Great Tips from a U-10 and U-12 Soccer Coach
Soccer Practice Tips and Games He Recommends
How he used teamwork and coaching to beat teams that had faster, stronger players
His team started 1-3, then 2-1-1, then 3-0

(For how to teach Shifting and First Defender/Second Defender, see no. 3 and no. 4 of Quick Team Improvement Program)

Hi David,

I hope this letter might be beneficial to other soccer coaches. It describes my U-12 team and the Practice Games and tactics I found most beneficial. We went from losing most of our games to winning the end-of-season Multi-City Tournament, giving up no goals. It was a huge turnaround.

I coached two teams. One was 3rd and 4th grade girls (U-10) and the other was 5th and 6th grade girls (U-12). The younger team did well, although getting these girls to be aggressive was difficult and in hindsight I should have played more Practice Games that helped them to be aggressive.

My U-12 team is the one I will talk about in this email because it is the one that experienced the most dramatic improvement.

We started the season with a very unique set of girls. Only a few had meaningful experience. Others had some experience but no real ability to play the game. Some of our players were larger players who found it difficult to even run. It was a very difficult group and we started the season losing most of our games. We ended the season by winning the multi-city tournament, as a lower seed, without a single goal scored against us the entire tournament while scoring 3-4 goals per game! It was a huge turnaround.

Here are the things we did that I feel made the biggest impact:

Before practice waiting for everyone to arrive - I would sit on the ground in front of a backstop, the girls would line up 30 feet out and, one at a time, I would roll a ball to them and they would just try to get a solid foot on it with their laces.

Dribble Across a Square Practice Game - When it was time to start practice, this is the first thing we did. I said it was part of warming up so the girls didn't complain having to play it every single practice. Sometimes I would require them to do a pull back on each side, or to do a hook turn in the middle, things like that, so they could learn how to stop and turn the ball in various ways.

Tap on Top, Tick Tocks, Steparounds Practice Games - This was also considered part of "warming up" and we did it every practice. It does not take very long to run through dribble across a square and these three games a couple of times as part of warming up.

Push and Blast Off Practice Game - We added this 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.

Shoulder Tackle and Strength on the Ball Practice Game - We did this first thing after warm-ups for the first half of the season until I was satisfied the girls weren't going to be afraid of contact. I do recall doing this a few times late in the season just to remind them of the importance of this.

Each of the above things was considered part of warming up. I think the girls accepted the fact we played most of these games every practice because they were part of "warming up."

(Note from David: The above idea about "warming up" is excellent)

The following is a list of the Practice Games I found to be the most useful in developing skill and having fun:

Win the 50/50 Ball 1v1 Attacking & Defending practice game - The girls loved this game. This was one of their two favorites and I found this game brought out their competitive side more than any other. Nobody wanted to lose 1 on 1 against another, so they were driven to be successful. We found the way points were scored and the need to actually control the ball to be critical to this game's success. Before I required the girls to control the ball to get a point and so forth, there was a lot of running hard at the ball and kicking as hard as possible. While this teaches aggressive play, it wasn't exactly what I was looking for. So getting control of the ball and getting across the opposing line with control were important. The girls begged to play this game more than I let them (after all, we had to practice other things). Also, it was surprising to see some girls who I mistakenly thought weren't aggressive being some of the best at this game. I think this game would be a good one to play in the first practice or two to evaluate who should play in what positions on the field (although some girls may start out not being very aggressive and end the season as some of the most aggressive, so adjustments might need to be made to positions depending on how this plays out).

Dribble Around a Cone and Pass Relay Race - This was the girls' second favorite game. They loved this one almost as much as the 50/50 game. We mixed this up a bit. We would play this once with right foot only, then with left foot only. Then we would play with right foot once, left foot once, right foot once, etc. We would play this game maybe four or five consecutive times during practice. After each time, I would give them a hint or two on how to win. For example, I would tell them to make their last touch after the cone a good one so that the ball was headed the other way and out in front of them so they could make a good, long pass to their teammate. I would show them how hooking the ball would get it turned the other way more quickly. I found it better to have teams of two or three rather than teams of four or five. I ran the girls as much as I could on this one.

Pass to Space, Run with Ball and Shoot practice game - The girls enjoyed this game and it was a good game to teach passing to space. I tried hard to emphasize passing to space rather than to feet. The girls weren't good enough at passing and trapping to pass to feet. But they were aggressive and could push the other team off the ball (because they had learned this playing the shoulder tackle game every single practice as a warm-up). But also 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. I wanted to reduce the amount of time before taking a shot because the defense tended to close in quick if shots weren't quick.

Passing Race practice game - The girls were paired, so each pair was a team. The girls would start 15 feet apart at a starting line and the finish line would be 40 feet away, and they would need to run and pass back and forth to the finish line, then turn around and come back. No dribbling, just passing ahead of the receiver so the receiver had to run onto the ball and one-time pass it back. The girls enjoyed this game. We rotated pairs quite a bit. It was a struggle at first because the girls weren't very skilled at passing but they caught on quickly.

We played various other games throughout the season and the girls enjoyed them, but the games above I thought were the most effective and most enjoyed.