Archive for the ‘fun practices’ Category

Fun Practice Games: World Cup Tournament

April 11, 2010

At a recent 360 Soccer Training camp where I was a trainer, each daily session ended with a World Cup Tournament. The tournament pitted four teams of four playing a round-robin tournament. A team received 3 points for a win, 2 for a tie, and 1 for a loss (after all, no one or no team ever likes to receive zero points). The team with the most points each day was declared World Cup Champs.

Like many other trainers, I strongly recommend that each session or practice end with some sort of scrimmage, preferably small-sided to maximize touches. Besides having an opportunity to apply and reinforce new skills that were learned that day in a game-like setting, the players will feel rewarded for their hard work and strong effort they had put in earlier.

Each World Cup team received a different colored pinnie. Each team then had to choose a country to represent. The caveat was that the selected country had to have the same color in their uniform as the pinnie that was assigned to the team. For example, the green-pinnied team chose Mexico one day and Nigeria the next day and the red-pinnied team chose the United States and Japan.

I recommend taking the World Cup Tournament concept one step further. Players should also assume the identity of the professional players that represent each of the countries selected. For example, the United States team of Bornstein, Donovan, Bradley, and Dempsey could play against Mexico and Israel Castro, Gerardo Torrado, Giovanni Dos Santos, and Carlos Vela.

If you are like me, you will quickly run out of teams and players. In this case, assign a different player each week the task of coming up with team names and players for each pinnie. Team and player names can also come from the WPS, MLS, EPL, Bundesliga, and La Liga leagues. If you decide to incorporate the use of professional names, make sure teammates call each other by their new names. This will force players to concentrate more and play with their heads up.

Players should enjoy their own version of the World Cup Tournament. In the process, they will learn more about the game of soccer and some geography. Who knows, maybe a nickname or two will stick as well.

Soccer’s Magic Cube

March 1, 2010

A lot of young players today rely on only one foot to do all the work. Oftentimes, I will see young players run around a ball just so they can stop it with their dominant foot. I strongly believe that at a very young age coaches and parents should encourage and work with their players and children to get comfortable using both feet. Much like learning a second language or a musical instrument, it is much easier when a child is young. This can also apply to learning to use both feet.

To help in this endeavor, I have created the ‘Magic Cube’. It is soccer’s equivalent to the ‘Magic 8 Ball’. It helps teach and remind a player which foot to use to stop a ball.

The Magic Cube has three main colors (see below). They are:

  • Light brown represents the side of the body the ball is passed to (pass).
  • Red represents which foot should be used to stop the ball (stop).
  • Blue represents which surface of the foot should be used to stop the ball (side).

The cube also has four letters. They are:

  • L’ for left
  • R’ for right
  • I’ for inside-of-the-foot
  • O’ for outside-of-the-foot

With the help of the Magic Cube, remembering the proper technique for stopping a ball is simple.

  1. When the ball is passed to a player’s left side, he/she should use the inside of the left foot to stop the ball (LIL).
  2. When the ball is passed to a player’s right side, he/she should use the inside of the right foot to stop the ball (RIR).
  3. When the ball is passed to a player’s left side, he/she should use the outside of the right foot to stop the ball (LOR).
  4. When the ball is passed to a player’s right side, he/she should use the outside of the left foot to stop the ball (ROL).

Feel free to download and assemble your own Magic Cube. In other posts, I have mentioned fun practice alternatives. Assembling Magic Cubes would certainly qualify as a fun practice alternative. All you need to bring to practice are some 2-dimensional cubes and a few glue sticks (depending on the age of the kids, the cubes may need to be pre-cut and scored). Once the cubes have been assembled, demonstrate the proper stopping technique. Young players will remember the sage wisdom of the Magic Cube for a long time. During the year, coaches and parents can always refer to the ‘Magic Cube’ when the players need some assistance.

I added dots to each face of the cube so the Magic Cube can also be used as a die. If a player uses the Magic Cube more than once, its message will have a better chance of sinking in. To open and print out the Magic Cube shown above (complete with instructions), click here. To check out Magic Cubes in several color schemes, click here. Choose your favorite. I will also be happy to create a custom-colored Magic Cube. Just let me know.

The sooner a young player feels comfortable using both feet, the better.

