When Should Passing be Taught?

15 Sep

On the Football Coaching blog today, author Simon Godfrey asks what the appropriate age is to teach players passing.

My response, was the 5-7 year old age group. But let’s break this down a little further to gain some insight into what is taught.


In summary, the precursors to players developing in passing ability:

  1. Technical proficiency in the skill of passing
  2. Technical proficiency in dribbling to allow a “head up” approach to the field
  3. Ability to evaluate one’s own skill in passing and what passes are feasible to complete.  This comes with experience and practice.

The first part of teaching passing is the technical skill. The technical skill is striking the ball with the appropriate surface of your foot to deliver the ball to the intended location with the right weighting or force.

This is a distinct skill from the other skills learned at this age – mostly dribbling and to a small degree (and one I haven’t focused on at all with my kids) shooting.

The technical skill is usually practiced with one half of the team standing on a line facing the other half of the team and passing the ball back and forth. Fairly mundane and slow paced, and doesn’t resemble the game much – but it allows the coaches to assist individual players skills with the ball and make corrections to plant foot and striking surface.

This is where the teaching in the 5-7 age group should end.  The demands from coaches and parents on the sideline to “Pass It” need to end here as well.  The “Pass It!” command comes from a well-meaning place for the dominant kids on the team to share the ball with others, but ends up making players a prisoner to unloading the ball.

At the young age, I think players can start to confuse “Making a Pass” with “Getting Rid of the Ball.” Without a developed sense of the field, and ability to see where their teammates are, getting rid of the ball seems like the safe route rather than lose the ball directly.

Completely separate, and far more difficult to master – is the process of deciding if, when, and where to pass and then executing the technical skill. How, and when can this be taught? At ages seven and under, the player’s decision making in all aspects of their life is severely limited in the number of decisions they make and the options they are given. We often give our children two choices for everything – which snack do you want, what they want to play with, and which shirt they want to wear.

But step on to the pitch and into a 5v5 U8 soccer match, and there are 3 field player teammates to choose to pass to, as well as the option to keep the ball and dribble through the opposing defense. Evaluating the choices first forces the player to see his options – a field vision that can’t develop until the player develops enough confidence on ball to keep his eyes up, and then recognition of where open space exists that they can reach with a pass that’s within their ability.

What passes are within a player’s ability? At the outset, the U8 players I’ve observed have a reasonable expectation of completing a pass within three to five yards that is unopposed over the path of the pass. Lofted passes can’t be delivered with any degree of certainty. Players will build the experience of passing and estimating distances with practice and experience.

Game play becomes then the greatest aide to learning the decision making process for passing. As soccer is a constantly changing sport on the field, there isn’t necessarily a set rule of when to pass and not. But each player will begin to arrive at their own recognition of on-ball skill and understanding of when to find a teammate to continue the attack.

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