How to Coach Kid's Recreational League Soccer the Easy and Effective Way
Al Globus, November 2011
Over the last twelve years I've coached roughly twenty seasons of kid's recreational league soccer, all the way from under-10s to under-17s, boys, girls, and co-ed. I've learned a few things that I'd like to pass on. Here goes:
The best way to learn soccer is to play soccer. Everything a kid needs to know and to do will come up. The best kind of soccer is small side games with three to five kids on a side. This gives each kid a lot more time on the ball than 11-11 games. Therefor, spend most of the practice playing small sided games.
I now organize and hour and fifteen minute practice as follows:
The scrimmages should be 3v3, 4v4, or 5v5. If you've got enough kids for 6v6 or more, and you've got an assistant coach and space on the field, then break up into two games, at least for the first scrimmage. This will give each kid more time on the ball. If possible, play with the kids and get other adults (not too many, no more than two per side, one is better) to play too. The adults should not be allowed to score and they should play to develop players, not to win. Thus, they should pass to the weak players, giving them time on the ball, and let the weaker kids win in 1v1 situations after a bit of a fight.
- A 20-30 minute scrimmage. I start with a scrimmage to get the kids to practice more-or-less on time. If you start with something that isn't much fun, the kids have an incentive to be late.
- 15-20 minutes of drills and 1v1 games. Most of what I use here is from some old Coerver VHS tapes.
- Another 20-30 minute scrimmage, this time with special rules added to develop good playing habits. The most important special rule is a 3-touch limit -- you can only touch the ball three times in a row. This forces players to pass.
- Hand out very small candies. This makes sure no one leaves practice early. I also give candy to a siblings or friends who came to practice even though they weren't able to participate.
The second (and last) scrimmage should involve special rules to get the kids to play better ball. By far the most important such rule is 3-touch. When a kid gets the ball they cannot hog it, they must pass. A first they will just kick the ball away, usually up the field, but eventually the better players will figure out how to keep their head up when they've got the ball, kick the ball towards someone on their own team, and, the hardest of all, how to be in position to receive a pass. Once the team gets in the habit of passing the ball you can move on to other special rules. End the last scrimmage with at least a few minutes with no special rules and the whole team on one field.
If someone does something particularly good, stop the scrimmage (briefly) and explain to the team what was done and why it was so good. This will usually increase the frequency of good play. See the Positive Coaching Alliance for how to use positive reinforcement. It works.