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1. Recreational & Select Soccer. There are 2 types of youth soccer programs; one is called "recreational" (or "rec") and the other is called "select", "club" or "travel".
Recreational soccer programs are mainly run by the YMCA, churches, Jewish Community Centers, the American Youth Soccer Organization ("AYSO") or non-profit clubs associated with the U.S. Youth Soccer Association ("USYSA"). "Select" programs are usually either organized by non-profit clubs or are affiliated with a recreational soccer association.
2. How To Determine A Player's "Soccer Age". A player's "Soccer Age" refers to the age group a player is placed in, such as "Under 8" (also called U8), and can be different for different leagues. "Soccer Age" is usually either based on the Calendar Year or the School Year. Ask your League how they determine "Soccer Age" and what age group your child is in. If the "Soccer Age" is based on the School Year, then it is usually based on how old the player was on the last July 31 (for example, if a player was nine as of July 31, they will stay in the "Under-10" (U10) group until the following July 31, at which time they will move up to the U11 group). Keep in mind that a child who was born toward the end of the Soccer Age group is almost a year younger than children born near the first of the Soccer Age group, and at early ages, the older children are often larger and more physically and mentally advanced. Many leagues will let a player "play up" in an older group, but they usually won't let a player play down in a younger group.
3. Rules. Soccer rules are published annually by FIFA (pronounced "FEE' fuh"), the world soccer governing body, but youth organizations usually adjust the rules to fit children. Typical adjustments are field sizes, game lengths, number of players per team, the number and frequency of substitutions, "offside" is sometimes not called, and slide tackling is sometimes not allowed. Field sizes, ball sizes, length of games & rules vary by age group. Both boys & girls play; the rules do not require separate teams. Most rules are described in the SoccerHelp.com Dictionary of Soccer Terms, Concepts & Rules ™ (See "Soccer Rules"). Discuss the rule variations with an official of your league.
6. Practice Attendance. You really can't punish a child in a recreational league for not coming to practice because it's usually the parent's fault. However, I do think it is fair to tell them that because soccer is a team sport, it is only natural that those who come to practice the most might play the most & might get first preference for the positions they prefer to play. Try to motivate players to come by making practices fun & playing games like those described in the section titled "Soccer Practice Games". Also, explain to them that soccer is a team sport & the team will play better & have more fun if everyone comes to practice.
7. Team Names & Cheers. Most teams choose a nickname. Young children also like a cheer which they can do before or after the game or at halftime. If your team's name has a "rhythmic" spelling, you can spell it (e.g., M-A-G-I-C, GO Magic!). The best one I've heard is "Play Hard, Play Fair, Have FUN". Players usually gather round & touch hands while doing their cheer.
8. Playing Time. Most recreational leagues require that each child plays at least 50% of every game he or she attends. Even if your League doesn't require this, it is a rule you should consider adopting for your team.
9. When You Can Substitute. (aka "Subbing"). Youth Leagues usually either allow "unlimited substitutions" (which usually means the coach can "sub" as many times as he wants during the game but only at certain times such as goal kicks) or only allow subbing between quarters. If "unlimited substitution" is allowed, you can usually sub at these times (check with your league to see if they follow these rules): after a goal kick is called for either team, after a goal by either team, after a throw-in is called for your team (not the other team), at halftime, and at an injury time-out if the other team replaces a player (but you can only sub as many players as they do). You usually cannot sub on corners, or free kicks. Except at half-time or between quarters, substitutions may only occur with the Referees permission (you can get his attention by yelling "sub"). Players entering & leaving the field should only do so at the halfway line. The rules technically say that a player must leave the field first before his sub can enter the field. Many referees don't enforce this in youth games because there is so much substitution. However, if the Ref says "call them off first", this is what he means. Often, midfielders are subbed the most because they run the most. See Substituting (Substitution, Subbing) - Rules, When To and How To
10. Goalkeepers. (aka Goalie, Keeper or GK). Except in a small-sided play, each team must have a designated goalkeeper. Except for a "Throw-In", he is the only player on the field who can legally use his hands and then only in certain circumstances. He must wear a shirt or jersey that is recognizably different from all other players (goalkeepers often wear special jerseys with padded elbows). Note: In hot weather, do not put a goalkeeper jersey on a player. They can get too overheated & become sick. Instead, have them wear a different-colored shirt (one shirt only) or a mesh training vest over their shirt. If your goalkeeper has a strong leg, let him take goal kicks. If he has speed, encourage him to play aggressively & if you "Push Up" your Fullbacks on the attack, to come out to the edge of the Penalty Box or beyond to play like a "Second Sweeper". If he picks up the ball & no opponents are close, encourage him to drop the ball & dribble it out & then kick it. (Once he drops it or when out of the Penalty Box, he can play like a field player but can't touch the ball). Encourage him to play aggressively & to take chances, everyone will have much more fun if you do & more kids will want to play goal. I've had our goalkeeper run up field many times to take a corner kick & we've never given up a goal as a result (obviously, only do this if your Goalie has speed). One season I even had a goalkeeper who I would bring out to take throw-ins on the far end of the field. There was really very little risk, but everyone got excited by it. Goalkeepers tend to get blamed for goals when most of the time it isn't their fault (if the other defenders are doing a great job there won't be any shots on goal). You should tell your goalkeeper before the game that the other team is expected to score goals & that it isn't his fault if they score. Do not let anyone else (players or parents) blame the goalkeeper. In fact, after the game you should have the rest of the team thank the goalkeeper, even if he or she did make mistakes. If your team is under age 11, you should encourage everyone to take a try at playing goalkeeper. You will be surprised who is good & you really can't tell until they actually play the position. At the very least, it will give all the players respect for how tough the position is & they will be less likely to blame the goalkeeper when goals are scored. However, do not make a child play goalkeeper if he or she doesn't want to. (See "Second Sweeper", "Goal Kick", "Formations", & Section 2.b of "Fouls" in the Dictionary regarding indirect kick fouls that only apply to the Goalkeeper, & "How to Teach Goalkeeping" in SoccerHelp Premium).
