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There is plenty of time for young players to develop their competitive nature – but their introduction to soccer should primarily be about playing with friends and having fun.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always the first consideration of some coaches – which inspired me to develop my own mini-soccer philosophy.
In doing so, I considered their ages (often U7s-U10s) and the formats (usually 5v5 and 7v7), which allow players as much time on the ball as possible. This is crucial to the starting point of enjoyment.
Here are five key principles I now live by when it comes to coaching mini soccer.
When delivering sessions with my Under- 10s, I find a question-and-answer style keeps them engaged with the practice.
Additionally, I always try to paint a picture to bring a coaching point to life and enable players to see more clearly the situation they may find themselves in. This also allows them to discover their own solutions through play.
A non-negotiable for me – at all levels of the game, but especially mini-soccer – is that children learn how to be a good person before anything else.
For me, this means treating everyone with respect, being punctual, being polite, showing good manners and a positive attitude and always giving 100% effort. I’m a true believer in giving 100% in everything you do – it maximises development opportunities.
From the moment the players arrive, up to two-thirds of the session should be based around time on the ball. This is to develop a relationship between player and ball, and increases confidence in performing ball manipulation skills, like toe taps and drag backs.
All this will develop a player’s toolbox – eventually they will reach for the right tool for the right situation, be it correct shooting technique or beating a defender in a 1v1.
When designing small-sided games within a session, I would always encourage adding constraints in order to provide players with the opportunity to develop their responses to, and problem-solving of, in- game scenarios. This should hopefully also encourage creativity in every practice.
I ensure my SSGs are a maximum of 3v3 to give players opportunity to be on the ball. Don’t be afraid to set up with an overload, such as 3v2 – this is a great way to challenge players to think about the situation and problem-solve.
An exciting environment is a key factor to optimise player learning and give the players reason to return.
Disguise learning and development through fun social games and give players ownership of their development.
Manage player mistakes – ask them to try different solutions to problems without pressure on them to learn in the moment. Finding the right balance of player and person development is important at such a young age.