Having a structure to your practice is means to make your job as a coach simpler as well as to have the practices be meaningful and efficient. By focusing activities on a few specific points, you more easily keep the player’s attention and reinforce their progress. There are many ways to help keep a player interested during a practice. Here are a few tips:
- Keep them moving – If possible, try not to have players stand in long lines and use circles instead to make them feel more engaged.
- Keep a ball at their feet – Players become more comfortable with using their fee only if they have lots of opportunities to touch the ball.
- Change activities often – Studies have shown that attention spans are about 2 to 5 minutes for each year of age. This may seem like a lot of change, but it doesn’t have to be a completely new activity but rather an adjustment of a drill.
- Change pace – Youth players have limited aerobic capacity so mix in walking, jogging, running, and sprinting. This way they’ll stay fresh longer. Games themselves involve changes of pace and overall practices should too.
- Make sure instruction is short – Try not to over coach youth players and don’t give them too much to think about or they’ll just become overwhelmed. Teach them something and then try to demonstrate it. If a player can listen to directions and see what needs to be done they’ll be more likely to succeed in doing it.
- Let them be successful – When kids feel they’re doing well, they’ll be more motivated to try more. Stop play to make points about what they might be doing wrong but also stop play to point out good things as well. Positivity is much more powerful than criticism. Kids want to do the right things so make them feel like they are.
- Use fun drills – Nothing keeps the players attention and focus than choosing drills that are fun and build skills at the same time. Many times it’s just a matter of being creative and attaching some type of fun aspect or game to an existing skill building drill.
- Deal with behavioral problems – If a player is not listening and interferes with a drill, then that player does not get to participate in the drill and must wait out until he or she is ready to listen. For youth players, punishments of extra exercises don’t correct behavior problems but rather reinforce that extra running, for example, is a bad thing. All kids have short attention spans. Try to separate kids being kids from bad behaviors.
- Just let them have fun – Let them play and the game will likely teach them more than any one person can.
As important as it is to have structure for practices, it’s important to know when to take the “pedal off the metal” with children. Coaches often forget what it’s like to be a kid. Kids face a lot of stimulus in their lives and soccer practice should be a carefree outlet.
For some great drills and how to run a youth practice, we recommend you check out the following DVDs: