A Guide to Your First Time Coaching Soccer

This post is a follow-on to the generic article A Guide to Your First Time Coaching Sports. This article provides specifics for new soccer coaches just getting started with their first soccer team. Before reading this post, review the parent article to get proper background information.

When you’re done, you’ll be ready to start your first season coaching soccer!

I’ll start by pointing out that I have coached for many years in the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO). I use AYSO as an example many times in this article. I’m a huge fan of how they run their program across the country. Because they embody many of the balanced principles I apply I highly recommend their program.

Expectations

Soccer’s popularity in the United States has greatly increased in the past 30 years. But that doesn’t mean it has reached everyone or that everyone understands the game.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming your players already understand the game of soccer. For example, a first time player may know nothing more than soccer players kick a ball.

The kids are going to need explanations of the basic concepts and rules of the game. You didn’t become a coach to just to supervise them running around a field, they need you to teach them how to play.

You should have similar expectations for yourself. Even if you’ve played soccer, take time to re-train yourself so you can be a better teacher and coach.

Training

Many leagues, like AYSO, provide coaches training specific to each age division. Some even require this training for their coaches. But if training is not available you can get plenty of useful information from sites like BalancedCoaches.com!

First, you should become familiar with the Laws of the Game. These are the basic rules of soccer.

Unlike football or baseball, most of the laws of the game are easy to understand. There are a few exceptions, but these are also quickly learned with a little training.

Rules Modifications

You will also need to understand any rules modifications for your league or age division.

USA Soccer recommends several rules modifications for various age groups. These changes do an excellent job of tailoring the game for the safety and skill level of the kids.

Additionally, many of these adjustments are are adopted by the top leagues in the country including AYSO.

USA Soccer Rules Modifications

Rule6U8U10U12U14U
Game Duration
(Minutes per half)
2020253035
Field Size
(Yards)
30 x 2030 x 2060 x 4075 x 50115 x 75
Team Size447911
Goal KeeperYesYesYes
Offside RuleYesYesYes
Build-Out LineYes
Punting by Goal KeeperYes
HeadersYes

Game Duration, Field and Team Size

I can not over stress the importance of modifying the game for different age groups. If your league insists all ages play by standard 11-v-11 soccer rules, you need to find a different league.

The recommendations by USA Soccer allow the kids to work on the skills appropriate for their age. It also gives them more individual action which keeps them interested in the game.

Make sure you understand the game, field, and team rules for your league, no matter what they are.

Soccer’s Offside Rule Made Simple

The offside rule deserves a post of its own covering its details and strategies for coaching it. But to make this a one-stop-shop for your first time coaching soccer, I’ll give you the brief overview.

Inexperienced people watching a soccer game often think offside is difficult to understand. In reality we can break it down and simplify it so that it is rather easy. I’ll explain it here the same way I explain it to new players.

At all times a player is in either an onside or offside position. If you are in an offside position when someone passes the ball to you it becomes a turnover for the other team. Note that I said when the they pass ball to you, not when you receive the ball. That’s an important distinction.

It’s quite easy to determine if you are in an onside or offside position. When looking toward the other team’s goal, if you see at least one of three things in front of you, you are in an onside position. The three things to look for are:

Basic overview of onside and offside positions in soccer.
  • Ball – If the ball is ahead of you, you are onside
  • Center line – You are always onside in your own backfield
  • Two players from the other team – This usually means the goal keeper and at least one defender must be in front of you

If you are onside at the moment your teammate passes the ball to you, everything is good. If not, the referee will stop play and award the other team a free kick at the point of the infraction.

Look for a future article that covers more detail and coaching strategies for this rule.

Build-Out Line

The build-out line is a new rule to help the defense start an attack after the keeper handles the ball or on a goal kick. These scenarios are difficult for younger teams because they don’t have the ability to put the ball safely back into play. Therefore, this often results in the offense recovering the ball for an easy goal.

Basic overview of the build-out rule in soccer.

This rule adds a line that the offense must retreat to in these situations. It allows the defense a better opportunity to put the ball back into play without losing it. It’s actually a great idea, but it takes a little bit of training to understand it.

Review the explanation given by USA Soccer, but also check on any tweaks made by your league. Leagues vary in how they interpret when the attacking team can cross back over the build-out line.

In a future post, I will discuss some strategies you can teach your team when playing with the build-out line.

Headers

As a first-time coach, become familiar with your league’s rules on the use of the head to strike the ball. This is a common practice in soccer, but it is not recommended AT ALL until 14U. This is to protect players from concussions.

While on the subject, you should become learn the concussion protocol for your league. This will include how to recognize the symptoms and what to do if someone is exhibiting them. No soccer game is so important that you should risk a child’s health.

Communication

The parent article covers recommendations a coach’s communication to their team. Those recommendations all apply for soccer.

But with soccer being an outside sport you will have to deal with weather cancellations.

Ensure that you have proper communication channels setup for last-minute cancellations. I prefer group text messages, but find a method that works for your team and stick with it.

