To get started, let’s first talk about “why” it’s important to make your soccer practices fun…
You’re probably thinking that “fun” and “championship level soccer” do NOT go together. Those two things seem counter intuitive, right?
Most of us think that “hard work” equates to accelerated skill development and championship level soccer. And actually that is true. Hard work does lead to championship level soccer.
However, the right amount of “fun” actually gets players to work harder and motivates them.
In fact, we’ve found that making soccer practice fun and more enjoyable is one of the most important things to do. Most coaches know it’s important but they don’t quite realize how important it really is and how it can have a profound impact on your team.
So let’s take a closer look as to why fun soccer practices will help you accelerate player development and develop better teams…
Reason #1 – Your players will work and play harder.
As we explain in our comprehensive player motivation report, making practice enjoyable is a key element to motivation. If a player wants to be there, they will naturally put more effort in the drills and practice.
All human beings are more motivated by things they enjoy. We gravitate towards things that we like. Your players need to work hard but IF they are having fun at practice you know that you will get the best out of them.
Reason #2 – Great athletes are being driven from the game (70% quit by age 13).
Just the other day I heard a story about a great high school soccer player in the Kansas area that had multiple scholarship offers. The player was an outstanding athlete. After playing soccer all his life he decided to quit cold turkey. This kid had all kinds of opportunities but he was flat out sick of soccer.
Did you know that over 70% of soccer players quit the sport by the time they are 13? And many of these players are very good athletes!
Reason #3 – Fun is the Number 1 reason kids play sports
1990 Athletic Footwear Association Survey of over 20,000 kids nation-wide asked, “Why they participate in sports.”
1. To have fun
2. To improve their skills
3. To stay in shape
4. To do something they are good at
5. The excitement of the competition
6. To get exercise
7. To play as part of a team
8. The challenge of the competition
9. To learn new skills
10. To win
Over 65% said they participate in sports to be with friends.
15% were reluctant to participate.
Only 20% want to improve their skills.
Winning was LAST.
A UCLA Sports Psychology Lab survey found the same results.
Notice how “fun” was at the top of the list and many of the items in the list related to having fun (excitement of competition, being with friends, do something they are good at, etc.)?
So if you want to get the most from your players and you want to make a positive impact on your players’ lives, then it’s clear that “fun” should be towards the top of your priority list.
Reason #4 – Your players’ skills will improve at a faster rate.
I believe the fear of failure is the single largest impediment to learning and improvement. I think that the way we teach and what we teach might help instill fear of failure of failure.
I grew up with the same work ethic that we all did, “Practice makes perfect.” Then, I was introduced to the saying that, “Only perfect practice makes perfect.” For a long time, I bought into that, full force. I was so intent on “perfect practice” that I made players afraid to act.
However, if you are too critical and always pointing out your players’ mistakes, they are going to lose confidence and play scared. It has been documented on multiple occasions that stress slows learning.
I believe that to be an effective teacher you have to remove stress from the classroom. I don’t believe in negative reinforcement, running for mistakes, placing penalties for missed shots or turnovers, or winners and losers in teaching situations. All that adds to the stress level of the players you are trying to develop. A basic effect of stress is that it narrows the perceptual field. It limits what the player is able to see, and how they form perceptions.
On the other hand, if you can find ways to get your players to ENJOY the learning process and enjoy the development process, they will develop at a faster rate. If you can encourage “self discovery”, players will develop at a faster rate.
Reason #5 – The key to skill development is repetition.
How do you improve soccer skills? It’s simple, right?
You practice that skill over and over (repetitions). Of course you want to practice the skill properly, but you must perform the skill hundreds and thousands of times. You trap, strike, dribble, and pass over and over and over and over again.
Repeating the same movement over and over is how you get better. And in reality, soccer skill is mostly about some variation of footwork, kicking, passing, and dribbling. So you’re basically doing the same thing all the time.
How many times can you really kick a ball without losing interest?
Well, you can get in a lot more reps by making drills fun. Just by adding a fun twist, you can get players repeating a skill for hours and they don’t even notice.
So one of the best ways to get your players to practice more and get more repetitions is to make the practice drills fun. Make skill development a game and make it fun. Your players will get better!
Reason #6 – Your players’ attitudes will improve.
If players look forward to practice, don’t you think they’ll have a better attitude. Of course they will because they’ll look forward to and WANT to be there.
You’d be amazed at how shifting from a strict drill sergeant environment to a more enjoyable environment will completely change the attitude and enthusiasm of your players.
Reason #7 – Your players will learn to enjoy fitness oriented activities and get in better condition.
Let’s face it. Some of the players on your team will not be superstars. Many of them just want to be part of something and have fun. Well, it’s a shame when those kids are put through a bad experience in sports. In some cases the experience can give them a negative perception of exercise and sports in general.
