One of the basic tenets of coaching youth soccer is the concept of “Guided Discovery.” Simply put, the game is intended to be the teacher, and the coach should help the players learn to play the game through situational play, small sided games, and stepping in to help players move past the bigger hurdles. This is on top of technical and skill-based activities intended to build each player’s foot skills.
In our club, recreation teams through U8 have one, one-hour practice that is split between technical skills training (30 minutes) with a central trainer (handling about four teams together) and a team practice to work on game mechanics and team play.
In U5 and U6, it works really well. You have young players that arrive fresh and are ready to be molded. The game format also is a great rollover from practice – games are played three versus three one a thirty yard field. The rule set is reduced – no throw-ins, no corner kicks, no penalty kicks, and no goalkeepers. The kids can focus on the most important skill – dribbling – and not worry as much about the other aspects of the game. A lot of goals are scored, and kids have fun. Some of the kids show deeper commitment already at this age and faster skills development.
Move onto U7 and U8 – and practice time remains the same but the rules and complexity of the game increase greatly. The field almost doubles in length and width, goals get bigger, and goalkeepers come in. Add in corner kicks, goal kicks, and throw ins, and requirements for a kick-off that follows the FIFA Laws of the Game, and kids that have become aware of the score and winning and losing (even if explicitly there is no score kept and no league tables kept.)
So in this framework – and with kids coming into the sport for the first time – can a coach afford to take a guided discovery approach with a team?
I’m beginning to question whether this tenet – which no doubt works with more committed players and works with players at the earliest point in the development cycle – works on a team with vastly different skill levels and a highly limited time window.
I still believe in the idea of “Let them Play” – which has been a big part of discussions on line about coaching youth Soccer (and in England, Football) at the youngest levels. Kids, given enough time to play, will develop well. But is that really the objective of our recreation programs? Or is it the filling of two hours a week of our kids lives?