For many youth soccer players and teams, things are pretty similar. You go to practice a couple times a week. You play matches, and you head home. Some go to tournaments, others don’t. But it’s all about the soccer. But what about the team? Are there things that can be done to turn an ordinary team into a tight knit team that really pulls for each other?
Being the weird coach that I am, I decided to try a few different things this season to find out. Beyond the practices and matches, I wanted to try and get this team to really become a team. One that meant more to those on it than just performance on the field. Sure, teams only last a year and it’s sort of a roll of the dice in terms of who returns the next year, but still. A team that pulls for each other no matter what could be powerful on the field and be something special to the girls off the field. So our coaching staff (and manager!) came up with some ideas. We decided to do some fundraising, maybe attend an out of state tournament, have cool team shirts made, and other things which I’ll cover in future posts.
One idea we had was to come up with an activity that was more than just the girls doing something for themselves. We wanted them to give something back to their league while at the same time gaining something themselves. To do that we decided to have the team hold a girl’s soccer clinic for our younger (U6-U10) female players. But first, a little background…
Our league is fairly new, formed in 2002. Our travel program is even younger – formed in 2005. One thing we have found (and given the numbers across the state, it’s not unusual), is that many girls seem to be intimidated by the idea of ‘travel soccer’. Many girls who absolutely should play, choose not to for a wide variety of reasons. My U12 Girls team is testament to this. Many of them had no desire to leave their Rec teams until we took many of them to play some girls only friendlies against another area league. They loved it and that convinced them. Otherwise we probably would not have had enough girls to form the team.
Add to that, our league plays co-ed in Rec. I firmly believe this is a good thing for the league and the girls. However, it takes significant effort to educate the coaches on things they need to handle like girls hanging back or boys never passing to them. So we also try to do things that give the girls a chance to just play with girls and gain more confidence.
So with all that in mind, we decided to hold a girl’s soccer clinic and have the Lunachicks help run it (we made it optional for the Lunachicks to participate but all of them came). Our hopes were that:
- The younger girls would look up to the Lunachicks as role models (yes given the Lunachick’s past escapades, the parents chuckled at that).
- They would see that girls can do really cool stuff in soccer as they get older and stuff they only thought the boys could do – well the girls can do too.
- The younger girls would get a chance to learn and play soccer with peers.
- Those younger girls with less confidence might gain some playing against just girls.
- The Lunachicks would gain some personal confidence AND team confidence acting as role models to the younger girls.
- The Lunachicks would appreciate that they were giving something back to the league and doing a sort of community service. No, it wasn’t picking up trash or helping out with another charity, but it was something.
We picked a Sunday afternoon, had the girls wear their bright and colorful travel uniforms, and crossed our fingers. We sent an email to the parents of every girl aged U6 through U10 explaining what we had in mind and invited them. I recruited some Rec coaches to help out as well. The hardest part for me was coming up with drills the girls would enjoy AND learn something from. I know – duh – I’m a soccer coach – they all should be that way. But I wanted to make sure these were really fun. So I asked for ideas from a number of other coaches and came up with about ten different activities we could do, which I copied for each coach (you can view them in PDF here). I wanted to make sure we had enough drills to do in case a few bombed. Initially we setup the following:
- The Jungle
- Soccer Moves
- 1v1 with opposing goals
- Shooting through Hula Hoops
- Keep Away
- Treasure Chest
- Hoop Pass (those half hoops you stick in the ground)
and hoped for the best.
We had about thirty girls show up. At first we ran them through a few simple warmup activities all together. The best thing was rolling the ball with the bottom of their foot. The younger girls struggled with this and the Lunachicks swooped in to help which the younger girls loved and it got everyone comfortable with each other. Then we split the girls into four groups based on age and divided up the Lunachicks and coaches among each group. We honestly ‘wung it’ in terms of which stations each group did. The two youngest groups LOVED the jungle of cones and corner flags. The older girls really liked the hoop shooting drill, something the younger girls couldn’t do (we discussed moving the hoops to the ground, but ran out of time). I gave each group’s coach the leeway to choose stations they thought the girls would like and told them to punt and try another if one didn’t work for their group. An hour later we had some very excited girls who had done all sorts of soccer activities. We then pulled up all the stuff and cleared the 20×30 U6 fields for some 3v3 or 4v4 scrimmages, which they played for a good 45-60 minutes with regular water breaks.The Lunachicks helped the girls on the field during the scrimmages, especially the younger ones.
All told the clinic lasted two hours. The younger girls were tired, but the older girls still wanted to play (and the Lunachicks were going NUTS to play because they hadn’t played that weekend), so we split up the older girls and the Lunachicks to play a scrimmage with blended teams. I told the Lunachicks to concentrate more on involving the other girls vs putting on a show, which most of them did. Then afterward I left the Lunachicks scrimmage amongst themselves.
The feedback we got from parents was overwhelmingly positive. The younger girls loved having the Lunachicks show them how to do things during the drills and the scrimmages. We have twins on our U12 team and they each wore bright pastel color Hummel cleats – one set was bright pink, the other lavender (yes that’s how you tell them apart – pink or blue ). Apparently the younger girls thought those were the coolest thing ever. As for the Lunachicks, they seemed to enjoy serving as role models and I think it did help them from a team standpoint. They were doing something unique and worthwhile. In our eyes it was a huge success for what we were trying to accomplish.
Looking back, there were a few things we’d probably do a bit differently, but not all that much.
- Have the girls sign in for the clinic. Not from a security standpoint, as nobody could leave the fields without a parent, but just to know what age groups came out so we could plan better for the next one.
- Expand the instruction sheets a little more as some coaches had never done these and didn’t always understand what my scribbled notes meant.
- Try to keep things moving on some type of suggested schedule. it wasn’t a huge deal, but some groups stayed at a station longer than they might have had they known the time.
- Have the volunteer coaches come out earlier to help setup so we could explain how each station would work ahead of time. In an unexpected twist, many of the coaches who helped hadn’t seen some of these activities and couldn’t wait to try them with their own team.
- Give the Lunachicks a chance to play on their own so the younger girls could see them in action. We sent the younger girls home before we scrimmaged with the older girls and some parents, having heard we scrimmaged, said the younger girls would have loved to watch. I had considered that, but know many were tired so I had them go home. I sent our home match schedule out instead, but knew few would have time to come out just for that. So perhaps some short period where the girls could play all out for 10-15 minutes to give the younger girls something to see would have been good.
In the end this turned out to be a really fun thing to do and I think it helped both the younger girls AND the Lunachicks. I wanted to share it all with you more to give a model on how a clinic like this could be organized. I was very nervous setting this up, as I’d never done something like this before, but in the end I think it worked well. Suggestions and feedback, good or bad, certainly welcome!