Even the best players in the world have to sometime revisit the basics. Many coaches after going through a tough string of loses uses the famous saying, “we are going to go back to the basics.” When in reality, you should be going through the basics every single practice. Too many coaches who coach older players focus too much on winning and not enough on fundamentals.
A teammate and friend of mine recently started coaching a group of 13-14 year old teenagers who the majority this was their first time ever playing soccer. He compared their skill level to that of a six-year-old. He continued by saying they are at the age where they don’t want to be “babied” and told what to do at a simple level, but they really need to learn the basics. Three ways to you can accomplish this task is to educate, repeat and make it fun.
No matter what level you are playing, getting as many touches on the ball is the most important component of a practice. The first 30 minutes of a practice you should be constantly touching the ball. Make sure you educate your players on the importance of developing and maintaining your first touch. Ninety percent of the game is dribbling and passing, your first touch is very important. A good way to start off your practice by telling your players you are going to do a warm up and stretch. Have everyone line up with the ball on the side-line and walk-dribble across the field to the other side. The first time across make a rule that you can only use your right foot. As soon as your left foot hits the ground you must touch the ball with your right foot before your right foot can hit the ground. You will probably have players all over the place, but this will teach them the importance of keeping the ball close and maintaining a good first touch. It will also get their minds thinking (left foot down, right foot touch) and get them focused on the practice. Once you get to the other side, do a little stretch and repeat the same drill going across the field the other way, using your left foot only, ending with another stretch. When you are finished with that, add a little fun and have a juggling competition, there isn’t a better way to work on your touch.
It doesn’t matter what age you are the more you do something, the more you repeat it, the better you will get at it. It’s important to repeat some components of your practice into your next sessions. For example, have your players juggle every single practice. The more they do it, the better they will get, the more juggles they will be able to obtain and they will be able to see realized gains. They will be developing their touch without them even realizing it. Sometimes you can add a little fun into your practice and “trick” them into learning a basic skill. You could even construct a spreadsheet with all your players names and document the most consecutive juggles each practice for each individual. When you instill a competition like this, your players are more likely to go home and try to practice it on their own.
Lastly, you have to make it fun for your players! Don’t line up your players in two lines and have them pass the ball back and forth to each other. Your players will start to lose focus and interest, and with that comes poor passes. Instead, encourage a little competition with the same exact drill. Have them line up on one of the lines on your field and see who can pass the ball along the line to their teammate. As the coach, stand along the side and make comments and implement energy into the competition. Have them keep track of how many times they individually were able to keep the ball on the line.
As the coach if you lack energy you are going to get the same response with your players. Before you start a drill explain to your players what they should be getting out of it and what they should learn. Give tips on how to do the drill better (keeping the ball close while dribbling, letting the ball hit your laces and bouncing straight up in the air while juggling, what part of the foot you should be hitting to pass the ball). When you are running the drills don’t just sit back and watch, get involved! Speak to them, “good job” ”keep it a little closer” “try using the inside of your foot.” SHOW SOME ENERGY! Not only should your players have fun with it but you as a coach should have fun too. Make sure you always end your practice with something fun because when they leave the practice this is usually the last thing they will remember, which should get them excited for the next session.