With the US Youth Soccer mandates on the way, travel coaches are going to be forced to coach their players a little differently from the day 1. One such change is the new 4v4 game format set to debut in early September for all NJ teams U8 and below. Our travel leagues are going to be set a little differently with 30 x 20 maximum dimension fields, 3 – 15 minute periods (I guess we call them that?), a 4 x 6 goal, and all played with a size 3 ball. With all of this to adapt to, I believe coaches are going to need to alter their training methods and abandon tactics (and goalkeeping) to teach the game how it should be taught from the onset.
Let the Players Play!
First and foremost at young ages is to let the players play as much as possible. Do not over-coach, manage, or freeze play in training. The kids are on the field because they are learning to love soccer, so just create a positive environment to show up to every day and keep things fun. If you are to teach anything it should be….
Highly Technical Training
The technical basics should be taught from Day 1. If I was starting with a U8 team this Fall I would run dribbling sessions for the first 3 weeks.
Week 1 – The four surfaces of the feet – Inside, Outside, Bottom, and Laces. Maximizing touches on the ball and building confidence and comfort with the ball at the player’s feet.
Week 2 – Moves to beat defenders – Cuts and change of pace/direction should be taught at the initial stage, but here is a chance early on in a player’s development to show them a move. I suggest something simple like a dummy or roll -push, and then repeat, repeat, repeat. Build up the player’s confidence by doing the move in space (no defender), then a restricted (walking) defender, and finally challenged against the real deal.
Link-Video: Roll-Push Move
Week 3 – Turns – The dragback, cruyff, and hook are 3 examples of simple turns to work on. Once instilled through repetition they can be effective skills that young players catch onto quickly. Doing this after a week of moves also becomes a tool for coaches to immediately recognize their players that attack vs. those that retreat and need to build confidence.
Link – Video: The late Johan Cruyff – Executing the Cruyff Turn
The Diamond Shape
Hopefully you already use this formation in your youth soccer training sessions. It promotes spreading the field early on and words like “wide” and “high” help communicate this to younger players. Within the 4v4 are a lot of 1 v 1 and 2 v 1 situations, so you will want to build your early season sessions breaking these smaller numbers down. Then head into your 4v4 scrimmages to end sessions and show the players how to create a 1 v 1 or 2 v 1 within the shape. Don’t stress if the shape doesn’t stick immediately, it will take a lot of time to instill this discipline with young athletes.