Spring Soccer is now just short of six weeks from the opening week of the season for our U6 and U8 teams and four weeks from the start of practices. The proximity of these days (and nights) on the calendar has me thinking about how to get the team (the returning part) acclimated to playing again and introducing any new players to the team as well.
I’m expecting to return five of six players to my U6 team. My U8 team? I’m uncertain of right now. I know one player is playing Baseball this spring, which would leave us six players from the Fall squad returning if everyone else comes back. More realistically, I’m counting on five players.
I’m working from the assumption that any new players will be fairly inexperienced in the sport (except any potential relocated family) so I’ll need to work from scratch with them individually on skills. I really feel like the U8 team needs to get more time starting to come into a structure and system of play.
My goal for the spring season is to prepare them for U10 soccer. There’s a lot of change that comes with U10 versus U8 – notably, introduction of offside rules, a larger field and goal, and of course higher expectations of skill and tactics.
System Of Play
One area that Aidan has developed well in over the winter is understanding both sending and receiving goal kicks. (One of our rules in pick up soccer has been a goal kick as a restart after goals, so there’s lots of goal kicks!)
So often in our U8 games last fall, the person taking the goal kick tried to blast it as far down field as possible. Or conversely, he sent it to a teammate that was fully facing his own goal (and thus had his back to where he wanted to go) and the ball was lost in a swarm of defenders as he tried to turn the ball.
On throw-ins, inevitably the team would end up in one big heap with the opponent and the ball would be throw in to the heads of both teams – which turned into either a 50/50 ball or a hand ball called on one of the teams. (This was all encouraged by the “DOWN THE LINE!” order given from the parents side line.
In the spring, I want to introduce a few ideas that I think will help the more experienced players at least in these situations:
- Body Orientation – “Open to Receive”: Orienting your body so you are prepared to receive the ball and are able to see where you want to go if you receive the ball. Our players haven’t been strong at turning the ball in many situations, and the nature of “swarm ball” defenses makes it even more difficult.
- Play the ball in the direction you are facing: While our goal is to get to goal – I want the players to be comfortable playing the ball laterally across the field as well as backwards towards their own goal. This YouTube video was the source of this particular thought – it’s something you see all the time in top level soccer (and especially in passing biased team like Barcelona) but it doesn’t exist in recreation soccer. So often, our players just go charging into a pack of defenders with no plan of action.
- Learning to take up a supporting position to the ball handler: it was so common in the fall to see one of our kids go downfield with the ball, and be all alone alongside two or three opponents. He looks up in front of him, then to the right, and then to the left – and there were no other green shirts (our team’s kit) with him! It’s like our team turned into spectators. I want to introduce (or reintroduce) the idea of supporting positions in a very basic way. If the player with the ball is on the sideline, even with him near the middle of the field. In the middle of the field with the ball, follow on the sideline.
- Continuing to introduce positions and responsibilities: I know this will be a key in U10. I want to get them accustomed to knowing they will have support in other parts of the field automatically. It’s also something for them to get into the habit of resetting when play stops or changes (like a goal kick or held ball by the keeper).
Most of the kids on the team were rapidly losing interest in minding the net at the end of the season. We are supposed to use four keepers per game. I’d prefer not to force kids to play the goal, but I will if I can’t get enough volunteers. My radical plan from last fall was to bring the keeper out further and let him play a deep defender position, and slot the defender up at midfield when we have possession and give them both a little more room to roam. It’s probably more important in this group to prevent shots on goal – since our history in the fall was when a shot was taken on target it had a 60% chance of going in.
The most important item in our season, since it will be what they take with them the most next year. We’ll continue to work on 1v1 to build on-ball skills as well as defensive skills. I’ll also be counting on our club’s trainers to introduce more dribbling, turning, passing and shooting skills
Off the Pitch
I’m planning to continue stressing the need to practice away from practice and games (individual skill time) and playing more than once a week. I’m hoping to be able to find a day of the week to continue our Pick Up Soccer program into the season. That depends on being able to find a night that works in with my work schedule, the kids Tae Kwon Do, school work, and need for downtime.
Did I mention our season is only about twelve weeks long?
I’m probably in my last season of coaching Aidan’s team. As he moves to U10, I don’t think I’ll continue coaching his team. There’s several reasons – among them, a second practice each week (and both practices are in-week versus Fridays) as well as the added complexity to try and teach. I will keep playing with him and trying to get him adapted to playing at whatever level he chooses.
I’m trying to make this Spring really great for him, his team, and me. All of my learnings can be applied when Evan moves up in field size and we start over in the fall at U7.