By Tim Bradbury
Director of Coaching, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association
I see and hear some crazy stuff from both soccer coaches and parents. I often wonder how much of the common stuff could be avoided if coaches made more of an effort to share information with soccer parents.
Most well-educated coaches plan session content based upon the following:
- Readiness of the players. Where are they cognitively, psycho-socially, physically and culturally so what skills and ideas can I expect them to master?
- What problems did I see in the game that I can help with? Typically in the flow of the game.
- Are we in recuperation mode or is it a chance for a threshold session (greater physical demand and cognitive load)?
- Do we just need a fun session as we got trounced over the weekend?
- When is our next game and can I focus on skill acquisition without the fear of losing the next match?
I fully understand that often balancing all the above is a challenge and that time is tight, fitting everything in when you only train twice a week is a challenge. I offer the following guidelines in the hope that they may help coaches better understand some things that need a priority and some that might wait.
- Physical literacy. In order to fully develop as an athlete and soccer player, kids must be able to move, balance, show agility and coordination. This broad-based physical literacy is the key to elite play and can never be overlooked.
- Formal stretching. This is only needed after they have come out of puberty and static stretching should be carried out on their own at home if they wish to extend their range of flexibility. Only dynamic stretching should be associated with practice and game day.
- Set pieces, making a wall, taking corners, etc. If your team is elite, over 15 years old and have complete mastery of the skills and tactics of the game, I get it. But the time spent putting U10 kids through this stuff who can’t do a two-player combination or keep the ball for more than three passes ultimately is self-defeating. I have seen one coach who managed to gamify throw-ins, set pieces, etc. and make the session fun.
- Kids begin to understand space at around 7-8 years old. Screaming at them to spread out and doing possession-type activities prior to that is probably time better spent working on other things.
- Youth players begin to think hypothetically with what if questions at around 12 to 13 years old so working on lots of transition activities prior to that is probably not a great use of time.