Teaching Kids Soccer – A Parent’s Role

Soccer Champions Grow In Your Backyard

Have you ever watched youth soccer games and noticed a few players who really stood out as talented? Did you watch with amazement as they dribbled through the crowd of defenders and then finished with that perfect shot?  The fact is that all sports, not just soccer, have certain athletes that just seem to amaze us.  We as parents want out kids to develop as well, but how do we start? How do we get them to improve?  The answer may be right outside your window in your backyard.

The common thread among great soccer players….

First, let’s take a look at Tiger Woods. Wait a minute, why a golf player? Because his name is known world wide and we can all relate to his story. For most of his developing life who was his coach and trainer?  Who was his only putting coach as he progressed into the Pro years? The answer to both was his dad, Earl.
Was Earl Woods a professional golfer? Not at all, he was a career Army man that had a passion for the sport.  He loved golf and he loved his son.  He was able to blend time spent together and building a passion for the game, with learning and improving.  Much of this time was right in their backyard “messing around”, having fun and exposing a child to new skills and thoughts.  There were hours and hours of performing repetitive skills in the form of games and challenges. The same applies for so many great soccer players of our time and we as parents can learn from this example.

Parents are the key…

Ask any great soccer player who played a major role in their soccer growth and 90% of the time the answer will be “Mom or Dad”. When we developed the SoccerU series we specifically had this in mind.  Whether it was the level of support or the time at night and weekends spent in the back yard just “messing around”, parents are often the engine behind developing talent, not the coach.

Each night I drive by our local public fields and sure enough there is a parent and child on the field working on skills or just “messing around” together.  These small little sessions play such a major role in a youth player’s development, I can’t stress them enough. Last year I worked with several former Division One college players and the same was true. Their “parents” were the reason they were able to achieve such success.  None of these parents were “pro soccer players” so how did they help that struggling child?  I will explain.

Watch your next few soccer practices…

Let’s say that a young soccer player, over their development cycle, needs to learn and master 75 core skills. These will include everything from learning the difference between an offensive header and defensive header to receiving a pass under pressure and proper first touch. Whether the skill is basic like dribbling or advanced like performing a volley kick, each of these individual skills must be shown, taught and practiced repeatedly.  However, you’ll notice that over the course of a soccer season players may only learn one to four new skills. Often after learning them, they seldom return to practice them in a repetitive session.   At that pace they will hit the “competitive level” without ever really refining all the core skills.

Now, don’t go blaming the coach…

The first thing you realize when you become a soccer coach is that you are missing one thing, TIME.  Working in the “group” means that all the players must be trained together.  All their levels of skills, behavior and learning must be viewed as a whole, and one on one / individual training is almost never done.  One to three hours a week for few weeks in the spring and fall is simply not enough time.  You are also supposed to get this “motley crew” to play together as a team and hopefully win at least one game.

You will quickly see how many youth soccer players can hit the middle school and even high school level with very few refined technical skills.  As players get older the focus switches to “competing”. We often see less and less time spent on core technical training which is a huge mistake.

1000’s of touches and hours of repetition…

Charlie Cook, the director of Coerver Training US, emailed me last year.  He was reflecting on watching the national team and a player that received a long air pass. The player, with out any effort, gently touched the ball once and killed it into his path.  “An amazing sight to see.” However he quickly pointed out that this was not a god given talent.  This player was not born with this touch nor did he learn it by just “playing the game”.  He learned it by practicing it over and over.  Thousands of touches and repetition until this skill was a part of his nature, “instinctive”.  His point was clearly made. To have a skill become “natural or instinctive” it must be repeated over and over until we no longer have to “think about it”. It becomes a habit that the player performs without thought.

This is where the back yard begins…

We, as parents must become teachers. We must be able to identify skills in their raw form and learn how to perform them correctly ourselves. We then must be able to tell and show a child visually how to properly perform the skill. After many short repetitive sessions it will eventually allow them to feel it and let it become part of their nature.  Until we do this, it will never become an instinctive habit.

