How To Build A Practice Plan For Your Youth Soccer Team
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Soccer season is here and one of the best ways to ensure a successful soccer practice is a detailed plan. As a coach it’s not only helpful on you to put together a practice plan, but also can enhance the overall training experience for the players. So, how do you actually create a practice plan?
First, it’s important to determine the facts. What age group are you coaching? Is this a recreational team or a travel team? What day of the week does the training fall on? Is there a game coming up? What level are the players?
Ask yourself these questions before sketching out your practice plan. This allows you to answer the why and fill in some of the details that can dictate the direction of your session. For example, if you’re trying to plan a practice the day after a game, it may be smart to run a lighter practice. The kids may have heavy legs and above all else their safety is the highest importance. On the contrary, if you don’t have a game for a week, this may be a more intense training day since the kids will have some time before their next match.
Check out these tips to build out your practice plan for your soccer team.
1. Who’s coming to practice?
Before jumping into your training activities, make sure you have a headcount. How many players will be at training? Make note of how many players you’re expecting, this will help you with planning and duration of activities. If you are expecting less players than usual, be mindful that the players in attendance will likely be getting more repetitions than usual. Make sure they are getting adequate rest and recovery between exercises.
2. What’s your focus?
What are you hoping to teach and focus on during practice? One of the best ways to determine what to focus on is by thinking about the soccer game in simple terms: attacking and defending. If you are hoping to improve scoring goals, create chances forward, you will likely want to focus on an attacking practice. On the other hand, if your team has been struggling to get the ball out of their half and have been getting score on, the right focus for training may want to be defending. Once you decide your focus, we can get into the activity planning part.
3. How should the session flow?
Now that you know how many players are coming and your focus for practice, it’s time to get into the fun stuff — what the kids are going to do? Depending on your soccer organization or league, there may be a certain methodology required during practices. But, if you’re building this on your own, one of the best ways to jump into planning is by following U.S. Soccer’s method of a play-practice-play model.
Play, practice, play is exactly how it sounds: Players jump right into playing when they arrive, then the core practice activity occurs, and then the players apply what they learned during the bulk of the practice into a final playing environment. Before practice, create a plan for a small-sided or full-team playing environment to kick things off. Depending on the age group, the field space available, and numbers at practice will determine how big of a game the first play phase is.
One example would be making two small sided games of 4 vs. 4. This would mean in total you will need around 16 players. If you have less than 16 players, another idea could be just one small sided game of 4 vs. 4 which would only require 8 total players. Some math is required in soccer, but don’t lose sight of the main purpose: getting the kids playing right from the start.
4. How do I find and/or create practice activities?
This is a personal preference and skill. Some players can make sessions up on their own and some may need to research, watch YouTube or Instagram soccer highlights. There’s no right or wrong system here, as coaching in general is incredibly collaborative. Feel free to ask other coaches what kinds of activities they suggest. Keep it specific too.
If you want to run an attacking focused practice, ask other coaches what some of their best offense drills are. They may suggest a shooting game or maybe something more to goal like 2 vs. 1 or 1 vs. 1. Think about your practice activities as the bulk of your session. You’ll want to have variations in case it’s too challenging or too easy for the players. In your practice plan think about including an easier activity to get the players confident and lots of repetition. Once they get into the groove, find ways to challenge them more. If you’re running a 2 vs. 1 game to goal and the easier version had the two attacking players going to a goal without a goalie for a more challenging version include a goalie and if the goalie makes the save the defender and goalie can try and get over the line in the opposite direction.
Once you create and or find an activity, write it out! Break up your team ahead of time. This will allow for smoother transitions during practice. Also writing your practice plan out is a great archive to come back to and share with other coaches.
5. How do I end practice on a high note?
If you ask soccer players what their favorite part of practice is, most will typically say “scrimmaging.” One of the best ways to end your practice on a positive note is to wrap up the day with a final play phase. This is also great for the players to apply what they learned throughout the duration of the session. Implementing a final play phase should still be organized. Mark out your teams ahead of time and think about moments throughout this scrimmage to ask some questions to the players and encourage them to show what they learned during the activities in the big game. The duration of the final play phase is dependent on the age group and how much time there is slotted to the practice. If the kids are younger, you’ll want to structure it similar to a half of their “real game”. For youth players playing 9v9 games, each half is 30 minutes long.
After practice is over take some time to reflect on the session. What went well? What could have been better? Did the players take your feedback and coaching instruction in stride? Jot down some thoughts and bookmark the session. You will likely come back to parts of this practice at a different time.
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