ball Coaching Tips

Useful   Coaching   Information   &   Drills



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  • Games are always "on" unless you receive official word from the division coordinator that a game has been canceled.  We try to play, and rain in itself is not necessarily cause for cancellation.


  • It's your responsibility to get your team to the field at least 15 minutes before the game is due to start.  Try to be ready for the opening kickoff at the scheduled time, even if it means starting short-handed.

New players

  • You may not unilaterally add a player to your roster.  All late players are assigned to teams by the division coordinator.

Parent support

  • Other parents are often eager to help out with team organization.  Invite one or two to become "team parents."  They can assist with team communications and also with organizing a schedule for bringing water or nutritious drinks to games.  They can help make sure players replenish themselves with enough liquids during breaks and immediately after the game, especially in hot weather.  Snacks are another option.  Fruit slices are recommended, and any snack containing nuts is discouraged, but discuss this with the parents of your players.

Soccer Support

  • Recruit an assistant coach, who helps with practices and is an extra set of eyes and ears at games.  Also, your assistant coach can fill in for you if you are absent.


  • These days you can be in touch with most families via email, but it's important to set up a phone tree for those families who do not have email addresses.

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General Drills

1. Perpendicular Goal Shooting Practice
  • Put the players in one line and roll balls at a right angle to the line.  Each player, in turn, must run and try to kick the rolling ball toward the goal.  It's a terrific test of eye-foot coordination, especially for eight-and-under but even for older players.
  • Variation A: Set up three or four lines, and enlist other moms or dads to help.
  • Variation B: The coach runs in front of the goal to create a target.
  • Variation C: The coach rolls the ball from different directions: directly behind the line, directly toward the line, or at a 45-degree angle.

2. Red Light, Green Light, Blue Light
  • Players start at a line, say at the mid-line, each with a ball.  With the coach's "Green Light" command the players do controlled dribbling --small kicks-- until they hear the next command.  Players who lose control of the ball are sent back to starting line.
  • The "Red Light" command means they stop the ball from rolling by placing their foot on top of the ball.
  • The "Blue Light" command means they have to reverse direction and go back to toward the starting line.
  • Variation: The coach can also add "left light" and "right light" commands as players get more proficient at responding to other commands.
  • Variation: For younger players, add "Yellow Light" - sit on the ball, "Purple Light" - nose on the ball.

3. Fight For It
  • Form two lines, one at each edge of the goal-mouth.  The coach can be the goalie.  The coach throws a ball 10-to-15 yards out.
  • One player from each line runs and tries to win the ball, turns and shoots on goal.  The player who does not win the ball plays defense to prevent a shot.  When defenders win the ball back, they can shoot.
  • Variation: Create teams and keep score.

4. Emptying The Pile
  • This activity helps players work on aggressively chasing the ball, bringing it under control, and dribbling through a crowd.  It also helps diffuse any excess energy.
  • Create a pile of balls and line up the players.  The coach kicks or throws the balls out in various directions, calling the name of an individual player each time.  That player chases the ball down and brings it back to the pile.
  • The object for the coach is to empty the pile of players, and the object for the players is to keep it full.
  • Variation: Mix it up by telling players they can only use their right foot or left foot (or knee or elbow or whatever).

5. One-on-One or Two-on-Two
  • A full complement of one-on-one or two-on-two games enables the players to play constantly.  Each game is set up with two goals made of cones set 10 yards apart.
  • Switch teams every few minutes to minimize the sense of wins & losses.

6. Trap and Feed
  • Place one shooter directly in front of the goal but outside the penalty box.  Place ball feeders on both sides of the goal, two or three players behind the goal, and a keeper in the goal.
  • The feeders have several balls.  They alternately pass the ball to the shooter who fires directly on the goal.  Those behind are to trap the balls (no hands) and pass back to the feeders.
  • After the shooter gets 5 shots, rotate everyone but the keeper.  In 10 -15 minutes everyone will have passed, trapped and shot, and the keeper will have gotten a great workout.
  • Variation: Same basic setup but place several shooters outside the box.  The first feeder passes to the first shooter.  As soon as the shot is taken, the second feeder passes to the next shooter, and so on, rapid fire.  Since the keeper is (usually) still recovering and out of position as each shooter shoots, tell the players to focus on shooting toward the section of the net left open.  Rotate as before.  Be sure to tell the keepers not to get discouraged.  A lot of shots should get by the keeper since the point is to train to shoot for an open space in goal.