Parents however, sometimes feel “lost” and don’t know where to begin, how to progress or even how to teach these skills. You do not have to become a “professional soccer player”. You simply must learn to teach what your child will not be taught during the “normal development cycle” of their soccer career.  Hence the 10 hours of skills breakdown on SoccerU.

Watch out for the frustration…

A simple warning for parents is to be aware that younger players often become frustrated easily.  Our goal is to keep it fun and make sure the child feels like these are THEIR sessions and not forced on them.  Keep them short and mix them in with what the child wants to do.  Maybe they want to be goal keeper, maybe they want to take penalty shots on mom or dad. Whatever it is, keep the training divided in half.  Half learning and repetition and half fun and games.  Create challenges and even have fun goals to achieve. There is nothing better than a challenge between the child and parent.

There always is a parent…

In the US pickup games and free play soccer has almost become extinct. The extra hours of needed play and skill work now has to come from the parent.  Parents often search for the “perfect soccer camp” spending hundreds even thousands of dollars on camps that might only last 2 – 5 days.  These are great for social development but offer little improvement in what the players need.

When I meet a talented young soccer player I always ask them, “Who taught you how to play?” Every single player over the past two years has responded the same way, “My Mom / Dad.”

Make sure you realize the importance of “off program” training and make sure you understand the importance of the backyard.  Cherish this time as not only soccer training, but bonding as well.  Always remember that they are KIDS first, not soccer players, and nothing says “good work” like a stop for ice cream on the way home.


The Golden Years of Youth Soccer Technical Training

One might think this information is for the “little kids” or “inexperienced coaches”, but I hope to drive home a point that all will learn from, soccer technical training often ends too early.

soccer-thinkerLet me start by going to the “top” so I don’t lose many of you that think technical training doesn’t apply to advanced players.  I will start with two examples, one with a professional player and the second a college bound player.

It goes all the way to the top.

Last year, while working on Blast The Ball and SoccerU, I was fortunate enough to spend time working with several professional players from all over the world. I will use Mac as an example. Mac is now a professional player with the MLS. I spent a couple of afternoons with him and we covered several topics, mainly striking and kicking a soccer ball.  Mac played in college, went to the USL and now is playing in the MLS.  I read a recent interview with him and it was a breath of fresh air. He was humble and grateful for his opportunities. When asked about his transition from the USL to the MLS he stated that play at the USL level was more physical and the MLS was more technical. He was thrilled to be around great teachers and coaches that could work with him to refine many of his skills.

My point? There are many creative, aggressive and physical soccer players, but when you take a look at the very best in the world, you will see very refined technical skills combined with all their other attributes. Only those that continually refine, develop and learn technical skills continue to progress.

The high school and college soccer player.

This past year I worked with many college players and older high school players. Many of the college players played at Division 1 schools and some even had a stint with some pro teams. They were mixed of male and female players. One of the high school players I worked with for over 30 hours had a great comment about the technical training we covered. “If I had this training 4 years ago, I would be going to a different (better) school right now.”  Amazingly this kid was a fantastic player; fast, tall, great creativity, top goal scorer, and more. However, he was humble enough to realize that he has so much more to learn or at least refine.

The same applied to many of the college players. When taken through some of the technical skills many admitted that they never received a “true” technical training session on many skills, even the basics. They simply had to figure it out on their own. Once I showed them the true form and took them back to the basic steps and learning, they all had the same reaction. “I wish I had this training years ago.”

Unfortunately once we get to the higher competitive levels players are focused on conditioning, physical play and tactical work.  Failing to constantly return to basic core technical training is a problem that many upper level players have to deal with.

Technical training should be the core of youth soccer development.

Unfortunately, especially in the US, we start “playing for the team” or trying to “achieve results” too early. Nothing like the coach of a 10 year old team pacing on the sidelines screaming at his players that they “stink and are playing like a bunch of losers”.  (Yes, an actual quote I heard last year.)  This coach had one problem. He wanted to win like we all do, but he placed that trait of human nature above the needs of his players.

