12 Apr 25 Random Thoughts On Youth Soccer Training
Ever woken up from a nap and didn’t know where the hell you were? Or felt like you were in a different decade?
Yeah, well, that’s where I’m at in my career. Yes, coaching and training is a career. Deal with it.
Over four years ago, I ran my first private soccer lesson on a shitty field with 10 cones on-hand and one ball with no pump. First off, time. Has. Flown. Second, WTF was I thinking.
Now that I reflect on how far I’ve come, my development is tantamount to that of the Olsen twins.
I started as a post college girl frolicking around on the field, tossing around cones and ladders calling them organized “drills” and speaking in half-assed coaching points. Slowly, I evolved into a woman who customizes sessions, speaks in motivational quotes, and uses creative, external coaching cues. More on these later. ;-0
Needless to say, it’s been a whirlwind of learning how to teach the technical and performance enhancement side of soccer, instead of being a paper tiger with a flashy soccer resume and an All-American certificate.
200+ players and 13 nasty soccer parents later, here I am staying afloat. Perhaps it was the DILFs and sexy dad bods that made me stay, or simply, my love for teaching. I could argue I’ve blossomed into a woman with an insatiable desire to learn and perfect my craft, yet who STILL feels she doesn’t know enough. More or less, I’m just warming up.
As the game progresses and sport science takes over, trainers and coaches have no choice but to get better. And when it comes to youth training, we must proceed with great care.
In lieu of celebrating over four years of training (which really isn’t that many), here are 25 Random Thoughts On Youth Soccer Training:
1.) Parents should stay away. FAR AWAY.
Gone are the days when I allowed parents to ride my ass and stand right on top of me during a training session. Whether you are running a team practice or private session, parents should #GTFO. I’m all for parents watching, as long as they’re 5 miles away and have binoculars. LOL. Above all, this bears repeating: soccer is a time for the kid to live in the moment, escape the daily stressors of life, and tune into their development as a player.
2.) Proprioception should be in the warm up.
Big word alert! But no worries. Proprioception can be dumbed down to describe one’s spatial orientation of their body position and equilibrium – all things that help with balance and stability. Especially in youth athletes, neuromuscular control should be reinforced to train the brain to properly land, control deceleration, and stabilize the lower extremity.
According to Soligad et al, injuries of the knee and ankle were reduced with a comprehensive warm up for in-season soccer players. A study done by Daneshjoo et al also concluded the effectiveness of a static and dynamic balance warm up for male soccer players to prevent knee injury.
3.) Verbal cues are not enough.
Most of the time, yelling at a kid to “LOCK THEIR ANKLE!!!!” or “FOLLOW THROUGH!!!” on a shot is not enough. Perhaps have them do a first touch positional hold for 5 seconds so they *feel* the technique.
And for shooting, have them leap over a cone or “pond” several times to hammer home the follow through.
4.) Ladders as warm up.
Stop using ladders as the workout. Seriously, stop. I’m not totally anti-ladders, as I believe they’re a great tool to use for the warm up and coordination. Using them for more than 5 minutes, however, is a waste of time. Because doing ladders all the time will only get kids GOOD AT DOING LADDERS. Not soccer.
5.) Prioritize core stability.
At a young age, kids must learn to stabilize their torsos specific to soccer – holding off defenders, running at maximal speed, turning quickly, and transferring power from upper body to lower body for a shot. None of these involve spinal flexion, so stop with the ab crunches. Also, nerd out and read Soccer Anatomy by Donald Kirkendall. It’s a great read on the functional anatomy of the game.
6.) Use external cues.
Piggy-backing off of not using verbal cues, external cues oftentimes work better because they relate a skill to something in your environment. I find these work exceptionally well for kids. So instead of saying “lock your ankle” for first touch technique, say “squeeze the ball with your foot.” Or, instead of saying “follow through” on a shot, say “follow the ball into the net.”
7.) Mom and dad DON’T know best.
I’m not done with the parent hate yet. I’ve found that less parents are involved, the better the kid develops and practices autonomy. Nothing revolutionary. I’ve seen this with over 200+ players. And myself. My parents didn’t say shit to me and I guess I turned out okay:
8.) Summer skills camps are overrated.
Strength coach Mike Boyle says summer skills camps are making kids weaker (article here). The off-season should be used to get stronger and build a better athlete. A week long camp of Coerver moves will NOT make your kid faster, nor will it reduce chance of injury. But hey, at least they’ll be good at Coerver…
9.) Hip strength matters.
Warm up should also include a form of hip activation – before practices, one-on-one lessons, and games. According to Bret Contreras, the glutes can handle daily activation. Think of the hips as the trunk to your tree, providing the durability to keep the rest of your limbs stable. More durability = less susceptibility to injury.
10.) Recover hard.
