Friday, June 21, 2013

U8 Boys grassroots soccer - 44 house league players out for more soccer

Every year, the Welland Soccer Club hosts what they call the "Wizard Academy".  Traditionally, it was for players in U8 starting to be identified for U9 travel.  I was never participated in this program until this year.

A change to the philosophy this year is that it's open to U7/U8 house league players and there will be no cuts.  Upon hearing that, I decided to participate.  (great decision, Rob!)

A lot of these kids have never had a real "training session" of any kind.  Learning to listen, adhere to safety rules and get organized are probably more important than the soccer itself for the first couple of sessions.

My main goal of the session was diagnostic; to get an idea of what we were working with.  I liked what I saw and enjoyed the group.  I had a few of them in last year's WSC summer camp.

I have some simple rules:
  • Have fun or go home :)
  • When I am speaking, I don't want to hear anybody else and I want to see your eyes..
  • We do not kick balls into crowds.
  • We do not shoot on net during free time unless the keeper has pointed to us and there is nobody in front us.
  • When it comes to safety issues, I do not say "please" and it's non-negotiable.
It may sound lame, but when you have 44 boys at one session, you need guidelines.  There are 96 boys in house league so we need to be ready for that.

Moving forward we want the boys to show up in white shirts.  This will make it easier to organize groups.  Last night we had some kids straggling in late, we had to move fields and we had to have a little parent intro meeting and that all took up a little bit of time.
"We learned a lot about the boys during that 15 minutes and some were starting to experiment with their own moves."
Helping me last night were Coach Chris Z (U9 travel coach who is also a school principle), Coach Marco G (U8 boys and a teacher) and Coach Mirko M (an old friend and self dubbed "Croatian Sensation").  All three are great with kids and a perfect set of coaches to kick off the first night with.

I decided to scrap the Physical Literacy part of my plan so we can get them into soccer right away.

Again, organization during a session.  We set up 8 adjacent 1v1 grids to get them in playing mode.  The 1v1 was the background for us getting the kids into the mindset of listening and paying attention.  I also wanted to see the level they were at.

We did not coach 1v1 techniques on defending and attacking  It was more attitude.
  • Challenge to win the ball
  • Don't stop playing until the game is over
  • Don't stand still waiting for the other guy to come to you.
  • Don't let him approach your goal.
Some boys were shy at first and some took a while to get used to groups, lines, listening, waiting, where to go when you're done playing, etc.  We learned a lot about the boys during that 15 minutes and some were starting to experiment with their own moves.

We also established the standard of pushing a dead ball out a few feet before striking it.  All night when a player gave me a bad ball during the demo, I made him do it again.

The meat and potatoes of the session was playing soccer.  My plan had us in 4 stations on 4 mini fields.  The fields were approx 20x30yds with 4x8 goals (these are the U6 fields for house league).

Station 1  4v4+GK soccer - 2 touch minimum
Station 2  SSG game where teams attack 2 goals that are situated in the corners. (see Figure 1)
Station 3 4v4+GK soccer - 2 touch minimum
Station 4 SSG where players have to dribble over the goal line to score (see Figure 2)

Figure 1

Figure 2

Mirko and I had stations 1 and 3.  When I work with house league players, my first mission is to rid them of the habit of just striking the ball on their first touch.  It usually goes in the direction they are running.  So the 2-touch model sets the easiest stage.  Each boys had two chances at the 4v4 game.  The first time through it was 2 touch as the only coaching point.  The second time through was 2 touch and only one player needs to be on the ball.  They were getting the hang of it to some degree but we have a good starting point.  It will take time.

Marco had station 2 and Chris had station 4.  I asked them both to not coach too much and to let the kids solve the problem laid before them.  The only suggested points my plan had for them were:

Station 2
  • Play the ball towards the goals, not up the middle
  • If you can't get to the one net find a way to get the ball across the field as soon as you can.
  • Keep scanning the field.
Station 4
  • When there is space in front you , attack it at full speed.
  • If you can't go forward, pass to a teammate.
  • Don't bulldoze into a group of players.
At the end we had kids sweating and they were all in situation where they were directly involved in every activity.  I will give these boys full points for their level of competition.

We also had three club coaches getting four chances to deliver a game and hopefully refine their delivery with each passing group.

Next week I am going to make one of the stations of a technical nature, along with the warm-up.  I still intend to have them in a minimum of three game situations.  My goal here is to ensure they have as many opportunities as possible to play and experiment.

I wasn't unhappy with how the session went, nor am I 100% pleased.  There were things that could have been better and I should have confirmed, in advance, who was helping.  The organization was OK since the 4 fields were already laid out and pinnies and balls were waiting for the kids.  The flow of the session and time management were off because I let the opening pleasantries go a bit too long.  And, in hindsight, I should have kept the physical literacy portion and dropped the 1v1.  The one thing that I can't control but need to be ready for are the number of players coming out.  Other than that, I will not be over analytical until after the second one.

I will be out Saturday morning to say "hi" at their games and, of course, bust their chops a bit. :)

I look forward to next Thursday.