Notes for a co-worker who was volunteered to run a U8 team.
1. Practices one time a week, duration of 60 minutes, 5-6 activities total.
1a. Encourage players to come early by playing games of their choice or letting them do what they want prior to official start of the practice.
2. Activities should progress from simple (no pressure on players: they need to try things without interference first), to limited pressure, to full pressure in a small-sided game (2v2, 3v3), to full scrimmage with the highest number of players per side possible (6v6 for a team of 12)
3. If you want to make a point – form a question. I.e., instead of “dribble fast” say “do you think you should dribble fast or slow?”. This will force your players to think and come up with the (hopefully – obvious) answer. If you say it – they’ll forget, if they say it – there is a good chance they’ll remember.
4. Limit your talk to absolute minimum. At this age – just put a ball at their feet and create conditions for them so that one or another aspect of the game is accentuated. No matter what you say – they will learn faster through trial and error. That’s the beauty of the game, it teaches you without words
5. Limit your talk to absolute minimum. Even when you know what you are talking about (which is fairly rare for parents, who were not exposed to the game before) – keep it to yourself. As an example – “spread out” is a nice tactical concept, but kids at this age have no mental capacity or attention span to grasp it. In fact, the basics of it are usually taught in advanced U12 – normal U14 age group teams: the concept is based on roles and responsibilities of the third attacker. If you don’t know what a third attacker is, or even – who is the second or the first attackers are and what their roles and responsibilities are – don’t say “spread out” to the kids. You can teach them do it without understanding – but doing so bears very little value in a long run: the “bunch ball” style is more productive at this age from development standpoint (lots of resources online, check if you want). As a general rule – no tactical concepts at this age at all: technical concepts (dribbling, short and long passing, and shooting) will fill your season quite nicely and prepare solid basis for their future development as soccer players. Without technics there are no tactics.
6. Limit your talk to absolute minimum. Instead of telling them why they should do one or another thing – modify game conditions to force them do it: make a field smaller for dribbling practice games – and they will be forced to keep the ball close to keep it inbounds, make a goal wider for shooting practices – and they will be more tempted to shoot from longer distances, etc. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
7. When you do talk to the kids – make sure they all stand in front of you: that way, you can see all of them and see if they are paying attention. Couple things to keep in mind: on a sunny day, face the sun yourself, that way if kids are facing you they don’t have to fight sun. If you want to assert authority – stand tall when talking to them. For one to one pep talks, consolations, etc. – kneel down: you’ll be perceived as a peer because of the shorter height and will get to them on a more personal and friendly level.
8. Coach is not a physical ed teacher: there are no tests or homeworks, there should be no lines, laps, or lectures. At this age, coach is an activity leader: all he/she needs to do is prepare games and explain the rules as quickly as possible. Trust your players – they are smarter and much more intuitive than we are anyway when it comes to games
9. To keep the games flowing – make sure you plan game restarts: keep lots of balls ready at your feet and feed them in into the field of play.
U8 practice season organization (8 weeks – 8 practices)
3. short passing
4. long passing/shooting
6. short passing
7. long passing/shooting
8. final practice – scrimmage: kids vs. adults
Usually, after fourth practice, you can adjust to what your players want: they should have their favorite games by then and will ask you to play them over and over – let them.
Dribbling is THE thing to learn/play at this age. Do not get discouraged when your passing practices “deteriorate” into dribbling battles – it’s supposed to happen. And in general – do not be afraid of things going out of order – with kids it just looks that way If they constantly have a ball at their feet and look happy and enthusiastic, and are tired at the end of the practice – you did your job
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