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Modifying Youth Soccer

By Tom Hart, Director of Recreational Coaching Education US Youth Soccer

"Tradition", "Because we've ALWAYS done it that way", "By the book", "Same as last year!" , "That's the way I played the game", "Because the FIFA Laws say so!"
If you've been around the sport of soccer for more than ten years you may remember a time when six year olds played eleven a side- twenty two kids and one ball. The first question asked in a coaching clinic was almost always "How do I keep them from bunching up?" It was played 11v11 because that's the way adults played! Little thought was given as to 11v11 being appropriate for very young players- soccer was played with eleven on a team because the rulebook said so!
Now we know that eleven a side is not the best way for young players to learn the game. We solved the "bunching up" or "beehive" problem by simply eliminating the bunch! US Youth Soccer recommends 4 a side for players under age eight (without goalkeepers) and nationwide under ten's play no more than 8 a side- definitely allowing more opportunities to touch the ball.
HOLD IT RIGHT THERE!!! We can't play 4v4 for our under eights- we'll need more coaches! That's not a philosophical problem- it's administrative. If we want to provide what's best for the youth soccer player we need to implement the small sided game. Finding enough coaches is a separate problem. Or is it?
If you are currently playing 8v8 for U8 you probably carry a roster of eleven or twelve kids. This means a nice group to hold practices with, but as many as four subs for a match. Four players (and their parents) waiting to play. With participation a priority in soccer for young players, we need to MAXIMIZE their playing time. Lets modify the game to allow for more kids to play with the ball!
Keep our team (and coach) as it is. No changes to roster needed. Our twelve-player team will play 4v4 and love it! Mark out TWO small 4v4 fields side by side in the space you were using for one 8v8 field. (Leave a space for coaches and subs between the fields.) When Saturday rolls around we'll play TWO 4v4 games AT THE SAME TIME. Rotate players from field "A" to "B" to "sub" and so forth. WHAT? HOW CAN I COACH TWO GAMES AT THE SAME TIME? Exactly! You can't- and that's the beauty of this method- half the "coaching" from the sideline. Coaches need to do their teaching in practice- the game belongs to the player- LET THEM PLAY! What happens if I only have seven show up on Saturday? Simple- play one game 4v4 the other 3v3.
Want more? US Youth Soccer has the "Assistant Coach Series" (available for Under 8, Under 10, and Under 12's) and "The Peak Performance: Soccer Games for Player Development each has many games and activities that will enhance and enliven your practice sessions. These and many other resource materials are available on the US Youth Soccer website: or by calling 1-800- 4 SOCCER .


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