for your team is for your FBs and Stopper to kick the ball straight ahead HARD. When the ball is in your Penalty Box, have your CMF stay a pass out from the ball and keep "shifting" from side-to-side with the ball so she is in position to win those cleared balls AND have your Forward stay a LONG kick away from the ball and keep shifting with the ball. That way when your FBs or Stopper clear the ball straight ahead, you have 2 good players in position to win the cleared ball. Defending Deep and Coaching Rule Number 3 will keep you from giving up goals on Breakaways.
  6. Attacking Strategy - Your CMF MUST come into the attack with the Forward. If your Stopper is really fast and has stamina, let her come into your attack to SUPPORT your attack. What that means is to come to within a pass BEHIND the ball and to shift with the ball, so she is in position to stop cleared balls and when she does, THEN she should attack the goal working WITH your CMF and Forward (but, at that point, if she can score, she should score - but don't just take long, wasted shots)
  7. Substitution Strategy - If you find good Fullbacks, let them play the entire game since they won't be running much. You will need to sub your Stopper, CMF and Forward.
  8. Playing time - I agree with your idea of playing each player at least 50% of the game. Every league should have that rule.
  9. Rotating Soccer Players - I can tell that you are truly trying to be a good coach - you sound like I was. You said "I tend to focus on the strength of the players when assigning positions but do like to rotate the girls to different position focusing on their best positions." I agree with the first part but suggest you might be trying to rotate too much. There is an old saying "Jack of all trades, Master of none." How can you teach a player to properly play a position if they are rotating all the time?" When I started coaching I rotated players a lot but then I changed and my players were happier and our team played better. I think at U4 and U6 rotating is great because you aren't trying to teach "positions" but by U10 rotating becomes a problem for Rec teams.
  10. Motivating your soccer players - It will make a HUGE difference if you can motivate your players - get them excited, get them to focus, get them to do their best and shoot for 100% practice attendance. I know I say it a lot and it may seem self-serving, but the best way I know to motivate soccer players is by using our soccer patches. I used them and there are over 300 Testimonials here . Read some of the Testimonials. If you want samples, we will send them. Youth soccer is about memories and if you and your players have better memories in 10 years, them $100 is a small price to pay. Plus, you are spending a great deal of time on practice and if you use the patches and motivate your players, your players will improve faster, play better, you will have a lot more fun and better success AND you can use them to teach life skills such as being brave and doing your best. Parents are usually glad to contribute to buy them. It is critical that your players come to practices AND games, so use them to motivate and reward that. Choose a special patch for coming to games that they ONLY get if they come to a game. This and changing your formation are the 2 easiest things you can do that will have an immediate impact. Coach Mark wrote: "I ordered the patches and received them yesterday. My co coach and I announced the patches to the parents and the players this week and we have been seeing some amazing focus. Every one is going for the bravery patch and we also give a patch to the two captains each game who are chosen who display the most focus, effort, bravery, and teamwork during practices before the game. All of the girls have been listening a lot better in the last week, magic!"
  11. Team Goal Celebration - Read about this and show it to your team - it is a positive way of thinking. "When we score.." (NOT "If we score.., but "When.." or "Every time we score.." ). Basically, whenever your team scores a goal, they should ALL (including the Goalie AND the subs) come together in a circle in the part of the field toward your bench, put their arms on each other's shoulders and do a team cheer.. That makes it clear that scoring a goal is a TEAM effort and EVERYONE on the team celebrates it. You can read more about this on SoccerHelp at http://www.soccerhelp.com/Patch_Award_System.shtml
  12. Soccer Goalie - I would play # 11 and/or 12 at Goalie, IF they do a decent job AND if they can CLEAR the ball on punts (you can have a player with a strong leg take Goal Kicks). BUT it is critical that they are able to clear the ball on punts. If they can't, you must have a Goalie who can clear the ball on punts or you will get killed. REQUIRE anyone who you might let play Goalie to stay 30 minutes after practice and teach them the basics and be sure they can punt the ball. How to easily and quickly teach punting and soccer goalkeeping is at www.soccerhelp.com/premium/Goalkeeping.shtml . This is VERY IMPORTANT and can be worth 2 goals a game. You are correct that IF you have a player who has decent hands and can punt the ball to the Halfway Line, that is a great Goalie.
  13. Where to hide timid players (players who are timid) - Hide them at right and left midfield.
  14. Practice Games that Will Make a Fast Difference - Play "Dribble Across A Square Game (Improved)" at the first of each practice as a warm up (this is ABSOLUTELY the best way to teach instinctive dribbling in traffic while under pressure), play "Dribble Around Cone & Pass Relay Race" a lot (to teach kicking the ball while running, Aggressive Receiving and One-Touch Play) and play "Shoulder Tackle & Strength On The Ball Game" until your girls are NOT afraid of contact AND hopefully they can learn how to legally push opponents off the ball to steal it. After 2 weeks, Coach Mark wrote: "The Shoulder Tackle & Strength On The Ball Game has been working great along with the Win the 50/50 Ball or be the First Defender 1v1 Attacking and Defending, Dribble Around Cone & Pass Relay Race, and also the Dribble Across A Square Game. Our girls are getting more confident with the ball, and it seems like every one of them has become a lot more brave and tough in the last two weeks of practice."
  15. Coaching Rule # 3 - Keep working on this. It is HUGELY helpful and worth 2 goals a game. It helps your team keep shape, they will be better positioned, they won't give up many breakaways, they will score goals by stealing Goal Kicks, they will win more 50/50 balls and they will better control the flow of the game. Coach Charlie said "I taught my players Coaching Rule No. 3 from Premium and the results were immediately phenomenal! I couldn't believe I had neglected this basic tactic - they immediately stole several balls in the game following our 1st practice where I had introduced the concept, and it completely changed the flow of the game during several long stretches. This resulted in our nearly tying what had been the best team in the league. While we lost 2 to 3, it was night and day compared to how they had played just a week or two before." Coach Charlie, U10, Premium Member How to teach Coaching Rule No. 3 is explained in No. 2 of Quick Team Improvement Program. on Premium.

