In this article
For many kids, U6 soccer is the start of their involvement in the game. As coaches, our job is to help them enjoy these early experiences and encourage them to fall in love with playing soccer. Coaching this young age group poses its own unique challenges but it can also be incredibly rewarding. By creating the right environment, we can ensure our players’ first steps in the game are positive ones, hopefully setting them on a pathway to lifelong participation in the sport.
Considerations when coaching U6 soccer
Soccer drills and the Four Corner Model
No matter what age group we’re coaching, we should always take a holistic approach to player development. This means coaching the person, not just the athlete.
The Four Corner Model (developed by The FA) breaks down coaching and player development into four categories: technical and tactical, psychological, physical, and social. We should consider all of them when coaching our players and avoid the temptation to fixate on just one or two aspects; they are all interconnected and cannot be taught or developed in isolation.
This model can be used to guide both player development and session design. But to successfully integrate The Four Corner Model into our coaching drills, we should first consider what each of these categories means for our U6 players.
Technical and tactical
U6 soccer is a time for kids to develop the basics. We should give each of our players as much time on the ball as possible, enabling them to be creative, experiment, and gain confidence in possession. We want our players to become familiar with the ball at their feet and to build a connection with it.
We should aim for every child in this age group to explore multiple ways of controlling the ball; gain proficiency in each of these methods and continue to improve them throughout their development; become more creative with the ball; and feel assured in possession.
This will form the basis of a technical ability that they’ll continue to improve throughout their development. As coaches, this is not an age to focus on delivering a tactical masterclass but it can be a time to support players with ideas like making the pitch big (in possession) and making it small (out of possession) so that they have some appreciation of what to do in different moments of the game.
Soccer provides excellent opportunities to help kids develop psychologically — in ways that will benefit them in all aspects of life. But it can also be demanding, and players will likely experience challenging emotional situations throughout their journey in the game. Our role is to be supportive, empathetic, and help them learn to manage these emotions.
But first and foremost, we want to make the game fun. As the FA’s Lead for the Foundation Phase, Pete Sturgess, recently said on Twitter, when it comes to coaching players around this age “success is every one of those players wanting to come back and play in your team the next season. If they don’t come back we cannot possibly develop them or inspire them further.”
Ultimately, success with U6 players means helping them to achieve the following:
- Have fun with friends
- Gain competence
- Improve their problem-solving ability
- Want to come back next season
Psychological strength, typified by traits like resilience, motivation, and commitment to learning, has been identified as essential to any player wanting to make it in the professional game, and is something that benefits us all throughout our daily lives. But we can only help the kids we coach and make a positive contribution to their long-term psychological development if they enjoy playing soccer and stay in the game. Most importantly, less than 1% of players will play the professional game, so when we coach, we should be catering for the many, not just the few.
From a physical perspective, these years are vital to helping players develop fundamental movement skills. Nick Levett, former Talent ID Manager at The FA and Head of Talent at UK Sport, emphasizes the need to lay the foundations, and for kids to build a high-quality base of fundamental movement skills, at this stage of their development. These skills will be essential to learning more advanced technical and tactical elements of the game as they get older.
We can help our players develop fundamental movement skills by creating dynamic sessions that are exciting and enjoyable, enabling them to develop agility, balance, and different ranges of motion, become physically confident, and learn to enjoy physical activity.
We should also encourage children to play a variety of different sports. This teaches them to develop different patterns of movement and reduces the risk of physical burnout that results from repeatedly working the same joints and muscles in the same ways.
When it comes to soccer, an enhanced range of movement often makes children more adaptable and provides a solid basis for learning creative skills and techniques. More importantly, children who feel physically confident and capable are likelier to engage with sports, fostering an active mentality that will help them to be healthier.
The ability to socialize and form personal relationships has a huge impact on a child’s wellbeing. It’s also another skill they can develop through playing soccer. Throughout this formative stage, players will learn to work in a team, and deal with both winning and losing, and U6 soccer could be their introduction to the world of organized sport.