These kids desperately needed general ball handling, dribbling and passing skills work, but you just know that the coach was spending all the practice time on conditioning, set plays and tactical work. I guess his next intended step was to coach with the “premiere leagues”.

Understanding that we are developing “future competitors” is the first step in youth development.  The best training development clubs in the world strictly limit competitive matches and focus on the player’s overall development.  It is pretty widely accepted that once a player hits the age of 16, it is hard to return and teach the skills.

There are two key factors in developing youth players.

First, is a love for the game. Street soccer, pick up games and non-adult structured soccer games help kids be creative and develop a love for the game. This environment unfortunately no longer exists in the US.  We have to keep in mind that ending all “work sessions” with fun small sided games is critical to kids walking away from all practices thinking, “I want to come back next week.”

This also applies to older players. Just because a player is “advanced” you have to remember that they really are still just a “kid at heart”. 17 year olds love to “play” and have fun too.

Second, is constantly returning to repetitive exposure of all the core skills. Instead of running laps and conditioning for 20 minutes to begin our practices, we should have players touching the ball with basic skills. Dribbling, passing, moves, chesting, heading and all the skills they actually use in a game.

I can’t tell you the number of advancing soccer players I see that struggle to perform basic moves such as pull backs, cuts and feints. They learned them a long time ago, but never practice them. Start EVERY practice the same way. Core movement drills, repeating the basic and essential ball control skills. End every practice the same way; fun, small sided games where the coach is not controlling every move.

Our teachers (coaches) are often not players.

One critical point to training young soccer players is first making sure the “teacher” understands how to teach.  When you combine recreational soccer in with the academy programs the number of coaches that never really played competitive soccer is very high. Some of our surveys had the number at 70%.  (Dad got involved because his son decided to play and the club or program needed “volunteers”.)  However, I will tell you that some of the best youth coaches I have met were not “great players”. They became great coaches because they focused on youth development and core technical training. Their focus was on “what is best for my players” and not “how do I become winning and successful coach”.  It is critical that coaches not only learn how to be a better coach, but also how to teach each individual technical skill the RIGHT way. Forget about the “winning” and focus on the “development”.

Understand the difference between Immediate and Residual training.

Immediate training includes things that we can control rather quickly but often do not last a long time. For example, at any time a soccer player can get in condition. Working out for about 4 – 6 weeks will get us into playing shape. However, once that stops or the season ends, the conditioning level goes away and we have to return to build it back up.

Technical skills however, are slowly built and refined over several years. Once they are learned, they will continue to stay with us.

A great quote from former U.S. Men’s National Team captain Claudio Reyna, “It’s possible at any time during a player’s career to get into top physical shape or to try to win every game! But you can’t teach skills to an old player. Youth coaches should keep in mind that individual skills need to be nurtured at an early age. Players who haven’t mastered the fundamental skills become frustrated because the game gets too difficult for them as they move into higher levels.”

The golden years of soccer development only happen once. This is why the SoccerU training series was developed. Focus these years on development and make sure your player(s) are being trained for the long term with skills, not conditioned for the short term to win.

Youth Soccer Training Video Released

New Ultimate Youth Soccer Training Series Released

sudvdboxshadeThe new SoccerU® training series was finally released this month and many who previewed it have called it, “The best to ever hit the market.”

The SoccerU® series is a soccer technical skill training series that contains a total of five disks and over 10 hours of soccer skill training.  It has 4 SoccerU® disks and also includes the now worldwide renowned Blast The Ball DVD, making it the most extensive series ever released.

Blast The Ball is a two hour instructional DVD that focuses solely on the soccer kick and ball flight. It takes the coach, parent and player all the way through the evolution of the soccer kick, then through full step by step training all the way up to very advanced.

The SoccerU® series is said to be more of a “field work” series that takes the trainer or player through all the essential skills needed to become an advanced and skilled soccer player.

