It seems to be conventional wisdom that scrimmaging - letting children actually play soccer - is something that should happen only at the end of practice.
It's promised to them like a dessert, the reward for eating the broccoli. Do all these drills and you'll get to do what you thought you signed up for: play soccer.
By scrimmaging I mean playing games to goal, whether it be small-sided games or splitting the squad into two teams right after the warm-up to play a game. That's what the kids would do if the adults weren't calling the shots. And it is their playtime.
At the youngest ages, they should just be playing soccer rather than doing drills anyway. When it becomes necessary to incorporate technical exercises into practice, why has it become the cardinal rule that they must be done at every practice and they must be done before the soccer-playing?
When a bunch of rambunctious youngsters show up to practice doesn't it make sense to let them get on with the soccer-playing? If you need to have them practice their passing technique, why not after they've played some real soccer? They might be more inclined to stay focused during a slower-paced activity after they've used up some energy.
I'm not saying that going through some technical work, then advancing through various game-like exercises that lead up to a scrimmage, isn't a good, logical way to organize a practice.
But how much harm could there be in trying it another way once in a while? The kids show up after a long day of school. The coach gets them dribbling around with their balls for a little while and does whatever warm-up their age level requires. The goals are set up and they play soccer.
Try it and see whether you don't make a bunch of kids happy. Besides the smiles, you're getting them ready for the game. That practice replicates what they'll be doing on the weekend with their uniforms on and their parents on the sideline.
(Mike Woitalla, who coaches youth soccer in Northern California, is the executive editor of Soccer America. His youth articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)