When coaching younger kids the first practice of the season can be the most important; not only does it give you an opportunity to begin evaluating your players, it also sets the tone for your
coaching style. I have observed that younger kids respond best to positive encouragement rather than focusing on negative areas that need improvement.
Planning your practice session can be a challenge; this brief guide will help in planning and executing your first practice of the season and starting off on the right foot.
Before your first practice
The coaching process really begins before the first practice starts. Communicating with the team parents is essential in having a productive season and ensuring the best experience possible for your team members. It’s imperative that you express your expectations for the season in a direct and approachable way. A simple letter or Email listing your priorities and expectations can be very beneficial, for example:
- A communication rule such as 48 hours’ notice if a child will miss a practice or game
- Expectations for overall attendance to games and practice
- Proper hydration
- Transportation concerns
- Field locations and directions if needed (if not available now update parents throughout the season)
- Information on Coaching style and season objectives
- Contact information for your coaching team
- You may also want to include a reminder for kids to take off jewelry such as earrings or necklaces before practice and games
Perhaps the biggest mistake made by new coaches is lack of planning. By taking a few minutes to plan your practices you will ensure that your players will get the maximum benefit from their time on the field. There are many resources available to aid in the planning process both online and at your local bookstore. I will provide you with a sample practice itinerary to get you started.
What you will need:
- Balls – generally the league that you are coaching for will provide you with several to start the season, it may be necessary to ask parents to have their child bring their own if they have one, this also adds a level of comfort for you players
- Cones – These may be purchased at any retailer and are fairly inexpensive, but will be a very important tool during your ongoing practices
- Pinnies (light over shirts that help identify team members during a scrimmage) – A simple and inexpensive way for to designate team members for a scrimmage or drill of any kind
- A whistle – Nothing gets the attention of kids like a nice loud whistle
- First Aid Kit – This may be required by some leagues
- Notepad – Make sure you can use what you observe, make notes at the end of each practice and use them to help plan the next one
Day of Practice:
Ensure you have your equipment ready and try to arrive at the field in advance to ensure that you are the first one there. If possible set up your first two or three drills in advance, this will allow for an easy transition from one drill to the next and help keep their attention
As the kids arrive try and set them at ease. Greet each member of the team and introduce yourself to both the player and their parents, have them pair off and practice short kicks and traps with another player that they do not know (this helps them start to know each other and warm up).
Team Talk: (5 minutes)
Take a few minutes to introduce yourself to the team using your name several times and have each child introduce themselves and tell the team one thing they like (book, television show, movie. etc.) The goal is to set them at ease and allow them to get to know one another.
I emphasize three rules when I coach
- Rule #1: Pay attention to your coaches during practices and games, this is a serious time during which your teammates are counting on you to do your best
- Rule #2: No talking while the coaches are speaking
- Rule #3: We are here to have fun and learn
Try to keep this as brief as possible as they will want to get started
Warm-up: (5 minutes)
A brief stretching session will help them transition into practice mode and get them prepared physically for practice.
Drill #1: Position Drill: (15 minutes)
The purpose of this drill is to refresh your players with the different positions as well as showing them how to move up and down the field while maintaining space between each other
- Preparation: Place a cone at the starting point for each position on one half of the field, making sure to follow a basic formation.
- Have the each player dribble a soccer ball to the first position and ask one of them to describe that position to the team, this should include the starting point and range of movement, try to keep this simple and move through each position
- You may want to repeat this at least once, especially if you have players that are new to the game
- Place a player at each cone and have them move up and down the field staying in their position and moving at the same time
Example of positioning for 7 v 7:
Drill # 2: Pass and Trap (10 minutes)
This drill will help you begin the process of evaluating your players basic skill level
- Demonstrate the instep pass as well as proper trapping technique
- Have the kids pair off with one ball for each pair, they should stand about 15 feet apart (short passes will display ball control skills)
- Move from pair to pair evaluating both their passing skill and trapping technique (use a parent or assistant coach to help keep them on track)
- Make sure that corrections are made in a positive way focusing on their accomplishments and emphasizing good behavior
Drill #3: Throw-ins (10 minutes)
Another drill to help you evaluate your players basic skills
- Demonstrate the proper throw-in technique to the kids as a group
- Split them up into groups of two (have them work with someone they do not know yet)
- Have them practice throwing to their partners feet with each player doing three throws in a row while the other player gives it back with an instep pass
- Again work through the groups looking for areas of opportunity focusing on accomplishment and reinforcing good behavior
Drill #4: get the Coach (10 minutes)
This is a great way to end the first practice in a fun and exciting way that will also help the kids to become more comfortable with the coaching staff
- This is a very simple drill, each player gets a ball
- The coaches run around an area of the field (half field may be best to keep them close together)
- The players try to hit their coaches with the ball (I recommend that you set a rule that the ball must be played on the ground only otherwise this can be a painful end to practice for the coaches)
Team Talk: (5 minutes)
Take this opportunity to review when and where your next practice will be. Cover any equipment requirements you may have noticed (shin pads, lack of balls, water, jewelry, etc.). You may want to do a brief review of positions at this time as well. Emphasize how much fun the practice was and bring them in for a team cheer before they go home. After you get home you can try using the Pointsbet Promo code we offer and bet on a real football match.