11. Small Sided Games & Formations. Most youth leagues play with less than 11 players per side until U-12 or U-14. This is called playing "Small Sided". At U-6, there may be as few as 3 per side; at U-8, 4 or 5 per side; at U-10, 6 to 8 per side, etc. At young ages it is much better to play small sided; the players get many more "touches" on the ball & it is much easier to teach them the important concepts such as "support", "First Defender", to "shift & sag", and to spread out & get open for passes. In small sided games with 5 or less players per side, you shouldn't worry about "formations" or "positions" but should teach basic concepts, teamwork, passing, dribbling & basic tactics such as "sagging" & to mark up behind a man when the other team has a throw-in or is near our goal. To quote Bobby Howe, Director of Coaching Education for the U.S. Soccer Federation & author with Tony Waiters of 2 excellent books:
Fewer players on the field
Reduces the size of the "swarm;"
Creates more touches;
Does not allow players to "hide" or be excluded from the activity;
Presents realistic but simple soccer challenges;
Requires players to make simple but realistic soccer decisions.
Realistic Experience + Fun = Improvement In Play.
(See "Formations" and "Small Sided" in the Dictionary).Back to Basic Info Contents Page
12. Injuries. If a player is injured, play will continue until the whistle is blown. The referee will stop the game if a child appears to be seriously hurt or if there is blood. If the game is stopped for injury, you should have your players immediately stop and sit or kneel down where they are. It is recommended that each coach become familiar with the proper procedures in the event of an injury. An injured player should sit out and receive appropriate treatment.
13. Encourage Learning & Tolerate Mistakes. If your team is learning & trying new things, they will make a lot of mistakes. You must accept this fact & be tolerant of mistakes. If you aren't, you will discourage them from trying new things. Encourage them to try new things & encourage the effort even if it doesn't work. Examples: "Great try. Keep it up." or "Good idea; try it again."
14. Rewarding Or Punishing Performance. Never punish or scold a child for lack of ability. All you can expect them to do is their best (e.g., Don't make those who lose a game or come in last run laps, or do jumps, or sit out while others play). Tell everyone, including the unathletic players, that you are proud of them if they are trying hard. You will have some athletic players and some unathletic players. Measure each player's performance by their personal improvement & effort, and not by comparing them to someone else. Try to motivate in a positive way that builds self-esteem. See "Incentives" below for ideas about rewarding practice and game attendance, hustle and effort.
15. Measuring Success. In recreational soccer, consider measuring success in these ways:
16. Incentives. Tangible incentives aren't required, but kids love them & I believe they can be good if they are used in the right way. For example, in recreational soccer, you can use them to reward practice and game attendance & hustle. You can also use them to reward team effort such as the team that wins a practice game. (Rewarding individual effort doesn't work as well unless your players all have about the same ability because a few kids will probably win all the time & some will never win). A few years ago, the mother of one of my players bought some gold iron-on fabric and cut out stars which we gave out for practice & game attendance & hustle. The kids loved it. Later, we started buying small iron-on soccer ball patches. These come in 4 colors & the players iron them on their jerseys. We gave out a red and white one for bravery and tough play and the boys called it a "Blood Patch". We asked for $10 donations to buy these. A tip: if you give out rewards, don't give out more than 2 per player per practice and 2 per player per game, otherwise they lose their value & the kids aren't as excited to get them. Another idea is to do like teachers do & give a special reward for perfect practice & game attendance. For example, a computer printed attendance certificate. Read letters from Coaches who have used SoccerHelp iron-on incentive patches and the results they have achieved.Back to Basic Info Contents Page
17. Be A Good Role Model. To a large degree, your players & parents will follow your lead. Be a good sport & don't yell at the referees or at the other team. After the game, seek out the referees and shake their hand and thank them, even if they made some bad calls.
