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.