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Teaching the Game
by Tony DiCicco, February 28th, 2008 5:15PM

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TAGS:  youth boys

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By Tony DiCicco

Coaches spend an awful lot of time teaching tactics, often telling players, for instance, that they need to stay in their positions. But what's sometimes lost is the fact that soccer is a free-flowing expression of how you want to see the game unfold.

As a coach, clearly you need to keep helping players understand positioning and spatial awareness. But the last thing you want to do is lock players into specific and rigid roles by saying, "You stay here and you stay there." That's not the way the game ought to be played.

For instance, one thing I hate to see in training is a long line of girls waiting for their turn to go through a maze to practice dribbling. This methodology is totally unnecessary because players can do all the dribbling they need through free movement, where everybody's learning to be aware of space by being creative and improvising. That's how the actual game of soccer is played.

There are, however, specific activities I'd suggest as teaching tools. You can teach passing, for instance, by having the kids stand and pass the ball back and forth, but it's going to get pretty boring for them rather quickly. Instead, you can say, "OK, here's the game. We're going to see how many passes you can get back and forth between you and your teammate in 30 seconds. You're going to keep your own score. I expect everybody to be honest with the score and if the ball goes wild, you've got to go get it together and continue playing from your new location."

What you've done is set up a little competition and it becomes fun. There's also a little bit of intensity and an urgency to their play. It's not just a boring drill, it's now a competition. And to spice it up a little, don't always make it a matter of the girls competing against each other. Sometimes you can have them compete against the previous high score, the coach, or even the scores of their parents.

STRATEGY. With young children, strategy and the tactics of the game will come later rather than sooner. My youngest son, who's 10 years old, is playing 11v11 soccer now, and his coaches asked me to have a chalk talk with them.

As we talked about what systems of play I might share with the team, I said, "At this age group, you're really teaching technique rather than strategy. It may cost you some games in terms of wins and losses, but right now it's better to teach the techniques of the game much more often than putting them out on the field and telling them where to run and when to run there. Anyone can teach tactics. But you can't learn technique overnight."

(Excerpted from "Catch Them Being Good: Everything You Need to Know to Successfully Coach Girls" by Tony DiCicco, Colleen Hacker & Charles Salzberg courtesy of Penguin Books.)

Tony DiCicco coached the U.S. women's national team to the 1996 Olympic Gold Medal and the 1999 Women's World Cup title. DiCicco, founder and director of SoccerPlus Camps , will be the Boston Breakers head coach when the club begins play in April of 2009 in the new women's professional soccer league. He is currently coach of the U.S. U-20 women's national team.



0 comments
  1. James Madison
    commented on: February 28, 2008 at 7:20 p.m.
    Tony's reference to trying to teach position play to young players reminded me of how literal young players take instruction. When my then 7-year-old grandson was just starting out, he asked his coach before a game, "Where do I play?" The coach, trying to communicate that he would be the left side defender, pointed to a spot on the field and said, "Here, David." When the game began, David dutifully stepped to the spot. Play swirled around him, but, ever the coachable player, David remained glued to his spot until I could stand it no longer and quietly suggested to the coach, "Tell him, 'you're free to move to the ball, David;' just say, 'move to the ball.'" This instruction repeated two or three times liberated David from his position prison, and only then did he begin to PLAY the game. Jim Madison, Menlo Park, CA

  1. Kent James
    commented on: March 6, 2008 at 11 p.m.
    It is absolutely crucial that respected national team coaches, like Tony DiCicco, step into the youth development debate and explain how important it is to focus on the long term when dealing with young players. This excerpt on positioning is the kind of article we need. Parents almost always equate winning with success, and teams that focus on positional play at young ages (both in terms of tactically staying in position more and having individual players only play one position) win more. Parents frequently suggest that if we only spent more time "learning positions" our team would be more successful (as in we'd win more). As it is, I've coached teams that have been technically superior to other teams (and the parents have noticed this) but we've still lost to them, because they were more tactically disciplined. After a few years, we were consistently beating the teams that had beaten us before, I've had many parents come to me and express their appreciation for the early focus on skill and letting the kids enjoy the game. But it can be difficult to resist the pressures to win at the young ages, and having people whose jobs depend on winning emphasize that winning in the long term requires that you focus on other things early on is very important. Otherwise parents think you don't care about winning (you're somehow uncompetitive), when nothing could be farther from the truth.


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