7. Teaching Aggressiveness (specifically for girls)
  • Have one player stand still, planting her feet.  Another player is assigned to try and knock her off her feet, using any means possible.  The idea is to get girls accustomed to rough play.
  • Put the girls in a tight circle and throw a ball lightly into the air.  The player who gets her head on it gets to go for a drink of water.  This works well at the end of practice and teaches players to be aggressive when trying to head the ball.
  • Have one girl try to defend a ball along a sideline for as long as possible while another player uses any means possible to get the ball.

8. Passing Backwards
  • This a very fast-paced, counter-intuitive drill that teaches players how to get open to receive a pass, how to pass short, and especially how to pass to a teammate trailing behind.
  • Line up players in a small playing field (about 35x45 yards), with two forwards, one midfielder, and two fullbacks per team.
  • The ball starts with the forwards, but the objective is to pass backwards to the fullbacks, who then either boom it out or pass to a midfielder.
  • The midfielder and forwards are prohibited from passing forward.
  • Each team gets a point for executing five back passes in a row that are on target and controlled by the fullbacks.
  • Rules about passing backwards:
    • You must make eye contact with the player you are passing to.
    • The pass has to be accurate, ideally right at your teammate's feet.
    • You must communicate verbally (Yell out "back pass") before the pass is made.
    • You can only pass when the fullback is open.
    • The fullback must do a quick release.

9. Keep Away (ball control)
  • Three players make a triangle (or a square) with an adult in the middle.
  • The adult tries to steal the ball while the players pass to each other.
  • Variation: the players form a circle with two or three in the middle.  The ones on the outside have to pass to another player on the outside while the inside players try to steal the ball.  The player who intercepts a ball goes to the outside and is replaced in the middle by the player who made the unlucky pass.

10. Dribble-Shoot (ball control)
  • Players line up, dribble the ball 10 feet, then shoot on goal from 10 feet out.

11. Lead Pass
  • Form players into two lines outside the penalty box; one line toward the right side of the field, the other toward the left.  The player at the front of the right line makes a diagonal pass aiming for a spot halfway between the goal and the front of the left line.  The player at the front of the left line runs forward and tries to kick the moving ball into the net.
  • Switch after a while so players in the left line make the pass and players in the right line take the shot.

12. Power & Finese - For goalies and offensive players
  • Have two goalies ready in goal (one rotates in for each attack).
  • Line up offensive players to take a first shot from about 15 yards out.
  • After the first shot, they continue to run towards goal.
  • As they run towards goal, have an assistant roll a second ball out into the box (simulates a rebound or pass) and have them take a second shot on goal from about 5 yards out.
  • After taking this shot they should continue to run towards the goal.
  • Another assistant with balls should be ready to help set up their third shot, a well placed (light toss) in the air for them to head into the goal.
  • Meanwhile, the goalie's objective is to stop each of these three rapid attempts on goal.
  • This drill can move so fast, that as soon as a goalie has handled one shooter, the second goalie needs to rotate in to take on the next shooter.
  • Make sure the shooters retrieve balls and help redistribute them to the points they're needed before returning to line.

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For all drills, make a circle using cones.  It has to be big enough to permit the players to run around with plenty of room, but not so big that when they play tag they can't catch anyone.  Probably, make the circle about 20-steps in diameter.  Use a lot of cones, because it's all part of teaching the players to stay in-bounds, which requires them to be able to see the cones as they run around.

Begin by introducing the concept of teamwork - say "hello" to each other, recognize that the whole group is the team, and each player is a teammate.

Introduce the concept of side lines, i.e., cones.  Get the players to look at the cones, to point to the cones, and to understand that they are supposed to stay inside the cones.

  • Each player should have a ball.
  • All games are run inside the circle.