18. Things You Are Not Allowed To Do:
19. Things You Should And Things You Should Not Do:
20. Coaching During Games. Some books will tell you that during games you should let the players play & not give instructions. That may work for older or select teams, but it isn't very practical for youth recreational teams which only practice once a week. Most leagues allow coaching from the sidelines (although sometimes only by one coach who must stay in a designated area). If the objectives are to have fun & to teach the boys and girls how to play, then coaching during the game can help achieve those objectives. There are many things that you can teach in a game that are difficult to teach in practice, especially if you only practice one time a week (a "shifting & sagging" defense is one). I look at games as another teaching opportunity. In fact, if your League will allow it, use 2 coaches during the game, one for offense & one for defense to teach your players how to "shift & sag" & to help them learn positions. This is hugely beneficial because one coach can't watch both ends of the field at the same time. Be sure to not get in the other team's way & remember you have to coach from the side lines, not the "end zones". To be courteous, you might ask the other coach if it is okay with him). Do I yell? Yes, I find it necessary to yell instructions to the players so they can hear me across the field. I don't yell negative or general comments such as: "You guys stink" or "Hustle". I yell specific instructions such as "John, push up", or "Matt, cover the center" or "Don't get thrown over" (or "punted over" or "goal kicked over"), or "Mark up behind a man" (on the other teams throw-ins, goal kicks, & free kicks) or, on the other teams corner kicks, "Mark a man goalside". I try not to show frustration or irritation & try to not single out anyone for criticism unless they aren't hustling & then I will ask "John, are you sick?" If he says "No", I ask "Are you tired?" If he says "No", I say "Then hustle". However, I do make coaching comments to correct errors. For example, if a player's passes are coming off the ground, I will say "Matt, strike the ball higher". Or, if they turn over a throw-in because their foot came off the ground I will say "Patrick, drag your toe".
21. At the End of the Game. At the end of the game, players & coaches usually line up facing each other on the halfway line, walk past each other & touch hands & say "good game". Coaches are usually last in line & shake hands. It is also a nice gesture & sets a good example for the coach to seek out the referee & assistant referees & thank them. Parents usually take turns providing refreshments after games.
22. Keeping Children & Parents Under Control. When I started coaching soccer I had never coached before, although I did have the advantage of being an assistant coach for 2 seasons. Two of the most difficult things I've had to learn are how to deal with disruptive players and disruptive parents. I don't have all the answers, but I will share with you what I have learned:
Warning: Never say anything mean to a child & be very careful about touching a child. I know of cases where parents became upset and threatened to sue because a coach patted their child on the head or grabbed him by the arm.
23. The Importance Of Warming Up Before Playing.
The Importance Of Warming Up Before Playing. At age 10 and older, children become susceptible to muscle pulls. When you move up to U-11, you should have your team warm up their muscles before playing. You should have them Warm Up their muscles by light activities such as jogging or slowly dribbling a ball around the field. (Warming up with a ball is the ideal way if it is practical to do so).
The light warm up is important because it "warms up" the muscles which makes them stretch easier & less likely to tear. If you think about it, this makes sense. (Have you ever noticed how all the horses are warmed up before a race?)
Coaches used to believe stretching was good, but an article in the March 2007 issue of Prevention magazine says: "A review of 23 studies found that stretching before an activity damages muscle tissue, which reduces muscle strength and hinders performance. Start each workout by moving your limbs through a full range of motion". Personal trainer Judy Heller is quoted as saying "You want to get the fluid in your joints flowing, so they are well lubricated and move with ease".
24. Where To Buy Soccer Stuff. Most larger cities have a local soccer store and shoes are also available at most athletic shoe stores. You can find many sources of books, tapes and soccer gear on the internet. A tip: Don't buy cheap shoes that don't have cushioning & be sure they are properly sized. Soccer shoes don't come in widths, and generally they run narrow, but some brands are wider. See "Recommended References" in SoccerHelp Premium.
25. Always Remember: You are doing this for fun & to help the kids. Be a "nice" coach who your players will remember fondly.
26. How to Coach U-4, U-6 and U-8. Click the links below: Click here to read about, subscribe to or Log In to Coach Doug's Site
27. How To Teach Offense & Defense. If your team is age 7 or older, some of the Defensive, Attacking & "Finishing" Tips in the section of SoccerHelp Premium titled "Tips & Tactics" may be useful. If you want to know more about how to teach offense & defense, read "Attacking", "Defense", "Creating Space", "Support", "Shift & Sag", "Pressure", "Kick-Off", "Corner Kick" & "Zone Defense" in the Dictionary and "Scoring More Goals", "Attacking Plan", "Coaching Rules" and "Tips & Tactics" at SoccerHelp Premium.
28. Questions & Answers: