Coaching kids' soccer


Dave Tutelman  --  September 9, 2018

Let me be clear right up front. We're talking about recreational soccer for kids 7-14 here, and with most of the detail on the younger end of the spectrum. The real athletes and future varsity players will be on club teams (traveling teams) by the time they are 7 or 8. This is too elementary for them. There are plenty of books on teaching "youth soccer", which usually means teenagers on club and high school teams. There are few resources on teaching recreational soccer to pre-teens. So let me offer a little.

I'm sticking to my own experience here. I coached in Ocean NJ's rec soccer program for a dozen years (1978-'89), from 7-year-olds to 14-year-olds. I spent three years coaching sevens, two years each coaching eights and nines, and one year each for the rest. Getting little kids started in the game was my specialty.

That means teaching the basic skills and the flow of the game. Few of your charges are likely to wind up on the high school team, much less the US National team; that's not what we're going for here. For kids who go through the program to age 11 or 12, they should be able to:
  • Step into a pickup game and help the team they are on by playing some position.
  • Watch pro soccer on TV and know (not guess, know) whether a play was good, great, or a flub -- and often even see the right play developing before it happens.
  • Most important -- enjoy playing and even watching soccer.

Getting organized

Your job begins before the first practice. The "getting organized" activities for me were:
  • A phone call of introduction.
  • A handout, given out at the first practice, including:
    • Important data for the parents of the kids -- or the kids themselves, if they're mature enough. They probably aren't until age 10-12.
    • What is expected of the kids and the parents for practices and games.
The phone call: My call covered:
  • Introduction -- my name and how to get in touch with me. (Back then, it was phone number and address. I had email in 1978, but almost nobody else did. Email is certainly appropriate now.)
  • A hint of the schedule -- not specifics, but things like: games on Sundays, two practices a week behind the Wayside School, etc.
  • Vital details for the first practice -- when, where, and what to bring.
  • My philosophy of coaching. I might as well say it here. "I am looking for the kids to have fun and learn the basics of how to play the game (appropriate to their age and ability). I will measure my success not in how many games we win, but how many kids sign up for soccer next year. If this is not what you want for your kid, it's not too late to leave the team. I can give you the name and phone number of the coach of the traveling team if you want."

    Let me issue the same caveat to you, dear reader. If you don't buy into my philosophy, there are enough books about coaching "youth soccer" that cover higher levels of skill, athleticism, and game sense. If you are already a club coach, you are probably beyond what I can teach. If you are in the recreational program and would like to duplicate the teaching of the club program, you are probably doomed to disappointment -- but you'll discover that on your own the first season. (The first practice, if your're paying attention.)
The handout: Here is a scan of the handout for my 1983 team. (By that time, I had enough experience to know what to put into it.) It got into more detail about things I touched on in the phone call.

Attached to the handout was an important document -- the team roster. It had the name, address, and phone number of each team member. For convenience, I listed the names in four groups of roughly four players each. (Team rosters were 15-18 kids.) I selected the groups by geography -- I tried to keep the groups in the same neighborhoods or at least the same parts of town. That would make it useful for carpooling to practices, and for chain-calling when I wanted a message to get out fast. Like if the game was called because of rain. I could make four calls, one to a member of each group, and that parent -- or kid, if they were old enough -- could call members of their own neighborhood group.

The rest of this article

The rest of this article is the meat of coaching. I have included scans of the notes I sent home to parents, because much of what I wanted to teach can and should be reinforced by the parents. At least they would understand what the kids could be expected to know and do, so they wouldn't be jerks on the sidelines of the games. There are a remarkable number of jerks among the parents; it is a point of pride that parents from my team were never among the jerks.

The sections -- a page for each -- are:
  1. Coaching practices -- How I ran my practices.
  2. Skills -- I focus here on the skills I taught the younger kids. As they got older and more skilled, they improved at different rates. So the skill teachings for the older kids were in smaller groups of similar talent, or even individual instruction.
  3. Position play -- Ever watch soccer games of 7-year-olds? They play "swarm". I made it a point to work on position play, even for 6- and 7-year-olds. Here is how I did it, and it makes a huge difference.
  4. Coaching games -- Soccer is very different from baseball and [American] football, and nowhere is it more different than coaching during a game. If you've coached Little League baseball, that did nothing to teach you how to coach soccer; it may even have taught you bad habits for soccer.
  5. Another point of view -- Here is another coach's similar set of notes. You should know that there are different ways of approaching it. I believe I am correct, of course. But I'm not so egotistical to be sure of it, so decide for yourself.
Let me add a disclaimer here. I have coached boys' soccer almost exclusively. (I had one coed 7-year-old team out of twelve years coaching.) So I am not going to use clumsy wording to remain gender-neutral. If you are coaching girls, I'm sure you can figure out what I am saying and read the appropriate pronoun in your head.

Enjoy, and I hope this helps you.

Last modified - September 14, 2018