The nice thing about this series is the broad range of topics. Instead of buying a “soccer moves” instructional video, you simply go to disk 3, chapters 4,5 and 6 and there is over an hour of soccer moves training.   With over 70 chapters in the 5 disk series, there is little that is NOT covered.

They are also offering an affiliate / soccer club fundraising program which has been a huge success for Blast The Ball affiliates and soccer clubs around the world.

The package special is being offered for a limited time at their website www.SoccerU.com and they are also offering free world wide shipping. The series is available in DVD only and ships worldwide.

Training Youth Soccer Players – Teaching Soccer Skills

A funny thing seems to happen in youth soccer. At some point we forget about basic development and start focusing on being competitive. Unfortunately this often happens too early and the results are irreversible and often permanent.

spI get many emails and questions from people about the Blast The Ball and SoccerU series. A great of them are from parents and coaches wanting to make sure that the training shown is appropriate for their age groups. It’s funny, because you can tell that many of them have ordered soccer training videos before, but were disappointed because they were too basic or not appropriate for their soccer players.

While different ages of youth soccer players learn differently, they all must be taught individual skills starting at the same place. It is a stepping process that must be done the same way, regardless of age. Will they understand the skill at a different rate? Yes. Will they be able to master the skill and take it to the field at a different rate? Yes. But remember something very important. If a soccer player has never been taught a skill the need to start at square one, regardless of age.

The stepping or learning process for soccer technical skills is simple, but must be followed. Here is an example of the building blocks.

Step One: The Raw Basic Skill

This includes the actual skill broken down to its finest points. Not just receiving a soccer ball, but what does our body do during this process? What position is our foot and leg in? Are we receiving with pressure or without pressure? Is that pressure in front of us or behind us? A simple skill like receiving a soccer ball correctly has many deep aspects that must be examined, demonstrated and performed.

Step Two: Performing the Skill Repetitively

Now that we have learned the skill, we must perform the skills over and over until our body and mind understand it as a natural and instinctive movement. No pressure, nothing to think about except the skill and how we do it perfectly.

Step Three: Adding Pressure

Now that we have mastered the soccer skill, we must now add pressure. This stage is often called “lights out” for younger players. Up until this point we had nothing to think about except for the skill. Now our mind and body must perform with a defensive player putting mild pressure on us. Now when we receive that pass, there is an incoming defender closing in on us. Can we still perform it perfectly? We repeat the skill with moderate pressure over and over. Most of the time the assisting player is told NOT to touch the soccer ball, only to let their presence be known.

Step Four: Performing the skill in a game-like setting.

Now we move the skill to a small sided game or grid with small goals. This is the “failure allowed” area. We ask the players to use the new skills in a small game and they are told that most of their attempts will probably fail. That is fine. WE WANT TO ENCOURAGE FAILURE. Remember the old saying of, “It is better to have tried and failed than to never have tried at all.” If developing soccer players are placed in a “real game like” area or setting, they will revert back to their old habits. They DO NOT want to fail in soccer game so they are hesitant to try something new that might fail. This is a VITAL step in developing skilled players.

Step Five: Praising it in a real soccer match.

During the next soccer match, stop shouting at the referee and your players. Simply be quiet and watch for a new skill used on the field. It will happen. Watch closely for a player that now receives the soccer ball with that new “away touch”. When you see it happen, shout out his name and loudly praise him. Do it so all the other players can hear. Even if it didn’t go perfectly, praise him for the effort in trying. He will GLOW as bright as sun for the next 3 minutes.

The real problem that exists in youth development is that we start to skip these phases as the soccer players get older. Is it because of pressure? Do we think the players will think we are babying them? We must fight the urge to simply run drills. Having soccer players run through drill after drill simply reinforces the “incorrect way” they now perform the skill. Regardless of the age we must start every player at the basic skill level and follow this plan.

Soccer Conditioning Running Laps

Why Are You Running Laps At Soccer Practice?

