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6 Tricks to Winning Youth Soccer
A Guide for Coaches
This hub provides information for coaches of youth soccer in the 6-10 year-old-range. The author has over 4 years experience in coaching modified youth soccer, and over the last 2 years of coaching only lost two games (out of about 40).These tips are intended to provide information beyond the usual "x's and o's" you can find on-line, and they have been proven to work on the field.
First, let's get one point out of the way. At this level of soccer, the biggest determinant of success is getting the best athletes. Unfortunately, this is not always something you can control. However, you can maximize your assets by better coaching, which means knowing the rules and how to use them, substituting and rotating your players effectively, and teaching your players a few simple principles that will help avoid easy goals for the other team.
It is unfair to expect your players to give their all if you don't. You want to teach your kids to be good winners and good losers and most of all to have fun. But never forget,sports are the most fun if you take them seriously. Nothing is more disheartening to a young athlete than a coach who negates everyone's effort; "Oh, well, it doesn't matter," or who shows they aren't taking it seriously by not having any strategy or rationale for substitutions, or who fails to teach tactics, or recognize and provide feedback on good and bad play.
The following specific tricks are for small group soccer, with unlimited substitutions (leagues where everybody has to play a certain amount of the game.)
1. PLAY YOUR BEST LINE. So many times this is done wrong. The coach is thinking "Well Timmy is really good and Danny is terrible, so I'll put Timmy and Danny out there and avoid some kind of catastrophe." Wrong, wrong, wrong! All you have done is negate the advantage of actually having a good player by pairing him or her with someone who can't help them. On the front line, always play your best 2, 3 or 4 (depending on how many players you have under your league rules) skill players together on offense, and then drop them all back to defense and goalie for a breather, while your less skilled players man the offense together.
2. Rotate your best player(s) into the goal to keep them fresh. For example if you have a superstar player, he or she can play goalie at the start of the second half or for the third quarter, and then will be very rested while going up against the winded defense on the other team in the last quarter of time.
3. Most of your players should be on offense. Just as with some higher level teams (USMNT, anyone?), if you don't have strikers with a very sophisticated skill-set, they will not be effective against greater numbers of defenders. If you are playing 5v5 (with one of the 5 a goalie), for example, have 2 players dedicated to offense at all times, one player be a "rover" who covers both offense and defense, and one will be a dedicated defender. If you only have two players on offense in 5v5, you will have them constantly running into the entire four person squad on the other end, and simple giving the ball away, time after time. Note; the all-field position will be exhausting so be sure and rotate that person back to goalie or defense on a regular basis.
4. Study the specific rules for your league. Is there no off-sides? Then have one of your offensive players playing further up to receive mishandled balls and kicks by the goalie or defense, or passes from their own players.
In some youth leagues, the ball can be dribbled in from out of bounds. Drill and drill your team to quickly dribble the ball up the sidelines without waiting on any out-of-bounds play where they think the ball might be theirs. There is a natural inclination for the young player to stop and hold the ball on the sidelines in this situation, followed by a pass that is easily intercepted by the other team, so teach them not to do this. In more advanced leagues the rules may allow either passes or throws into the field of play but the same principle holds--teach them to do it ASAP!
When can you substitute? Generally, in youth leagues substitutions are allowed more freely than in standard soccer. If you can sub on any out-of-bounds, then always sub when the other team has possession. Don't mess up your own havoc-wreaking quick in by delaying it for a sub, unless you really need to get someone into or out of the game at that time.
Many youth leagues will not let you play the same player in goal the whole game. Hopefully, you will have one or two people on your team who like playing goalie. If you have a player that's actually good at it, play them in goal half the game and use the other half to rest your best athletes for a late game surge.
Some leagues do not have direct kicks, or they do allow passes back to the goalie. Know your league's rules so you can be better prepared to take advantage of them.
5. Teach your players to always, always follow a shot on goal, and never, never turn their back and walk away once the goalie has made a stop, or on a goal kick. At this level the goalie may not have a strong leg or arm or very accurate aim, and as often as not the ball only travel a few yards, or dribble of the side off their foot. Train your team to be in position to swoop in and take advantage.
6. On defense, then, teach your players to avoid "the ice cream cone of death" a fan shaped area in front of their own goal. Work with them not to handle or kick the ball into the area in front of the goal, but always pass the ball out to the sides in this part of the field. Make sure your players don't race down the field after their own goalie has the ball, but to move and cut in an area to the side of the field that the goalie can actually reach.
If you use these 6 tips on a regular basis, you will find that your winning percentage and team performance will both improve, leading to more fun and better soccer.