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U10 soccer is an important time for young players. As they enter the second half of the Foundation Phase, they’ll continue to build a connection with the game and develop the basic skills required to play and enjoy it, but also increase the breadth of their learning. This is a time to help children deepen their understanding of soccer, explore new ways of using the skills they’ve developed, and gain confidence as independent decision-makers, preparing them for a lifetime of involvement in the sport.
Things to consider when coaching U10 soccer
Using the Four Corner Model to guide soccer practice plans and pick the right U10 soccer drill
The FA’s Four Corner Model provides an excellent framework for creating well-rounded soccer practice plans. By breaking down session design and player development into technical and tactical, psychological, physical, and social components, it encourages us to take a holistic approach to coaching that develops children as people, not just players.
Technical and tactical
In U10 soccer, there remains a heavy focus on ball mastery. Our goal is to expand on the skills that children learn in U6 and U8 soccer, challenging them to build on their technical ability with enhanced tactical awareness.
This means helping them to use their skill with the ball to facilitate better decision-making; improve their understanding of the game, both in and out of possession; develop the technical ability to play in a range of positions; and appreciate how their ability helps the team.
This introduction to independent problem-solving, coupled with a continuing emphasis on individual development, will provide the foundations for implementing team principles at older age groups.
These years are a time of significant psychological development for our players, and we must strive to provide them with an environment that’s supportive, empathetic, and positive.
At U10s, we should also encourage them to take more ownership of their decisions. By now, kids will be able to understand more complex information, and we should help them to consider the outcomes of their actions, reflect on their own performances and how they could improve, and develop a sense of independence and personal responsibility.
As discussed in PDP’s Q&A on coaching self-organization skills in the foundational ages, the best results don’t necessarily come from teaching these skills, but from creating the context for kids to learn them on their own. We can do this by embracing less-structured drills that allow our players to experiment and encourage them to be creative.
Throughout U10 soccer, we’re helping kids to improve their physical literacy and develop the fundamental movement skills that are integral to a happy and healthy life playing sport. We should also show players how to effectively use their body in game situations, both to control the ball and in relation to their opponent, and give them the support to be brave and retain the ball under pressure in 1v1 scenarios when feeling contact from opposing players.
This is still too early to worry about specializing in soccer, however, and children should be encouraged to play a variety of different sports in order to help them develop a wide movement vocabulary. By helping kids to become physically confident now, we can set them up for a lifetime of physical activity that will benefit their long-term health.
Soccer provides a great framework for teaching children about things like sharing, teamwork, socializing, and forming relationships with others. As Stuart English, Head of Coaching at Sunderland AFC, explains, a holistic approach to coaching means caring about the kid, not just the soccer player, understanding them as an individual, and knowing what’s going on in their life.
It’s our responsibility to get to know the children we coach and help them get to know each other. We want kids at this age to start appreciating the different experiences, opinions, and values of their teammates, recognize what they contribute to the team, and realize their own contribution.
With the right guidance, our players will develop their overall social awareness in ways that will benefit them in their lives beyond soccer.
Remembering why they play soccer
Whatever the age of the kids we’re coaching, we should always remember why they play soccer. Many young children participate to enjoy themselves, whether by socializing with friends or playing a game that they love (or both). Our job is to nurture that sense of enjoyment so that they stay engaged in the sport and continue to participate as they get older.
This means creating an environment where kids learn through play and feel free to express themselves. “During play, children are intrinsically motivated, positively charged to have fun and make meaningful connections with those around them,” writes PDP Co-Founder Dave Wright in his article on removing the fear factor from coaching. “If the fundamental reason that a child plays football is enjoyment, then surely the job of a coach is to facilitate this enjoyment and ensure that fun exists at all levels.”
We should remember to prioritize enjoyment and foster an environment free of pressure, where children can love learning and strengthen their connection with the game.