Activities Without the Ball

A portion of the session should include fun, warming up, fun, fitness and more fun.  The following is a suggested list of Activities Without the Ball that meets these criteria and lasts about 15-20 minutes.

  • Run Up, Give Me Five and Run Back
  • Hop Like Rabbits, Feet & Knees Together
  • Slide to the Side, Keep Your Shoulders Facing Me
  • Do The BIG Walk: High Step, Knee Up, Lunge
  • Cooperation Run: Hold Two Hands, Go as Fast as You Can
  • Walk/Run Backwards, Head Up, Arms Out, How Many Fingers
  • Helicopters: Arm Swing and Torso Twist (Stiff and Loose)
  • Toe Raises
  • Pickup Your Leg, Slap that Knee, Pickup Your Leg, Slap that Knee
  • Walk in Place, Bring Your Elbows to Knees
  • Duck, Duck Goose or Tag Game

Activities With the Ball

A portion of the session should focus on technique, dribbling, passing, shooting, and restarts.  A sample dribbling session lasting 15 minutes could include these.

  • Change Your Feet at the North Pole (Numbers, ABC's, Jack and Jill, etc.)
  • Walk Your Dog on a Tight Leash
  • Run Your Dog: Kick and Run
  • Red Light, Green Light, Change Feet Three Times

1. Blob
  • All players inside circle.
  • No balls used.
  • 1 player is the "blob." The blob tags a player, and the blob then becomes a two-player blob who hold hands and try to tag a third, making a three-player blob.  Still holding hands, the three-player blob tries to tag a fourth, and so on.  The idea is to introduce the players to the concept of team play and teamwork.  It helps the players understand cooperation.  Common goals - tell them to pick the next player you are going to tag, and work together to get there.  Teach the players who are not yet tagged to use their eyes to avoid the blob, but also to stay in-bounds.

2. Sharks and Minnows
  • The players are all minnows, "swimming" around inside the circle.  Coach starts the game using one ball, and tries to "tag" the players by kicking the ball at them (obviously, do not kick it hard, and keep it low!).  If a player is hit by the ball, the tagged player becomes a shark, and gets a ball so that now you have two sharks kicking two separate balls at the remaining minnows, and so on; three sharks and three balls, four sharks and four balls, etc.
  • You can make this more difficult by having the shark tag the minnows with a hand, while dribbling with his feet.  My guess is that the players are a long way from being ready for this level of difficulty.
  • Also, you can stress staying in-bounds by declaring that any minnow that swims out of the fishbowl, i.e., the circle, becomes a shark.

3. Sharks and Minnows in Reverse
  • Once there is only one "minnow" left, the game stops, and that minnow becomes the shark, with this twist: now all the minnows dribble a ball around the circle, and the shark tags the minnows.  Once tagged, the minnows put their ball out of the circle, and try to tag the remaining minnows, until no one is left dribbling.  As you might expect, this part of the game goes quite a bit more quickly than the first version.
  • You can make the reverse version more difficult by having the shark tag the minnow by touching the minnow's ball with his foot - kind of like monkey in the middle, if you remember that game.

4. Red Light/Yellow Light/Green Light
  • Inside the circle.
  • Every player has a ball.
  • Coach starts by yelling "Green Light", and the players dribble the ball fast.  Then Coach yells, "Yellow Light", and players dribble the ball slow.  "Red Light", and the players stop (to teach players to play to the whistle, you could substitute a whistle for the "Red" light).  Mix it up.
  • Variation: add "Blue Light" - sit on the ball, "Purple Light" - nose on the ball.

5. Tick Tock
  • Every player has a ball and starts with the ball between his feet, with knees slightly bent.
  • On "Go", each player taps the ball between his feet, using the front of his foot.  First player to reach 20 (or 10, or 5) wins.

6. Hit the Coach
  • Every player has a ball.
  • On "Go", Coach runs slowly away from the players, who dribble after him and try to hit him with the ball by shooting at him.  1 point for each time the coach is hit.
  • Tell them that if they hit you 5 times, you will make an animal sound of their choosing, or tell them a joke, or whatever funny thing you can think of.

