I have the advantage of corresponding with soccer coaches all over the world. Many of these coaches have coached soccer for a long time. I also read the best coaching studies from the NSCAA Soccer Journal (a great magazine, by the way). Several years ago I even interviewed April Heinrichs, who is a legend and one of the most successful coaches and players ever (the interview is at April Heinrichs Interview). Further, Coach Doug has now had the advantage of moving up to older ages and coaching competitive soccer in Europe and I have the benefit of his advice.
The Most Important Things for U4 and U6 Soccer - Suggestions for U4 & U6 Soccer Coaches:
FUN - Fun is the single most important thing for U4 and U6 soccer players. You are shaping kid's view of soccer and they are deciding "Is soccer fun or not?" If soccer is fun, they will want to keep playing - if it is NOT fun, they will quit or not come to practice. Winning and keeping score is NOT important to U4 and U6 soccer players..This fact is supported by studies. For an excellent article, see "Are Coaches Responsible for Eliminating Young Soccer Players?" by Jay Martin in the May/June 2013 issue of the NSCAA Soccer Journal. It says "In the early years of youth soccer (ages 5-12) coaches should emphasize fun in every training session." and "The training sessions for these young soccer players should keep kids busy (no lines) and active…. Fun is the coach creating an environment where the kids will have fun learning. And improvement in play is what we all want! The reasons kids drop out of soccer suggest that they are not exposed to an appropriate playing environment for their age and/or ability levels. Too much at too young an age causes players to become disenchanted with soccer." We highly recommend NSCAA membership for youth soccer coaches. It is the world's largest soccer coaches organization and has many benefits.
The more touches your players get in practice and games, the faster they will improve - That is simple math. You are teaching little kids to do something they haven't done before - to use their feet to dribble and kick a soccer ball. If your players get 2 or 3 times as many touches on the ball, they will improve faster. On the other hand, if players on another team are getting 2 or 3 times more touches than your players, they will eventually become better than your players, even if your players are better now. You may have better athletes, but if another coach is able to produce better soccer players from kids who are less athletic than your players, he is a better coach than you. As a great coach said " The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.
A Ball for Every Player and NO LINES at Practice - Think about it - if players have to share a ball and stand in line, they are wasting a lot of time and they get bored, so they start to think soccer practice is boring. Does anyone think standing in line is fun? Of course not. BUT if every player has a ball and is constantly dribbling or kicking the ball, they WON'T get bored and they will get 2 or 3 times as many touches on the ball. The way to do this is by having a ball for every player and by playing Practice Games instead of soccer drills. Practice Games are fun and line drills are boring. You will get 3 times as many touches by playing Practice Games than you will using line drills. I'm not talking about dumb games where kids roll on the ground or about elimination games, I'm talking about games that teach kids to dribble and kick a soccer ball and are also fun. Watch the Coach Doug Video Clips for Examples of a Better Way to Coach U4 and U6 Soccer Coach Doug's approach is better - watch the videos and read the Testimonials you will see. Coach Doug's approach is based on the SoccerHelp Soccer Training Method, which is copyrighted and only found on SoccerHelp There are over 700 Testimonials. My first soccer coaching experience was as an assistant to an experienced coach. It was a U6 team and he had the kids stand in line with one ball and one at a time they dribbled thru cones. It was terrible. My job was to stand beside the kids and try to keep them interested and to stop them from fighting. The coach was always saying "Look up". If you use Coach Doug's methods you will NEVER do that - the kids will all have fun and stay active and engaged and get great exercise. They will get 200 or 300 touches per practice instead of 50 touches.
Keep Practices Short, Arrive Early and Be Prepared - As a coach, you need to arrive at practice and games early and be prepared, with a plan in mind. Practices should probably not be more than 35 to 45 minutes.
The Skills You Should Teach U4 and U6 Soccer Players and How to Judge "Skill" at U4 and U6 - Focus on getting players used to using their feet to dribble and kick a soccer ball (and to kick a soccer ball while running) - the key to this is hundreds of touches per practice. If you do this as part of a Practice Game, the kids will naturally learn to look up while dribbling and kicking the ball and to be able to dribble and kick with both feet, and that is very important. Don't make the mistake of comparing U4 and U6 players to U10 players, or of trying to turn U4 and U6 players into U10 players. You may see a few great passes at U4 and U6 BUT as Doug found out, that will end up being counterproductive. If you play the SoccerHelp Practice Games, within a year your players will be better than most of the players on other teams because you have focused on dribbling and kicking the ball in a natural and effective way. The other thing to consider is that even at U4 and U6 there are some superstar athletes who can do things that 90% of the kids can't - a coach who has those kids on his team looks great, but the reality is that those kids would be good on any team and even if they didn't practice because they are athletically precocious. The other thing to keep in mind is that there can be a big difference between ages 3 and 4 and ages 4 and 5. At U4 and U6, don't worry about tactics or formations or even passing the ball (passing the ball is too complex for U6 players and will result in confusion about when to pass and when to dribble, and can slow down a kid's one-on-one attacking development, Coach Doug noticed this and I agree) - just have fun and get lots of touches on the ball.
