Pickup Days for 6U Instead of "Practice"

Discussion in 'Youth & HS Soccer' started by DaBurg, May 14, 2019 at 9:30 AM.

  1. DaBurg

    DaBurg New Member

    Liverpool FC
    Apr 18, 2019
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    I'll be coaching a couple 6U teams in AYSO in the fall and am working on a plan for the little guys. Over the past couple years of coaching I've had a bit of a realization that the biggest benefit of rec soccer at this age is just having the other kids to play with. They don't really get those spontaneous neighborhood games we all wish they did. I didn't even get that, but was lucky enough to play pickup baseball with my friends it was one of the biggest reasons I still love the game. Here's the problem I'm facing. We are always learning as coaches and I made a mistake the first year I was coaching. I came up with a bunch of drills/games and pushed them to the level that my son could handle, which was the same ole story (coach's son). For a results-only approach, it worked. We destroyed every team we came across. At the end of the games, kids smiling, parents happy that they are winners, etc. You get the idea. Problem is, next season a couple players didn't come back. Not just to my team, but to soccer. Next season, same story, two more players didn't come back. Eye opening. And ended up forcing me to read a bunch on early development and how some of the more famous players didn't really have much in the way of the over-coaching that I felt I might be doing. I think it was "Shoeless Soccer" was the book that resonated with me and had me rethinking my entire approach. I'd been focused so much on winning that it was driving kids away from the sport entirely. I think they mostly remembered the difficult practices and not the fun part.

    Queue last fall season, I ended up really easing up a lot. I still did some drills because some of the kids were asking for them, but sometimes I'd just throw some pinnies out on the pitch and tell them to make teams. They didn't quite understand yet, but next year should be old enough to get the idea.

    A lot of the parents are going to request to be on the team again this year. A few of the dads on the team are fairly pushy with their sons. One of them was running up and down the sidelines yelling instructions. Always trying to interject his two cents at the end of games to the team. I ended up having a team conversation about how we need to let the kids play and how the less instructions we yell, the more confident they can become. Guess who's kid scored a goal for the first time after heeding that advice?

    I'm highly considering pushing even further to the idea of free play and just calling our practices "Sandlot Days" or something to that effect where parents bring their kids, the kids walk on the pitch, self-assemble, and go play. Maybe some minimal rules like don't use your hands and stay on the pitch. I'm only there to make sure everything is safe and to give them pointers and encouragement if they need it.

    I can tell you, the parents are NOT going to understand this. I did this for the beginning of one of our games last year to get warmed up. We arrived early, and the kids all found a ball on their own and started just dribbling all over the pitch haphazardly. Smiles on their faces. It was awesome. No way was I going to change that. I think half of them were even using those cheap bouncy balls. Pushy dad shows up and starts asking "When are we going to start practicing?". I looked back at the kids and back at him. "We are!". Dad: "No I mean drills and stuff". Me: "Nope!". .. Team talk. You get the idea. It's a constant battle to convince parents that you know what you're talking about and to chill and let the kids play.

    I'm looking for any pointers in getting parents on board. Has anyone had a coach or coached a team that does this? Have you managed to set up pickup games outside of the league?
     
  2. P.W.

    P.W. Member

    Sep 29, 2014
    I'm just a parent and not a coach, but I would not be onboard with this.

    It sounds like you just want to supervise free play. Free play is great, but not when the activity is described as a team with a coach.

    If I signed my child up for piano lessons, I have an expectation that my child will - age appropriately - learn to play the piano. Not just bang on the keys willy nilly for 20 minutes every Wednesday. That has it's place in the mommy and me music class, but not for piano lessons. There's a difference.

    I think parents will feel the same. Some learning must be - age appropriately - achieved during practice.
     
  3. DaBurg

    DaBurg New Member

    Liverpool FC
    Apr 18, 2019
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    You're probably the perfect person to bounce this off then because it outlines the fundamental differences in parent expectations. I don't have a problem changing my training, but I won't go back to the original way I was doing it, running 5 YO's through the drills, etc. It ends up benefiting only the one or two kids who can handle it and the rest fall out of the sport entirely. (That's not including the possibility of making the kids who can handle it hate the sport)

    Would it change your mind if coach was giving individual guidance while the free play was going on? Popping in for a quick word of encouragement, etc.

