Info for New U8/U10 SYSA Soccer Coaches
(and a “refresher” for experienced coaches)
by Rob Bower
I just wanted to put together some thoughts as the new fall soccer season begins. I’ve been coaching youth soccer for nearly 20 years (took a decade off when my boys headed off for college and adulthood and am now enjoying it more than ever), and I can remember how it felt to begin coaching with little or no experience. It can be a little scary. It’s one thing to watch from the sidelines, and another to be out there responsible for teaching young kids how to play soccer while keeping it a fun and stress-free experience. While this is geared toward new U8 and U10 coaches, I hope others will find it interesting.
Let me say first that this information is not intended to be prescriptive. I hope you will find some useful tools and advice, but feel free to take it or leave it. While soccer comes with rules, it is a very creative game. We coaches need to be creative in solving problems and hope that the kids learn the same thing on the pitch (if you didn’t know, that’s a word for the soccer field!). I almost always prepare a brief practice outline, but it usually changes depending on the number of players showing up, skill level of players attending, etc.
A Word about the League
What is SYSA? The Scituate Youth Soccer Association has been around for many years. Learn more about it at www.sysa.org. Some of us older folks were around before we had the beautiful turf fields we have today, so we know how fortunate we are to have a great place to play (Tasca Field) and dedicated volunteers in SYSA to make it possible for the youth of our community to play recreational and competitive soccer (known as “football” outside the United States). Nearly 300 boys and girls participate in the fall soccer program in Scituate. And more than half of those participate in winter and spring competitive soccer.
Don’t stress about the first Saturday of fall soccer. Coaches and kids just show up at the appointed times and have fun. The SYSA board members and volunteers have it well organized, so there is little preparation necessary for the coaches. You will pick up everything you need at the coach check in tent, including a roster for your assigned team, a game ball (different sizes for different age groups), and fall rules. Aside from these “house rules” that may vary by age group, SYSA follows FIFA Laws of the Game, which can be found on-line. You don’t need to read it all (it’s 210 pages), but it has a lot of interesting information which will be useful if you stay involved in the game. Coaches for U10 and above should at least familiarize themselves with the offside rule, which can be confusing. The kids should wear comfortable athletic shorts (team shirts and socks will be distributed), shin guards, and shoes with rubber cleats (metal tears up the field and will also not be allowed in competitive soccer on the indoor surfaces and outdoor fields). Parents may ask about athletic supporters, and not the kind that cheer you on from the sidelines. They are recommended, and there are versions designed for both boys and girls (hard cup not necessary unless you are also a baseball catcher).
At the assigned game times on opening day, coaches will gather their teams on one side of the assigned field with spectators on the other side (as marked). At this point you may not have much idea about the skill level of each player, so listen to the kids’ preferences for where they want to play and encourage the more experienced players to help educate the first timers. In any event for the young kids you want them all to play in different positions (including goal keeper). Rotate in substitutions so there is equal playing time for all. And change out the keeper after each quarter. Each coach develops his or her own style, but the best training advice tells us to coach in a way that teaches the kids to learn to organize themselves and make decisions as a team. The youngest kids at first often resemble a hive of bumble bees buzzing around the ball. But don’t worry. That will change over time with patience and good coaching! The most important thing is that they have fun!
On opening day you will be asked to select regular weekly practice sessions. If at all possible arrange two training sessions per week. It can be difficult, because the coach’s schedule is just as busy (if not busier) than that of the other parents. I recommend no longer than 90 minutes for U10. An hour may be enough for U8. You want each kid to get as many touches on the ball as possible each practice session, but you also need to be sensitive to parents who are trying to find time for dinner, kids’ homework, etc. So stick as closely as you can to your advertised practice times. It’s best to practice at the same time as other teams in your age group, so you can work together as appropriate and have some time to scrimmage. Much of the training in practice should focus on developing skills (dribbling, passing, and shooting). Don’t feel like you have to invest in cones, pinnies, etc. Fine if you want to, but the more experienced coaches will have them. A basic rule of thumb is to move from basic warmup exercises and games to small sided games and finish with a full scrimmage. The trick is to keep it fun while teaching the basic skills of dribbling, passing, and shooting. And be careful not to dominate with a lot of verbal instruction. Instead, stop play occasionally to make quick coaching points. Remember, it’s all about getting each player as many touches on the ball as possible each training session. One of my rules is that no players (except goal keepers) need to pick up the ball at all, rather keep it at the feet from getting out of the car to departure time.
Parents may ask why we don’t have physical goals set up for practice. The main reason is safety. Every year across the United States kids get injured or even killed because of improperly secured goals. So between games the goals are pulled off the fields and secured. This also prevents damaging the turf in front of goals. Portable goals and cones work fine for the younger kids. They need a lot of skill work before they can learn to bend it like Beckham.
With the increased attention to head injuries in sports, SYSA follows the new guidelines calling for no heading in games or practice for U10 and below. Learn more about concussion safeguards at: www.cdc.gov/headsup. Look for the fact sheets under youth sports/coaches.
What if it Rains?
We play soccer in all kinds of weather. Some of the best memories come from playing in the worst conditions! The only reasons for cancellation would be danger of lightning from thunderstorms or potential damage to unplayable fields. The SYSA board volunteers and refs will make the call.
Do your best to educate the parents of your players to support the kids for the best possible experience. SYSA has some good advice (including the Parents Code of Conduct) on the home page of the web site (www.scituatesoccer.net). Click on the Parents tab.
Set an example for the parents by not yelling at the referees. These refs for the fall games are just kids, too, still learning their craft. Help to educate them by asking to approach them during stoppages of play or at halftime and calmly explaining the problem. Report any serious issues to the SYSA ref coordinator. A very high percentage of youth referees quit after the first year or two because of unpleasant experiences with fans and coaches. Let’s not be party to that so we can develop and keep good referees.
A Final Word
When I was a kid growing up in the Midwest, I didn’t have the opportunity to play organized soccer. I played with the other shaped football. I’m all for encouraging kids to go wherever their passion leads them in the many youth sport opportunities. But please help spread the word that recreational soccer is a great foundation sport for whatever athletic opportunities they pursue. And who knows, maybe the kids you coach will get hooked for a lifetime of fun with the round football.