How to Coach Children in Football
When coaching children in football, there are a few fundamentals to consider before getting started. As a coach, you need to be aware that the needs and development of each child will be very different – coaching children is not the same as coaching teenagers or adults. Patience and understanding are necessary skills to have when coaching children of a young age.
Your aim as a successful children's football coach should be to improve their basic skills, such as running, jumping, kicking, catching and throwing. With this comes natural progression and development of their agility, speed, balance and coordination. Coaching children is not about training the 'next big thing' but more so how you can build the foundations for a child to progress both physically and mentally.
In order to coach young children in football, an FA Level 1 Coaching Badge is required and you must also be CRB checked before working with children. This particular qualification will allow you to coach children from U7s upwards. You can find out more about the qualifications you need to become a football coach by reading our article "
How to Become a Football (Soccer) Coach".
Focus on fun, not winning
Football, whether playing or training, should always be an enjoyable activity for any child to take part in. At this early stage in their playing journey, while it is important to begin laying the foundations to master the basic skills, it is also vital that there is a high level of fun for the children to experience.
In their early years, it is more important for a child to be learning and mastering their core skills and not focusing on winning. As this could be viewed as a transitional period, one in which the child moves towards playing regularly and in a more competitive environment, you should be providing them with the tools they need to progress.
The pressures of winning or getting something right every time can push a young mind to fall out of love with the sport very quickly, no matter how talented they initially appear to be. Playing football should never feel like a chore.
Build a supportive environment
Young football players need to feel comfortable when training – offering a supportive and nurturing environment will be the key to getting the best out of each player. Every child will have different circumstances to contend with in their lives, from social to home to school pressures, and so playing football with their peers will often be the ideal outlet for them.
Whether that be burning extra energy, letting off some steam or just wishing to have some fun, the setting you build around them will be an important aspect to their football training and help shape their attitude towards others. Have a zero tolerance for bullying and ensure you are patient with children that make mistakes – remember you are setting an example.
Consistency is also key with all training sessions – you will get more out of a child if they know what to expect each week.
Make drills fun, try turning them into challenges
Practise makes perfect – no child will be playing like Messi or Ronaldo when they first show interest and start training! Children can also be very quick to change their hobbies if they are not getting a sense of reward or enjoyment out of their time, and even the most talented young footballers can lose their motivation to play if they're feeling overwhelmed, pressured or unhappy with the way training is being conducted. Make the very start of your sessions fun by warming up with dynamic movements such as Side Shuffles, Leap Frogs, Jumping Jacks, Crab Walks and Bear Crawls. Then you can progress onto training drills and playing 5-a-side matches.
Use drills to your advantage and create an enjoyable atmosphere by turning your usual football exercises into games or challenges. This will push the team to participate in what could otherwise have felt like strenuous drills while helping them to develop their key competencies. You may even find that they become more creative as their confidence grows.
Start simple and avoid overcomplicating any football drills you want to have the children participate in, taking time to get the session right will only benefit them and, ultimately, the team.
Make feedback positive and constructive
One of the biggest challenges with coaching children in football is offering positive and constructive feedback without making the individual feel disheartened or upset with their performance. There are ways to counteract what may feel like negativity that can help them boost their confidence and performance, and understand what actions they can take to avoid making mistakes.
To deliver constructive criticism in ways which benefit the child, avoid saying things like "you're losing control of the ball too quickly". Instead, use encouraging language like "if you slow down, you will give yourself more time to guide the ball".
Remember, training at this age is all about learning and developing, no one should be perfect first-time round (although you may encounter the odd football starlet in your coaching journey!).
As important as giving constructive feedback is, it's also vital that praise is given when due. It's easy to motivate children when they feel appreciated and they know their teammates are in view of their achievements. This can also produce a knock-on effect with their teammates to perform at their best as they will also want to impress their friends, family and of course, their coach.
Make sure to praise your players for doing things such as behaving appropriately, making good decisions, mastering a new skill or simply just following instructions.