7. Cool-Down
  • Take an "ice cream" break.
  • Each player grabs a cone, turns it upside down, sticks a ball in it, to make a pretend ice cream cone.  Voila!  The players collected the cones for you, and you can then sit down for a minute or two with them and talk about how much fun you had that day!

Post-Season Comments from One Pre-K Coach

  1. I used a large pop-up tunnel (about eighteen inches high and eight feet long) to keep them busy for a while.  First they got to crawl through and then they kicked their balls through.  The goal was to teach them to put some force behind their kicks, and it really worked.  It was also good as something to do after finishing another drill.

  2. I started practice informally by putting all the balls on the white line and having the players kick the balls into the goal.  It was more comfortable for them to ease in whenever they showed up than just having them stand around and blowing the whistle and trying to get them into a circle for stretches.

  3. I read a book (soccer-related, kind of).  It kept them together for ten minutes and provided some break time on a hot day.

  4. It's a good idea to set parameters on the snacks and drinks.  Our volunteers have brought WAAAY too much stuff - one week was water, "juice" boxes, frozen yogurt, Goldfish, and pretzels.  The kids pigged out.  Many of the parents were not happy about the fake juice.  So next time I'll definitely suggest what's ok to bring, and how much.

  5. At the end of each session, we sat in a circle and I asked them all, "Was there something we did today that you thought was fun?"  This provided good insight into what was working.

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Division 1 and Higher

1. Warm-Up
  • As the players arrive, I have them grab a ball and spread out behind the goal box line, and take turns kicking the ball on net as I call their names.
  • Also, you can roll the ball to them, so that they kick a moving ball.
  • Well, duh, you say, but I found that having them spread out and ready to kick keeps their attention better than having them line up vertically as in a traditional drill.
  • I also have them dribble around in a big circle marked by cones.
  • First regular dribbling, then kicking/touching the ball every step, then with their right foot each step, then left, then stopping the ball and dribbling each step, etc.
  • You can invent variations.

2. Moving Target
  • I have a swimming pool "spaghetti" tube.
  • One parent holds one side and I hold the other, and we slowly run/walk randomly around the field as the players try to kick their ball between us through the "net."
  • This practices dribbling and kicking and keeping your head up and knowing what's going on as you do both.

3. Stitch Passing
  • Set up about 10 cones in a big circle.
  • Have the players pair off.
  • The first player passes to their partner, then the partner dribbles to the next cone as the first player runs ahead, and once the partner reaches the cone, the partner passes to the first player, who dribbles to the next cone as the partner runs ahead, etc.
  • This builds the idea that the player should run ahead of whoever has the ball so that that their partner can pass it to them.

4. Four Cone/Three Player
  • Set up four cones in a square.
  • Place one player at three of the four cones, leaving one cone vacant.
  • Player One passes the ball to Player Two, who dribbles to the vacant cone and passes to Player Three, who runs to the vacated cone and passes to Player One.
  • You can have teams, and have a race to see which team can reach fifteen passes.

5. Catch and Release
  • Get in a tight circle with a bunch of balls.
  • Throw the balls in random direction calling a player's name.
  • The players job is to retrieve the ball as quickly as possible, of course dribbling with their feet as they return it!

6. Crocodile
  • The drill I and the players like the most.
  • Set up three narrow, long rectangles marked by cones (say one meter by six meters), each about a quarter of the way across the field (eg., one quarter, half, three quarters).  These are the crocodile cages.
  • Appoint a player to be the crocodile in each cage.
  • The other players have to dribble through each cage on their way to shooting on the far goal.
  • The crocodile, who can't come out of their cage, has to try to prevent the other players from getting through.
  • This builds offensive dribbling skills.
  • Variation: have the players pair off.  Now it is much easier to get past the crocodile, because they can pass to their partner.
  • This teaches the players the whole underlying idea of "give and go," which is so much the basis of hockey, basketball, soccer, and other team sports.

7. Pass Scoring
  • Play a traditional soccer game, but give the players one point each for each purposeful, successful pass they complete, as well as one point for each goal.
  • Variation: they can only touch the ball twice before they must pass the ball.

