11 Tips for Coaching the Little Ones

(With the fall season upon us, we reprint this article, with updated resource links at the end of the piece, including the U.S. Soccer Grassroots coaching courses, which recommend starting practice with play.)
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“I got recruited to coach my kid’s soccer team. Any advice?” The most recent time I heard this question, it came from a parent of a 6-year-old. It prompted me to put an answer in writing, based on some of the best insight I’ve gotten from coaches and players I’ve interviewed and observed over the years.

11 Tips for Coaching the Little Ones

1. If all you do is set up goals and have them play as much soccer as possible during that hour of practice -- you’re doing a good job.

2. Familiarize yourself with the various age-appropriate games/exercises to facilitate individual skills -- but don’t use ones that bore the kids. And if it takes more than a minute for 6-year-olds to comprehend the activity -- it’s the wrong one. (In other words, plan your practice but be ready to improvise.)

3. No lines, no laps, no lectures.

4. Enjoy yourself! If for some reason you’re grumpy, act like you’re enjoying yourself. Kids pick up on body language and you’ll get the best out of them if they sense you like being their coach.

5. Greet each player when they arrive in a way that lets them know you’re happy to see them.

6. Always end practice on an upbeat, happy note. (Even if they drove you absolutely crazy).

7. See the game through the children's eyes. This will remind you that your main objective is helping them discover the joys of soccer. And not to expect a 6-year-old to play like a 16-year-old.

8. Do not yell instructions at them! Do not coach from the sidelines during games! This interferes severely in their learning process. It also makes you look rather silly -- an adult screaming at 6-year-olds while they’re playing.

9. Sit down during games, instead of prowling the sidelines, which only creates tension that unnerves your players.

10. Always have a first-aid kit (including ice-packs) with you.

11. Keep plastic bags in your coaching bag in case you need to pick up dog poo.


U.S. Soccer's Five Things to Know about Play-Practice-Play

U.S. Soccer Digital Coaching Center

United Soccer Coaches Education


(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, is co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper and co-author with Claudio Reyna of More Than Goals: The Journey from Backyard Games to World Cup Competition.)

5 comments about "11 Tips for Coaching the Little Ones".
  1. Kent James, August 26, 2019 at 10:36 a.m.

    Good advice.  I would add two additional suggestions; 1) let them touch a ball as often as possible (so activities with every kid having a ball, as long as they're active and fun, can help skill development more than one ball shared among 6 kids), and 2) (in direct contradiction to #1!), every activity does not have to be soccer focused, since part of their development at this stage is coordination and athleticism, though obviously if you can do it in a soccer appropriate way, that's all the better.  But mainly let 'em have fun and keep them enthusiatic (as Mike said).

  2. R2 Dad, August 26, 2019 at 11:12 a.m.

    No screaming? Seems obvious, and yet it's the first skill coaches master at U8.

  3. Bob Ashpole, August 26, 2019 at 11:49 a.m.

    Good article. I never bought into the play-practice-play training framework, but then I never bought into the idea that U6's should be "trained". U10's (8 and 9) sure, but I suspect with U8's (6 and 7) it depends on the maturity of the child as to whether they are ready or not. And 5 year olds? No way. I have watched coaches that I admire run sessions for 4 and 5 year olds. It was play-play-play, and it worked great.

  4. Kent James replied, August 26, 2019 at 4:35 p.m.

    Bob, you are absolutely right that kids that young shouldn't be "trained", when training is seen as a sort of "suffer through pain and boredom now, for a reward later" (as it often is, at least at the older ages).  On the other hand, you can help kids develop skills by setting up things that are fun, but have an underlying purpose.  The thing that worries me is when clubs (especially the very competitive ones) talk about "training" the kids at younger and younger ages, and you know they're going to approach it as if its the world cup, and they're only interested in "serious" 7 year olds....

  5. Terry Lynch, August 26, 2019 at 2:09 p.m.

    At a clinic I attended years ago, the clinician asked us what the average attention span is for a 5 year old and we all guessed too high.  He stated it was 12 seconds, and then offered as proof the length of commercials during Sat morning cartoons on TV.  Sure enough, I checked . . . they each last about 12 seconds.  Too funny.  Make sure little kids have fun and that should be the one and only rule.

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