Don't Keep Score and Don't Measure Your Success by "Wins" - Keeping score and keeping track of wins is not important at U4 and U6. Think about it - these are little kids. So what if your 4 year olds beat other 4 year olds, does that make you a good soccer coach? Of course not, and it won't make your players better players. The most important things at U4 and U6 are to have fun and to learn how to effortlessly dribble and kick a soccer ball.
Try to Avoid Embarrassing the Other Team - If your team is killing the other team, consider moving your scorers back to defensive positions, play a player short or swap a player with the other team. Or, let your best players play at the same time as their best players, and your weakest players play at the same time as their weakest players.
Be Open to the New Ball Method of Play and to the Soccer Fun Approach Coach Doug Used in Florida - See the explanation below of how these 2 approaches are better than the approach many leagues use. The bottom line is that the leagues that use the New Ball or Soccer Fun approaches will develop better players because their players will get more touches on the ball. It won't show up immediately, but it will within a year or 2. Encourage your league to study these better approaches. Read about the Soccer Fun Age 3, 4, 5, 6 ApproachRead About the New Ball Method for Soccer Games for U4, U5 and U6
The best way to let every kid have the special experience of scoring a goal while making game-day more fun - As Jay Martin says in the article quoted in 1 above "coaches should emphasize fun in every training session", and as we say and studies have shown "fun is the single most important thing for U4 and U6 soccer players". Don't lose sight of that or forget that these are tiny kids. If your team plays real matches, look at the matches as another training session and a way to have fun and to get your players to love soccer. If they have fun and get lots of touches on the ball, they will improve and keep playing soccer. If you give every kid the special experience of scoring a goal it will be fun for them and for everyone involved. The best way we know to do this is by having a special "Shoot Out" at the end of each game. That is something your League will have to require so it occurs after each game. The way to do it is to designate about 7 minutes at the end of each game for a "Shoot Out" (about a minute per player, but each team will be doing it simultaneously). To speed things up, let each team shoot on a different goal. Have the coach put a ball about 3 steps in front of the goal with no goalie and no defenders so it is an easy shot - the objective is only to let each kid score an easy goal and to hear the crowd cheer. The coach stands beside the ball and calls the kid's names one at a time. (Instead of having them stand in a line where they might fight, let the kids wait on the sideline until called - that also lets the spotlight be on one kid at a time. Make a big production of calling the kids names - say the name loudly like an announcer and make it fun, like "John, come over and score a goal."). The kid whose name is called goes over to the ball. The coach should position the shooter at a slight angle to the ball and encourage a laces kick, NOT a toe kick, and if they are good, maybe encourage shooting with the weak foot. The coach tells the player to kick the ball into the goal AND to follow their shot to the goal. If the kid misses the first shot, tell them to shoot it again until they score. A big advantage of this approach is that coaches don't have to do artificial things during the game to allow a kid to score. For example, we don't advise you to tell your players to just stand there and let a kid score because that can be confusing and counterproductive to your efforts to teach your players to play defense. The Shoot Out idea is the best way we have heard to let kids score a goal, but if you have a better idea, please let us know. An Alternative, - If you can't do this after the game, an alternative is to do it during the pre-game warm-up by having the kids line up and shoot one at a time. Encourage a laces kick and discourage a toe kick. Read an Article about How to Teach Players to Shoot a Soccer Ball. Watch the video How to Teach U6 Players to Shoot a Soccer Ball Video
TIP: Do NOT make the balls hard - these are little kids with little feet - if it hurts when they kick a ball, that is counterproductive. It is MUCH better for the balls to be underinflated than overinflated.
Do not associate any sort of punishment with soccer - Do not play elimination games; do not punish children for bad behavior. Correct bad behavior with positive reinforcement of GOOD behavior with patches and praise. No punishment.
Do not scrimmage at practice - Scrimmaging is a poor way to practice - the activity level is too low with only one ball with several kids. It is a poor use of precious practice time. Only the fastest and strongest get to touch the ball and the rest get frustration.