This is a question that all coaches, at all levels, should ask themselves and reflect on their soccer training sessions. For many years soccer coaches have used laps to “warm up” soccer players or increase their endurance. We should all reexamine this thinking.

Last month a friend of mine, Coach Mike, called me and he sounded a little upset.  He knew my philosophy on soccer players running laps and we had a long discussion about it earlier in the year.  Coach Mike is successful High School coach that holds a USSF “C” license and in years past has coached many youth academy teams. He is well respected and liked by players, parents and the soccer community.  While developing both Blast The Ball and our new SoccerU series I would often sit in the bleachers watching his players practice and play.

His ten year son had a practice that night and he was appalled at what he saw. There were a total of ten teams on the filed ranging from 9 years old up to 16 year old players.  A short while after the practices started he looked out at the fields and 9 out of 10 of then teams were running laps.  Needless to say his jaw dropped as he watched this spectacle.

Finally he walked over to the club’s coaching director and said, “Hey Tom, nice running club you have here.” Of course Tom looked at him strangely and said, “What do you mean?”  Mike proceeded to have an education session with him.  “Look out at the fields Tom and tell me what you see.  You have nine out of ten teams running laps. It looks like a cross country club rather than a soccer club. Don’t you think the coaches would have learned by now?”  Tom the director shook his head in agreement and told Mike that he would address the issue at the next coaches meeting.  Tom the director understood the problem but his coaches failed to truly grasp what they were doing.

One of the biggest challenges we face as youth coaches is the lack of time. We have one to two hours, twice a week for about 12 weeks to mold and shape young children and adults into well trained soccer players. There simply is not enough time.  Using ANY of this valuable time on anything other than “soccer training” is simply insane.  Every thing you do during your practice should be geared towards touches, control and improving “soccer skills”.

Here’s a great question for you.  If you have “soccer players” running laps, why do they not have a soccer ball at their feet while running?  Simply by adding a soccer ball at least we have incorporated something related to soccer. If you can’t break your old habit “cold turkey” at least change the method.

If you run laps to warm up players, why not have them pair up and run dribbling and passing grids?

10 minutes of this has the same cardio benefit as running laps, but they work on dribbling, moves, passing and receiving while exercising at the same time.   This can be setup by the players and run as soon as they get to the field. This gives you, the coach, more time to set up your sessions.  Also, guess what you can do before Saturday’s game to warm up? You got it, the same drills. The other team will be impressed that the players took control of their own warm up and looked like a truly organized team.

Are you using laps as a punitive measure?  I won’t dig deep into this subject but it is VERY clear that running laps or associating running as punishment is a very stupid move.

Conditioning?
Let’s face it; soccer players don’t jog an entire soccer game. They have short bursts of sprinting speed followed by recovery running or walking.  We should try and condition them for how they are going to play as well as increase their ball handing and general soccer skills.

One of the best ways to do this at any level, even the collegiate level, is the use of small side game drills or wave drills.  Here is an example.

Set up two small goals with cones, 4 feet wide, or Pugg goals about 30 – 40 yards apart.

Have the players run 1 v 1 or 2 v 2 wave attacks.

As soon as the ball goes in the net or crosses the end line, the next wave begins.

You can also make players touch the goal after shooting and then have a race back to the other end. (My favorite for conditioning.)

Keep the numbers few. This makes sure players only have a short “recovery” time in between attacks.

If you have a lot of players set up several fields.

This wave format game is ABSOLUTLEY exhausting, teaches fast attack, 1 v 1 skills, and teaches players to recover quickly after a play is finished.

If you are a youth soccer coach I want you to remember this golden rule.

When you train young soccer players you are trying to teach them things that will STAY with them for a lifetime. Dribbling, receiving, shooting, passing, heading, trapping and moves are all skills that once learned and mastered, will stay with their mind and body forever.  Conditioning leaves them once it stops.
Skills that are learned are long term, endurance is short lived.
Speed, endurance and strength are attributes we want to develop in mature competitive players, not a 10 year old that wants to have fun and learn the game

How To Kick a Soccer Ball

Curing the toe kick in youth players.
By Coach V

How many times have we heard it shouted from both the coaches and the parents? “Kick with your laces, not your toe.” Sounds like an easy request, but you must understand you are trying to change the evolution of a child. This is why so many struggle with this seemingly simply task.

