By Tom Hart Director of Recreational Coaching Education
No, you're going to run laps- it's a fitness day! Every practice session, every camp, and every clinic I've run in the last twenty years has had a player ask that question- and that's been my tongue in cheek answer. Many times the same player asked that question AT EVERY PRACTICE- ALL SEASON LONG! Since I've never failed to include playing the game or "scrimmaging" in my practices I wonder if previous coaches didn't include "scrimmaging"- not likely! Players gain comfort from knowing that at some point they will get to do what kids like most about soccer-PLAY! I admit that I take great joy in denying that we will scrimmage saying instead that we will have a fitness day- lots of push ups, sit ups, wind sprints, and of course running laps. The exact activities that young players DO NOT NEED! Young soccer players should (and will) get fit by playing soccer.
Every practice should conclude with "THE GAME". This doesn't mean that I divide the team in half, throw out a ball, sit back and let them go- instead I prefer playing small-sided "scrimmages" dividing my players into many teams- maybe calling it a tournament! Since most Under 6 teams play 3v3, and Under 8's play 4v4 I may play "scrimmages" of 2v2 or 3v3. 8v8 is how Under 10's play "real" games- but rarely are all seven field players around the ball at once. Usually no more than two or three are within ten yards of the ball. Playing 4v4 may be the most realistic training "scrimmage" for this age group! National Team and Professional coaches will tell you that games are decided by the 1v1 battles that occur all over the field. Playing 4v4 or less allows children many more opportunities to face an opponent "one on one". In the days of 5 year olds playing 11-a-side (with all twenty two wanting to get the ball!) the first question asked at a coaching clinic was "How do you keep them from bunching up?" Simple- eliminate the "bunch"! The value of playing 3v3 or 4v4 is undeniable- more touches on the ball, more opportunities to make decisions equals more FUN!
How long to scrimmage? Depending on the age of players: fifteen minutes (Under 6's) to thirty minutes (Under 12's). Skill training games and activities should make up the majority of a practice session. Using "games" rather than "drills" allows players to be in control of their decisions- not the coach. (Just like the real game!)
These games and activities are found in "The Parent/Coach Primer, "Assistant Coach" series U6/U8, U10, & U12, and "Peak Performance: Soccer Games for Player Development". These publications and others are available from US Youth Soccer. Visit our website: www.youthsoccer.org or call 1 (800) 4- SOCCER.
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