Fun Practice Alternative: Catch

January 6, 2010

I played American football in high school and college. I was both a field goal kicker and punter. One trait often overlooked in kickers and punters is their creativity. There are only so many kicks and punts these players can practice before they either develop a dead leg or simply die of boredom. When I played, we needed to be creative to get through most practices. When I was not working on field goals or punts, I enjoyed playing catch. We would take turns being the quarterback and pass the ball to kicker/punter turned-receiver teammates running prearranged routes. We would also play catch by having the receiver run down field and instead of throwing the ball, we would punt the ball, The goal was to hit the receiver in stride.

A similar game can be played at a soccer practice. Here’s how.

  • Come up with a few pass routes. Some short and some long.
  • Divide the team into 3 groups: left-sided receivers, right-sided receivers, and the quarterbacks (kickers).
  • Have a receiver run one of the routes and have the quarterback pass the ball to the receiver in stride. Kick the ball off the ground so the receiver has to catch it. The ball should be stationary when kicked, like a free kick or corner.
  • Make sure everyone gets a turn playing all three positions

Once the players begin to feel comfortable with this game, add some variations:

  • Add new routes.
  • Have the quarterbacks chip the ball high into the air or have them kick it ‘on a line’.
  • Have the quarterbacks kick with their weaker foot.
  • Instead of catching the ball, have the receivers control the ball with their feet.
  • Add a defender so the pass needs to be more accurate.

This fun practice alternative is great for the quarterbacks. It gives them an opportunity to work on:

  • Touch. Chip shots, regular kicks, or power passes all require different types of touches to be put on the ball. During a regular game, correct ball touches are important.
  • Kicking into open space. Since the receiver is moving, the quarterback needs to pass to the spot where the player will be when he/she receives the ball. This should happen in a soccer game all the time.

The receivers benefit as well.

  • It gives them an opportunity to receive and control the ball from unusual angles. This is a great exercise for the forwards.
  • It reinforces the need to always be moving.
  • Running the routes helps with fitness.

If playing ‘catch’ with a soccer ball is not a big hit, break out some footballs. While throwing and catching a football will not benefit the team much from a soccer perspective, it will still be a nice break from a regular soccer practice.

The De-Cursing Ritual is for Real

December 23, 2009

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how my U11 son’s soccer team had started a de-cursing ritual in which the Team Dad would de-curse the boys’ shoes and the goalie’s gloves before or during each game. And it worked. The boys had not lost a game since the ritual began. In fact, they made it all the way to the NorCal championship game.

The championship game was held this weekend and (cue of the up the Twilight Zone music) the de-cursing ritual seems to be legitimate. Unfortunately, Team Dad, Gene, did not perform his ritual and after a hard-fought game, my son’s team lost 3-1. Congratulations boys on a great and memorable season.

In the meantime, buoyed by his newfound ability and backed by this latest scientific proof, Gene is now offering his de-cursing services and can be reached at 1-800-De-Curse.

Memorable, Fun, and Age-Appropriate Rituals

December 10, 2009

My son’s U11 team is notorious for its inconsistencies, not just from game-to-game but from half-to-half. Granted they are mostly 10-year-olds and this pattern is by no means unusual. Tired of this inconsistent play and losses against much weaker teams, the team dad, Gene, decided to take an unusual approach to solving this problem. Before each game or after a poorly played half, he would ‘de-curse’ the boys’ shoes.

The ritual goes as follows:

  • The boys collectively stick out their shoes.
  • Gene visits each player and performs an elaborate exorcism by ‘ptooing’ and then commanding the demons or ills that are possessing the boys’ shoes to disappear (see photo below).
  • Just recently, the goalie started asking that his gloves be de-cursed as well.

Since this ritual began, the team has not lost a game and they will be playing in the NorCal State Cup finals at the end of December.

I am sharing this story  for two reasons:

  • I think de-cursing the shoes is a very clever and age-appropriate solution to a problem that many coaches face.
  • It is fun to see the kick, joy, and amusement the boys get out of this ritual.

At this age and this point in the season does it matter if they believe that the ‘de-cursing’ is the cause for their improved player rather than the culmination of all the hard work they put in this year? I don’t think so. Also what I’m almost 100% sure of is that six years from now when the boys are reminiscing about their youth playing days, they will have no idea if they won this year’s NorCal tournament but they will definitely remember the ‘de-cursing’ ritual.

Soccer is not just about playing the game, learning technical fundamentals, socializing, understanding the concept of ‘team’, and good sportsmanship. It is also about creating lasting memories that 10-year-olds find important and enjoy. If you have a similar story, I know the readers of ‘Improving Soccer in the United States’ would love to hear it.

Fun Practice Alternative: Chess

December 3, 2009

Chess at soccer practice? Sure, why not!