8. Two-Halves Scrimmage (spreading out on the field)
  • For a scrimmage, divide a field down the center, from goal to goal, using small cones as markers.
  • For each team, assign half the players to the right side of the cones and the other half to the left side.
  • Tell them they cannot run across the line of cones.
  • They must pass the ball to their teammates on the other side.
  • This teaches the players to stay on their side of the field.
  • Variation: divide the field into three or four lanes.
  • Variation: divide the field into quarters.  This helps the team understand offense and defense zones as well as left and right.

Robin Gaster:

These notes summarize my own experiences.  I can't say if they will translate for you.  Clearly, the main objective is for the players to heave fun while learning as bit about soccer, improving their own skills and understanding, and developing more of a feeling for the game.  What follows are some suggestions for getting toward that goal.  Please give feedback or add something if you feel like it; I plan a new edition every season.

  1. Practices
  2. Practices can be great and they can be disastrous.  I've had my share of both.  I would just make the following points:

    1. Discipline.   After years as a very laid back sort of coach, last season I decided that we were moving backward fast, and I imposed much firmer discipline.  Key rules: no talking when the coaches are speaking; no physical contact with other players except in the game (i.e. no horsing around); no whining.  Transgressors get to run a lap of the (small) field.  This was tremendously helpful.
    2. Time.   Spend about 2/3 of your time on drills, the rest on a scrimmage with active coaching (i.e. stopping the game from time to time to teach something).
    3. Split them up.   It's a real waste of time to watch a whole team line up one at a time for shooting practice.  Break them into smaller groups, with your assistant or even a parent or two to help.  Minimize standing around time and they will stay interested.
    4. Skills, not conditioning.   At this stage, you are teaching your players, not working on conditioning.  That comes later.
    5. You should be looking to teach the following elements at EVERY practice (I have some more material on each):
      • basic ball control
      • dribbling (limit this, as its hard on the bad surfaces around here)
      • shooting, especially on the run, especially without much prior dribbling
      • passing
      • dead ball situations.  Teach you team how to take a throw-in, goal kick, kick-off, free kick, and corner kick (work on one per week maybe, starting with goal kicks and throw ins, especially when it's your team taking them)
      • positioning - specifically, learning how to make space and use passes to get around defenders
      • goalkeeping (new for this age group).  Just have an assistant work with the player or players who will be goalie this week.  Otherwise it takes too much time.
      • attitude - it's very important to support all of the players all of the time, and to make sure that the team does too.  Do not allow bickering and blaming: explain that you are a team, and that teams work best when everyone is a supporter, not a blamer.
    6. make it fun.  Use the natural exuberance of the players, and their competitive instincts.  Try to use or invent games for each drill, not necessarily with scoring, but enough competition to keep them interested.
    7. bring a whistle!   I use one blast for "stop" and two for "come here".  Much better than shouting.  Blow it strongly.

  3. Games

    Key is to balance the competing demand of fairness to each player, and fielding a competitive team.  This year, I'm experimenting with the notion of splitting the team into defenders, midfielders, and forwards.  Keeping the same players in each group for at least one whole week.  This should (I hope) help them to learn the positions better.

    Don't scream at anyone - your players, the other team, the ref., a parent - you will feel lousy later and it does not do any good.  In general, try to keep the detailed direction down to a minimum - it usually just confuses the players, though I'm as guilty as anyone.  Don't let any of the parents do this either: if necessary, ask your coach or your division coordinator to talk to them.

    Once again, make sure that the overwhelming base of your relationship to the team is encouragement.  At this level, it makes no sense to get on small children for their mistakes; please don't.

    Make sure that every player who shows up plays at least ½ a game.  It would be helpful to have a parent keep track of the substitutions, though someone else recently suggested simply keeping the players in line behind the coach, so he always knows who the next player to come in will be.

    The game offers players a great chance to learn how to win and lose with grace.  Help them to do so by setting and example, making sure that handshakes after the game are conducted properly, ensuring that any of your players who get too heated come out for a spell.  Just use common sense, but please keep an eye in this.

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Additional Coaching Resources

There are lots of coaching resources available, some within the league, some outside.

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