If you want what is best for the players on your team, those players will learn to appreciate sports and the exercise associated with them. Physical activity is good for them. It will help them live longer and live healthier lives.
The last thing you want to do is drive more kids to the couch and the video games. Be a good coach that teaches players how to compete, how to be successful, and helps them learn to enjoy sports.
Reason #8 – You will have more fun and enjoy coaching even more.
When you see your players smiling and having fun, it becomes contagious. It’s a joy to see players enjoying the development and progress they are making. Coaching is supposed to be fun. If your players aren’t having fun, I don’t know how the coach can have any fun.
Reason #9 – You could turn your entire season around.
Sometimes things get stale and you just need a change. And some coaches find themselves in a situation where players stop responding to them.
By incorporating the “right” kind of fun drills, you can literally turn around the season 180 degrees for your soccer team.
Let’s face it, soccer players are there to have FUN (especially the young ones).
But unfortunately many soccer drills are monotonous and boring. And players DO NOT want to be yelled at by drill sergeants to keep them on task!
So by simply adding “fun” twists and games to your drills, you can literally turn things around and salvage your season.
Reason #10 – Your players’ confidence will improve.
By putting your players in the right learning environment, allowing them to experience success, and getting lots of repetitions, your players will become much more confident.
We all know that confidence is very important when it comes to sports. Making the development process fun and rewarding the learning process will make your players’ confidence soar.
Reason #11 – Your players will keep working hard all season long.
This is sort of a repeat of #1. But it’s important to point out the need for long term motivation. The fact is that you need to keep players motivated all season long.
It’s much easier to keep them motivated the entire season if you mix in fun drills and games. Practice and the drills can get boring after a long season. One of the best ways to spice things up and bring some excitement back into practice is by making the drills fun.
How to Keep Your Practice Fast Paced and Fun
Ok, so hopefully we’ve hammered home the fact that making practice fun is important and it will improve your team and help you develop more skilled players.
Now let’s go into some techniques to spice up your practice and make it more fun…
The first (of four components we’ll cover) is “making your practices fast paced“.
Kids enjoy fast paced drills and practices. They don’t like waiting around and they lose focus when things are moving slowly. So you must keep them moving at all times.
Your players should not be standing in lines waiting. They should move from drill to drill efficiently, and they should participate in drills that are highly active and fast paced.
Kids love to stay active and keep moving, so it’s imperative that you structure a practice that is fast paced and fun.
Here’s how to keep your practice fast paced and fun…
Plan Ahead of Time
The #1 key here is preparation. You must have a well thought out practice plan.
If you don’t already use a written practice plan, start now. This will allow you to keep things moving quickly and keep your players on track.
Transition to New Drills Quickly
This goes back to preparation. You need to have a plan and know exactly what drill is next. The last thing you want to do is have to think in between drills and try to figure out what to do. Get everyone running to the next spot and keep things moving.
Choose Drills That Are Fast Paced
Kids enjoy drills that require them to run around and be active. Things like dribbling through cones and kicking to each other or against a wall are great ways to keep them moving.
Use Multifaceted Drills
It’s more fun to use drills that incorporate a variety of skills. For example, a drill where kids dribble through cones, pass, and shoot is more entertaining than a simple passing drill. Not to mention a better use of practice time.
Consider Using Stations
Stations work great for a large group of young players. Simply set up stations on different parts of the field with a coach or parent at each one.
Split the team into small groups and explain how each station works before letting them have at it.
When the time expires, the whistle goes off and the kids rotate clockwise to the next station. If you have 6 stations, then it takes about a half hour to complete the entire sequence. You can experiment with the time, but with large summer camps, we have found that 4 minutes is just enough time to demonstrate the drill and let the kids practice for a few minutes.
Kids really love it because things are constantly changing and moving quickly.
Use Assistant Coaches or Parents to Serve as Passers and Rebounders.
Some drills move faster if you have some capable helpers to keep things moving, so put your assistant coaches and parents to work for you to keep practice flowing as smoothly as possible.
Keep Everyone Busy. NO Waiting in Lines!!!
Standing in lines = BOREDOM! Your players should be getting lots of touches and reps or they’re going to lose focus FAST.
You’ll need to choose drills that complement the number of players and balls that you have, but there will be times when you have an activity that doesn’t allow for participation of the entire group.
If you have some drills where you just can’t keep everyone occupied, give your players “busy work” drills that can be done on the side with little supervision.
Here are 10 ideas for “busy work” drills and/or activities to keep your players active and learning at all times.
- Pass back and forth
- Shoot against a wall (if you have access to one)
- Small sided (like 2 on 2) games
You can almost always come up with the right combination of drills to keep everyone busy.
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