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Halfway through our U8 year, we created a team website. Here we could list the game schedule, and put up links to video clips that could inspire players. Many coaches are torn between whether to push their team to win games, or simply go out there to have fun. We were caught in this tension too, until we realized there's nothing wrong with truly teaching our kids the game of soccer - teaching them the skills and positioning as players, and passing along our love for the international game. Once our kids learned a little more about cups and tournaments and famous players, they wanted to get better, and really wanted us to teach them.

Soon we'd created some visualizations, as in the slideshow below for the U8s. By using Lego characters, we really got their attention. Their reading levels were limited so we kept the words to a minimum.

 

I watched some U9 games to see what older players were capable of, and many of the players had developed dribbling moves. I realized my players needed to begin working on just a few moves, realizing it might take a year or more for them to feel comfortable making such moves in a game. Most of the dribbling videos on the internet demonstrate elaborate moves that are not only for advanced players, but they are high-risk moves - anything less than perfect technique gives the ball to the other team. Wanting my kids to first learn simpler, low-risk moves, I just made my own demonstration video with my Flip camcorder.

 

The team had a new name by U9, having abandoned a name they associated with their younger years. So the website changed, too. Midway through their U9 year, my kids needed even clearer visualizations of some concepts. I used software called Tactics Manager to illustrate ideas, then put the pictures into slideshows, such as the one below:

 

One of the most important things I learned, while coaching U8 and U9, was that all kids can indeed get much better, and in fact some of the kids who were totally unfocused goofballs at the microsoccer level became extremely driven, focused, and athletic soccer players during the U8 and U9 years.
 

 

 
Sample Plan for U8 Fall Season:

A good overall objective for the fall U8 season is to train every child to move comfortably with the ball. While only a few kids are yet capable of dribbling past (or through) defenders, all kids should get comfortable dribbling away from pressure, or around opponents. If you have some kids who are far more dominant, the weaker kids tend to never trust they can dribble, and tend to play standing still, merely kicking the ball when it comes to them. Here's some games that develop this core skill:

Tag
In Tag, the coaches are "It". Everyone has a ball, including the coaches. The coaches attempt to tag players. Players evade the coaches but stay within the allotted space. This teaches players to dribble away from pressure, rather into it. They will naturally get a sense of dribbling a little with their left foot and looking up to avoid crashing into teammates.

Chase
Players pair up. Each has a ball. One player takes off dribbling, anywhere around the field, at medium speed. The other player follows closely behind. The follower learns to use their peripheral vision to track the leader's turns.

Obstacle Courses
Make a big long obstacle course in your allotted field space. Use cones, flags, trees, backstops, benches, et cetera. The course should take about 30 seconds to run through. As a group, run the course first, without balls, to get a sense of it. Then dribble the course as a group, slowly, to remind them of the course. Now, send players off every ten seconds or so to dribble the course. It should take them about 45 seconds to complete. Use a stopwatch or your phone to time some players - they will get very excited to get a fast time. By having a long course, all kids can be on the course and active, with short rests in between laps. This will help them dribble much faster.

Scrimmage Game - "Line"
Set up two teams of 2 vs 2 or 3 vs 3. Set up a field that is very wide and very short, with open space. To score, (rather than shooting into a goal,) players have to dribble across the end line. Reduce the number of players or divide them by ability level so that all kids learn to dribble on the attack. Use two coaches, split the kids in half, and make sure every kid is getting the ball often and has space to dribble into. Because they can attack the wide line, rather than have to converge on the goal, they'll learn to dribble into open space rather than dribble into defenders.

Getting Them to Pass:

I did not have much luck with passing drills during the U8 year, and even into the U9 year. I had to find another solution. What I found was that in standard passing drills, kids simply did them too nonchalant, didn't seem to care that their pass was so far off target it destroyed the drill. I also recognized that passing drills are overly scripted - there tends to be a particular script for how the passes are supposed to progress. In a real game, all passing is improvised. What worked was to make them pass in small-sided games. Rather than playing Monkey in the Middle, we played 3 vs 1 Keep Away in a much larger space, where the movement was unscripted. Players could dribble and pass and move. They learned to Get Open. The more I watched them try to pass, the more I realized kids have to learn to get open in order for passes to happen. We'd also play 5 vs 2 Keep Away in a very big space. Then we'd play games of 2 on 2 or 3 on 3. I'd make a very simple rule: when they won the ball, they had to make one pass before they could score. Some kids took this right away, and I made their team now have to make 2 passes before they could score. Or I'd put one player on each team along the sideline - in an undefended strip. They had to use their sideline player before they could score. To the kids, they were just doing scrimmages, but in fact they were learning to move, get open, and trust teammates. I started this middle of U8 year and it was a year before all kids were looking to pass first, rather than boot it downfield.

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