Training Soccer Players to be Physical and Aggressive
Teaching Soccer Players Not to Get Pushed Off the Ball
Motivating Soccer Players to Hustle and Play Hard
Look Forward to the Fall

Hi SoccerHelp,

I have enjoyed my Premium membership. I coach a U-12 girl's soccer team. We play 8v8. It seems that the teams we play are many times more physical than our team. We have a problem with our girls with the soccer ball getting separated or moved off the ball by a defensive player using their bodies to push them off the ball. This also seems to be a problem when we have 1 on 1 situations and are trying to win the soccer ball. Do you have any suggestions?


Hi David,

Thanks for being a Premium Member and for writing.

This is a tough one. I suggest a positive approach that emphasizes "bravery" and "hustle". Those words may sound better to girls (and to the girl's Moms) than "tough" or "aggressive".

Here are some ideas:

  1. As mentioned above, use a positive approach that emphasizes the words bravery" and "hustle". Those words sound better to most girls (and to most Moms) than "tough" or "aggressive".

  2. Emphasize bravery and hustle in practice and create, as Anson Dorrance says, a "Competitive Cauldron". By that, I mean, play the SoccerHelp Practice Games that involve competition.

  3. Praise and reward individual acts of bravery and the hustle in soccer practice AND during games - point out specific things you liked in front of the entire team. Give the patches in a ceremony so everyone can see the type of behavior that is "brave". Use a positive approach of encouraging - don't use a negative approach of criticizing. Give a tangible reward -- our patches work. I've pasted below a letter I got this week from Coach Nick, who has a U-14 girls team - you can read about his success using the iron-on motivational patches. If a soccer player is brave during a soccer game (say wins a 50/50 soccer ball or blocks a shot with her body) try to get her attention and give her a "thumbs up" and a big smile and raise your hands and applaud so she can see that you are pleased AND so everyone else can see you are pleased.

  4. Make brave, hustling, physical play desirable in practice and encourage it. This is a little tricky -- you don't want fights or to make them "mean", but you have to toughen up your girls and change their attitudes - I think you are teaching them a life lesson to let them know that it's good to be competitive and brave. You can't have them worrying about accidentally bumping into a teammate. Teach them that they can play hard and still be nice. Encourage friendly competition. There are 3 DVDs that show this that you might consider buying to have your girls watch: One is the Mia Hamm Soccer Secrets DVD - it used to be 3 DVDs and our version is one DVD that has all 3 on it - it's a good value. In it, there are some segments that show how competitive Mia and Tiffeny are, yet they are also nice - it shows that girls can be nice, but still competitive. (Mia and Tiffeny can REALLY turn it on when they need to!). The Anson Dorrance Training Championship Players and Teams 3-DVD Set shows Anson's competitive practices and explains how he creates a "Competitive Cauldron". And the April Heinrichs 3-DVD set Training Girls and Women to Win 3-DVD Set is excellent and my favorite DVD training set. You might want to read the Detailed Reviews. There are Video Clips of Mia Hamm on SoccerHelp.

  5. Play "Dribble Across a Square" and "Dribble Around Cone & Pass Relay Race" and use "Dribble Around Cone & Pass Relay Race" to teach "Aggressive Receiving". The more comfortable your girls are with the ball, the more confident they will be, and confidence is very important.

  6. There are 3 Premium Practice Games that can teach bravery and hustle:

    1. "Win the 50/50 Ball and 1v1 Attacking and Defending" game. This game teaches many things and has goten great reviews from coaches.

    2. "Brave Defenders/Chip Shots" will teach defenders to be brave and tough.

    3. "Shoulder Tackle and Strength on the Ball Game". This will definitely help and you can use it to teach "strength on the ball" (how to avoid being pushed off the ball) and the correct technique for a shoulder tackle.

April Heinrich also has a game called "Combat" that is similar to "Win the 50/50 Ball and 1v1 Attacking and Defending" game

Please let me know what helps, or if you have better ideas -- that's how I learn.

Good luck. I look forward to hearing from you.

David at SoccerHelp (the letter from Coach Nick is below)

(Part of a letter from Coach Nick, U-14 girls)

Here's what happened in the outdoor soccer league that we just finished in June: against the same competition that we'd previously gone a combined 3-10-1 against in the past two outdoor seasons, we finished a combined 9-2-2. Our two losses were to a team that averaged two years older per position and had previously beaten us 7-0 last fall. We lost 2-0 and 3-2. Our two ties were against our archrival that had beaten us 5-0 last fall.

The girls loved the star patches. I would hand them out at the end of each practice with a note saying why they earned them. I gave red stars for team accomplishments (big wins, shutouts); I gave gold stars for individual accomplishments (making a great play, extra motivation, showing assertiveness on the field, notable goals, great assists). They would reach for the envelopes like candy (it was all I could do to remind them to wait 'til they got home to open them. Still they looked through the envelopes to see how many "shapes" they could make out.)

The other thing I did was take the samples of the other patches (the lightning bolt, the V, the D, and the A) and for each of the last four games, told them I would hand them out to the person who played the most spirited defense, showed the best motivation or attitude, contributed to victory, etc.). Every game the girls showed up with the most recent patches they'd earned. Each had a unique pattern of how they ironed the patches on their shirts. It was beautiful.

I am now 100% sold on the idea of patches to motivate players. Slight disclaimer: the big improvement in our record was due in large part to getting some new and better players. But all I have to do is look at the dramatic change in how they changed their play after I first told them about "secret stars" to know that the patches also played a large role. They have also helped me keep my team together as we move to private league next fall, when many other teams have seen their teams split apart at this age for the myriad leagues around town. Now everybody wants to play for the Pumas - I even had two girls from our archrivals want to jump over to our team!

Coach Nick, MI, USA