    The way to teach Coaching Rule # 3 is:

    1. Not by scrimmaging, but by demonstrations on the field for throw ins and Goal Kicks
    2. THEN during the games you will need to teach it by yelling by name to players who aren't Marking Up. "Example: Kate, Mark up." It takes a while but you will see improvement.

    After 2 weeks, Coach Mark wrote: "Most of the girls are getting Coaching Rule #3. In fact, a handful of the girls will start to automatically tell any of their team mates who is not quick to mark up."

  16. Recruit parents to "coach" your Fullbacks/Goalie AND your Forward during games - Recruit a parent to help you coach the Fullbacks & Goalie DURING games. This parent's job will be to make sure your Fullbacks Push Up to the Penalty Box line when you attack - that will help keep them out of your Goal Box - AND to tell the Fullbacks to clear the ball STRAIGHT ahead. This parent will also watch your Goalie to be sure she is shifting with the ball as you are going to teach her (see No. 10 below). Recruit a second parent to coach your Forward during games - this coach's job is to make sure the Forward stays Pushed Up when your goal is under attack (staying a long kick away from the ball when it is in the Penalty Box and shifting from side-to-side) - this is CRITICAL - the closer your Forward comes to your goal, the closer the opposing Fullbacks can come to your goal. By staying Pushed up, your Forward will keep the opposing Fullbacks off your side of the field and has a chance for breakaways by running onto balls that are cleared onto your Attacking Half of the field. Your job will be to coach the Stopper and Midfielders and Goalie and make sure they are doing what they are supposed to do. This is another way the patches can be used - to reward players for listening to the coach. IF they listen and do their best, give them a patch as Positive Reinforcement. If you want to read more about this, read How to Develop a Plan to Motivate Soccer Players .
  17. Teach Your Goalie to be the Boss Around the Goal - Teach your Goalie to be the Boss around the goal and to push her teammates out of her way if she needs to AND to tell them to get out of the Goal Box so they aren't in her way.
  18. Bravery - Bravery is HUGELY important. Every players isn't a great athlete, but every player can be brave. Select a special patch such as the Gold Star or Red Soccer Ball for Bravery. Make a BIG DEAL of Bravery. Use the word Brave instead of Aggressive or Tough. Heroes are brave and the words "aggressive" and "tough" don't sound as good.
  19. Patch Ceremony for Positive Reinforcement, Teaching and Expectations - Give the patches for each game in a Patch Ceremony after the game with the parents present (Tell the players they need to stay 15 minutes after the game). At the Ceremony, explain how each player EARNED the patches (example: for bravery or whatever else you are teaching) so the players know what will earn them a patch in the future. I recommend trying to find a reason to give every player a patch at the ceremony and find something to compliment or something encouraging to say about each player. This is a type of Positive Reinforcement and it gives you a chance to teach the players the behavior that will be rewarded.
  20. How to Teach Soccer Positions, Shifting, and Winning 50-50 Balls - Positioning Wins Games - Tips from Coach Corey: On Premium, read the letter from the U12 coach who went from a 1-3 start to winning the Tournament, scoring 11 goals and giving up 0 goals in 3 games. It is at www.soccerhelp.com/premium/Importance_Of_Shifting.shtml . I have pasted parts of it below.

