Is Scrimmaging Best For Most Soccer Teams?
4 Soccer Practice Games that Are Better than Scrimmaging
Soccer Dribbling, Soccer Passing, Soccer Receiving
How to teach the basics of soccer attacking and defending
How to Teach Acceleration into Open Space
How to teach soccer defensive pressure and transitions
Specificity of Training - Specialized Soccer Training

For most soccer teams, general scrimmaging is an inefficient and even counterproductive way to practice

Hi SoccerHelp,

Great web site..! Was reading "Aggressive Play #2 How to Teach Timid Players to be Brave" and you agreed with the sender that "scrimmaging is a bad, ineffective way to practice at any age. The players don't get enough touches on the ball, they repeat the same mistakes, they don't learn much new, the timid kids don't improve and players aren't as excited when they play a "real" game (at least mine weren't)."

I think a well planned and organized scrimmage can be a very important and effective part of practice. I have used this approach for years with my girls U12 rec teams with good success. We typically do 30-40 minutes of active drills and then scrimmage the remaining 20 minutes of our 1 hour practice, emphasizing the use of what we reviewed in the drills earlier. I find that despite active drills at game speed and in game situations, it is often still difficult for these young ladies to "transfer" the knowledge and use it in a game. I am sure you have experienced the phenomenon where they're great on something in practice, only to find that someone seems to have wiped their memories clean when they get in that situation in a game.

Your exercise physiologists would call scrimmaging "specificity of training": if you want to be a fast runner, practice running fast. Controlled scrimmaging helps with that. We have a short 8 game schedule and scrimmaging also helps with conditioning. Because we play 8 v 8 and only have 14 kids to start, we scrimmage 5 or 6 aside on a short ended field with no goalies and everyone gets plenty of touches and plenty of running. I stop play occasionally to point things out or reinforce what we have drilled and it has been very effective - and the girls love it. Even if we drill aggressively the entire practice, they end up running out of steam in games and not being able to use the skills they have developed. I think scrimmaging has its place if managed appropriately.


Coach J


Hi Coach J,

Thanks for writing.

You're an experienced coach and sound like a good coach, so I don't doubt that your approach to scrimmaging works for your team. Not using a Goalie is a good idea when scrimmaging. There is a scrimmage game on Premium named "Small-Sided Scrimmage Without a Goalie". You might want to consider putting a couple of "Scoring Cones" out about 10 steps from each goal and require that players can only score if they are inside the imaginary line made by the Scoring Cones. That will force players to work the ball in rather than just take a long shot.

Every decision involves trade-offs and for most Rec coaches, scrimmaging isn't as effective as playing SoccerHelp Practice Games, especially if they only practice once a week. The question is: Is there a better way to achieve more during practice? With my teams, I noticed that the weak players didn't benefit much from scrimmaging, that most players tended to do the same things, even if they were wrong, and since there was only one ball, the "ball ratio" was low, which meant a lot fewer touches than in Practice Games. The other thing I noticed with my Rec teams was that they played with more enthusiasm on game day if they hadn't scrimmaged in practice.

You mention "specificity of training" and I agree with that concept. But I don't believe general scrimmaging is a good way to practice specifics, because it isn't specific. You will notice that at the college or professional levels, there are few general scrimmages. A better way is "situational scrimmages", which are like our Practice Games, and where specific things are practiced in a competitive situation (a competitive situation and a taste of what a real match is like are the only training advantages of a general scrimmage). For example, if you want to improve your players dribbling (the most important soccer skill), the "Dribble Across a Square" and "Dribble Around Cone & Pass Relay Race" practice games are much more efficient and more effective than a general scrimmage. Using your example, I agree 100% that "if you want to be a fast runner, practice running fast". But a scrimmage isn't a good way to improve speed or to measure improvement, because fast running isn't required. A better way to practice running fast is to run a series of 10, 20 and 40 yard dashes where the players compete against each other. (As a side note, if you want to improve "soccer speed", practice the distances soccer players typically run, which are 10, 20 and 40 yards, as opposed to long distance running which trains the muscles differently).

Have you tried the Premium Practice Games? They are different from drills and I invented many of them, including the 4 below. If you haven't tried them, here are 4 to try that will help your team and give them a good work-out too. You can access them from Premium. The 4 practice Games below have a average ball ratio 50% (i.e., each player has a ball in the first Game, in two of the games there is one ball per each 2 players. and in one there is one ball per 3 players) versus a ball ratio in a scrimmage of about 10% (one ball per 10 players). So, the number of touches in the Practice Games will be 5 to 10 times more than in a typical scrimmage. In a Practice Game such as "Dribble Around Cone & Pass Relay Race", a player might average 10 touches per minute, or 100 touches over 10 minutes:

  1. Dribble Across a Square - Play this as a warm-up to start 3 practices and you will see a difference by the 3rd practice. Play it twice with the square 10 steps wide and then twice with the square 15-17 steps wide. The small square teaches controlled dribbling, turning and improves peripheral vision and instinctive reactions, the larger square teaches players to recognize Open Space, to accelerate into open space, and Speed Dribbling -- this will help with Counterattack and Breakaways. One ball per player. It is at game speed and involves competition. I invented this, but I notice one of the Chelsea youth coaches is using a version of it now.

  2. Dribble Around Cone & Pass Relay Race -- Play this for 3 practices and see the results. Use it to teach "Aggressive Receiving". How to teach Aggressive receiving is explained at the Premium instructions for the game. This game is a real work out - much better than a scrimmage. It is game realistic, game speed and involves competition. One ball per 2 players. This game teaches Aggressive Receiving, turning, passing, kicking a ball while running and under pressure, importance of "first-touch", and one-touch control and Speed Dribbling.

  3. Win the 50/50 Ball or Be the First Defender, 1v1 Attacking and Defending - This game that teaches a lot of things. One ball per 2 players. This Game gives you a Controlled Setting in which to teach players through repetition how to deal with 50/50 balls and the basics of 1v1 attacking and defending. Specifically, how to "win the ball"; that if they "win the ball" they should try to "blow past" an opponent quickly, before the opponent has had time to get set in a good defensive position, but if they don't get past the First Defender quickly they have lost the advantage; and if they DON'T win the 50/50 ball they MUST slow down the attack to allow their teammates time to "Recover" to good defensive positions.

  4. 2 Team Keepaway -- A very intense game that is a great work out. It teaches many things that players could learn in a scrimmage, but the ball ratio is 3 times a high. This game is a better work out than a scrimmage. It teaches teamwork, passing, support, movement off the ball, defensive pressure, quick transitions from offense to defense, and is a good way to teach wall passes, "channeling" attackers to the side line, & talking.

If you can work these in, give them a try. I would enjoy hearing what you think.

David at SoccerHelp

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