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Coaching Youth Soccer
(also known as Herding Cats)

Quick links: Team Player , Sportsmanship , Having Fun , Basics , Practice , Practices - Warm Up , Practices - Fundamentals , Practices - Scrimmage , Practices - Cool-down , Drills , and Glossary .

More and more you see parents "losing it" at youth sporting events:  Competition: Friend or Foe?

Before I get started, let me first say: I'm in no way a professional soccer coach or player! Back in '97, my daughter's team at the local YMCA needed a volunteer coach. From then on, I was affectionately called "Coach Mom."

My son, daughter, and myself

I created this page for other parents that face the same situation that I did - "I've volunteered to coach, now what? Gulp."

This page is geared for the volunteer coach for kids up to ten (or so) years old. When the kids get much older than that, well, stay tuned.

Coming up with drills for soccer practice is tough and having a co-coach or a parent help you is ideal so that you can run drills, and keep flying balls from whacking your non-soccer-playing children in the head while they poke in the dirt in front of the goal.

So here we are ... nervously facing another soccer season and wondering what drills would be appropriate for our teams, right?

Many of the kids that join your team have never participated in sports before and it is up to you to give them a great athletic experience. The goals for these kids should include:

Learning to be a Team Player

There is no 'I' in team.

In order for a team to work well together, every player must feel good about their own skills. It is important for players to feel good about each other and about the team as a whole. There cannot be any stars or glory hounds on the team. Players should trust each other and show up for games and practices, and to always try their hardest. Well, yeah, in a perfect world this would be true.

In the real world, practice is usually after school and the kids can be hungry, tired, bored, etc., and it is your job as a coach to manage each child's own needs. If you have a player who is ADHD or ADD, then use this knowledge for power. Have this child set out the cones, retrieve the ball, or run the field twice. Why? Explain to him/her that, "You do such a good job that I'd like for you show everyone how to ____."

At this age, these kids will not remember what they did at practice -- they will remember how you treated them.

When a player scores, congratulate him/her with a handshake, and also compliment the players who got the ball to him/her. This promotes teamwork.


Plainly said, this is positive behavior (see: RESPECT) on the field. Here are some tips:

Have Fun!

This isn't a job. You aren't being paid to come out on this dusty field and motivate and train these kids! You are volunteering your time because you care. Either your child is on this team, or you are participating in this experience because you have something to offer.

If you find that practices are becoming a burden, then lighten up! Take the kids to the court and play basketball! It promotes teamwork. Change the rules a tad and allow the kids to make up a drill.

Lastly, you need to have fun too. The kids take their cue from you.

Now, kids this age only need to be taught the basic skills. These are:

Now, all you have to do is design your practices around these items and you have it made!


The goal lines (also called "in-lines") mark the end boundaries of the field and the touchlines mark the side boundaries. The ball is in play until it crosses beyond these lines. When the ball goes out of bounds across a touchline, it is brought back in play by means of a *throw-in (*more on this later). When the ball goes out of bounds across a goal line, it is brought back into play by means of a *goal kick or a *corner kick (*more on these later). A large rectangular area extending in front of the goal defines the penalty area. Defending players are penalized if they commit certain infractions within this area. The goal area is a smaller rectangle inside of the penalty area. Players on the attack cannot come into contact with the goalkeeper in this area unless the goalie has the ball and both of his feet on the ground. A halfway line (center line or mid line) divides the field in half and intersects the center spot inside the large center circle in the middle of the field.


Each age level has a different number of kids on the field, 3-6 year-olds pretty much have whatever the coaches agree on, usually four to six kids with no goalie. 7+ year-olds do have the goalie position. 7-8 year-olds have seven on the field, 9-10 year-olds have nine on the field, and 11-12 year-olds have eleven kids on the field. There are always exceptions to this rule.

Three basic lines define a team's formation: defense, mid-fielders, and offense.

The Goalkeeper (Goalie or Goal tender) generally remains near the goal he is defending. He must move quickly to steal crossing passes or to stop or tip away shots taken by the opposition. By rushing nearby ball handlers, he tries to cut down the angle at which they may shoot; moving closer to an opponent before he shoots the ball, a good goalie can either block the shot, or, more often than not, make the player shoot wide of the goal posts. The goalkeeper is the only player who may grasp or touch the ball with his hands and arms. When he controls the ball in this manner, he may elect to kick it far down field or throw it to a teammate in order to start an attack the other way.

Starting the Game

A coin toss by the referee (or coach for under 5 teams) is used to determine which team kicks off to start the game. The teams will then alternate kickoffs to start the following quarters.

