Longtime readers may remember an article I wrote about soccer patches that I handed out to my U10 Storm Rec team a couple years ago. They were a huge hit, and I used them again with my U11 Girls team last year. I never wrote up what we did last year as it was pretty much the same as with the Storm. But the highlight after every match was ‘What about the patches!’ I tried to think clearly enough to have the recipients picked out after each match, but I’d always overlook something. So the girls are used to the patches getting handed out at the first practice each week when I’ve had time to think over the match in my head and bounce potential selections off my assistant coaches. We always ask the girls for suggestions too. SO while we did the same patch set as the Storm, we added a couple patches to the assortment we handed out:
Weather Patch – This was handed out when our team played in the equivalent of a sand storm this Spring. The girls suffered through horrible conditions to play those matches and we wanted to reward that. So we gave this out then. We also gave it out to players that missed that tournament when we played in extreme temperatures or conditions later in the season.
Lunachick Soccer Patch – For a while we kept talking to the team about ‘Lunachick Soccer’ – basically when they had played really well as a team and with intensity for a full 60 minutes. We had one match in the fall where the girls just played their hearts out. It wasn’t even a high scoring match (2-1 I believe) but they all played fantastic soccer. This was referred to as Lunachick Soccer and they all earned this patch (I had some extras ) They loved it. We decided not to do it this season as we had other ideas for patches.
So here is what we’re doing this year…
First, we’ve changed our metrics a bit. Last year the girls earned a patch the first time they did something, so many earned their patches quickly. This year we’ve made each patch something you have to earn over multiple matches. The goal is to have the girls try to perform conistently across multiple matches. We’ll see if it has the desired effect. Players can earn up to nine patches, not including the start patches.
Juggling Patch – When a player can demonstrate to one of the coaches 30 juggles in a row without the ball touching the ground, they will earn their juggling patch. The hope is to help the girls improve their soft touch on the ball by learning how to juggle. Thirty is a high number, but we’re also giving them all year to accomplish this. The hope is it’ll spur more of them to get their soccer ball out at home. If they start juggling and get bored, they might try other things with the ball that they might have never done if they hadn’t started out practicing juggling. I think most of the girls are up to five or eight, so I expect this patch won’t be awarded until the Spring. My son’s team decided to up the incentive for this – they have to ALL do 50 juggles and when the entire team can do it they get a pizza party.
Kristine Lilly/Assist Patch – Named in honor of Kristine Lilly, who has one of the highest number of assists for the US Women’s Nation Team, this patch will be awarded to players who make five assists during the course of the year. The goal is to encourage unselfish play and reduce the reliance on outrunning defenders to score. I struggled with the threshold for this patch, thinking five was too low, but given the number of goals scored per match, I figured it gave more players a chance to earn it. Our team loves to dribble and go 1v1 with defenders – which is great. But we still need to remember that we can’t dribble through defenders and often a good solid feed pass is the better option. Hopefully the chance of earning this patch will help. The hard part of this is tracking assists. Up until now I didn’t do it very often, but we’ll do the best we can to ask the girls who assisted and make sure it gets recorded. Of course, now that there is a patch involved, I’m sure the girls will shout out their assists after each goal.
Mia Hamm/Goals Patch – Named in honor of the US Women’s National Team leading goal scorer, Mia Hamm, this patch is awarded to each player that scores 5 goals in a year. For some of our players this will be an easy patch to earn. However, it also will help the team in another way. Girls like helping their teammates accomplish things, so we can hopefully convince our stronger goal scorers to focus on assists to other players in order to help their teammates get their goal patch too. We’ll see if that works. The good news is so far, halfway through our Fall season, all 14 girls on our team have scored at least one goal and nine have scored more than one. So we may see most, if not all, of our players earn this.
