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How to Plan Youth Soccer Training Sessions

by Coach Kurtis

There is a common saying in soccer today that it is a “simple game” to play, and that the best players make the game look very simple. Up and down the country you will hear the phrase ‘play it simple’ or ‘pass the ball’ repeatedly throughout the game, instructing our young players not to take risks with the ball and develop a more simple mind-set on the soccer pitch.

Why do we encourage our players to play it simple? Why do we encourage our players to pass the ball, when the better option would be to run with the ball into the gaps or go across the defender? Our young soccer players need to be encouraged to stay with the ball and conjoin with their teammates when it’s necessary, not at every opportunity.

It all begins with the environment we create within our coaching sessions. You should create an environment where the coach and the game are teachers, and the players are forced to become ‘Thinkers’ not mini-robots.

Here are some suggestions that I use whenever I prepare a soccer training session.

Style of play  

A coach cannot put together a meaningful and progressive coaching session without having in mind how they want to play the game.

If you were to look at all the great teams in the world such as Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Ajax etc. what you will notice is that they all have a clear style of play which every coach and player at the club adheres too. You cannot coach a young player unless you have a clear vision of how you want them to play when they are an adult.

Having a clear style of play is not about having the right formation. If your soccer players have a clear understanding of how you want them to play, the formation of your side will be more of a guide for the players but not the most important aspect they should think about.

I remember reading an article that involved current Oxford United manager Michael Appleton who spoke about his experience’s when he went to Denmark to work with some coaches. He asked the coaches what formations do they use and their response was “We don`t have a formation, we have a playing style!”. He also said, “You only really set up in a formation when the keeper or the centre back has the ball, the rest of the game there is lots of overloading and rotation going on – having a style of play is more important than an actual formation.” To take a look at this article you can click here.

Recommended reading for developing your style of play/game style, Rinus Michel’s Teambuilding: the road to success and John Cartwright’s Football for the brave. 

The above is highly recommended as essential reads for beginner and advanced coaches.

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A top soccer coach understands the importance of gradually progressing their sessions throughout the football season 

Progressive planning

A top soccer coach understands the importance of gradually progressing their sessions throughout the football season. A coach should never give in to the temptation of producing random coaching sessions, which are influenced by previous and forthcoming soccer matches. The coach should always produce session plans that will help them achieve their end goal, which is their style of play. Each session should be a progression of what was previously taught, only then you will see better results from your coaching sessions. I recommend that a coach should stay on the same topic for at least 3-4 sessions, and if they feel that their players are not ready to move on then they continue until the players are ready.  Here is an example of four progressed sessions for 5-7-year-olds:

Topic: Staying with the ball

Session 1 Session 2 Session 3 Session 4
Dribbling the ball with both feet. Recap last session. Dribbling whilst using tricks. Recap previous session. Dribbling whilst using turns. Recap previous session. Dribbling whilst screening the ball.

The session plan

A soccer session plan should also be gradually progressive throughout. A typical session should contain the following 3 phases:

  • The introduction phase: In this phase, the coach should be introducing the skills that are necessary to make the session work.
  • The central phase: This phase tends to include some form of opposition or a conditioned aspect that forces the players to make a number of game-related decisions.
  • The end game: The end game is an opportunity for the coach to assess what was learnt previously in the session. The end game should not be used as a ‘treat’ for the players, as it further embeds what the players have learnt.

Each phase of the session plan should not be neglected, and should all contain an element of realism throughout. You are wasting precious time if your session is heavily reliant on drill-based learning, which consists of the following.

  • Dribbling in and out of cones in straight lines. (You don’t do this in a game, so why teach it in your session).
  • Lining up your players in cues, when performing a certain skill.
  • Continually instructing your players to perform certain actions.
  • When a particular phase doesn’t resemble ‘real football’.

If you stay clear from those situations and consider the tips I have mentioned earlier, then you are on your way to producing engaging and realistic soccer sessions.

Do you want some extra support with your football sessions? why not download my free youth football coaching guide below!

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