Younger Players - Introduction

At a young age, when they first start playing, children's love (or not) for the game will be cemented largely by how much fun they have and how much they enjoy the sessions you put on for them. In terms of their footballing (and general sporting) development and providing a solid grounding, there are also certain simple ideas we've included below, that can make an enormous difference. It's also worth having a look at some of the information we've included on how children learn, being a creative coach and planning training sessions, as some of this is particularly relevant to younger players.

We've included some games and exercises specifically aimed at young players, but you will find plenty of other "drills" elsewhere on the site that also suit younger players or can be adapted to do so. Use the search facility to find any sessions we've tagged as being suitable for your age group.

Adam Stretton, our Head of Mini Soccer, has also written a useful article about communicating with younger players that you can read here...

Make It Fun!

It should go without saying that absolutely, 100%, the most important thing with young players is to make sure the sessions you put on and your approach to your players allow all of them to enjoy themselves and have fun. If they're having fun, feeling good about themselves and gaining in confidence, then they'll want to come back next week.

Don't Talk Too Much!

The natural way to try and get your point across for many coaches is to talk to the players. This is fine, in moderation, but remember the attention span of a 7 year old is going to be very short. They're here to play football, to have fun and to run around. So long "team talks" where you tell them what you want them to do and they stand around having to listen is never going to be effective in terms of getting your points across. They've switched off within 15 seconds in most cases.

Instead, show them what you want them to do, demonstrate yourself or with the players, or just let them play and then step in and make individual points to players one by one. Less standing around and more football.

Developing the ABCs (Agility, Balance, Coordination and Speed)

The things you expect your players to be able to do on the pitch in the long term simply can't be executed effectively if they don't have a good all round athletic ability in terms of agility, balance and coordination.

Putting aside part of your training sessions for simple games (tag, British bulldog etc.) helps to develop spacial awareness, running, jumping, skipping, dodging and so on - these are all fundamental movements of football and benefit young players' development enormously. These games make for great warm ups and can usually then have a ball introduced to link them to football.

Lots of Touches (with both feet)

At this age, the neural pathways that allow "muscle memory" to develop are being strengthened with repetition of certain tasks. Look up "myelin" if you're interested in the science behind this. People who end up being really good at something are largely the ones who have done more of it, in the right way. "The Talent Code" by Dan Coyle is a short, very readable book worth looking at with regard to this topic.

So running a training session where the players stand in a line and take it in turns to take one shot at goal is not going to develop good players. Make sure they are getting lots of touches of the ball, in lots of different situations (left foot and right foot).

Small Groups

This fits in with the above. When playing matches or running training exercises, try and keep groups small. With very young players, playing a couple of 3v3 matches is going to be far more beneficial than playing one 6v6 match in terms of giving each player more involvement and more touches of the ball at younger ages.

Also, think about what you're trying to achieve with the make up of the groups you split the players into. Will your less confident players get a chance to shine? Will one more dominant player end up in a group where they hog the ball the whole time and nobody else gets a look in? Challenge the players, but also make sure everyone is getting the best opportunity to enjoy themselves.

You Are Not a Babysitting Service!!!

Some parents seem to think your "job" (and there will be some who think you're actually being paid to do this) is to look after their child for them whilst they go shopping / back home for a snooze / off to walk the dog. You may well be fine with this, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with insisting parents stay and watch at the younger ages - their kids will also benefit from having their support.

If a child is disruptive or difficult, then it can have a huge impact on the enjoyment of the session for the rest of the players (and for you), so let the parents know that there are certain standards you expect in terms of behaviour and that you are not simply there as childcare. If you find yourself spending 90% of your time dealing with one poorly behaved child and your ability to coach the group properly is consistently being hampered, then it is their parents' responsibility to be there to back you up if needed. Having one or two assistants will help in these circumstances too and setting expectations out early on will save you a whole load of hassle later on.