Make your practice games or drills include traffic - Traffic is best created by having lots of kids dribbling through and around each other in close proximity. Skills are best learned when practiced in a way that simulates real matches. Real soccer matches are chaotic and don't involve cones or kids standing in line. In real soccer matches a lot of things are happening at once and kids get bumped and sometimes knocked down.
Be enthusiastic all of the time - You are the leader. Make the experience fun and exciting and the parents and players will follow your lead. Enthusiasm is contagious. Build the love of soccer in your entire team and in their parents. Do not be a mean coach or a ‘yeller’, that’s not a fun way to coach!
Include your parents as part of the practice - A lot of parents are reluctant to offer to help, but many will if you just ask them. Include your parents in everything - they are an asset. It reduces your workload if you have parents help and it is a better experience for them and their kids. Getting parents involved is a good way to train assistants.
The three most important things to teach U4 and U6 players are dribbling, shooting and kicking (kicking using the laces and NOT their toe) and proper 1 v 1 defending.
It is Better NOT to try to teach passing to U4 and U6 - The age to teach passing should not be based on foot skills, it should be based on mental readiness to understand the complex decision-making that is required. The problem is that most U4 and U6 soccer players aren’t mentally ready to deal with the complex decision-making required to determine "when to pass and when NOT to pass". Trying to teach passing to U4 and U6 players can be counterproductive because it can confuse them and can diminish their dribbling skills and aggressiveness with the ball.
Remember to Be Nice, Fun and Patient. (NFP)
Comment From Coach Doug Burgoyne About the Dangers of Trying to Teach Passing to U6 Soccer Players:
The answer for when a kid is ready for passing is "it depends on the kid" but very, very few U6 are ready. At U8, passing should be taught but I recommend not teaching it at U6 unless a kid is ready. The age to teach passing is not based on foot skills, it is based on mental readiness to understand the more complex decision-making. The problem is that most U4 and U6 soccer players aren’t mentally ready to deal with the complex decision-making required to determine "when to pass and when NOT to pass". Trying to teach passing to U4 and U6 players can be counterproductive because it can confuse them and can diminish their dribbling skills and aggressiveness with the ball. At U6, my daughter was a great 1v1 attacker until I tried to teach her to pass the ball, and then she got confused and started to think it was wrong to dribble and score and that it was always better to pass the ball than to dribble. The problem became that she began to pass the ball too often. The reason it was a problem was that she would try to pass when she should have been dribbling. There were times when she would literally stop and look for someone to pass to even though she was near the goal and could have easily dribbled to goal and scored. It took almost a year for me to correct that problem. She is once again a very aggressive 1 on 1 attacker who has the confidence to beat defenders, but she also knows how to pass and roughly when to do it and not to do it. This is discussed in detail on the Coach Doug website.
A kid must be skilled first at dribbling, shooting and 1 v 1 defending. Those are the three things that are most important. If I pass a ball generally near a kid, they must be able to run to it, control it, turn and go the way they want to and score it with shoelace instep drive (without opposition) with near 100% reliability before they are ready for passing. This moment comes at a wide variety of ages for kids.
The best ball control Practice Games for U4 and U6 are Hit the Coach™ and Chase the Kid Ball Tag™. Kids love to play both these games There is a free video of Hit the Coach™ on SoccerHelp at Hit the Coach™ Practice Game Those 2 Practice Games teach kids to control the ball, change directions, speed dribble, to change speeds, dribble while looking up, dribble using both feet, dribble in and through traffic, find open space, to stay inside the field, accuracy in kicking the ball, instinctive reactions, to use peripheral vision and composure while dribbling in a crowd. The kids get used to getting bumped and falling down and to chaos, so they aren't scared in a real soccer game. The fact that they are games and that all the kids are playing them at once creates conditions that are much more game realistic than line drills. The kids are having fun in a competitive way, although they don't think of it as competitive, and score isn't kept. Those 2 Practice Games have a fast learning curve and the kids never get bored with them.
By the way, I have observed that the kids who use both feet EARLY in their soccer life are the best at using both feet as they get older, so I highly recommend that. There are some tips for that on the Coach Doug website. You can watch a video of a good way to teach young kids to kick with both feet at Coach Doug Shooting and Kicking Video at minute 1:27 (To see it, put your pointer on the video and then drag the timeline to minute 1:27 to see a 3 year old doing shoelace kicks with both feet - he kicks a ball every 3 seconds - five balls in 15 seconds.)
About Coach Doug: Coach Doug Burgoyne has become well known for his website and video about coaching U4 and U6 players. Coaches rave about his teaching methods. You can see his video clips at Coach Doug Video Clips for Training U4 and U6 Soccer Players. Doug currently lives in Europe where he coaches 2 soccer teams