"I'm a U4 soccer coach with the SAYSAT in San Antonio, TX. Your website is AWESOME and I reference it daily!"
"The article from Coach Doug on coaching U4 was immensely helpful. The differences in our practices and games is amazing. All the kids have had more touches the first two games and practices than all last season. Thanks so much!" Coach Tony, WA
"I recently bought your soccer DVD on coaching Ages 3, 4, 5, and 6 and was really amazed by your training techniques." Michael, TX, USA
Introduction by SoccerHelp:
Coach Doug is a Premium Subscriber who we think has some very innovative and effective ideas for teaching soccer to children ages 2-4. Doug has taken our SoccerHelp teaching principles of fun, at least one soccer ball per player, that everyone should stay involved and active, and practices that are efficient and effective, and has added his own innovative ideas. Doug's ideas are very compatible with our philosophy and our practice games based teaching program. Doug was kind enough to write the following article, and we hope he will share more ideas with us. If you read his Bio at the end of the article, you will see that Coach Doug is a very neat guy. By the way, he's modest too - we had to twist his arm to get him to allow us to print his Bio.
By Doug Burgoyne, Coach of Little Lions Football Club:
"Old enough to walk, old enough to play" may sound crazy in America, but not in Brazil! In America, most affiliated leagues do not allow kids to play until they reach four years of age. However, my league allows three year olds to play, and I also have many two year olds that practice with my team. I am an amateur youth soccer coach, but first and foremost, a parent. I am going to discuss coaching techniques for the very, very young player. I do have experience as a soccer player, but most new youth coaches do not, and it's not required. The only thing you need to be a great youth soccer coach for our littlest players is unbridled enthusiasm and love for the fun of the game. Everything else naturally follows.
I have combined the great ideas from "Soccer Help" with ideas of my own, and brought in my own love of the game to achieve stunning results from my team. Recently I took my team of 3 and 4 year olds to play in a tournament against 5 and 6 year olds, and we held our own against the seemingly insurmountable physical advantages of our opponents. I have three olds who run down field to space calling for passes with their arm in the air like a world class striker. I have seen a cross from a four year old to a volleyed shot by a three year old into the net. Most of my kids can shoot and score from the kickoff spot, at age three.
I know, it sounds hard to believe, but it's true. In league play, the other teams only score when I remove players from the field, and my players score at will. They play defense, make diagonal cutoff runs to defend, steal the ball, turn the ball, dribble, pass, shoot and score. But most of all they have FUN, all the time, and they love the game.
Fun is the single most important thing I teach. I teach it all the time, every day, every minute. If the kids are not having fun while playing soccer, then nothing else matters, because they'll find something else to do instead. My enthusiasm spreads like wild fire and my kids love the game.
I am a big kid at heart, my practices are goofy, I imitate animals, airplanes, pirates, Buzz Light Year, and yes, even vegetables, while playing soccer. I yell "Goooooaaaaaaaaaalllllllll" when they score. We do "victory" celebrations after goals. I give out so many high fives that I pretend that they've hurt my hand when they give me a good one. I do a cartwheel when a kid finally scores his first goal. I give out soccer patches that they proudly wear on their jerseys. We do team cheers, we have constant, non-stop fast paced FUN at practice, and' They are learning soccer every minute, even though they don't even realize it, with thousands of touches on the ball.
I have only two rules I tell my players when they show up for their first practice:
- We only touch the balls with our feet. This includes ALL coaches and parents too. I also have to teach my parents not to "Toe Kick".
- We always have FUN. Yes parents participate and have fun too!
Brand new kids will tend to touch the balls with their hands a lot at first. I can work the players away from this in two practices. The first thing I do is ask all my parents to never touch the ball with their hands, and I myself, never touch the balls with my hands
. And I mean, never, not once, no exceptions. I dump the balls out of the bag, and at the end, we kick the balls back into the bag, even playing a game to get them in the bag with our feet. The one time in two years that I accidentally touched a ball with my hands, a three old scolded me immediately! "Coach Doug, don't use your hands!" That was a priceless moment that showed me why it is so worthwhile to coach this age group.