Maradona/Moves Patch – To encourage the use of soccer moves in match situations, players who execute soccer moves in at least five different matches and use at least two different moves in doing so will earn the Maradona Patch. A number of our girls have done a scissor in a match, but we’re trying to get them to try others in pressure situations. Many recently got comfortable doing a Ronaldo (roll the ball and step over it), so we’d love to see that. Pull backs don’t count. We’re looking for other moves like a scissor, step over/reverse scissor, Cruyff turn, Ronaldo, etc.
Leadership Patch – This patch has our league colors and is probably the hardest patch to get. It is awarded to players who exhibit leadership qualities on the team, in matches and/or practice. Now you might think this is limiting the group of girls who might be able to get it, but the key is we use varying standards to award this patch. More extroverted players will get this for helping fire up their team, directing people on the field, etc. But some of the more introverted girls may earn it for other things like good sportsmanship, speaking out more, stuff like that. I found that most of the girls earned this from the most unexpected situations in previous years. The coaches just ‘knew’ when they had earned it and it was fun to come up with the story as to why.
Intensity Patch – This used to be our hustle patch, but we decided to change the name a bit and expand what it took to earn this patch. Getting soccer players to hustle during a match is only half the battle. Once they get near a free ball, many will back off ever so slightly instead of charging in trying to win it. We want to encourage the girls to not back away from fighting for a free ball and to play with high intensity. So players who attack free balls, don’t give up chasing opponents down, step in front of balls to settle them vs letting them bounce or go by, etc. in at least three matches will earn this patch.
Volley Patch – This patch is awarded to any player that attempts to head or volley the ball into the net in three or more matches. Even if they don’t score, if they successfully get a volley/header shot off, they earn credit towards this patch. We made the threshold higher since attempts count in addition to actual goals scored. While corner kicks will be one of the main times players can earn this, we want them to start sending long crosses from the wing – hopefully this will encourage them to do it more often.
Support Patch – We play a fairly risky 2 defender formation, allowing us to better cover midfield and bring five players on the attack. This means it is very important for players to support their teammates, not just on defense, but even on our opponent’s end of the field. The sooner we can get the ball back the better. So we want players to constantly think of how they can support their teammate should they get into trouble. We’ll have to make clear to the girls that running right up to a teammate with the ball is NOT support. So players who show solid support for teammates on the field in five matches will earn this patch.
Blood Patch – The girls love this patch because they never know what it’s going to take for them to earn it. So this will be the same as before:
The name for this patch is great and came straight off the Soccer Help idea sheet. This patch is for toughness, bravery, and plain old grit. I don’t want my players to play hurt or to hurt someone else. I make that very clear. This patch is for players who get knocked around on the pitch and keep on going after the ball. One of my girls blanched when I explained this patch. “Why do I have to bleed to get this patch?” she asked. That’s not the point, but in a few cases, blood will be involved. It’s the nature of the sport. A perfect example. During our league tournament, one of my girls who used to duck when the ball flew at or near her, got hit hard by a ball and her nose started to bleed. A lot. So we sat her down on the bench with some ice and tissues. I figured she wouldn’t want to go back in after that, but before I needed to sub players in (when I would have asked her), she was already telling me “Coach, I’m ready to go back in”. She wasn’t seriously hurt, but went through a scary experience and was ready to play some more. Blood Patch.
Champions Patch - Awarded to all the participating players if they win a tournament. Different color stars will represent different tournament wins. This grew out of our team’s mental block when playing in tournaments. We can be on fire in our regular season matches and when we get to a tournament, even against the same teams we’ve played in the regular season, we don’t play well. So we figured we’d let the girls earn stars for each tournament they manage to win.
These may seem like odd colored patches, but we chose them due to their light borders since we have blue shorts. If you have lighter color shorts, the original color set might be better for your uniforms:
So that’s our patch program for our U12 girls team this year. All these patches and others can be purchased from SoccerHelp.com.
What other accomplishments would you try to award for kids this age? Have you used patches with your team? If so, how did it go? This will be our third year and it’s impossible to tell if they caused the kids to play any harder, but they’re fun to earn and hand out all the same. The girls love them and were rather annoyed with me that it too this long to finalize the program.