Plan in advance

It doesn’t need to be a professionally designed coaching plan with photos and diagrams. Something very simple with a few notes will suffice but make sure you layout what you will be working on so that you can follow it and don’t need to worry about coming up with drills during practice. Take the stress out of practice and plan in advance, it will only take you 15 minutes or so the night before.

Check your equipment

There is nothing worse than turning up to practice and realising you don’t have enough soccer balls or cones (if possible, have at least one ball per player). Check your equipment the night before practice and make sure you have everything. Make sure you inflate any balls that are soft (this will save you wasting time doing it just before practice) but don’t make the mistake of inflating the balls so they are rock hard; players hate that.

If you have pop-up goals then great, if not you can use cones as goals. If you don’t have a whistle already, buy one! They are a couple of dollars and make it so much easier to stop play and get the attention of your players as opposed to shouting. Again if you don’t have at least one set (10 is enough) of pennies, go and buy some. You will need them to differentiate the teams in scrimmage and small-sided games.

Start with a simple, fun warm-up

No need to do anything complicated but make it fun. Get all the players together in a line and have them jog across the field; make sure you join in with them and have them do different things like jog, run, skip, kick their heels up behind their back, knees up in front to hands, sidestepping and any other things you can think of to get them moving.

You can find plenty of ideas online but make it a fun 5-10 minutes to get them smiling and prepared for the practice ahead.

Base practice around small-sided games and a scrimmage

3v3 is ideal but you can change the numbers slightly depending on the turnout. For example, if you have 12 players then you can split them into 4 groups. Have them play games of 10 minutes in duration and rotate to play against another team. This will give all teams 3 games so 30 minutes of 3v3 small-sided practice. Incorporate touch limitations (3 touch for example) along with points for 5 consecutive passes to keep players motivated (you can use goals if you want to but for small-sided games it is better to focus on passing and possession rather than scoring in an actual goal).

The benefits of small-sided games cannot be emphasised enough; players get lots of touches on the ball, it replicates game-day situations and they get used to lots of passing and movement off the ball. Encourage them to use both feet; they will thank you for it in 5 years when they are comfortable with either foot. After small-sided games, move into a scrimmage with all players split into two teams.

Focus heavily on coaching your players to be comfortable on the ball

The biggest problem we see at weekends when watching kids/youth soccer is players rushing or panicking when they receive the ball. Explain to your players that you want them to concentrate on slowing down in practice. If someone tackles them or takes the ball away, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that they get used to relaxing on the ball and not rushing into a pass or just kicking it anywhere.

Professionals make it look as though they have all the time in the world because they are so comfortable in possession. Kids aren’t professionals, obviously, but that doesn’t mean you can’t teach them to relax, control the ball and look up before making a pass. It is a simple procedure; receive, relax, look up, pass. Your team will reap the rewards over time but more importantly, the individual players will benefit hugely.

Don’t make the mistake of stopping practice every 2 minutes

There is nothing worse than a coach who blows his whistle and jumps in to stop practice every time a player makes a bad pass or does something wrong. Allow your players to simply play, make mistakes, get things wrong and lose possession. It’s no big deal! We learn from our mistakes and need to make them to understand where we are going wrong. Players hate being interrupted every few minutes; how can you expect them to enjoy playing and keep focused if you continually interrupt? Just let them play.

During small-sided games or scrimmage, simply make a few mental notes and keep them in mind to discuss during a break or at the end of the session. If you don’t remember things well, keep a little notebook and pen in your pocket throughout the session.

Always end the session positively; in fact, be positive throughout the WHOLE session

No kid will ever respond well to criticism. Be positive throughout the whole session and resist the temptation to point out individual mistakes. Instead, speak to the team as a group and focus on things they did well, “Your movement today was fantastic, well done everyone. If you can work on slowing down when you receive the ball and not rushing to pass, we will improve as a team. Great job, now let’s look forward to this weekend’s game!”