Ultimate Guide to Coaching Youth Soccer

Youth girls on soccer team.
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Looking back on your childhood, you can probably remember the sports star you idolized and couldn't wait to grow up to be just like. Your sports hero might have even inspired you to become involved in sports at the first opportunity. Playing on a first sports team can be a very exciting time in a child's life. For many kids today, the sport of choice is soccer, which has become one of the most common sports played in the United States. In fact, there are more than 3 million registered youth soccer players in the country [source: US Youth Soccer]. While experienced coaches are brought in for competitive leagues and high school teams, youth soccer coaches are often the parents of the athletes.

So what do you do if you suddenly find yourself in charge of a team of 8-year-old soccer players and your experience doesn't go beyond kicking a ball in the backyard? Overall, the primary goal of youth soccer is having fun and instilling a love of sports in youth. Luckily, there are many resources available to help you run practices and build a team that allows the athletes to learn the sport and enjoy themselves.


Depending on the age group you coach, there will be different rules and regulations that you'll need to abide by [source: US Youth Soccer Association]. But in general, all age groups will need to focus on the same key aspects of the game: offense, defense and goaltending. Finding the right drills to run in practice will help you teach the basic skills necessary for your young athletes to excel in the sport.

Before you start planning practices and developing plays, you'll need to understand the basic rules of youth soccer. Keep reading to learn more.



Youth Soccer Rules

As the coach of a youth soccer team, you'll need a strong understanding of the rules and regulations of soccer. This includes both rules related to the game itself and to the setup of the games. Rules will differ among age groups, so it's important to keep up to date on the regulations that apply to your team.

The biggest differences between the age groups is the size of the ball in use, length of the games and number of players on the field. These modifications help ensure smooth games and the safety of players.


Players from ages 15 to 19 will play two 45-minute halves with a ball that has a circumference of 27 to 28 inches (68 to 72 cm), and 13- and 14-year-olds use the same ball in 35-minute halves. Players younger than 12 years old use 23- or 25-inch (58 to 63 cm) balls, and the games comprise 25- to 30-minute halves or 4- to 12-minute quarters, depending on the age group. The Youth Soccer Association also recommends fewer players on the field than the typical 11 for children age 12 and younger [source: US Youth Soccer Association].

The specific rules of the game are numerous, so it would be difficult to list them all here. However, there's one document you can use as a reference to keep yourself up to speed: FIFA's Laws of the Game. This extensive manual covers everything from rules on substitutions to penalty kicks to offside rulings. Updated every year, this source includes everything the referee will call. Therefore, it's one of the first things you should familiarize yourself with this so you can pass on the rules to your team [source: FIFA]. This isn't just a great reference for first-time coaches -- it's also handy for experienced coaches who need a refresher.

Once you have the rules down, you'll need to start off with the basic skills, so keep reading to learn how to teach these to your players.


Teaching Basic Soccer Skills

The next thing to focus on while coaching youth soccer is providing the athletes with a solid framework of skills. If you're working with a younger team, you may be teaching these skills to kids for the first time. But even if you're working with older athletes, soccer players can never practice the fundamentals too often. Skills like dribbling, passing and shooting a goal are essential parts of the game that should be carefully taught and reinforced with drills.

One of the first things your players should learn is how to dribble the ball down the field. When you teach your athletes to dribble, you're teaching them to control the ball with all areas of the foot; however, beginners will mostly use the inside of the foot or the toe. The more experienced the player, the more advanced dribbling skills he or she can use, including fakes and direction changes [source: Expert Football].


In addition to dribbling, another way to advance the ball down the field is with passing. This is an easy skill to practice -- it essentially involves kicking the ball between two players. Once the players have the basic art of passing the ball down, they can participate in practice drills that involve passing while running. The most critical thing to master will be controlling the direction of the ball [source: Soccer Training Info].

The final skill that you'll want to teach is how to shoot a goal. This involves a lot of ball control -- shooting with the correct part of the foot will allow the ball to go in the correct (intended) direction. Shooting drills will help improve accuracy, and as players improve, they can practice taking different shots.

The best thing to remember when teaching soccer fundamentals is to practice the skills with different drills so practices don't become repetitive. Once you've taught your team the basics, you'll want to spend time practicing drills that will keep these skills fresh. To learn about some fun and easy drills to try with your team, keep reading.


Youth Soccer Drills

Drills are a great way to teach and practice the basic skills of soccer. In youth soccer, practice should be fun and informative, so switching up drills to keep things interesting is the best way to hold your athletes' attention and ensure that practices are enjoyable.

Fun drills like "musical cones" help with skills and keep the energy up at practice. A variation on musical chairs, this drill works on ball control and dribbling skills by practicing both dribbling in place and dribbling while running. Each player has to dribble in place until the music stops, and then the players must dribble while sprinting to a cone, where only one player can end up [source: We Play]. The light competition and fun nature of the drill makes working on a basic skill enjoyable.


To work on passing, keep the drills simple until the players improve their ball control. A simple pinball drill, which involves a passing rotation in a circle, involves the whole team and is easy for beginners but also useful for experienced players [source: We Play]. For very young players, drills like "hit the coach" keep things light and fun. In this drill, players work on the accuracy of their shooting by kicking the soccer ball toward you as you run around the field and dodge balls [source: We Play]. While these are just a few examples of drills you can try, there are many others out there that you can modify to fit your team's needs. Just remember to keep it fun and focus on the fundamentals.

Keep reading to learn how to develop an offensive strategy and teach the kids how to get the ball down the field to score.