While many think this is a problem for very young soccer players, 5 – 9 years old, we have seen this problem frequently in the 13 – 16 year olds as well. One of the benefits of our research while creating Blast The Ball™ is we were able to work with players at all levels from all over the world. The “not so shocking” findings to us may surprise you. There are soccer players at the most advanced levels of play that can’t perform all the different types of kicks correctly. If they can, they often can’t perform them with both feet. Understanding the EXACT and correct form is essential for the development of advancing players.

Curing the toe kick is often the first step. It really is quite easy to understand if you take the time to study the progression, the cause and the cure. We spent 18 months studying every phase of the soccer kick from 6 year olds all the way to professional players. Once we captured this “evolution” on video and slowed it down, it became quite evident why we kick with toe and the steps to cure it.

First understand how we first start to kick a ball. Very young players really don’t go into a “kicking mode”. They are simply running at the ball and when they think they are close, or their foot makes contact with the ball, they “push” their leg through the shot. They are simply trying to force the leg forward so it moves the ball. During this stage there is no “forethought” to the soccer kick. (This could be called the ‘collision’ stage.) Kicking the ball is simply an afterthought that combines with the running gate of the player.
As players mature they learn that the harder they “push through” the shot, the farther the ball goes. This seems great in their eyes, but it starts a habit that is hard to cure. Some even “push through” so hard they fall onto the ground after a shot.

Next realize another reason for a toe kick. It is the natural foot position. When we run or walk our foot changes position. At the end of our stride our toe is naturally facing down because we have just finished “pushing off” the ball of our foot or toe area. As our foot comes forward in a walking or running stride the toe naturally returns to the forward pointing position. Have someone walk across the floor. Concentrate on their foot position at the end or back of their stride and then watch as it comes forward. The toe naturally starts to swing forward and upward.
Then ask them to walk or jog with their toe pointed down as long as possible. The result is a child or adult “high stepping” across the floor like a Clydesdale horse.
The problem is that this “unnatural position” is really what we are asking them to do when we tell them to kick with their laces.
Here is a little test you can do for yourself. (Only adults are allowed to do this.)
Kick like a toe kicker. Yes, we said kick wrong. Let your foot swing through naturally just like it was a walking or jogging stride. Your foot stays very close to the ground.
Now, WITHOUT CHANGING ANYTHING ELSE, point your toe to the ground and swing your leg through again.
If you did this properly you are now cursing me. You are grabbing your foot because your toe struck the ground as you came through and you severely strained the muscles on the top of your foot. Don’t worry. There will be some minor swelling and you will limp for the next 4 days, but hey, if we ask our kids to do this, why shouldn’t we try it?

So how do we start to teach this “unnatural” movement?
We created Blast The Ball™ video and research program because much of this is hard to describe in writing. We will give it our best shot.

1- Have patience. This unnatural movement or change takes time. You will practice it and it will look good. Then, come game time, the child will revert back to the movement that is instinctive. Eventually the new kick will become a muscle memory or instinctive.

2- Start by having the child step closer to the ball. Most youth players step their plant foot well behind the ball. This causes the ball to be struck on the “upward swing” and naturally kicked by the toe. Having them step next to or even slightly past the ball forces the ball to be further back in the swing circle.

3- Practice loading the leg. We have an entire section devoted to the “soccer hop” on Blast The Ball™. It is the slight hop or large stride just before kicking a soccer ball. Just as in any sport such as baseball, golf, tennis etc, when you are going to come forward to hit a ball, you must first load or have a backswing. The entire leg will come back and with “power shooters” you will notice the load or backswing is so large that the sole of the foot almost touches their “behind”. Now instead of a “push” we are preparing to release and kick.

