Monthly Archives: August 2014

Learning By Playing

As mentioned in the previous post, the first touch is everything in soccer.  It demonstrates technique, skill, awareness…everything.  While repetition breeds technique, the use of small sided games develops awareness, decision-making, etc.  This is why coaches need to “let them play.”  As a parent, if you notice children waiting their turn in a line during a “drill,” or your kids often play “kickball” during games rather than trying to find their teammates with passes, you may want to think about what your club’s goals are for their players.  Does standing in line teach a child how to play soccer – a game that is fluid and constantly changing?

“The pianist doesn’t run around the piano or do push ups with the tips of his fingers. To be great, he plays the piano. He plays all his life and being a great footballer is not about running, push ups or physical work generally. The best way to be a great player is to play football.”
- Jose Mourinho
The U.S. Soccer Federation instructs youth coaches with a simple maxim for training:  No Laps, No Lines, No Lectures.  This simple paradigm is at odds with the way traditional American sports are taught (only one player can hit a baseball at a time, for example).  The reality – and challenge for coaches of young soccer players – is that since the game is always moving, it is harder to teach within the game itself.  The caveat, however, is that through a small-sided game, the game serves as the primary instructor; the coach is the guide.


The role of the coach is to ensure that their players understand what is going on around them.  Coaches develop practice games that create problems for the players to solve  - always aligned with the concept the coach wants to teach (players make mistakes all the time – only the particular focus of the session should be under consideration).  Within that game the coach asks questions that stimulates player thinking.  The idea is that at the end of the day, the player solves the problem, and can then integrate the concept into the larger game.

The only thing a player learns standing in line is how to stand in a line.  Humans learn by doing.  Let the kids learn the game by playing the game.  Given time to play, kids will develop an intuitive understanding of the game.  Guided through the finer points by coaches, lessons learned from playing will last longer than any lecture.