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Practice Strategies in Youth Coaching

Updated: Nov 22, 2021

What are some practice strategies that you use with older players that you can bring to your youth practices?

Things are finally back to normal for kids' outdoor sports this Fall. Due to the pandemic and all the uncertainty that surrounded it I had almost a two-year break from coaching my kids' sports teams. Despite how hectic it usually makes the week I really did miss the energy kids bring to those practices. Luckily, I had the opportunity to coach one of my kids' U8 Soccer teams and it's been fun. Now that we are a few weeks into the season and I've had to brainstorm a few practice plans I started thinking about what practice elements I use with High School athletes that I could employ with the young kids.

There are certainly lots of things that you probably do differently with young kids than high school athletes. Anyone who has coached their kids' youth teams knows that you need to bring the energy, be insanely positive, and have a ton of patience with their silliness. If you're going to get kids to respond to you I thought that kind of advice was sort of common sense. What I wanted to focus on in this article was more of the strategic element of designing practices. As experienced coaches (or not) with older athletes what are the strategies we can bring to practice that will help players better understand the game.

I threw the idea out on Twitter, there were a few great ideas in there. Check it Out:

1. Recreate Game Conditions -

We need to find ways to recreate game scenarios, even if that means doing it in small-sided fashion. If we want them to recognize these opportunities on gameday then we need to work on them in practice. I will also think that practices filled with these kinds of scenarios will be better than 1/0 drills done with no context.

  • Short on Players? Then Reduce the Scenario

  • If they don't execute well, then Play it Again

2. Use Multiple Players Whenever Possible -

If we are going to use a concept that does not involve defense then let's try to get multiple players involved in the action. Even if it is something as simple as a player with the ball with a partner, it will be more game like than just the single player with the ball.

  • Have players get used to using their teammates

  • Have players get used to working versus defense

3. Simplify Game Theory -

As the season moves on we need to weave in simple strategic concepts. These can be something as simple if/then statements for them to comprehend. I think sometimes we underestimate kids' ability to comprehended concepts. The example that came to mind is getting players to pass the ball to one another. We have to recreate that situation in practice over and over - and as we weave in the game situation aspect we can help them recognize those opportunities.

  • Players on Offense: One has Ball, Other Cut Towards Goal

  • Players on Defense: One Defends the Ball, Other Drops Towards Goal

4. Pause, Ask Questions, Play it Again! -

As your players are competing in practice don't be afraid to stop play and ask questions. We're not talking about an extended conversation, but a simple, "what do you see?", "what else could you have done?", "where should your teammate be?" Once that quick Q & A session is done, let's play it live again. This approach allows them to keep playing and also have a chance to recognize an option they did not choose.

  • Perhaps they missed an open teammate, replay it

  • Or made a fixable strategic error, replay it

5 - Build Throughout the Year -

Let's make sure that we are building throughout the season. We shouldn't be doing the same drills in week 8 that we were doing in week 1. We need to continually add to their cognitive load each week. These additions do not have to do large, but simply building on the skills and concepts that we started the season with.

  • Passing (Week 1) - Stationary

  • Passing (Week 2) - Pass & Move

  • Passing (Week 3) - Receive the Pass, Dribble then Pass

  • Passing (Week 4) - Give & Go Towards the Goal

Concluding Thoughts -

These are all strategies that good coaches use with the older athletes, but are equally as important to bring to the practice setting with younger ones. Ultimately, the goal with younger athletes is to have fun, have a good experience, and develop a love for the game. Coaches play a critical role in making that happen. If we can accomplish that first goal and also find creative ways to improve the players' skills and understanding of the game then we are creating the right kind of environment.

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