Younger Players - Training Matches

Most players like to end any training session with a match and of course, in preparation for playing "proper" matches, it's useful to put your young players in game situations, partly because it's fun and partly, to start with, because it helps them learn the basic rules of football. Some will start off not knowing which half they're in or which goal they're attacking.

Some things to consider when playing training matches with younger players:

Team Size

Playing small sided games (5v5 or less) is going to lead to lots of touches and bearing in mind your players' first "proper" matches at U7 will be 5 a side, it makes sense to get them used to this beforehand. Playing larger sided games may seem appealing if you have lots of players, but a lot of the players will hardly touch the ball if you're playing 8v8 or something. Much better to split into 2 smaller games.

Scenarios & Real World Teams

Try sometimes bringing the games to life by letting the players choose what team they are, so instead of reds vs blues, they're playing Man U vs Barcelona or whatever. The players can then be their favourite players from those teams, try things the stars would try etc. For kids this young, using role play and make-believe in that way can really bring a match to life. You can also use those famous players as reference points... "What would Messi do in this situation?" for example might help your young players to have the confidence to try something.

Similarly, scenarios, where for example one team is 1-0 up and has to hold out for 5 minutes can get the players really excited about the game and thinking about it in a way they might not otherwise.

Conditioned Matches... And The Swarm of Bees!

Players will "swarm" at younger ages, following the ball like a group of bees round a honeypot. This is quite simply because they want the ball - which is the object of their focus and the most exciting thing on the pitch. This isn't necessarily a bad thing for your players to experience - it means the kids are having to learn to protect the ball, use their physical strength, tackle, play in tight spaces etc. For individual development it can be a good thing, but it can also mean the less confident players are sidelined whilst the more confident dominate.

And of course we also want to teach our players about space, using the width and length of the pitch effectively, positioning, passing and so on too.

So what can we do...?

Playing conditioned matches, where for example in a 4v4 game, players are locked into a half, with 2 of each team in each half can be beneficial. Or split the pitch into thirds, with a player from each team in each third and perhaps a couple of players who roam anywhere they like. The players in the defensive areas will have to think about passing when they get the ball as they aren't allowed to work their way up the pitch by dribbling. For players who are less confident, you can have them in an area on their own where to start with they aren't able to be tackled.

"Safe" wide areas where players can run with the ball unchallenged and then get a cross in can be used to introduce wide play.

So there are lots of ways to add conditions to games, where it still looks pretty much like a match, but it allows you to get a particular point across or give certain players the space to play without constant pressure. If they handle the no-pressure version, you can take the conditions out and see if they can try and keep doing the same things whilst under pressure from the swarm of bees...!