During practice, many youth soccer coaches focus on the physical component of the sport. While this is certainly important, soccer and all other sports have a huge mental component to them as well. This mental piece often gets overlooked.

So why chess?

  • To be a good chess player, you need to have a game plan, you need to have a strategy, and you need to think ahead. Many good chess players have their next 4 to 8 moves planned out. While planning that far ahead in soccer is impossible given the fluid nature of the game, knowing what you will do when you receive a ball is critical. Too many players simply focus on stopping the ball but have no idea what they will do once they receive the ball.
  • Besides developing your own strategy, chess players need to know what strategy their opponent is using. Are they defensive oriented? Do they like to attack? What is their favorite piece? Knowing what strategy the opponent is employing will undoubtedly affect how you play. Same is true in soccer. How fast is the other team? What kind of defensive formation do they play? What are the goalie’s strengths and, more importantly, his/her weaknesses? Who is their most dangerous player? It is important for soccer players to know and understand their opponents.
  • With a bird’s-eye perspective, chess players can see the entire board. While soccer players don’t have the luxury of this perspective, players must be aware of the entire field. They need to know where their teammates are at all times as well as the whereabouts of the opposing players. The only way this can be achieved is to play with the head up. Don’t just focus on the ball.
  • Not all players on a team will know how to play chess. This is a perfect opportunity for players who do play chess to teach and communicate with one another. If you are lucky, some of the quieter more reserved soccer players will be the top chess players. This will give them an opportunity to teach, coach, and be more communicative with their teammates. In soccer, all players need to constantly talk to one another.
  • Chess is definitely different. After weeks and weeks of soccer practice, getting off the field may be in everyone’s best interest. What is great about chess is that it teaches many important lessons that can be applied to soccer.

If chess is not a big hit, checkers, connect-four, backgammon, any combination of these games, or any other games that require thinking and a strategy to win will work. If you don’t want to play these games at the field, either host or have a parent host this ‘practice’. And for good measure, have a barbeque or pasta feed as well. It will certainly make for a fun and memorable practice.

Fun Practice Alternative: Ultimate Soccer

November 29, 2009

There is a game that I see both youth and adult soccer coaches use as a warm-up exercise that I don’t think is very good or effective. I called it ‘Throw-in Keepaway’ but I believe there are other names for it. The game is played as follows:

  • Players are divided into two teams.
  • Using the proper throw-in technique (with the ball behind the head with 2 hands and the feet on the ground), the ball is passed to an open player on the same team.
  • The open player needs to catch the ball to earn a point. A point is earned with each successful catch. Points accumulate as the ball is successfully passed and caught by a teammate. If the passing team drops the ball but retains possession, the point total goes back to zero.
  • If the ball is caught or recovered by the other team, the other team starts passing the ball around and accumulating points in the same fashion.
  • The team with the highest point value wins.

This game does get players loose and it is fun in its uniqueness. But I don’t like some of the negative aspects that are associated with the game:

  • It promotes bunch ball because most players can’t throw-in very far.
  • In the haste of finding and passing the ball to an open player, poor and improper throw-in techniques are often used.
  • Because of the close confines, there is a greater chance of players running into each other and getting hurt.

Instead, I recommend playing a game called ‘Ultimate Soccer’. Ultimate Soccer (US) is very similar to ‘Ultimate Frisbee’ (UF). Like UF, US is played with a Frisbee on a field that looks like a football field, with end zones at either end. A point is earned each time the Frisbee is caught in the opposing team’s end zone. A player who catches the Frisbee outside of the end zone must advance the Frisbee by throwing it to a teammate; the player is not allowed to advance the Frisbee by running with it.

US could be played using UF rules, but I prefer a slightly modified set of rules that make US more soccer friendly.

  • US should be played on an age-appropriate soccer field with the end zones starting on the goal line and extending out to the top of the penalty box (see image).
  • Similar to soccer, US kick-offs (or throw-offs) start at midfield with the Frisbee being tossed backwards (this is different than UF where the Frisbee is thrown downfield by the team that scored a point).
  • Unlike UF which requires the defense to play a man-to-man defense, in US teams are allowed to play a defensive zone if they wish.

Benefits

Sure many players may struggle throwing the Frisbee. To help, make sure that each game begins with a warm-up throwing and tutorial session. Then let the fun and benefits begin.

