Eight Tips to Coaching Youth Soccer
This is a crash course in coaching a youth soccer team. Follow these eight tips to help your team to a winning season. The most important thing for kids is to have fun, but it’s always easier to have fun when your team wins. You’ll learn how to start and end each practice, and how to utilize the stick and wedge formation to generate a defensive-minded team resulting in wins instead of losses. This article will be especially helpful for those who want to know how to coach u8 or 810 soccer, but it applies to all age levels.
Here are the tips to coaching a winning team:
1- Team Run
Have your players line up along the goalie box. Have them hold hands and run to the opposite side of the field and back. Tell them they need to jog as fast as the slowest player. This simple drill builds unity and a sense of purpose.
2- Find a Goalie
Line up your team at midfield and have them run to the penalty line and back to help you identify the faster players from the slower. Have them line up and punt the ball. Ask the top two or three children who can punt the ball the farthest if they would be goalie. If not, ask if they would be a reserve.
If you don’t find a player interested in the position, ask if the top candidates if they would just play for goalie for one half and striker the next. Most kids want to play the forward/striker position and score goals, so offering to rotate two players as a goalie one half and striker the next makes the goalie position more appealing.
3- Stick Defense
Make defense a priority. Use a “stick” defense where you stack five kids in front of the goalie. The stick rotates around the goalie like a hand on a clock, pointing toward the opposing ball handler attacking your goal. It can stretch to the midfield line as the ball moves into the opposing penalty box.
Generally, there is a fifty-percent chance of the other team having a star player who can dribble down the field and score. Traditional teams have three or four forwards and three or four halfbacks. These alignments leave three players to defend the goal (and a chasing halfback or two). Five defenders are better. If you are playing less than 11 due to illness or vacation, you can shorten the stick to three or four players. Even with nine players, there are still three defenders.
Players in the stick are numbered one through five, with one being the closest to the goal. You want your slower and less-skilled players to play in the stick. It is important to have one older, quicker player in the two spot to control the stick. When the ball is on the other side of the field, the #2 directs the others to move up and stretch the stick. The least-skilled player should be in the #3 spot where the two can direct the player as they defend the goal.
4- Wedge Halfbacks
The halfback or Midfielder positions forms a three-person “wedge”. The wedge is dispatched to stop the opposing offense and deflect the ball into the opposing territory. The center position is flanked by a player on the left and right who are five feet behind and ten feet sideways from the center. They travel together, seeking out the opposition’s attacker. They do not cross midfield, and act as a protective “cap” to the stick. The center, as all “first” defenders, must shadow the attacker to force them to stop or slow down. The center maintains a five to ten foot cushion from the attacker, retreating as needed. The attacker must go left or right, but will likely slow as the left or right wedge player presses closer to the center. Attacking the formation is frustrating. Trying to get by seven players as opposed to weaving through a few is difficult.
If the attacking player passes to their left or to the formation’s right side, the right wedge player becomes the center and shadows the ball-handler while the center drops behind and takes the right side. The wedge re-forms as the left wedge player slides over and maintains the left side of the wedge.
5- Two Strikers
The two remaining players are flexible positions. One should play center striker, playing as far up as possible. The center forward plays as far as they can without being offside. The other forward plays outside striker, and moves left or right, following the ball when it’s on defense. The outside striker hangs out near midfield, and needs to receive the ball to either push down the sideline or pass to the center striker.
6- First Half is All Defense
This formation appears sluggish as it is not attack-oriented. The strategy of the stick and wedge formation is to physically wear out the opposition in the first half, allowing the formation to press forward to the opposition’s goal later in the second half.
Starting with a strong defense and adjusting to more offense is always the right move in youth soccer. A strong offense does little when your team is trailing 0-2 five minutes into the game. The stick and wedge formation draws more opposing players on offense to match your defensive player count, weakening their defense as the game progresses.
7- Every Team’s Weakness
The weakness of almost every formation is when an opposing team moves the ball quickly down the sideline and into your penalty box. You can take an extra player to mark their star player, resulting in one fewer on the stick. The stick should not extend sideways outside of the penalty box. Let their strikers tire out between the penalty box and sideline. When they center the ball, you’ll have plenty of defenders to contest their attack
8- PK’s are OK
There is nothing wrong with a tie. Prepare your team for penalty kicks. It’s fun to end your practices with penalty kick drills. A great drill is to put an assistant coach in the goal with your goalie and another player. Have the three spread out, each defending a third of the goal. Have your players line up in an arc around the goal and have them launch balls into the net at once. It’s great practice, and it makes a real pk easier as there will only be one goalie and not three.
Teach your kids to “pass” the ball into the net with the inside of their foot rather than trying to launch it with their inside toe. This is a more accurate shot from a short distance, and nearly as powerful.
This stick and wedge works and provides a formation with the most defense. Start strong on defense and add more offense as needed later in the game. Find a goalie first, and fill in the rest of your team. There’s nothing wrong with a tie. You now have the knowledge to put your team in a position to win and have a successful season!