This is where "Carrot" soccer comes in; I tell my kids that we are going to be "Carrots" while we play. First I mess up my hair to give myself a good "Carrot Top", then I tell them that carrots don't have arms, so I place my arms behind my back and clasped my hands, then I say "Look, I am carrot!" Then we start kicking the balls around while pretending to be carrots. If a child touches a ball with their hands at practice I kindly ask them to use their feet, and when I see them do it right, I proudly claim to all that can hear: "Look Suzy is using just her feet, great job Suzy!" Any "Soccer Help" practice game can be played as "Carrots". I stop doing this after they stop using hands.
The next premise I use at my practices is that every child has a ball at his/her feet ALL the time
. I own about 20 soccer balls and four pop-up portable goals, and we play lots and lots of great "Soccer Help" games.
My kids can play the SoccerHelp "Hit the Coach" practice game forever. I only stop this because I can only imitate animals for so long! (SoccerHelp note: You can try this game by going on SoccerHelp Basic to "Soccer Drills", "Drills" or "Games" and on Premium to "Practice Games"). One of their favorites after they hit me is to ask me to be a flamingo, because then I have to hop around on one foot, which makes it harder for me to dodge them! I place no restrictions on this game. If they hit me, I imitate whatever they say, and they can be pretty imaginative. I can't even count the number of times I have said "To infinity and beyond!" at practice. This is a fantastic soccer practice game that teaches great fundamentals of receiving, control, dribbling, shooting and passing.
We also play a practice game I invented called the "Turn Around" game, which teaches my kids to score in the right direction, a critical skill for this age group, as most parents will attest to! This eliminates "own goals" (goals we score in our own goal instead of the opponent's goal) after about two games. (NOTE: How to play this game is described below
). I play "Pirates and Explorers" (also called Sharks and Minnow) to teach defense. We do dribble and shoot races and follow the leader and passing games, and shooting games. In my passing games, I teach them to raise their hands and say, "Pass, Pass, Pass" to call for the ball. We even do the "Tap on Top" game, but I play it to the nursery rhyme "Hickory Dickory Dock". Most of my games self adjust for various skill levels. For example, because I use two to three times the number of balls per kid in a race, a faster player can dribble and score more, while a slower player does less, but each player is moving with a ball at their feet, in traffic, under pressure.
I watch for any signs of kids getting tired of a certain activity, and then I switch activities, or I announce a water break. My games take less than 30 seconds to set up and explain, if a game is too complex, I don't do it, they lose interest. Most importantly, every player has a ball on his/her feet ALL the time. No one ever waits in line or watches from the sideline.
I use my parents as assistant coaches as well to supervise practice games. This allows me take some one-on-one time for some direct instruction to a player, on kicking with the shoelaces, for example. So even when I do this, the other kids are playing a soccer game with an assistant coach.
I sometimes watch other coaches' practices. The kids are standing around, picking flowers in the grass. The coach is rolling the ball to one kid at a time with his hands, or he is trying to enforce his kids to stand in line, or they are dribbling through cones, yawn... They get roughly 10% of the ball touches as compared to my kids. Their kids are bored, and they aren't having much fun.
My players have a lot of FUN, and they get at least several hundred touches on the ball per practice. I never scrimmage at practice, as it is a very poor learning technique, only the best kids touch the ball. Many coaches think you need to scrimmage to teach your players how to play a game, but nothing could be farther from the truth. At this age I don't even bother teaching them about the sidelines. If a three year old hasn't yet mastered the skill to turn the ball, what difference does it make to teach him about a sideline? If the referee blows the whistle, they stop, eventually.