    My main challenge is that parents are expecting that the entirety of progress should happen at practice, through drills, and then games are the time to win games, not learn. Combined with the fact that our soccer culture doesn't really have any pick up matches, or even school recess soccer, they don't touch a soccer ball the rest of the week. Then parents show up on high stress mode, expecting their kid to progress in the span of a single practice. Then they go a full week till the next practice having never put a soccer ball at their player's feet, only to be even more stressed when they start the next practice sometimes further behind than when they last played, usually because the child probably just ate the wrong thing or are tired that day. I'm having to teach parents that progress happens the other 5 days a week.

    Comparing to piano lessons is an interesting comparison. I have to give it some thought, but piano lessons don't require having to build up a tolerance to pain. It's painful to run around exhausted on the pitch, get tripped up, fall down, get scraped up. Feeling the freedom to make your own decisions and not be yelled at for making mistakes is one of the things that offsets that pain.

    There will come a time at older age groups for increased rigidity, when they all love the game enough they can go through more detailed drills, etc, but even then, there's things they should be working on outside of practice.

    So at 6U, a huge road block is players loving the game enough to be invested where they will take direction and not be disheartened enough to hate it. Most of the kids are at this stage where they can't pay attention long enough to even take direction. But give them a ball and they get fifty touches on the ball before you can even look. The nature of the sport seems to favor trial and error.
     
  4. jvgnj

    jvgnj Member

    Apr 22, 2015

    How much are the parents paying? Are you paid or a volunteer? The answers to those questions will certainly influence parental reaction to your plan. If it's a relatively low cost rec option, explaining to parents why you're taking this approach may work. At 6U you can explain that your #1 goal is to get them to enjoy the game and come back next year and you've noticed that this is an effective way to accomplish that. If it's a club charging 4 figures, parents will (and should) expect more than supervised free play
     
  5. pu.ma

    pu.ma Member

    Feb 8, 2018
    I would suggest preparing the parents in advance to what you are trying to do and why ... kind of like what you wrote up here. Then they dont show up to practices wondering what the heck is going on. If your team performs well, then you keep reminding the parents why and how beneficial your practices are. Personally, when my kids were that age, I was more concerned about them making friends on the team and having fun. And when a coach gave individual guidance, I was pretty happy.
     
  6. DaBurg

    DaBurg New Member

    Liverpool FC
    Apr 18, 2019
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    It's all volunteers, however I am US 4v4 licensed for their age group and referee trained. The parents do pay about $60-70 for dues, which covers the luxurious fields (wow, I would have given anything at 18 to play on fields that 5 year olds play on now) and insurance, etc. However, let me say that I'm not considering doing it because it's only volunteer work, but because I honestly believe that it's the best thing for them. If I thought that running 5YO's through a gauntlet of intense drills was the best thing, I'd do that.
     
  7. DaBurg

    DaBurg New Member

    Liverpool FC
    Apr 18, 2019
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    I've considered the exact thing that I mentioned above, but during free play, pulling individual players aside and showing some specific skills, possibly also their parents to show dad and mom things to practice at home. Definitely agree that fun and friends is a big part of it.
     
  8. jvgnj

    jvgnj Member

    Apr 22, 2015
    As long as you explain what you're doing and why you think it's best, most parents should be happy. Shows that you've given some thought about how to create the best experience for little kids. You'll always have 1 or 2 that will complain, but that's life. We were at a baseball tournament this summer and the complex had several signs that said "Before you complain, did you volunteer today?" Should be posted everywhere.
     
  9. Beau Dure

    Beau Dure Member+

    May 31, 2000
    Vienna, VA
    The approach I've usually seen is to do soccer-like "games" that are designed to teach skills without anyone realizing they're learning. The games also make sure everyone's involved, which might not be the case in a pickup game.
     
  10. DaBurg

    DaBurg New Member

    Liverpool FC
    Apr 18, 2019
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    That's great. We really hadn't seen many terrible parents yet. But the league is always in need of volunteers.