    "I think the girls need to actually experience proper positioning to know what it means. For example, the Center Fullback does not quite know what it feels like to be off the near post during a game without actually being shown what it is like to be there in a practice game with a coach blowing the whistle and showing her exactly where to be (and her seeing where the ball and other teammates are relative to where she should be.) Same goes for the Far Fullback (who I had position herself at the top of the Goal Box, centered on goal). Once they got it though, they got it.

    We played this for an entire practice on an actual game field a few days before the tournament and I think it helped. We had 0 goals scored against us in the tournament. I recall several instances during the tournament where balls would get through and the Far Fullback would boot it out right before the other team's forward would get to it. That's not possible without being positioned correctly no matter how good of a defensive player you are. Then it was easy for the Far Stopper (at the top of the Penalty Box) to complete the clear out and that was it for the other team's attack.

    I am utterly convinced shifting and sagging and proper positioning are critical to winning a game. I would say that a team that is effective at shifting and sagging, and a defense that properly positions itself depending on where the ball is and so forth, has an even greater advantage than a team that has faster and stronger players in the Rec league. I'm not sure that my team ever had the faster and stronger players. But we won the tournament and I really believe it was because the players became disciplined at positioning themselves properly on the field to win 50/50 balls. My players were also more aggressive and we had a few newer players become pretty skilled by the end that it was enough for us to score goals. It also helped that our best, fastest player played center forward and could really make things happen at that position. But this was only possible because the midfielders and stoppers shifted and sagged so well."

  21. How Passing to Space, Defending Deep , the Shoulder Tackle & Strength On The Ball Game and Win the 50/50 Ball or be the First Defender 1v1 Attacking and Defending game helped Coaches.

    Coach Mark said: "We used the Premium Pass to Space Run with the Ball and Shoot game which has worked magically. The girls are really starting to pass ahead of each other. In fact my two best players, made a comment that they really need to pass it way ahead of our starting forward because she is so fast, but if the other forward is in, they told me they should not do the same because of the speed difference." Coach Mark, U10, CA, Premium Member

    Coach Mark said: "The Shoulder Tackle & Strength On The Ball Game is working beyond belief. Some of my timid girls are now amongst the toughest on the team." Mark, U1OG

    Coach Corey said: "I tried hard to emphasize Passing to Space rather than passing to feet. The girls weren't good enough at passing and trapping to pass to feet. I felt this taught them to anticipate a pass to space and take a shot quick after getting a pass into space from a teammate." Corey, U12G, Premium Member whose Rec team won their tournament. The full article is at www.soccerhelp.com/premium/Importance_Of_Shifting.shtml

    Coach Josh said: "Since adopting these strategies, we have won 3-1 (against a team from a neighboring suburb that usually dominates us with very skilled players), 4-1, and 1-0. We are no longer giving up breakaways, the kids are getting much more aggressive and strong on the ball, and they are getting the idea of passing to space to our faster forwards. I'm sure we'll hit some road bumps, but now I feel we can stay competitive in almost any match." Coach Josh, U12B (Defending Deep stopped breakaways. His players became more aggressive and stronger on the ball by playing the Shoulder Tackle & Strength On The Ball Game and the Win the 50/50 Ball or be the First Defender 1v1 Attacking and Defending game . He taught Passing to Space by using the Pass to Space, Run With the Ball and Shoot Practice Game. The full article is at www.soccerhelp.com/soccer-articles/120917-U12-Soccer-Coaching-Tips-Attacking-Defending.shtml

I hope this helps. Please let me know. If you follow these recommendations I believe you will maximize your chances of success.

David at SoccerHelp

3 Soccer Drills to Try

Hi Coach M,

Below are 3 drills to try that were recommended by coaches --

"We added the Push & Blast Off practice game to warm-ups late in the season. This helped them to understand how to get around a defender and to be quick by pushing off hard." Coach Corey, U12G whose team won their tournament

"My players love the soccer patches and are always eager to earn a patch. I am seeing amazing results from the patches and Premium soccer drills. Dribble Across a Square, the Defensive Footwork drills and Chips/Lofted Passes drills have helped my players and I see it in games. My U8 team just beat the best team in the league which last season beat us easily." Kevin, MD, U8 and U10, Premium member


Hi David,

Great minds think alike, I taught Push & Blast Off to my daughter last week and she liked it so much we taught it to the team on Tuesday. I will definitely try the defensive footwork drill and chip and lofted pass drill. Very good idea for today's practice.

We are going to do the walk through at the end of the practice and it looks like the girls are getting the shifting and sagging and defensive positioning. Quick questions, my stopper is fast and it seems like she doesn't let many balls go by, should I push her up more and in doing so push the CMF and CF up too. My CF should stay closer to the midfield line than the penalty box. Also, because our strongest girls are in the middle, we have a tendency to attack up the middle and do not get down the wings that much. Should I encourage my Stopper, CMF go to the corner more if it is open?