4- Shorten the kicking leg. No not by surgery, but by maintaining the “V” position of the leg all the way through the swing. When our leg is in the backswing and just starting to come forward, there is a strong “V” position. We want players to maintain this “V” all the way through the shot. Stand up with both feet close together. Raise the kicking hip slightly, and then bend the knee slightly. You must do both. You will notice that if you hold this position you can point your toe down and swing your leg back and forth. Your toe will not hit the ground. While the shape and size of the “V” will change through the kick, it should never totally disappear. (No locking straight leg.)

5- Start with an angle approach. We teach the many different styles of correct kicking. One is the straight kick which has no angle approach or “wrap around” leg swing. With the straight kick, the ball IS struck with the laces. However, the angle kick has an angled approach and the leg will slightly swing across and around to our front. This angle arch also allows the toe to be pointed slightly “outward” requiring less “shorting” of the leg and less chance or the dreaded “toe stub”. When working with young players, the angle kick is taught first.

6- Learn the part of the foot. When we use the angle kick, we really are NOT kicking with the “laces”. We are kicking the ball with the “first metatarsal”. In simple terms that is the bone just above the “knuckle” of the big toe. This is the largest bone in the foot and when the ankle is locked, creates a huge amount of impact force.

7- Learn to strike the ball just left of center. (For right footed kickers.) This applies to the angle kick because we are approaching the ball from an angle. Striking the ball in the center will cause the impact to be more of a “glancing blow” and create a huge amount of side spin.

One of the most important points of working with young players is to start them off in slow motion. A child only wants to do one thing, KICK A BALL HARD. Forcing them to kick slowly and gently is EXTREMELY hard. I recommend you start this exercise against a wall. If you put them 6 feet away from a wall, they will have a fear of the ball bouncing back and hitting them. This will force them to kick softer. Also, if they kick too hard they have to go chase the ball. DO NOT start this process 18 yards out from a soccer goal. Their overpowering instinct to kick it hard into the net will force them to focus on power.
Plan on this process taking 6 – 12 months depending on the child’s age. Have them practice the movements several times a week. Eventually it will become the instinct rather than the unnatural. Have patience and keep practicing.

Coach V is the author and developer of Blast The Ball™ training system and video. Their website is http://www.BlastTheBall.com
This article is the copyright © of Blast The Ball™ and is officially registered with the Library of Congress, Copyright Office in Washington, DC. It may not be reprinted or used without express written consent.

Soccer Conditioning

Soccer Coaches Get Rid of the Laps

If you can understand why running laps in youth soccer is huge waste of time you will not only be a better coach, but a better all around youth soccer trainer.

Last year I watched a youth soccer practice and by the time I got home I was still in shock.  Most of my thoughts were simply of renaming the coach to “old school” and I was also a bit angry. I wasn’t angry at the coach. He was doing what he thought was right and what had been taught to him.  I was angry at the director of coaching for this soccer club for not watching his coaches, correcting them and bringing them up to speed on the best practices / methods for youth soccer player development.

Running “laps” in youth soccer is common and done for many reasons. Some coaches use laps thinking it will condition their players. Others use laps for warm ups, while others often use them as punitive exercises for players that are misbehaving. Unfortunately all of these reasons are wrong and slightly misguided.

First look at conditioning.

Youth soccer players and even competitive players don’t run “laps” the entire soccer match. Most of their conditioning needs should be geared towards how they play. Short to medium bursts of extreme speed followed by a slow jog or walk is what they do in a game. This is what we should condition them for. High intensity 1 v 1 or 2 v 2 “wave games” are the best for conditioning players and combine soccer skills with conditioning. If you want to have them do sprints, put a soccer ball on their feet. The players should have a ball on their feet with every form of exercise.  You can increase the number of touches by over 300 each practice simply by adding a soccer ball. Do this over 20 practices and you have increased the number of touches a season by over 6000 per season. By the way, that is more touches than most collegiate players will get during games their entire playing careers. Coaches must design these drills and games so that no players are “standing in lines”. Multiple grids should be used so that players are constantly involved and on the move.

