There’s nothing that bores a player more than a poorly planned and run practice. You can literally waste the entire practice time if you don’t know what you’re going to do every minute before you get there. A major factor in a team’s improvement during a season is organization. Practices can be very effective in improving skills, soccer savvy, and teamwork. An unorganized practice can leave kids standing around and wasting precious time and learning opportunities. Once practice starts, be prepared so that every minute is used well. Also, don’t spend too much time on instruction and too little in game dynamics.
Here are a few simple rules to follow when planning your practices that will likely result in quality time between you and your players:
1. Never try to do too much. If you try to put in your offense, defense, and goal-kick strategy on the same day, you’ll only succeed in confusing your players. Younger players like to master a skill before moving onto the next one. Overwhelming them can cause frustration. It’s best to introduce one or two new skills per practice.
2. Teach one skill at a time. It’s hard enough for young players to understand and execute one skill. If you try to do more than one, you might just be doing too much. Success can be measured through the successful execution of a few key drills rather than average mastery of a lot of skills at the same time.
3. Try to demonstrate the skill. If you aren’t skilled enough to actually show what you mean, have someone on hand that is. Most youth soccer drills are not very difficult and can be easily demonstrated, at least in theory, by even the least athletic of adults.
4. After you’ve taught it, try it. Many coaches teach a skill, and then move on to another. Youth attention spans are short and the best results are achieved when new things are still fresh in the minds of the players.
5. After trying something new, add some pressure. It’s always a good idea to let your players try a new skill with someone trying to stop them. Game-related pressure, which obviously better approximates what they’ll feel in a contest, can be added as ability increases.
6. After teaching and trying, review it again. Reinforcement is important. The best time to do that is right after you have spent time on the skill.
7. Make it fun, fast-paced, and frequently changed. Practice needs to be fun or little will be accomplished. By changing the activities and keeping things moving, you’ll find less boredom amongst the players and more learning.
Finally, don’t assume your beginning players know what you’re talking about when you mention specific soccer jargon, skills, or techniques. Kids need to learn the basics of the game, and need to have them defined for them from the beginning so use terminology they’ll all understand.
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