At the start of each quarter and after each goal, the ball is put in play by a kickoff from the center mark at midfield. The kicker must kick the ball forward and may not touch the ball again until someone else (from either team) touches it. Players from the non-kicking team must stay outside the center circle until the kicker has kicked the ball. Players from the kicking team may start inside the circle. A goal may not be scored directly from a kickoff.

One strategy for kick off is having the player kicking off to kick the ball gently forward as a lead pass to a teammate to maintain team control rather than blast it towards the opposing team. Of course, this can back fire if the teammate being passed to isn't aware that the ball was meant for him.

Out of Bounds

When the ball crosses a touchline or goal line, it is considered out-of-bounds and must be put back into play. It's important to remember that the entire ball must cross the line to be out of bounds - if part of the ball is still touching a line, play continues uninterrupted. A player is permitted to move off the field to play a ball that is still in-bounds.


When the ball goes out of bounds across a touchline, the team that touched it last loses possession. The other team puts the ball back in play with a throw-in from the point nearest where the ball went out. The player taking the throw-in must stand out of bounds - you know - BEHIND the touchline - with both feet on the ground and throw the ball into the field with both hands from directly over her head.

The thrower is not permitted to touch the ball again until after some other player (from either team) touches it. The player is not allowed to throw the ball directly into the goal. Throw-ins should occur rapidly, catching the other team off guard if possible. They should be directed to an open teammate, preferably down the sidelines and away from your own goal rather than toward the middle of the field or toward your own goal.

Goal Kicks

When the attacking team kicks the ball out of play across the defending team's goal line, the defending team puts the ball back into play by means of a goal kick. The ball is placed in front of the defending team's goal within the goal area and is kicked away from the goal by a defender to restart play. Players from the attacking team must stay at least three (3) yards away from the ball until it is kicked. The kicker may not touch the ball again until after it is touched by another player. The kicker should direct the kick toward the side of the field rather than the center. A goal may not be scored directly from a goal kick.

Corner Kicks

When the defending team causes the ball to go out of play across their own goal line, the attacking team puts the ball back into play by means of a corner kick. The ball is placed within the corner arc at the corner of the field (where the goal line and touchlines meet) nearest where it went out and is kicked by an attacker to restart play. Defending players must stay at least three (3) yards away from the corner until the ball is kicked. A corner kick can lead directly to a goal but the kicker may not touch the ball again until after it is touched by another player (from either team).


A penalty kick (penalty shot), a direct free kick, or an indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team for most fouls.

A penalty kick is shot from the penalty spot (12 yards in front of the goal) with only the goalkeeper defending. A player is given a penalty kick when an opposing team member commits one of eight deliberate fouls against a player within his own penalty area:

A direct free kick is awarded, from the point of the infraction when one of these eight fouls occurs outside the penalty area. Defenders may elect to line up shoulder-to-shoulder, no closer than ten yards away, to form a wall to block the free kick shot at their goal. After the kick, if no score was made, play resumes uninterrupted.

An indirect free kick must touch at least one other player before entering the goal. It is granted when an opposing player employs dangerous play (kicks the ball out of the goalie's hands, pushes a player without the ball, or strikes an opponent), exhibits unsportsmanlike conduct, or is offside.

Offside is called when an attacker without the ball enters the opponent's half of the field before the ball does. There are four exceptions to this rule:

  1. When two or more defenders are nearer their goal line than the offensive player;
  2. When the offensive player moves between the ball and the goal line after a teammate kicks the ball;
  3. When the ball was last touched by a defensive player: and
  4. When the offensive player receives the ball from a throw-in, corner kick, goal kick, or drop ball.

For excessive or dangerous fouling, the referee may take out a player. For subsequent fouls by the same player, the referee may choose to eject the player from the game with no substitution allowed.


You should plan ahead for each practice because there should be very little time for sitting and talking. If you have behavior problems, it will happen when the kids are standing in line waiting on their turn at the ball. I'm so guilty of this. It is so much easier to herd up the kids and talk and talk and talk while the kids point out cloud formations or sprinkle each other with dirt or grass.

U8 team back in 1998

Practices should reflect the needs of the team as both individual players and as a group.

If you are coaching alone (gulp) then ask for help from the parents! Just make sure that they know that you are the coach and that you call the shots. Many of the dads just couldn't stand idle on the sidelines during practice, so they offered me help. Given, I probably had the pity-factor with my two young sons clinging to each of my legs while I blew my whistle and screeched, "Don't forget where your zone is!"

