Once you get sucked into the wonderful world of youth soccer as a coach, it’s often hard to escape. Not that I’m complaining a bit. I really enjoy coaching and working with the younger kids as they develop their soccer skills. Just like teachers talk about the excitement when a student ‘gets it’, coaching can be very similar.

Last year, most of my daughter’s team moved up to U10, leaving her and two other players behind in U8. So I offered to take on their ‘team’ as head coach (I had assisted her team last year and was head coaching U10). My new U8 team was formed primarily of kids moving up from U6. Now, we play 4v4 no keepers in U6 while we play 6v6 w/keepers in U8 on a bigger field (35×50 vs 20×30), so the change is pretty drastic (much like the transition from U8 to U10 for leagues that play 4v4 no keeper in U8 and 6v6 in U10) After our first practice it was clear many of the new players lacked some core foot skills. So, we spent a LOT of time working on dribbling, passing, protecting the ball, etc. and very little on field work beyond scrimmages. We didn’t have the time. The kids worked very hard, but the parents got to joking that "It’s all about the snacks this season!" 🙂

We won our first match 4-3 (against a team in the same boat we were in), but in our second match were completely outplayed by a team that clearly had had more time to work on field positions and overall game play due to the level of footwork their kids had. I wish I had had a video camera at times because we could have filmed scenes from the ‘Bad News Bears of Soccer’ Players trying to clear the ball and missing the ball completely, falling on their behinds. My daughter running towards the ball and not looking up, ran into another of her teammates and in the ensuing tumbling, took out at least 2 more players, as the ball rolled towards our own goal. It was one of THOSE matches and my assistant coaches and I could only watch and chuckle as we thought about the MANY things we had to work on in practice.

But no worries – it’s not about the winning, it’s about the player development right? So we continued to work on their footwork and slowly started to work on core gameplay. However, no matter how much you practice, the kids need to discover things on their own many times. Well, our most recent match was just such a match. We were down 2-0 at halftime and the kids were still really excited about the match and eager to get back on the field. This is a good thing. Then they slowly began to work their way back.

"What do we do now?" "I dunno!" Nice shot of Soccer Dad’s back!

One of my younger but more agile defenders saw an open lane along the touchline and when he got the ball, just went for it, dribbling down the touchline and scoring. Another of my players finally figured out that passing up the touchline from the backfield was a good thing (as opposed to in front of the goal) and did it repeatedly. Another had a scratchy throat in the first half and asked to play goal for the first time. He proceeded to punt the ball right in front of the opposite penalty box time after time. Then, with time winding down and our team down 2-3, two of my older girls showed they ‘got it’. The ball went out of bounds off the other team. One of the girls grabbed the ball without delay and threw it into the other girl who bolted straight to the goal and lifted the ball into the net. Not kicked along the ground. Lifted it into the goal, hitting the back of the net. Tie game and 15 seconds later regulation expired. The parents and players went crazy over the comeback.

This isn’t the scoring play, but the 2 players in white were the ones who tied things up. 00 is my daughter who scored the goal off the other’s throw in.

Those are the kind of moments that make coaching kids so much fun. You can run drills and try to explain things to young players, but for the most part, they discover on their own how the game works, and often during actual matches. When you consider how many core concepts went into that last play involving 7 year olds, it’s great to see. Don’t wait to throw the ball back in, there is no offsides on a throw in, turn and run instead of stopping a moving ball, and lifting the ball into the air instead of kicking it along the ground.

The whole team was so excited because they realized that they COULD play this game. The previous match they were running in circles completely confused at times. This time they realized they COULD do it, even our youngest kids. Sure, we have a LOT of work to do, but that’s OK. Many coaches call these breakout games and I think this was ours. We’ll see!