I'll save preparation for and coaching on game day for another article because teaching at games is entirely different than practice. I'll write another article on "How to prepare three and four year olds for game day". (SoccerHelp Note: Watch for this article). Suffice it to say that the skill level development of my players is so much more rapid that when we do go to league games, my lion pack of young soccer players dominates the game. Often the other team will stare in disbelief as my kids blaze by to score again and again.
The role of the parent/coach at the youngest ages is absolutely critical in developing great future soccer players. Soccer Help works because it is FUN, and YOU are in charge of the fun!
Coach Doug Discusses Practice Games:
The "Turn Around" game is one I invented, but you should add it. "Dribble across the square" works great for my experienced four year olds and five year olds, but not my three year olds.
I invented the "Turn Around" game to correct a very specific problem with U-4 players: Scoring in the wrong goal. In the beginning of my coaching, we had a lot of "own goals". Kids see a ball, they see a goal, they go score, it's difficult for a three old to figure out the right direction to go at times. All the other teams have the same problem.
It's kind of a variation on the SoccerHelp "Dribble Across A Square" game, which I find not to work as well for three year olds, I'll explain that in a bit.
When we start a game, I line my kids up and I say "Which way are we going?", and then I make sure they all point the correct direction, the other teams do the same, and then we start, but in the heat of the moment, the excitement, the parents cheering, they see a ball, they see a goal, they dribble and score, oops, wrong goal, but we all cheer anyway, because we don't keep score, but I decided that I would create a game to fix this problem.
Here's how I teach the "Turn Around" game:
First I demonstrate how to "Turn the ball". I dribble and have my assistant say "Coach Doug, turn around". I step past the ball, cut the ball back with the inside of my primary foot as I shift my body, then I push the ball the other way and start dribbling back from where I came. It is an inside of the foot turn, the first one I teach. It's the easiest to learn.
I set up two goals and in front of one goal I place all my kids with their own ball, and at the far end, I place my assistant, Coach Steve. The instructions are to dribble the ball towards Coach Steve, everyone at the same time, and when a kid approaches him, he specifically calls that kid's name, steps in front of them, makes a big sweeping arm motion, and says: "Sarah, Turn Around". Now it's important to note that each kid ONLY turns when the coach calls that player's name. When they approach me, I tell them to turn around individually. Naturally, many players are faster than others, so while we start all going the same direction, we end up with kids going back and forth into each other and two way traffic. It's not quite as crazy as four way traffic, but it has the same effect as Dribble Across A Square, it forces them to keep their heads up, and it creates pressure and traffic.
But the most important thing it teaches in additional to the actually physical skill of turning, , is the response to the direct voice [and visual arm] command "Billy, Turn Around". Also since in games, I am allowed to coach in side the playing field, I run directly in front of the kid going the wrong way, and I make this big sweeping circular arm motion, while calling out: "Suzy, Turn Around!"
99% of the time, they turn around, by the third game of a new season, "own goals" stop. I have one three old kid that has "turned around" from inside of our goal mouth about a half of dozen times, no kidding -- the ball was straddling our own goal line, and he's saved it from going in our net over and over again!
The "Turn Around" game is self adjusting for skill level, better than my modified Dribble Across A Square.
Coach Doug's Modified Version of SoccerHelp's Popular "Dribble Across A Square" game:
Let me digress for a bit about SccerHelp's "Dribble Across A Square" game. It is an excellent game for older kids, and my better four year olds can do it, but the weaker ones and the three year olds, they just don't get it. It makes no sense to them to just go back and forth with no goal in sight. Even my better four years olds will get bored with Dribble Across A Square after a bit, but my younger kids can't do it at all. Now, what they can do is if I modify it by placing four goals in a square and place kids in front of each goal, then I have all the kids point across to their goal, and when I say "Go", they all cross the square and shoot and score. All my kids can do this, because they see the goal, they go score, and they all cross each other in the process. But the problem with this is that the faster kids finish first and the slower kids last, so the faster kids are sitting around waiting, unless I quickly give them another ball to use. (Note from SoccerHelp: We always welcome ideas to make our practice games better).
