The most frustrating problem with a youth soccer team is managing the mental errors and mistakes on the soccer field. Nothing shatters a youngster’s confidence like blowing the game with a poor tackle or missed save. In many games at this level, a key error is often the vital difference between winning or losing so preventing mistakes is key.
So how can you coach your team to limit these issues? First off, focus a lot of the training on fundamentals. Ball control, passing ability, and awareness are key ingredients to preventing silly errors. Great training drills to improve these skills come in small-sided games. Divide the team into small groups of three to four players and play mini matches.
Small-sided games are an excellent training method because they give every player a lot of touches on the ball. Large scrimmages are fun and do help players understand their respective positions, but at the youth level the greater time someone has on the ball is key to skill improvement.
There are multiple ways to organize such drills as well. Using cones to set up small sized goals is a good one, especially as the precision must increase to actually score. Another solid game is keep-away. You have one team of three or four that pass the ball around as another team defends. Once they win the ball the roles reverse. This game forces everyone to practice offence and defense and also teaches good movement and finding space.
If you really want to ramp this game up to another level, incorporate three teams into the drill. This way, the players defending are doubled and the importance of good control and passing skills is magnified.
Such drills are good at improving skills that help reduce errors during a match, but another item to observe is the mental errors. Why is it that even professionals sometimes have gaffes that make even the beginning youngster cringe? The concern is in the mind.
Pressure mounts during soccer games, and many nerves become jangled which leads players to over think and create silly errors. A great coach helps their team overcome such mistakes. An important method, especially at the youth level, is to not chastise a player for their mental errors. They already know they messed up. Yanking them out of a game and yelling at them will simply embarrass them.
A good way to deal with such a moment is to make a strong note of what they did wrong, and what they could have done better in the situation. Wait until the practice after the match when emotions have subsided, take them aside, and simply talk to them about what happened in a positive way and provide them the information about what they could have done differently. The player is probably going to remember the situation, and dealing with it in a positive manner to help is a good way to improve their chances of not committing the error again.