At this age, many players will have low levels of social awareness and may not find it natural to consider others, but this is where we can provide guidance. Through our coaching, we should help players to understand the way their behavior impacts themselves and others; develop positive relationships; be confident and comfortable interacting with other people; improve their capacity to use their imagination and mimic; enjoy an introduction to sport; and understand and display good sportsmanship.
As coaches, we can contribute to this fundamental part of their development as both soccer players and humans.
Why do they play soccer?
No matter what level we’re coaching, we should ask ourselves two questions: what are our players’ motivations for playing soccer? And what do they want to achieve?
According to Positive Psychology expert Lara Mossman, “there will be a variety of different reasons why players turn up.” Some kids may be forced to participate, others might be incentivized, and some children will play soccer because it’s their passion.
In U6 soccer, the aim should be for our players to enjoy the game. And if we succeed, this will be their motivation. “Children need to develop a few things at the younger age in order to continue playing for the long term,” explains Nick Levett in his article on laying the foundations. “Fostering a love of the game is one of those… We want them to have so much fun at coaching sessions that they come bounding through the gates for the next session.”
Kids’ motivations for playing “sit somewhere on a continuum, and their position on that continuum changes over time,” explains Mossman. “The way coaches structure their training environments and behave on game days can affect player motivation and wellbeing.”
So it’s vital that we make our sessions fun and engaging, placing an emphasis on enjoyment.
Picking the right games and game formats
In England, the format for U6 games is 5v5 matches, played on small pitches. “The most important thing at this age is time on the ball,” explains Stuart English, Assistant Academy Manager at Birmingham City FC. “The less players there are, the more opportunities they’re going to get on the ball… by manipulating that, you’re giving the players more opportunities to learn.”
This philosophy should also be applied to training sessions. We’re trying to help players develop a technical base to complement their love of the game. Small-sided games — 1v1s, 2v2s, 3v3s — are a great way of accomplishing that.
How to make soccer practice engaging: Create a drill that kids will enjoy
No matter how old our players are, we should always strive to make practice engaging. When coaching U6 soccer, that means designing game-based sessions that capture the imagination. In addition to considering the Four Corners, we should prepare drills that are fun and appeal to the playful instincts of young children. It’s important that sessions are designed so that players aren’t standing around, waiting in lines, or static. Ensure you maximise time on the ball and playing the game.
“Make the children think they are on a desert island, dribbling around an area, and that if they fall off they might get chased by pirates or sharks,” suggests Nick Levett. “It’s creative stuff like this that makes them want to come back.”
The benefits of making practice fun extend beyond player retention. In her work on creating positive sports environments for children, Lara Mossman observes that positive emotions “have been shown to broaden peripheral vision” and suggests that creating enjoyable sessions may even improve players’ decision-making.
Another crucial part of creating engaging sessions is communication. Reed Maltbie, Founder of the Raising Excellence digital and live coaching development platform, notes that many coaches teach the game from their own perspective, not necessarily in the way that kids learn, meaning players often don’t understand what’s being asked of them.
Maltbie suggests we “alter the communication process and patterns to fit their world… They need us to use the soft skills it takes to connect with them, understand them, guide them, and truly teach them. That’s when we start teaching them the way they can learn.”
By adapting our drills and the way we communicate with our players to match their age group, we can ensure that sessions are fun and engaging. And this is the key to maximizing their enjoyment of soccer and encouraging their continued participation in the game.
U6 soccer training: The key points
- Use The Four Corner Model when planning training sessions and try to develop each of the technical and tactical, psychological, physical, and social aspects of your players. Help them to develop as people, not just soccer players.
- The best soccer drill is one that engages your players. Create fun, game-based sessions, and find creative ways to make each drill exciting for young children. We want our players to enjoy playing soccer and fall in love with the game.
- We should encourage kids to play a variety of sports alongside soccer. This will help them develop fundamental movement skills and benefit their long-term physical development.
- Maximize the time your players have with the ball. Small-sided games and individual drills will help them gain confidence with the ball at their feet.
- How we communicate with our players makes a huge difference. We should endeavor to teach them in a way that they can relate to.
- The things our players learn playing U6 soccer will form the foundations of their future development. But only if they continue to play the game. We must always strive to make our sessions enjoyable and engaging.
Image Source: Getty Images