Warm ups:

With such little time available to train youth soccer players, EVERY minute of your practice should involve some form of SOCCER training.  Being prepared really helps with proper warm ups. The warm up section of your practice should include not only ball touches, but player movement as well. Have a series of drill stations set up that keep all players moving and not waiting in line. Focus on dribbling, moves and passing. Instead of your players standing in a circle passing the ball, make them move. Have them touch the ball to the middle of the circle, pass and replace the player they just passed to. Then instead of just one ball, add two or three balls so that it becomes “mayhem” in the circle. Eyes will be watching every direction and players can’t stand still for more than 5 seconds. After 5 – 10 minutes all will be breathing hard and be tired. Now is the time for a good stretch.

Punitive exercise:

Youth players should NEVER be told to run laps or perform physical exercises for misbehaving or breaking rules. This is the time for a CALM, non-embarrassing talk about the behavior. We should let the player know that their behavior is taking away from other players’ training and it should be corrected. If the behavior continues after the talk then players should sit out on more fun activities like scrimmages and small sided games. Let the player know you’re not angry, but the bad behavior needs to have some repercussions. Teaching a soccer player that running is a “negative” is a huge mistake.

Last month I worked with 2 former division one soccer players. I had them run through what I call the “Play and Puke” 1 v 1 session. A high intensity 1 v 1 session, it is extremely taxing on the players but is a TON of fun for them. After the session I asked them a simple question. “What is easier, running laps or playing this game?” The answer was unanimous but hard to hear through the gasping of air, “Running laps is a piece of cake compared to that game.”  Then I asked another question. “Which is better SOCCER training?” Again they all agreed that they used GAME skills in the game while at the same time working muscles they seldom used.

My point is simple. Running laps shows lack of creativity and understanding in a soccer coach. It also wastes valuable time and is not conditioning players for game like conditions. This is not just my theory but also promoted throughout the world of youth soccer. We often hear the phrase, “Remove the three L’s from your practices, Lines, Lectures and Laps.”  Very good advice.

While creating www.BlastTheBall.com and www.SoccerU.com we tried to get this point across to coaches, parents and players.  Conditioning is short term and only lasts a few weeks after it stops. Once it stops, it is gone forever. Technical training and skill training gets ingrained into the soccer player’s mind and body and becomes a part of them. It will stay there forever so why not combine the two. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of soccer skill related drills and games that can be used for warm-ups. Most include a soccer ball on the player’s feet or them running “off the ball”. So why on earth would you have them spend valuable soccer training time becoming long distance runners?

One of my favorite conditioning / skill games is the “Wave Game”.

How to set up the game:

Field size will vary but should be around 40 yards long and 20 yards wide.

Small goals or two cones are placed on each end.

Players are NOT allowed to shoot until they are within 5 yards of the goal.

3 to 4 players stand ready with a ball on their feet on EACH end. They MUST be ready with a ball on their feet.

The first player receives a pass from an opponent at the other end of a small field. They play 1 v 1 challenge until the ball crosses the end line, whether the ball goes in the goal or not. When the ball crosses the end line, or goes in the goal, the player that kicked the ball across the line must now recover quickly as another player waiting with a ball on the same end is taking off trying to score. The former shooter is now the new defender and must recover quickly. That 1 v 1 match up ends with a player shooting and then the next player, waiting with a ball, charges off trying to score and again the player that shot the ball must recover to defend.  This is an exhausting game / drill that will challenge even professional level athletes.

This training can now be done with in a 2 v 2 format as well. Encourage overlapping and diagonal runs when working this game in a 2 v 2 or 3 v 3 setting. Help offensive players understand that having them both “following the ball” doesn’t open up space or create fast breaking attacks.

High intensity “soccer training” creates well conditioned and skilled soccer players. Laps create good runners. Make sure you know who you’re training.

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