March might be my least favorite soccer month of the year. It’s typically cold, rains quite a bit, and it’s always windy which is probably the most disruptive factor to any practice or game (especially down at the sod farm in Tuckahoe). Wind can be a serious factor in soccer (Seen on the video here), but player performance, fitness, and field conditions are all other things to consider when planning your practices. Bottom line is early Spring training sessions are as unpredictable as the weather and coaches need to be creative when planning practices because of it. Here are a few things I always consider before stepping on a wet pitch with a team that needs to knock the rust off.
Field Conditions: The first thing you should always think about it is what your field conditions are like. Did you walk the field prior to your practice? Do you know the size of the space you are actually able to use? All clubs in NJ are extra cautious of tearing up their grass fields in March. Our club actually canceled training 3/14 & 3/15 because of the rain fall we received. The fields looked like the picture on the right. So it imperative you figure out the space you are going to use, and limit repetition drills to preserve the bit of space you have, which leads me to my next suggestion.
Use as much space as possible and limit repetition drills: Every 20 minutes or so you should be changing the space on the field you are using. I work with our facilities quite a bit and it drives me crazy when I can tell exactly what a coach was doing the day prior! Be creative with your pre-session warmup or FIFA 11+ as this will wear down the pitch. Always Avoid Line Drills! Not only to protect the fields, but because look how bored those kids in the back. Kids early in the season need to maximize touches on the ball and free-flowing space to be creative and setting up cones for them to follow through 1 after another to me is a huge waste of time. At this point I’d say almost every kid in the State has a soccer ball, and if they don’t I am sure you supply the kids one as a coach. So have everyone with a ball at their feet for the majority of your early season practices, especially if your group is between 6-12 years old.
The first 20 minutes of every session the kids should have a ball at their feet. The exception here is with high level teams that are expected to do technical work outside of training sessions. However, 6-12 year olds need to regain confidence with the ball at their feet in early Spring and dribbling is typically my topic of choice for the first few weeks of every season because of it. Dribbling gives the player a sense of comfort with a ball at their feet and gives me a mentality to build upon. Keep the playing space open by limiting cones and maximizing the space the player can attack. You want players to change direction, find space, and accelerate into it by making their own decisions. Setting up a direct path they need to follow takes all these critical components of dribbling away.
Make it fun! The worst thing a coach can do is set a negative tone at the start of a season with boring practices. Don’t talk a lot, don’t over-correct or instruct, and let the players play. Mistakes will be ever-present and as coaches and as trainers we need to accept that in early Spring. The player knows when they did wrong, and give them time to correct it early on. If the problem persists over time, then we address it. So be positive, point out good soccer moments in your kids, and always greet your players looking like this guy…Embed from Getty Images
If you have any suggestions I would love to hear them in the comment section below!