Start of Season Message

I always start the season off with welcome message to the teams’ parents. This allows you to introduce yourself and pass on any information parents need to know before the season begins.

Below, I’ve included a sample welcome message I used for the start a soccer season. I’ve removed specific information allowing you to use it as a template if you find it useful.

Parents –

Please reply to confirm that you received this email.

Welcome to the Fall season of soccer! I’ll be coaching your kids this year and am looking forward to meeting them. My intent is to help them improve their soccer kills, play competitive games, and have fun!

You can reach me via email ([email address]) or cell ([phone number]) if you ever have any questions. Please confirm your email address and cell phone number so I can make sure my contact list is accurate.

Below is everything you need to know for the upcoming soccer season.

Schedule:

I will use a shared Google calendar for our team schedule. You can access it here: [link to calendar]

You can add this calendar to your Google account by clicking the +Google button at bottom of calendar. It will then be available in your Google calendar app.

I will also send weekly emails (usually on the weekend) reminding you of the schedule for the coming week. Additionally, I use text messages to communicate cancellations or other last minute changes.

Games will start [date of first game] but specific times are not yet posted. I plan to get in 4-5 practices before our first game.

I have scheduled practices for the first few weeks to get us started but will schedule more after the game schedule is posted. We will practice twice a week until games start and drop to once a week afterward. Practice nights/times will vary to accommodate schedules.

Our first practice will be [date], [start time]-[end time] at [location]

If you can’t make it to a game or practice, please send a message to let me know.

Equipment:

This age division uses a Size 4 soccer ball. If everyone can bring a ball to practice it is helpful so we have enough for drills. I will have a few extras on hand, but it won’t be enough for everyone.

Other equipment needed is right-sized shin guards and soccer cleats. Cleats must be rubber-molded (no metal) and may not have a toe cleat.

Rules to be aware of:

For those moving up from 10U last year, you’ll notice we now play with 9 players on the field including a goal keeper.

NEW to 12U is that goal keepers are no longer allowed to punt (ie. drop kick) the ball from their possession. So the keeper has to throw or roll the ball to a teammate to restart play.

Let me know if you have any questions and see you at practice!

Thanks!
[Your signature]

Costs

While it can be costly to play on some teams, soccer does offer great opportunities to keep costs low.

The first cost consideration is the league or tournaments you intend to take part in. There are many leagues available that will offer varying levels of cost.

AYSO uses volunteers as coaches, referees, and administrators. As a result, their player fees are extremely reasonable. They also offer financial assistance programs in many regions.

The rest of your costs are likely to come from equipment. At a minimum, parents will have to buy shin guards and soccer cleats. But both can be found for reasonable prices at many sporting goods stores.

Equipment

The required player equipment for soccer is quite minimal. Basically, the only things the players really need to have are a uniform and shin guards.

Unless they are very young, players should have soccer cleats. I also recommend each player have their own ball to bring to practice for drills.

Equipment ItemImportance
UniformRequired
Shin GuardsRequired
Soccer CleatsRequired for all but youngest players
Soccer BallRecommended

Shin Guards

Proper shin guards are an absolute MUST for safety reasons. If you are playing in a league that does not require shin guards, make other plans. That league is not serious about player safety.

Guards that protect the entire shin area are the safest for youth soccer.

You may notice a lot of professional players wearing tiny shin guards. They do this because it gives them the best speed and agility possible. And since they’re pros, they don’t spend much time kicking each other in the shins.

I don’t recommend these shin guards for youth soccer because they don’t provide enough protection. I once saw a kid (high school age) end up with a broken shin bone during a soccer game. This player had shin guards on, but they were not sized correctly for the player’s age.

Most youth players are best off wearing guards with full shin coverage and ankle protection. These can also be purchased at very reasonable prices.

A good example are the Nike Youth Charge Soccer Shin Guards.

Uniforms

Soccer uniforms are also referred to as kits. Most leagues or clubs provide them to ensure consistency across the league. Uniform fees often are included in the player registration, but sometimes it is an extra charge.

Soccer uniforms should come with two jerseys (home and away colors), shorts, and socks.

Including socks may sound silly, but they are actually a very important element. Referees often use sock colors to help distinguish players’ legs on the field.

Goal keepers also need different colored jerseys or a pinny to set them apart from the rest of the team.

I’ve always coached in leagues that provide uniforms. But if you find yourself needing to supply your own, my go-to site is allsportsuniforms.net. I’ve ordered from them many times for other sports and highly recommend them.

Soccer Cleats

Very young players can get away with wearing regular tennis shoes. By the time players reach 8U, though, it is almost required that they have proper soccer cleats.

The primary purpose of soccer cleats is to provide better traction on the turf. Additionally, the shape of soccer cleats provides a better ability to handle the ball.

There are important differences between soccer cleats and cleats for other sports. Comparing them to other shoes, you will see the cleats taper toward the toe and often have offset laces. Because of this, the shoe provides a better surface to cleanly strike the ball.

