I knew moving to coaching U10 was going to be an adventure compared to coaching U6. Don’t get me wrong – U6 coaches are saints. Trying to get eight 4 and 5 year olds to learn basic soccer skills requires the patience of Job. Basic skill development is the name of the game. I think I did fairly well at it and I know my U6 kids had a lot of fun. I hated to leave U6, but it was time to try something a little more involved (OK and I admit it – intense)
Moving to U10, I expected that I’d have more trouble teaching the kids more advanced skills and giving them better insights into the game itself and how it is played. I didn’t play soccer in school and have been on a crash course ever since my son first kicked a soccer ball. So I was a bit nervous about how I would do trying to take these kids up a level in their love and understanding of the game. Taking those basic skills, adding onto them, and applying them at the right times during a match. Little did I know that my challenges would be elsewhere.
I was blessed with a GREAT group of kids. I took 6 players from my son’s U8 teams and the rest of my players were assigned during team assignments. They love to play, they want to learn, and they have lots of energy (which can be good and bad depending on how restless they are at practice ) So we’ve worked on improving their ball handling, control, and overall understanding of the game. We’ve improved how our front line moves toward the goal in lanes and keeping an eye open for teammates in better positions to score. We’ve worked on it a lot and it shows. For a VERY young U10 team (only 3 of our players are 9 year olds), we have done very well.
In our last match, we played one of the tougher teams in the division and I was nervous about how we would do. The field was wet in spots, it was cloudy, and rain fell off and on. The kids were nervous and excited at the same time. We jumped out to a 2-0 lead early on, much to everyone’s surprise, and that’s where things went south. My kids lost focus and made mistakes. Feet over the line on throw ins, forgetting your lane on the attack, over compensating in 1 on 1 situations, etc. The other team turned things up a notch and we weren’t ready for it. We ended up losing 2-4 but it was a very exciting match and my kids played very hard. Yet something was nagging at me the whole match and it didn’t hit me until the end when I had gathered my team around. It wasn’t that we were outplayed – we simply seemed to lose focus on the match and make mistakes, many over and over.
The point of bringing this up is not a commentary on my kids. Rather – like most coaches – I like to look back and try to analyze how we did and what we need to improve on. The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that we just seemed to lose focus and weren’t paying attention. Sure, everybody can use additional ball handling practice. No question. But now I realize that something else I need to work on with my kids is getting them to focus on the match. To pay attention to the other team and what they are doing for the full 50 minutes. We’ve worked hard to keep our forwards from running back on defense and to wait for the ball to drive towards the goal. Yet we lost many a goal kick when our forwards stayed BEHIND the other team’s forwards at mid field instead of trying to stay in front of them. It never occurred to them the first couple times it happened that they should creep up a bit and challenge the other forwards for every ball. Things like that.
My challenge is trying to figure out how we can work on our attention to the game as its played in practice. Stay behind that touch line on throw ins, keep the opponent from walling you off from your own goal kick, keep the 2nd defender aware of that forward sneaking up the far side for the pass. Stuff like that. Its not something you can just repeat and have them learn. It makes teaching skills by drills seem almost easy in comparison (though its obviously not) I know much of this is learned through match experience and I don’t deny that. But there have to be some innovative ways to get the ‘feel’ for the game down.
So this week we’ll be working on a number of key skills that showed some shakiness during our match. But I’ll also be working with them on paying attention to what’s happening during a match. The tricky part is how. How can you get your kids to practice paying attention to the game, to where their feet are, how they should react to changing lineups by the opponent, etc. Its easier said than done. I’d love to hear what other coaches think and how they handle this. Because I honestly figured I’d have trouble getting more advanced ball skills across to them. I never dreamed I’d have to worry more about their attention to the game and where they are in it at any given time.
UPDATE: After thinking about it a bit more, I realized a couple other mistakes I made as a coach that were clearly inexperience. First, we were up 2-0 early in the game. We normally play 4-1-2, but once we got those two goals, I clearly should have moved to a 3-1-3 or even a 3-4 setup. That was just bad strategy. Second, I normally put my 2 stronger players in the middle forward positions with my weaker players out at the wings. Regardless of the lake, the more I think about it, the weaker players should be in the middle – gives them an easier shot. My stronger players can make shots from an angle and also are in a better position to get a cross to the middle forwards. Food for thought…