A Coach Asks

We are forming a girls U-12 travel team for this fall. Over the summer we will be running 1 or 2 90 minute practices each week and want to give the team the most opportunity to learn to ready them for the season. How would you prioritize the following item choices (in order of importance) for our practices and why?

  • Juggling Drills
  • Small Sided Games
  • Full Sided Scrimmages
  • Conditioning Drills
  • Drills Working Specific Defensive and Offensive Tactics

Some Ideas

Thanks for your note. Here is a very short answer, just to give you an idea.

At U12 you would like to start the fall with a team of players with 

  • excellent skill
  • good individual tactics
  • injury resistant legs, ankles, knees
  • a love of working at home alone or with a few friends

You can peak the aerobic and anaerobic conditioning later, I wouldn't waste a lot of summer time together on running exercises, but would spend the time on agility, flexibility, balance, leg development and proprioception training, especially important since you have girls.

With 90 minutes x 2 per week, you should definitely be attracted to skill work that progresses from individuals, each with balls, to partners with 1 ball between, to soccer related games that use the skills, and then small-sided play.

On sunny days with lots of field space, you should also be working on a tactical topic once a week, and really do a good job of it. I suggest speed of play, playing the ball out of the back, striker midfielder play, crossing attack, small group defending, and team defending as topics you could get introduced. I would recommend that you include individual attacking tactics (turning the ball, attacking moves, 2v1 play) and 1 and 2 player defending tactics as your first stop before going on to the other tactical topics, which depend on established individual defending and individual attacking tactics.

Full sided scrimmages against other teams are less useful on a daily basis, you might want to play once a week during the summer, but summer is mostly for skill and individual technique development. 

On the leg strength side, I am suggesting you buy a copy of Legs Legs Legs by Vern Gambetta, and maybe his Soccer Speed book, get a few Airex Balance Pads, a box of Gambetta bands (maybe get smaller bands since you are U12, Gambetta's are too long for U12's) and a couple of 6" foam rollers, and start working on your single and double leg squats, proprioception training, balance, and agility.  Your source for this will be the M-F Sports Supply Company from Cranston RI (see vendors).  They are on the web as www.performbetter.com.  By the way, they don't give me any discount.

To double up your learning speed, I recommend you do a lot of juggling and Coerver work, trapping, settling, and turning exercises, and small sided play with the Brasilian Futebol made by Mercur.  Your source is http://www.brasilianfutebol.com/.  I guarantee that your players will learn faster and have fun too.  You will not be able to buy too many of these balls, because every kid who trains with you, on your team or not, will ask for one.  My advice is to buy twice as many as you think you'll need and give them away to anyone who wants one.  They are not very expensive and they really do accelerate the development of technique.

Spend the time to build out a home program for summer. Your kids will be on travel a lot and need to have a small notebook full of home workouts that do skill and agility work at home. One page inside a plastic sheet protector. Maybe about 12 different numbered practices that should each take an hour. These would include juggling, Coerver work, and similar ball work.

Instead of running, ask the kids to ride bikes vigorously. It's more fun with kids and a lot less stressful on knees, still requiring good fitness.

Finally, I admired a program I saw in Greenville, South Carolina a few years ago set up for weekly small sided play at a school field with minimal supervision.  My friend Lawrence Fine used to sponsor winter 3v3 play, coed, in Atlanta, and this also seemed beneficial.  Each of the dedicated players who participated are now off in successful college careers.  I am not saying your kid will make the national team because of small-sided unsupervised play, but this is the kind of thing that good players enjoy.