Practice can be broken down into four basic areas:


At the beginning of every practice, circle the kids around and do warm-ups. Stretching exercises and running allow the muscles to limber up. If the child doesn't like to run, then too bad! Unless you are goalie (and all kids want to be goalie), soccer is 95% running. Get the kids conditioned!

This part is fun for me. I have the kids stretch out their leg muscles (front and back), tummy muscles, neck, and arm muscles. Next, I get the blood circulating with a something similar to jumping jacks. Squats are great stretches too.

Fundamentals of the Sport

Decide on what skill that you would like to teach the kids. Go down to "Drills" for more on this. During the first practices, concentrate on passing, dribbling, trapping, and throw-ins. Demonstrate to the kids how to do the skill correctly, and if you goof up (like I do all the time), then do it again!


There should be a scrimmage for the players to practice the new skill in a game situation. Stop the players when a mistake is made that involves the new skill, correct the mistake, and then allow play to resume from the point it was stopped.


Always end the practice on a positive note. When our scrimmage is over, I ask the players to take a knee and I highlight the things the team is doing well together. I go over the skill we learned and ask the kids if they have any comment. Next, we huddle together with all hands on mine and we pray -- sometimes I pray, and other times a player will lead the prayer. You don't have to pray, but I choose to since I'm representing the YMCA. After the prayer, we shout out a team cheer, and I might give the kids a treat (bubble gum, cookies, stickers, etc.). It's all up to you!

Now go out there and make me proud!


The following basic skills need to be learned: Rules, passing and trapping, shooting, teamwork, throw-ins, dribbling and control, tricks, conditioning, aggression, and goalie tips.


Goal: for each player to understand the basic rules of soccer.

Passing and Trapping

Goal: for each player to successfully and accurately pass the ball to another player.


Goal: for each player to successfully and accurately shoot the ball at the goal.


Goal: for each player to successfully work together as a team.


Goal: for each player to successfully throw the ball in from the side lines.

Dribbling and Control Drills

Goal: for each player to dribble the ball and maintain control.


Goal: for each player to learn some neat tricks to give them an edge on the field.

Conditioning Drills

Goal: for each player to have the best endurance and strength.

Aggression Drills

Goal: for each player not to be afraid of getting the ball.

Goalie Tips

Goal: for the goalie to have an edge over the other players.

For additional Goalie Tips, click HERE!

Post Script

There have been times at the end of the season when the kids are bored and they may not be having as much fun as they could - the season could be long or the losses may out-number the wins. In this case, here are some ideas to put some fun back into practice:

If you have any suggestions, drop me a line at Angel @ SouthernAngel.com!

Great links:


Cleats: shoes that have rubber or metal knots attached for better traction
Control: See definition of dribble.
Defense: the "Goalie Police" because they protect the goal and the goalie. They prevent goals, blocking shots, stealing the ball, and push ball to the side and pass upfield to an offensie player
Dribble: moving the ball forward with you feet while you control where it's direction
Fakes/Feints: this is when the ball carrier tricks his attacker by acting like he's going to go left and then he goes right.
Foul: breaking a rule like touching the ball with your hand on purpose, tripping another player, talking ugly, etc.
Goal: the net where you score
Kick: This is where you kick the ball blindly without finding a person to pass it to
Offense: also called "forwards". These guy work to score goals by taking shots, passing the ball, and working with the other forwards. Their position is up 'forward' at the midline of the field. They mostly move up with the ball, but occasionally they will follow the ball back to their side of the field so that they can get the ball and move forward.
Pass: this is a planned kick toward a teammate.
Penalty kick: if there is a foul inside the penalty box (a big no-no), the team that wasn't fouled gets to perform a direct kick in the penalty area. This is usually the kicker versus the goalie (Not sure if this is used for U8.
Pressure: This is when a defender sees an opponent (dude) coming in our defender's zone and the dude goes to our sweet spot to wait for his teammate to pass him the ball so he can score. Our defender then should get in dude's way and pressure (move) him toward the OUTSIDE of our goal.
Punt: a kick where the ball is dropped by the kicker onto the kicker's foot and then he kicks it to high all the way up to Mars
Scrimmage: This is a game the team plays with itself or another team. It doesn't count as wins/losses, but just for fun and practices
Sportsmanship: playing fair and enjoying a game, no matter who wins or loses. No bragging, no tantrums, etc.
Teamwork: playing together as a team, encouraging and supporting all of your teammates

Stay tuned for more SouthernAngel's sports!

Copyright © 2005-2018, Angela Gillaspie, All Rights Reserved
Revised: 09/08/04 - 05/16/18
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