Instead of standing around and scratching your nuts, performing an active rest will ensure proper energy system training and recovery specific to soccer. Even better, the “rest” is an opportunity for players to reset posture, focus back in on coordination, and reap some core stability gains. An example:
11.) Explain to players the purpose of a drill.
When young ones have a purpose, they get excited. It’s science.
12.) First touch CAN be fixed.
A lot of parents operate under a defeatist mindset that their kid either has it or they don’t. Just like speed, first touch CAN be trained. It’s not some genetic super power. The solution: repetition, repetition, repetition. And POSITIONAL HOLDS!!!!!
13.) Train body movements without ball first.
Fakes, shooting mechanics, or first touch must be mastered without ball first. Technical training is similar to weight training – we can’t load the player with a 150 pound squat unless they can perform the movement with their own body weight.
It’s nothing sexy and it’s a bit weird. Working from the ground up with crawling patterns allows kids to master motor skills, upper body strength, and core stability. Alas, Drake was right to “start from the bottom.”
15.) Introduce the art of the “flow state.”
Are your players thinking about homework, their boy crushes, or Justin Bieber while practicing? If so, introduce the “flow state” in which they focus on task oriented cues. These include the players speaking to themselves as they execute a drill. What words help them to trap the ball? Is it inside of the foot? Is it bend the knees? Is it open up the hip? Have them focus ONLY on these during a drill.
16.) Professional player does not mean “good coach.”
I’ll leave it at that.
17.) Stop doing Coerver. Seriously, stop.
Sure, Coerver introduced me to the multitude of moves and turns in soccer. But once I learned them, I was ready to use them in more game-like situations. If you want your players to get the most out of their training sessions, Coerver is a great warm up. For like 2 minutes. Then, it’s time to move onto the big girl stuff.
18.) One hour a week of technical training is not enough.
For Messi, Ronaldo, and Robben, technique never stops. And for the youth player, technique should be reinforced daily as they’re learning new neuromuscular patterns. I’ve seen many players come to me with a first touch the size of a whale, and I’m not surprised when they will tell me their head coach never does technical. It’s important. Do it.
19.) Progression matters.
Technical training is so neurologically demanding, so progression is king.
20.) College scholarships take WORK.
Just because your kid is on ODP, plays in ECNL, and is captain of their club team doesn’t mean UNC, Stanford, and Florida State will come knocking on their door. The reality is it is VERY HARD to get recruited by colleges nowadays, let alone VERY HARD to get money. There are a million other girls who can also bend it like Beckham and who play ECNL. Don’t believe me? Here are some stats.
I know it’s a tough pill to swallow, but college scholarships take effort, consistency, and a fierce desire to WORK. But even then, it’s a toss-up.
21.) Being stronger will make kids faster.
Whenever I repeat this mantra to parents, crickets chirp. I will evade a physics rant on this one, but here’s what you need to know:
Speed = amount of force exerted into ground (distance over time)
Force = mass x acceleration.
To increase this, your child must increase muscle mass and ability to forcefully extend the hips (i.e. dead lifts). No, ladders and speed harnesses aren’t the answer. But we all knew that.
22.) Time off is a good thing.
Nothing will cause a parent more panic attacks than the words “time off from soccer.” The truth is: time away from sport allows the kid to rest muscles, regain their zest for the game, and return stronger than before. No, their skills won’t wane in a month, two months, not even three months.
23.) ID camps are a money suck.
Unless, your child gives a college higher priority than SnapChat, sending them to an ID camp is a waste of time and money. Instead, have them be proactive (and aggressive) about reaching out to college coaches to watch them play in showcase tournaments. IT’S FREE.
24.) Choose coaching over convenience.
Your child’s club team matters. And so does the coach. If you find yourself stuck at a shitty club with half-assed coaching, sometimes taking the leap to a club that is further away is worth it. Remember, your kid’s coach is the guide throughout their most fragile years of their soccer development. At least starting at U-14, choose coaching over convenience.
25.) Having 23 trainers won’t get your kid better.
While I do feel there is a time and place for specialty training, it becomes problematic when a kid has a speed coach, a movement coach, a shooting coach, AND a flip-throw-in coach. I’m also willing to bet some kids have a cleat-shoelace-tying coach. Player development happens when the kid focuses on 1-2 skills to strengthen. Hiring too many coaches pinpoints your child’s weaknesses, confuses the shit out of them, and destroys YOUR bank account.
Okay, I’m done. Thank you for surviving and reading my rant. Again, I’m only four years into the game. It’s child’s play, I know.
I have worked with hundreds of players ages 7-26 and have seen outrageous things. I’ve been through the college recruiting system first-hand and have played internationally. I realize there is a copious amount to learn, but I hope these pointers resonate with you enough to implement them into your coaching. Feel free to message me or comment below on your thoughts. I’m happy to shoot the shit, as always. 🙂