How Coach Doug Uses SoccerHelp Patches as incentives and for fun:
My team LOVES the patches. I use six colors:
Black: Practice patch, each kids gets one at the end of practice as long as he has put in a good effort. (I have never not given one out)
There are 5 colors I give out as "Game Patches", and they are earned ONLY in games:
Red: Bravery, when a kid gets nailed, shakes if off and gets back in the game, he or she gets a "blood patch". My kids leap back up from the ground now, they never cry. Other teams have playing whining and crying and they get coddled off the field. This patch has really toughened my kids up, in a good way.
Blue: "Turning around" in a game
Green: "Passing" -- must be an intentional, deliberate pass to another one of our own team
Light Blue: "Spirit/Hustle" Every kid gets this if he hasn't earned one of the above.
If a player does multiple things, I choose the best one, or a color he doesn't have a lot of on his/her jersey. Their left sleeves look like checkerboards of patches. They love them, big, big, big...
2 Good and Simple Hustle, Win the Ball, Dribble and Shoot Games that Coach Doug Uses: (Note from SoccerHelp: These games are doing more than Coach Doug states. They are teaching kids it's important to "win the ball", to hustle, to dribble and shoot under pressure, to not stop, and the counterflow traffic self-teaches them to dribble with their heads up and use their peripheral vision . We like these games, they're consistent with SoccerHelp standards for being easy to set up, everyone is involved and active, lots of touches, fun and self-teaching.)
Game No. 1: For many of my race games, I use many more balls than players. A very simple example: The first game I teach is so simple, but it teaches the first primary skill. Dribble down the field and shoot the ball into the net. I place 20, yes 20 balls in a huge pile in front of one goal. Suppose I have 6 kids at practice that day. I make sure each of the six kids has a ball, but they are 14 free balls. When I say "Go", all they have to do is get all 20 balls down the field and put them in the other goals. Sometimes I count to 50 to see if they can do it in a certain time. But you see what this does, is Robin, who is barely 2 1/2 and fairly slow, plods her way down the field, while Billy who is nearly 4 races down the field with his ball. Billy scores his first ball, then he runs back to the big pile to get another ball. Robin is only 40% down the field at this point, but she is doing her best at her best pace, and Billy is doing his best at his best pace. Eventually these 6 kids get all 20 balls to the other goal. Billy did 5, Robin did 2, Sally did three, etc. But all the kids had equal time touching the ball, dribbling and shooting, and I created counter flow traffic and pressure.
Game No. 2: Another example is I split my kids into two teams, two piles of balls, two nets, and the two teams race to get their pile of balls in the net, same concept, many more balls than kids. It self-adjusts for the skill level of individual kids.
NOTE: Coach Doug now thinks it is better NOT to teach passing to U4 and U6 players, because it confuses them and can diminish their dribbling skills and aggressiveness with the ball. He recommends focusing on dribbling and recommends you DON'T teach them that it's wrong to dribble and score, and DON'T teach them that it's better to pass the ball than it is to dribble. He recommends teaching passing at U8. For more about this, see the article titled How and When to Teach Passing.
Bio of Coach Doug, Little Lions Football Club
Coach Doug coaches in San Antonio, Texas, and as of this writing had completed three seasons with his U-4 team. He started playing at age 12, played in high school, 2 years at college as a goalkeeper, has played overseas for military teams against European club teams, and as of this writing is 44 and still plays on a recreational men's team. He has played every position on the field and has coached youth teenage girls' teams and now is coaching U-4, because his daughter, MacKenzie, just turned three. She has been playing soccer with him since the day she could walk. At three years and 1 month, she can pass, receive and shoot accurately. She runs to space, goes to goal with arm up raised and calls out loud for "passes" and "crosses".
Training for the 2022 FIFA World Cup