Football Drills for Kids
Basic football competencies should be taught at a young age, ensuring that best practise is followed and bad habits are not developed over time. Skills such as dribbling, passing and defending are key areas of the game all children should start to learn. However, depending on the child's age, they may need some additional support to understand the importance of these skills and how best to execute them.
Being able to keep the ball at your feet while moving quickly can seem like a daunting task but it is a key skill that all players should master, including goalkeepers.
Method: Clean Your Room
While a fun game which teaches children how to dribble effectively under pressure, this is also a great drill to help practise defending and working as part of a team.
How to do it:
- Set up a large square using cones or markers and adjust the size of the grid depending on the number of players in the team
- Select 1-2 players to be 'cleaners', these will be the players who act as defenders with their aim being to kick all of the balls out of the square
- Allow all players who are not acting as cleaners to dribble around the square with their ball
- Introduce the 'cleaners' into the area so they can begin to kick the dribblers' balls out of the grid – the further they kick them away, the longer it will take for the dribbler to get back into the square
- Once the grid is empty, the 'room' has been cleaned and the drill can end.
Play the game enough times so all the children have a turn to be the 'cleaners' and 'dribblers'.
You could make this drill harder by increasing the number of 'cleaners' or place a time delay on the attacking players entering the grid using additional equipment, i.e. have all attacking players run through an
Agility Ladder or Agility Poles then head into the grid.
Understanding the correct method of passing a ball is incredibly important for any player to master. Young children will often kick a ball haphazardly, not paying attention to the correct amount of force in order to reach their target or using the wrong part of their foot.
Teaching the appropriate passing techniques will help a child to develop the strength in their muscles and improve their overall ability to control the ball in pressured situations.
Method: The Passing Name Game
The aim of The Passing Name Game is to help children get used to passing quickly and accurately to their teammates while also making quick decisions. As an added bonus, this drill can be used if the team is newly formed or if new players join, as it will help 'break the ice' and promote the development of friendships within the group.
How to do it:
- Create a circle using cones or makers and position all players at each
- Using one ball, the first player passes to another player
- The receiving player must then call out the name of another player they wish to pass to before receiving the ball
- Once the ball is under control, make the pass
- Try to encourage the players to pick new teammates to pass to each time.
Run this drill through until each player has either demonstrated a good first touch and passing accuracy or has had at least two touches of the ball.
Encourage the players to think ahead and decide who they wish to pass to. This will help them with their decision-making during matches, ball control and producing quality passes.
To increase the difficulty, add another ball or allow movement of players around the circle.
Defending can be a tricky skill to master as it involves a certain amount of confidence from a player to be able to successfully block an attacker without coming to or causing harm. Young children will not necessarily understand the key attributes needed to defend effectively and can find it hard due to the pressures of facing skilful players in quick succession.
Part of being a defender is being able to handle the pressure of sustaining an attack. Timing and body positioning is crucial in order to make a successful tackle or interception, ideal positioning should include good posture, slightly bent knees, hips turned slightly and leaning forward so the player's weight is evenly distributed on the balls of their feet.
Method: 1v1 – First Defender without Opposition
The aim of this drill is to teach players how to successfully defend against the opponent who is in possession of the ball. It will also help them to understand the importance of positioning and teamwork when playing in a pressured situation.
You can set this drill up using cones or markers, and you will also need a match goal positioned behind the defenders to simulate a real match experience and teach the appropriate positioning of the defender.
How to do it:
- Utilising the attacking third of a pitch, with a match goal in place, have the team split into two sets of defenders with two additional players or coaching staff used as attackers
- Position the two teams of defenders on either side of the goal, facing the attacking players
- The first defender from each line should close down on the attacker, focusing on their positioning between the ball and the goal while maintaining a controlled approach
- The purpose of this drill is to have the defender work on their positioning and approach. While winning the ball is an advantage, this isn't the ultimate goal.
Let every player defend 4-5 times or until they become confident enough to complete the drill easily.
You can add variation to this drill by having the defenders start with the ball and pass out to the attacking players ready to close down.
Once you have completed the above drills or even created some of your own exciting games, progress on to 5-a-side matches and encourage the team to put what they've learnt into practise.