Changing game formats
At the U10 age group, most players will either transition to a new game format or will have already transitioned the previous season. Depending on the national federations or club structures involved, children may be having their first experience of organised 7v7 or 8v8 soccer, or be just 12 months into learning the 7v7 game on bigger pitches after playing 5v5 the year before. It’s important to remember that, while this is a small step closer to 11-a-side games, it’s still a long way from the adult game, and our players’ enjoyment and all-round development — not winning soccer matches — remains our priority as coaches.
In training, we should still give players as much time on the ball as possible and can continue to use a variety of small-sided games, with both matched and unmatched sides, in order to maximize their opportunities to play and learn.
Embracing the chaos: Making soccer drills and training exercises dynamic
One of the best ways to help our players develop their problem-solving and decision-making skills is to introduce a little chaos into our practice. By giving kids soccer drills that are less structured, less predictable, and where the aims or solutions aren’t necessarily given to them, we can provide an extra challenge that enables them to experiment and use their imagination.
“It is our job as coaches to make sure we recreate those fun, player-led environments and allow players to use initiative and be creative,” writes Stuart English in his article on embracing chaos. “Learning, creativity and problem-solving are facilitated by anything that promotes a playful state of mind… practices may look messy, there may not be much or any consistency; however, your players will have to solve problems themselves.”
“It’s just important to give them a wide array of experiences, to give them a chance to go and try, and fail, and get up and do it again,” adds Gabriel Flores, coach at Fulham FC and Co-Founder of My Football Development. “It’s about blending ball-mastery with the creative environment.”
Besides helping their development, drills with more randomness will also make sessions fun and engaging for our players, and give them confidence when facing more challenging, in-game situations as they get older.
How to communicate with your players
Good communication is key to being an effective coach, especially when working with younger children. We cannot teach kids if we can’t engage them, and they cannot learn if they don’t understand what we’re asking of them.
“It’s important to be at their level,” says Flores, who emphasizes the importance of tailoring your language to the age group you’re coaching. He suggests learning what your players like and using it to connect with them — instead of telling them to run fast, ask them if they can run like Sonic the Hedgehog — and delivering “efficiently simple messages”.
In PDP’s Masterclass on Developing the Individual, former Fulham FC and New York City FC coach Arthur Brammer advises we keep coaching interventions to one minute or less in order to maximize “ball rolling” time. Having simple sessions that don’t take much explaining — that flow, and that our players already know — helps us to achieve this.
Brammer also recommends talking to each child individually at least once over the course of practice, to help build and maintain that personal connection, and ending every session positively, so that players are excited to come back. Simply asking questions about their life away from soccer will often make a child feel valued, help to earn their trust, and in turn increase their enthusiasm for training.
These kinds of straightforward, effective communication techniques can have a huge impact on our players’ levels of engagement, how well they learn, and how much they enjoy coming to practice.
U10 soccer training: The key points
- We’re developing people, not athletes. By using the Four Corner Model as a guide, coaching points in each of its four categories wherever possible, we can deliver sessions in a holistic way, with the overall development of our players as the priority.
- Individual ball mastery is still key, and we should give children plenty of time to practice dribbling, passing, and receiving the ball in different situations. We want our players to carry on improving their technique, building their confidence, and developing their connection with the ball.
- Changing game formats shouldn’t alter our priorities. Our teams may step up to 7v7 games, but this is still a long way from 11-a-side football; remember to focus on creating an enjoyable sporting environment where players can develop (and avoid the temptation to fixate on winning matches).
- We should encourage our players to experiment and be creative. There is no ‘best’ U10 soccer drill; we must use a variety of different drills, incorporating randomness into our practice and letting players work out solutions to new problems on their own. This will help them to improve their decision-making and problem-solving skills and become independent thinkers.
- Our coaching is only as effective as our ability to communicate. It’s important to build a connection with the children we coach, talk to them on their level, and keep messages efficient and simple.
- Player engagement is paramount; we want kids to enjoy playing soccer and love coming to training. Creating an environment that facilitates this is essential to encouraging their lifelong participation in the sport.
Image Credits: Canva