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Coaching Offense in Youth Soccer

It's common knowledge that you have to score points to win the game, so developing your team's offense is an important part of your job as coach. There are four basics to keep in mind when working on offense. From these basics, you can create drills to practice these skills and incorporate them into games.

  • The first basic of offense is trying to score, or finishing. Teach your players how to recognize shot opportunities and how to pass, dribble and shoot the ball with control to get it into the goal.
  • Ensure your team keeps possession of the ball. The more you preserve control of the ball, the more control you have over the outcome of the game. Again, ball control is essential here, so dribbling and passing drills are important.
  • Teach your players to think about ways to regain possession of the ball when they lose it -- this is also related to the defensive skills you teach. In soccer, midfielders will play both offensive and defensive roles, so teaching your players how to apply pressure and steal the ball will help keep it in your team's possession.
  • Finally, let your players know that they can delay their opponent's offense by controlling the ball on the other end of the field [source: Expert Football]. The more time the ball spends on offense, the more control your team will have over the scoreboard and the more likely your team is to come out on top.

Now that your offense is in place, it's time to work on defense.


Coaching Defense in Youth Soccer

Have you ever heard the saying, "The best offense is a good defense?" Without a strong defense, nothing that you do on offense will matter. The next step in coaching your team is to teach the fundamentals of defense that will help keep the ball out of your team's goal.

When playing defense, body position is very important. By getting in the path of the attacking player and the goal, a defensive player can force the offensive player out of shooting position simply by being in the correct place. Also, when the offensive player has to change up dribbling technique or try to pass, a defensive player can make an attempt to steal the ball. A great way to practice defense is in a one-on-one drill, where the defender can work on pushing the offensive player to the outside [source: PlaySportsTV].


Defensive players also need to be agile and learn to stay on their toes while defending. Using footwork that requires defenders to move forward, backward and from side to side will teach players how to maintain their speed so they can stay right next to the offensive player heading toward the goal [source: Soccer Drills Tips]. These drills can be done solo or in pairs and will benefit the entire team -- at some point, every player may need to play a little defense.

While all defenders are important to the game, there is one position in particular you should pay special attention to: the goalie. Keep reading to learn how to teach the fundamentals of goaltending.


Coaching Youth Soccer Goalies

Once you have your defense figured out, you'll need to spend a little one-on-one time with your goalies. While many of the defensive techniques you taught the team will be useful, the goalie needs to learn a special set of skills. Being in the goal can be scary for a beginner, but with the right instruction, you can give your goalie the confidence he or she needs to succeed.

The first thing to teach a new goalie is how to stand. This may sound simple, but the goalie needs to stand comfortably and have the ability to move quickly when the other team is on offense. The recommended stance is with feet shoulder-width apart, putting the weight slightly forward on the balls of the feet. The goalie's arms should be raised to waist height with palms facing outward [source: LA84 Foundation Soccer Coaching Guide].


The most important thing to teach the goalie is to keep his or her body behind the ball at all times -- don't try to save the ball with just a hand or foot because the body takes up the most space. Stepping to the ball and then pulling the ball into the body is the most effective way to make the save. However, there will be times goalies can't make a clean save, so it's important to work on agility drills to ensure your goalie knows how to reset quickly in case the offense comes back for another shot [source: LA84 Foundation Soccer Coaching Guide].

For more information on coaching youth soccer, see the links on the following page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • "Defending 1 v 1." WePlay: PlaySportsTV. 2009. (Accessed 12/29/09) http://www.weplay.com/youth-soccer/drills/431-Defending-1-v-1.
  • "Dribbling." Expert Football. 2009. (Accessed 12/28/09) http://www.expertfootball.com/training/dribbling.php.
  • "Fundamental Strategy." Expert Football. 2009. (Accessed 12/29/09) http://www.expertfootball.com/coaching/basic_strategy.php.
  • "Help! I volunteered to Coach…What do I do?" US Youth Soccer. 2007. (Accessed 12/28/09) http://www.usyouthsoccer.org/coaches/Help_Volunteered.asp.
  • "Hit the Coach." WePlay. 2009. (Accessed 12/28/09) http://www.weplay.com/youth-soccer/drills/369-Hit-the-Coach.
  • LA84 Foundation. "Soccer Coaching Manual." 2009. (Accessed 12/29/09) http://www.weplay.com/youth-soccer/drills/951-The-LA84-Foundation-Soccer-Coaching-Guide.
  • "Laws of the Game." FIFA. 2009. (Accessed 12/28/09) http://www.fifa.com/worldfootball/lawsofthegame.html.
  • "Musical Cones." WePlay. 2009. (Accessed 12/28/09) http://www.weplay.com/youth-soccer/drills/500-Musical-Cones.
  • "Passing the Test - Soccer Passing Skills." Soccer Training Info. 2009. (Accessed 12/28/09) http://www.soccer-training-info.com/soccer_passing_skills.asp.
  • "Pinball." WePlay. 2009. (Accessed 12/28/09) http://www.weplay.com/youth-soccer/drills/469-Pinball.
  • "Policy on Players and Playing Rules." US Youth Soccer. 2007. (Accessed 12/28/09) http://www.usyouthsoccer.org/coaches/policyonplayersandplayingrules.asp.
  • "Soccer." The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition 2008. Encyclopedia.com. (Accessed 12/28/09) http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-soccer.html.
  • "Soccer Footwork Drills." Soccer Drills Tips. 2009. (Accessed 12/29/09) http://www.soccerdrillstips.com/soccer_footwork_drills.html.