  • Movement off the ball
    In ‘Ultimate’ if a player stands around, he/she will never receive a pass and if they do, it will be intercepted. In soccer, I have found a lot of players just stand around waiting for the ball to be passed to them. ‘Ultimate’ will help players move.
  • Finding the open space
    Now that there is movement, where should a player move? Simply put, ‘open space’ is any place there is no other offensive or defensive player. Finding and moving to the open space requires looking at the entire field and not just at the Frisbee.
  • Playing with the head up
    To find the open space, a player must play with his/her head up in order to see the entire field. In soccer, players often focus only on the player with the ball and seldom on their surroundings. Ultimate will force players to play with the head up.
  • Passing to the open space
    One of the best parts of ‘Ultimate’ is it teaches the thrower to throw the Frisbee not at the player but rather to the spot where the player will be when he/she has completed a move. I have found that passing to the open space is one of the hardest concepts to learn in soccer. US will reinforce this skill.
  • Discourages kickball and one-touch soccer
    At the youth level, many players simply kick the ball away as soon as it comes to them without ever controlling it first. With ‘Ultimate’, this is not possible. A player has to first catch the Frisbee before a pass can be made. At the youth level, it is critical for a player to learn the importance and skill of ball control.
  • Running toward the Frisbee
    ‘Ultimate’ players will learn very quickly that unless they run toward the Frisbee once it is thrown to them instead of waiting for the Frisbee to come to them, a defender will always step in front of them and intercept the pass. The same thing happens on the soccer field if a player does move toward the ball when it is passed to him/her.
  • Verbal and body-language communication
    The US field is large. The player in possession of the Frisbee can’t see the entire field at once. He/she needs help from teammates. Body language, such as pointing to the spot you want the Frisbee thrown, as well as verbal communication, is an important key to any team’s success. I don’t think there can ever be enough communication on the soccer field, especially between players.
  • Conditioning
    US is a fantastic way for soccer players to get in game shape. It simulates game-like conditions. If US is played at the end of practice, the players are guaranteed to be exhausted by the end. Yet they’ll have had lots of fun!

Fun Practice Alternative: Kickball

November 3, 2009

I’m sure everyone is familiar with the school yard game of kickball. Kickball is played just like baseball but with a soccer ball. My version of kickball is slightly different from the standard way kickball is played. My version incorporates a lot of ball control.

Field Layout

  • Set up the field as you would a regular baseball field (see graph below). The dimension should vary by age.
  • Rings should be should be used as bases. Regular flat bases will work as well
  • Between each set of bases (i.e., home and first), set up discs or cones that the players will need to dribble through. Then number can vary.Kickball

The Rules

  • Each team gets 3 outs.
  • An out can be registered by ‘catching’ the ball or forcing someone out at any of the four bases.
  • After 4 balls (not 3 strikers) a batter is out.

The Game

  • The pitcher is an offensive player. The pitcher kicks the ball over the home plate ring. A kick that does not go over the ring is called a ‘ball’. The pitcher is allowed only 4 ‘balls’ before the batter is out. The batter stands behind home plate and is only allowed to kick ‘strikes’. Once the ball is kicked, the pitcher must leave the field as not to interfere with the defense. The pitcher becomes the offensive team’s next kicker.
  • Once a strike is kicked into play, the batter must take another ball (which is kept to the right of the batter’s box), and dribble between the cones to first base. Each cone must be successfully dribbled through. If the player misses a cone, she must return to the missed cone and continue dribbling. If the defensive team catches the ball or the ball arrives to first base before the batter, the batter is out. The same rule applies to any base. The batter can advance to as many bases as she pleases. However once a player commits to the next base, she is committed and can’t go back to the previous base. Each base has to be crossed before advancing to the next base.
  • Players on base are allowed to advance as soon as the batter kicks the ball.
  • To force a player out, the ball must arrive and be placed in the ring before the dribbling player arrives. Defenders may pass the ball to a player covering the base.
  • Defensively, hands are not allowed except to ‘catch’ a ball. However, hands can only be used after a player uses her head, chest, thigh, or foot to control the ball before it hits the ground. Once the ball is controlled and before hitting the ground, the same player can catch the ball for an out. If the initial defensive player is not able to control the first-touch effectively, another defensive player can still ‘catch’ the ball as long as the ball does not hit the ground she first controls the ball with her head, chest, thigh, or foot. Offensive players are not allowed to advance or tag up on catches. However, if a ball is caught, players are permitted to dribble back to their starting base. A defensive player can force the runner out by returning the ball with a pass or dribble to the base the player must return to.

That’s it. Equipment, field size, and rules can vary based on what works best for your team. Hopefully your team enjoys this game. The best thing of all, they are still working on their ball control and having fun doing it.