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U8 soccer is an important time in the development of young players. In this early stage of the Foundation Phase, many kids are still discovering the game, learning the fundamental skills that they’ll build on as they get older, and forming a love for soccer that will hopefully lead to a lifetime of involvement in the sport. As coaches, our job is to guide them on this journey, providing them with an environment in which to grow, learn, and enjoy themselves.
Things to consider when coaching U8 soccer
Soccer Training and The Four Corner Model
The Four Corner Model (developed by The FA) divides coaching and player development into technical and tactical, psychological, physical, and social components. By considering all four categories together, we can take a holistic approach to soccer coaching.
When using The Four Corner Model to guide us, our coaching points are similar to those when coaching U6 soccer. We want to develop the same skill sets, equipping our players with the basics and encouraging them to improve through practice. This will provide the foundation for learning the more complex skills and techniques that will be essential as they continue their progression in the game.
Technical and tactical
Through the course of playing U8 soccer, we want our players to explore different methods of mastering the ball, develop creativity, and become confident in possession. This requires lots of time with the ball and soccer drills that focus on individual practice.
“Areas like ball mastery and being on the ball are so crucial at that age,” says PDP Co-founder Dave Wright. “Whether that’s a player working with a ball and a wall away from training, whether that’s interference-based ball mastery or opposed 1v1s.”
We want our players to constantly practice things like passing, dribbling, and controlling the ball, and start to feel comfortable using both feet. Through both individual practice and by participating in fun soccer drills, they will notice their skills get better and enjoy the process of improving.
This focus on individual ball mastery will assist us in our mission to help kids love soccer. “It creates a bigger love for the game as well, and a greater appreciation of the connection with a football,” explains Nathan Philip, a former coach at clubs including Chelsea FC and West Ham United. “Ball mastery is massive in terms of creating that love.”
Soccer provides both psychological challenges and opportunities for development. At this age, kids are still learning to deal with winning and losing, finding out how to control their emotions, and discovering the benefits of hard work and resilience.
Through our coaching, we should help our players to develop self-esteem and emotional control, and improve their problem-solving and decision-making capabilities. We also want them to foster a ‘growth mindset’, characterized by an enjoyment of learning, a desire to practice and improve, and a belief that improvement is driven by hard work.
The Foundation Phase is a crucial time for players’ physical development. During these years, they need to build the fundamental movement skills that will provide the basis for further tactical and technical development as they get older.
We want our players to develop agility and balance, improve their coordination, enjoy physical activity and feel physically confident. We should also encourage them to play different sports so that they develop a wider range of movement patterns and reduce the risk of physical burnout.
Former New York City FC & Fulham FC coach Arthur Brammer outlines the benefits of kids playing multiple sports in PDP’s Masterclass on Developing the Individual. According to Brammer, Fulham FC’s academy implemented a multisport approach during his time at the club after acknowledging its capacity to help players improve their physical literacy, and even tactical awareness, during this important phase of their development.
Whether our players participate in other sports or not, we should help them to develop fundamental movement skills by giving them dynamic, game-based sessions that challenge a range of different motions through a variety of activities.
As coaches, we’re not just developing players, we’re developing people. At this age, many children are naturally selfish and have little social awareness. “When we’re doing ball mastery, it’s easy,” explains Mark Lyons, Pre-Academy Coordinator and Lead Coach at Leicester City FC. “But [it’s harder] when it comes to sharing that ball with other players.” Fortunately, soccer provides excellent opportunities to teach kids about things like teamwork, putting others first, and how to be better listeners.
We should help players understand the impact of their behavior, build the skills to make friends and form positive relationships, respect others, and show good sportsmanship. These are all life skills that will benefit them outside of soccer. It may seem daunting, but something as simple as teaching players to share the ball and pass to their teammates can meaningfully contribute to their social development, both in the game and beyond.
What outcomes do we want to achieve?
