Wins Don't Develop Players - An OTP Series

Soccer Kids by terren in VirginiaAfter years of coaching multiple travel and Rec teams in various age groups, I unexpectedly have found myself coaching only two U8 Rec teams this season. I’ve coached many of these players since they were 4, so it’s been an interesting progression to observe. When our league split the younger ages by gender when they were rising U6′s, I kept both groups on and coached them in parallel. I saw first hand the positive impacts for the boys and the girls suddenly playing apart. Now we’re seeing some of those impacts pay off as they get older. Having coached my two eldest when they were this age 6-8 years ago, this is my second round through the younger ages and I’m definitely not the same coach I was back then.

Our league adheres mostly to the US Youth Soccer recommendations for small sided soccer at this age. 3v3 for U5/U6 and 4v4 for U7. Where we deviate is moving to 6v6 at U8 (it’s a single year age group). Most leagues will move to 6v6 at U9 (as part of a U10 division). So moving to U8 is a huge adjustment for the players. HUGE. I always surprise newer U5/U6 coaches when they ask about what drills to do at that age or if they are doing a good job. My response is always along the lines of ‘If your players are running around most of the time with a ball at their feet and laughing and coming back excited to be there, then it’s an excellent practice.’ If your U5 players want to chase you around the field trying to catch you, dribbling the whole time – awesome. It can be that simple. Any drill that is fun (include characters or stories. Make it visual) and involves them moving around with a ball is perfect. You’re #1 goal is to ensure they have so much fun they keep coming back and #2 is ensuring they touch a soccer ball. A lot. This is a heck of an adjustment for many. It was for me. Anyone who has taken the National Youth License course knows the talk about what kids of a certain age are prepared for:

  • U6 – They move in one direction. Forward. (Every player should have a ball in practice)
  • U8 – They discover they can go backwards too… (1 ball for every two players – starts to get them passing)
  • U10 – They discover they can pass sideways and the field has width. (1 ball for every three players – start to stress triangles/shape)

Having coached travel teams up through the HS level that had come through our Rec program playing coed and also larger games (our move to small sided was a gradual process), my goal was to try and adjust how I coached these younger teams to try and avoid some of the issues I faced with my older teams. These included:

  • Tendency to pass the ball immediately under pressure. Little confidence to possess the ball.
  • Not looking up for teammates with ball at feet.
  • Movement off the ball rare or only *after* ball played.
  • No interest in heading a ball, even from a short distance to get over top of an opponent.
  • Hesitant to pass the ball backwards.
  • Treating midfield and the 18yd line as absolute position markers for defenders (start or stay on 18 and if you push up, never cross midfield)
  • No concept of ‘compress to defend, expand to attack’.
  • Players running toward teammates with the ball – little trust or concept of ‘support’ positioning.
  • And the most startling: incorrect technique for both dribbling and passing.

Obviously not all of these are addressable in U6 or U8. But some of the basic ones are. So much of my focus in U6 through U8 has been to try and avoid these problems as they get older. Having learned much since the last time I coached at this level, I’m hoping to better prepare this group than I did my own kids. This series of articles will cover some of the changes I’ve made coaching this younger group as well as report back how things are going. I look forward to hearing your comments and thoughts along the way!

Wins Don't Develop Players - An On The Pitch Series

  1. U6-U8 Soccer Player Development – Round Two
  2. Confidence Can’t Be Coached – It’s Learned (and Earned!)
  3. Developing Young Players Without Positions (or Wins)