Thanks so much!

Coach M


Hi Coach M,

You will win a lot of games as long as you don't give up easy goals on breakaways.

Normally, I would let my Stopper Push Up to the halfway line and shift with the ball from side-to-side to turn the ball back to your attackers.

I would only let her come into the attack more in 2 cases because the farther she is into the Attacking Half the harder it will be for her to recover:

  1. If you are behind late in the game
  2. If you are 2 or more goals ahead.

Your 2 main attackers are your CMF and CF. Your CF needs to stay Pushed Up ALL THE TIME. The question is "How Far?" When the ball is in your Penalty Box, the CF should stay a LONG KICK away from the ball and shift from side-to-side with the ball so she is in position to win cleared balls that are cleared STRAIGHT AHEAD - she will get breakaways opportunities that way and that will keep the opposing Fullbacks from Pushing Up into your half of the field.. When your team is attacking in your Attacking Half, your CF and CMF need to work together to SUPPORT each other and that means staying within a pass of each other.

It won't do you any good to attack to the corner unless you are able to do something with the ball FROM the corner, and it doesn't sound like you are ready for that. You are seeing rapid progress - I would just keep it up. Some things take time.

RECOMMENDATION: One important thing you can work on with your daughter is looking for rebounds and positioning for them. I recommend you have your CF, CMF, RMF and LMF come before or after practice for 30 minutes and work play the Teaching Forwards To Be Opportunistic In The Penalty Box game.

The other thing to KEEP DOING A LOT is to play the Dribble Around Cone & Pass Relay Race game and use it to teach Aggressive Receiving and One-Touch Play. Those skills will help your players score more goals. Think about it - what you want your attackers to do is to read the "line" of the ball and move to it or adjust their position (that will help greatly with rebounding) AND one-touch play is CRITICAL inside the Penalty Box. If you can teach your attackers Aggressive Receiving and One-Touch Play you will start to score LOTS of goals.



(Update from Coach M just before the playoffs)

Hi David,

Since I last wrote you our record is 3-2-1 after starting the season at 0-2-1. Our two losses were close games where if I had better positioning for our girls we would have tied or won - our tie was with playing one girl down and no substitutions due to a conflicting swim meet and dance recital. So we enter the playoffs with a nice win in the last game of the season and not allowing any goals in the last five halves. Your drills have been working like magic, our girls are tough and do not back down from any opponent. We also are getting a lot of passing that I have never seen in U10. The patches work wonderfully, our teamwork is probably the best in the league and girls want to be brave and play great defense so that they can earn the patch.

My daughter is doing really well and getting better each game. Word has gotten around the league about her and at the start of some of the games, the coach puts a girl to follow her around the field. Even with that extra attention on defense, she has managed to score or assist in 10 (7 goals, 3 assists) of our 12 goals this year and more importantly is probably the bravest girl in the league, exact words from two coaches we played. Since talking to you and getting the Mia Hamm DVD, every team we have played has feared her and has put a dedicated player to guard her throughout the game. This is a girl who was a below average player last year and went through games unnoticed. Also, I told her I would put her in defense if we got up a goal or two in the playoffs. She normally plays CF, good idea to put her on defense for a bit?

Our girls have been playing well since we have talked. A lot of credit goes to you for their improvement and my daughter's improvement. We enter the playoff tournament, in the first round to play a team we beat 2-1. They scored on a penalty kick last time we played and we controlled the game 80% of the game. I feel if we use our set lineup with rotating subs in the right positions, we will win.

If we win the first playoff game, we will play a team who we lost to 5-3. I think we can beat them, we have improved a lot since the first time we played. That team has a very fast and amazing dribbler, another tough girl who is also fast reminds me of my daughter, and two sisters who are tough and play very aggressive. We can score off this team but their best player can get free and creates havoc. I now have three amazing defenders who have not allowed a goal and probably only four shots on goal in the last two games. I plan to take a girl on our team who is not skilled but is very fast and great at following and bothering opposing players and having her guard the best player on that team. Good idea?

We do not meet the number one team that has rolled over everyone until the finals so we would have to win three games to get to the finals. The coach of that team watched us play the last game and told me he was thankful he did not have to play us until the finals. He said that we are a much different team than when he played us a month ago and does not want to play us.

I can't thank you enough for all the help that you have given me. With a less than talented squad, probably the least talented in the age group, I think we would have had a decent season but probably may have fallen into last place. My girls have all improved a high amount this season and are loving soccer and playing it the right way. The patches work marvelously and you should be receiving some orders from some of my friends and coaches who have seen the patches work like magic.


Coach M, U10