Soccer cleats are designed for traction and ball control.

Cleats for youth soccer should be made from molded rubber or plastic. There should be no metal cleats. There also should not be a cleat at the very front of the shoe, known as a toe cleat. These restrictions are for safety reasons.

There is a huge variety of soccer cleats available at a wide range of prices. Watch for sales near the start of the season and you can snag some nicer, name brand shoes for a good price.

The Nike Kids’ Bravata Soccer Cleats are a great example.

Soccer Ball

It’s not required, but I do recommend each player has their own ball to bring to practices. This will give you the best opportunity to keep everyone busy during drills. Remember that different age groups use different sized balls.

Age DivisionBall Size
6U, 8USize 3
10U, 12USize 4
14U and upSize 5

I have had great luck with the Nike Pitch Training balls. They are reasonably priced and hold up well after repeated use at practice.

Coach’s Equipment

As the coach, you will also need to have some equipment available to use at practices and games. My recommended list of coach’s equipment is:

  • Mesh ball bag
  • Spare balls (3-4)
  • Cones (20-30)
  • Pinnies (cheap practice jerseys for scrimmaging)
  • First aid kit (bandages, gauze, tape, ice packs)
  • Whistle
  • Air pump
  • Goal keeper gloves (unless keepers provide their own)

You may also want a pair of soccer shoes for yourself to help you demonstrate the skills and drills better.

Practices

Initial Practice Plan

At the beginning of the season you have limited time to cram in a lot of stuff before your first game. With that in mind, I’ve provided a suggested practice plan leading up to your first game.

This plan is best for 10U and 12U teams with a mix of player experience. For experienced players some things will be review but it is always helpful to reinforce concepts.

In future articles, I will give more detail on the drills and games suggested in this practice plan.

Practice 1

  • Coach and player introductions
  • Communicate player expectations
  • Dynamic warm-ups
  • Dribbling basics and practice
  • Passing basics and practice
  • Shooting basics and practice
  • Description of positions and roles
  • Fun game using dribbling skills
  • Verbal review of practice concepts
  • Choose a team name

Practice 2

  • Dynamic warm-ups
  • Dribbling quick review and practice
  • Introduce pull-back dribbling move
  • Passing quick review and practice with give-and-go drill
  • Goal keeper basics and practice
  • Throw-in basics and practice
  • Fun game
  • Review of concepts
  • Decide on your team breakdown

Practice 3

  • Dynamic warm-ups
  • Dribbling practice with pull-backs
  • Give-and-go drill with and without a keeper
  • Defense basics and positioning
  • Goal kick basics and strategy
  • Scrimmage with stoppage to explain situations
  • Review of concepts
  • Team breakdown

Practice 4

  • Dynamic warm-ups
  • Dribbling practice with pull-backs
  • Give-and-go drill
  • 2-on-1 funnel drill for offense and defense
  • Corner kick basics and strategy
  • Offside explanation
  • Scrimmage
  • Review of concepts
  • Team breakdown

Practice 5

  • Dynamic warm-ups
  • Dribbling practice
  • Give-and-go drill
  • 2-on-1 funnel drill
  • Review throw-ins, goal kicks, corner kicks, and offside
  • Longer scrimmage
  • Fun game
  • Team breakdown

Games

Leagues or Tournaments

I recommend league format play for soccer. Soccer is a very physically demanding sport with an extensive amount of running. As a result, multi-game tournaments can often be too tiring for kids.

There are plenty of league options available. As I said earlier, I really like the AYSO league and would recommend it for you.

Coach’s Game Plan

Substituting players in youth soccer is different than other sports. You are typically allowed unlimited substitutions, but can only make them at half or quarter breaks.

Before the game, create a separate lineup for each half or quarter. This will ensure everyone is getting playing time and that you have people in the right positions.

Later in the game, you may need to make adjustments if a player is injured, tired, or you need to change the momentum of the game. So keep your pen handy with your lineup sheet.

You should also know which formations you will be using throughout the game. Also, consider what might warrant a formation change.

Future articles will cover formations and player positioning.

Pre-Game Activities

When your players arrive to the game, use an abbreviated version of your practice warm-ups. This way everyone knows how to get started. Here’s my recommended pre-game routine:

  • Dynamic warm-ups
  • Give-and-go with a keeper
  • If time permits, penalty kicks

After warm-ups go over any game notes and strategy reminders. You might review setup for throw-ins, certain players to mark on the other team, or plays to attempt on the field.

Finally, just before they take the field, have the entire team take part in a breakdown. This is your opportunity to get them excited and get their adrenaline pumping for the game. So put effort into it! Show them that you’re excited too. Starting with an energized team goes a long way.

Summary

You now have all the basic information you need to start coaching soccer for the first time. Stay tuned for future articles detailing drills, plays, and other tips.

As always, remember to take the balanced approach in your youth soccer coaching!

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