Why our players play football, and what they’re trying to achieve, should always be central to how we coach. At this age, our primary aim is for them to enjoy the game; these years are about developing a love for the sport that will encourage lifelong participation.
“We’ve got to be in there for long-term development, and, for them to develop long-term, they need to play long-term and not fall out of love with the game at 14 or 15 (years old),” says Lyons. “Above anything else, they’ve got to come with a smile on their face, they’ve got to leave feeling on top of the world.”
We should place an emphasis on enjoyment, helping players to have fun and play without fear, and work with parents to avoid the trap of premature professionalism. No matter what a child’s ambitions, the road to technical excellence always starts with a love of practice.
Picking the right drill and using different game formats
As Stuart English, Head of Coaching at Sunderland AFC, explains in PDP’s webinar on Age Appropriate Coaching, “The most important thing at this age is time on the ball… the less players there are, the more opportunities they’re going to get on the ball, giving them more opportunities to learn.”
As we help our players develop a solid technical base, we should utilize an assortment of small-sided games — such as 1v1s, 2v2s, 3v3s, in matched numbers and out of balance, with defenders outnumbering attackers, and attackers outnumbering defenders — in order to give them a variety of challenges and maximize their touches of the football.
Embrace the chaos: Fun soccer drills and challenging games
As kids gain confidence with the ball and start to expand on the things they’ve learned playing U6 soccer, we can introduce a little more randomness into our practice.
“Put them in different situations where they’re underloaded (more players on the opposition team, e.g. 4 v 6), overloaded (more players on their team, e.g. 6 v 4) where they’re in games which are balanced or unbalanced,” suggests Lyons. “Match up the technical detail of the coaching with giving them experiences.” These are great learning opportunities that will not only be more fun than a highly structured soccer drill, but will help players to become more adaptable and improve their decision-making.
“Football is a decision-making sport,” adds Stuart English. “Chaos means putting more problems in front of the players to put them off their action, and them trying to find the best ways to get around those problems.”
These experiences give kids valuable memories that they can draw upon when they’re older and find themselves playing in more complex situations. What’s more, while adults tend to perceive the chaos, you’ll often find that children adapt and enjoy it.
The value of great communication
Communication “is key across any age group,” says Nathan Thomas, Lead Foundation Phase Coach at MK Dons FC. “But especially with the younger ones, so they go away understanding what you’re asking of them.”
Communicating with players in a way that’s relatable, while always remaining empathetic and supportive, is crucial to keeping them engaged and providing an environment that’s conducive to learning.
Try to know the kids you coach as people, not just players. “Talking to players about stuff that isn’t football is really obvious but perhaps overlooked, and a skill that works with all age groups,” advises PDP Technical Advisor Dan Wright. Learn about the things players like and use that to build a connection.
It also helps to consider your body language and choice of words: keep it upbeat, simple, and on-mission. According to Reed Maltbie, Founder of the Raising Excellence coaching platform, “smart coaches have figured out that if they can say what they mean in less time and words, they have a better chance at being heard and understood… [that] they need to speak the language of the players.”
Our aims are to make training enjoyable and engaging, and to help our players learn. Clear, positive communication is integral to achieving this.
U8 soccer training: The key points
- Take a holistic approach to coaching. Use The Four Corner Model to help kids develop as people, not just soccer players.
- U8 soccer is an opportunity to hone the skills learned at U6s. We’re helping players to learn the fundamental skills that they’ll build upon as they grow older.
- This is a time to focus on ball mastery and build confidence. Use small-sided games and individual practices to maximize the time players spend on the ball and help them develop their technical ability.
- Embrace the chaos. Incorporating randomness into your drills can make them more fun and challenge your players. This will help kids to develop adaptability and improve their decision-making while working on their technique.
- Clear, upbeat communication is key to delivering engaging sessions that your players can understand. Get to know your players as people and talk to them in ways they can relate to.
- Keep training sessions fun. Our goal is for kids to enjoy the sport and develop a love for the game that will hopefully lead to a lifetime of involvement in soccer.
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