Free Flowing Practice: A Case Study

The Under-9 group. According to Age x 2 = attention span, you have eighteen seconds to demonstrate and start the activity. They’re great individually, but group them and something changes. The shrieking, wrestling, and kicking others’ balls away swells into a torrent of misbehavior, engulfing even the gentle ones. All the hive wants to do is scrimmage, and in that chaos  today I needed to teach correct dribbling technique.

What age group did you have, and what was the topic?

Eighteen U9 boys and girls, focus on dribbling technique

Briefly describe what your activities and variations were.

  • Tunnels – Half the team stands with legs apart, other half dribbles through as many ‘tunnels’ as possible in a minute. Vary by using different parts of feet, or weaker foot to dribble.
  • Eyes up dribbling – Group of 3, 2 on one side, 1 on the other, 1 ball. As one player dribbles from one side to the other, the player on the other side holds up a number. Dribbling players calls out each number.  Vary by using different parts of feet, or doing a move
  • Escape – Two teams, all dribbling inside the center circle. Red team’s signal is coach lifting both arms, Blue team’s is coach sitting down. When you see the signal, dribble as quickly as you can off the field. Other team tries to stop them. Vary by going to goal.
  • Cops and robbers. 20×20 box with one robber and two cops. Cops try to tag the robber. Start without a soccer ball. Once they understand the game, all three players dribble and the cops try to kick the robber’s ball out of the box.
  • 4 v 4 game, one big goal vs two small goals.

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How did you decide these activities?

I chose activities from Developing Youth Football Players by Horst Wein. Activities progressed from individual skill under no pressure to a game with defenders to a full game. Due to the numbers and age group – imagine eighteen 3rd and 4th graders on the playground – I chose open activities that didn’t need individual supervision. I had coaching points to deliver during small breaks, otherwise the players experimented with different touches themselves. Regardless of attitude or interest, every player dribbled the ball at some point with the inside, outside, laces, and bottom of the foot.

What were some of your a-ha moments? How did they happen?

During Tunnels, a coach told me his frustration in seeing toes used, again. Usually I’d yell hey don’t use toes. This time I yelled Freeze, then dribbled through three players using my toe..

Me: What am I doing wrong?
The Ewok (small bear thing from Star Wars): You’re a coach, not a kid, you aren’t supposed to be playing. Typical Ewok, he never knew what was going on but had something smart to say
Scooby: You’re kicking it too far. Not what I expected, but correct. I like this little nervous kid
Someone: You’re using your toe!
Everyone: You’re using your toe!
Me: That’s right, so what else can we use to dribble?  

Instead of me telling, the kids worked out what to do. We decided to add a rule where we subtract points every time we used our toe, and boom, no more toes for the rest of practice. The scene took longer than I wanted to, but had a better effect.

What were your biggest mistakes, or biggest wastes of time?

In Eyes Up Dribbling, the players focused too intently on the number of teammate’s fingers that their dribbling speed dropped. Some started walking, some left the ball behind, and some stopped midway. The Ewok also started doing hand signals instead of numbers, further confounding teammates. Unfortunately, the coaching points in my head centered on correct technique – using the laces, the outside of the foot, and using the weaker foot – and I missed their speed drop.

After five minutes, concentration dropped too. No competition meant no incentive to go quickly or do well. Minds wandered and even Chewie (Star Wars, tall, usually obedient) entertained himself by making the hang signals impossible to read. But adding a time limit or creating a race would mean a loss in technique. I froze, not knowing how to move forward. I told them to get water.

Focusing too much on preconceived coaching points, I wasn’t flexible enough to recognize and fix real time issues. Next time I will add a race every 2 minutes. I can set up ‘practice’ times where they focus on technique, go to competition, then back to practice. Next time I’ll be ready.

Key coaching lessons learned?

In Cops and Robbers, starting without a ball had the kids shifting and dipping, moving left and right, stopping and starting, faking and turning. It was amazing. I didn’t tell them to do it, but they knew the body fake from playing tag before. The challenge was to bring it to the field with a ball.

Last week I tried teaching the in-out move, shifting left and then speeding to the right, with poor results. They did the move correctly, but it clearly looked like they were going to shift left and go right. There was no trickery.

Back to the activity, I gathered them and asked for tips from the Robbers. When body shifting came up I asked them all to show me their best ones. Now we had it, the kids looked like little Neymars. I told them grab a soccer ball and do the same thing. I’d like to say everyone got it.. nope. But everyone tried it because they came up with the idea and were proud of it.

What coaching and communication tools did you find useful? 

  • Throughout each activity my assistant coach and I dished out Good jobs and Well done without stopping the players which keeps them focused. More positive feedback, less negative feedback.
  • I need stop saying No not that way. Instead I’ll suggest another way and ask which they prefer.
  • To address the whole group I froze the players, then demonstrated either the right technique or wrong technique.
  • But more often I asked questions to the whole group during the activity. I’d like to credit my natural coaching ability for this, but it was because there was no way I could command the whole group’s attention over and over.

If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

Share coaching points with the assistant coach beforehand. Then we can convey a consistent message to the players, and he knows what to look for.

Incident of the day

With the score tied at 4-4, I told them last goal wins the scrimmage. Kids flew by, positions forgotten, shouting for the ball and craving the goal. I’m distracted for a second when a Corvette drives by  Suddenly Little Pea (small, but super loud) screams GOAL and the other team yells no but her teammates yell yes and it’s a catastrophe. Eight tiny kids screaming at each other, welcome to practice.

Credit to Four Hour Work Week Blog again for providing a cool way to present the practice. Successful online businesses case study: 


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