    Baseball has a whole other level of intensity to it in the crowd. I know soccer can get that way, but the meme of seeing umps get chewed out by the coaches on TV seems to carry through.
     
  11. CoachP365

    CoachP365 Member

    Business Metrics SC
    Apr 26, 2012
    The comparison to make with piano lessons is - do you make your child practice piano every day for 30/15/10 minutes, or do you they only practice when they are at their lesson? If you have the parents who do the former, selling them on having the kids do ball work away from soccer practice is easier.
     
  12. TheKraken

    TheKraken Member

    Tottenham Hotspur
    United States
    Jun 21, 2017
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Remind the parents that no matter what you do at practice with them for an hour or two a week, having them constantly dribbling and kicking a ball around at their house will be the most beneficial at their age.
     
    CornfieldSoccer and ppierce34 repped this.
  13. Cantona's Eyebrow

    Dirty Leeds
    Togo
    Oct 8, 2018
    DaBurg, for me you've answered most of your own questions and worked it out for yourself.

    Best piece of advise I could give you for coaching at that age is, don't overthink what you're doing! If you're providing a safe environment and a ball then all the children will be getting something from your sessions whether it be friendship, fitness, skill development, fun or an adult role model to look up to. What you're doing is great for the kids and will benefit them all. Second bit of advise, pay very little attention to what the parents want or expect. You'll never please them all. You are the coach, do things the way you see fit. Sure you'll make mistakes, but that's how we learn, modify our approach and get better at coaching.

    In answer to your main point, is it better to hold formalised training for u6s or just let them have free play. Here's my opinion for what it's worth. The two don't need to be mutually exclusive. I would still hold your more structured sessions and throw in a free play session around once a month.

    The structured sessions should mainly be aimed at the fundamentals of dribbling, passing, shooting. Additionally, I'd do little exercises that focus on the development of motorik ability. Keep the sessions light and fun and try and not bombard the kids with coaching points. If they have fun and learn one thing each week, that is success!

    With regard to free play sessions. Like you say, give them the bibs and let them get started. There's no problem, with stepping in occasionally to coach in the game if you see a good opportunity for a coaching point, but ultimately you want the game to be the teacher, and let it flow.

    For me, the formal coaching is still important. At that age, if you can give little bits of advice on body shape and technique it'll make all the difference as they get older.
     
    bigredfutbol repped this.
  14. P.W.

    P.W. Member

    Sep 29, 2014
    I think it depends upon the make up of the kids. If you have kids who know how to play soccer, this could be great. if you've got kids who have no idea, then I think that it needs to be be broken down and some basic skills taught via games or stations or something (again, not a coach). I definitely agree it needs to be fun. I almost feel that the games should be the free for all, with the practices being more purposeful.

    I'd worry that "little brother of soccer player" would dominate and the other kids would never touch the ball in practice. It'd be OK for a nice run-around, but like I said before - it's all in what the nature of the activity is.
     
  15. DaBurg

    DaBurg New Member

    Liverpool FC
    Apr 18, 2019
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    I have had that happen before where we had a younger player end up having trouble getting a ball. I would throw a second ball to his feet if he didn't get one for a while. This is the main issue I have that I haven't quite worked out how to solve. At these young ages there's such a massive range of skill levels that it's hard to tailor a practice without leaving out one of the groups. I've considered a more individualistic approach where it's free play with a lot of balls on the pitch, but I pull groups aside maybe 2-3 at a time, maybe 1 at a time and work on individual skills, possibly bringing their parents out on the pitch to show them what they can help with at home. That way everyone gets individual attention and also get the benefit and fun of free play. Haven't figured out what would be the right mix.
     
  16. P.W.

    P.W. Member

    Sep 29, 2014
    This is a GREAT idea!
     
  17. DaBurg

    DaBurg New Member

    Liverpool FC
    Apr 18, 2019
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Ok, it's good to be able bounce it off someone before trying to implement something like this. I'm coaching 2 teams so it may end up that I can't get to everyone every practice, but possibly at least 1 skill per week per kid if we do 2 practices a week.

    I'm going to have to train my assistant coaches to not over coach while they are overseeing the free play side. It's very difficult to find chill coaches that don't want to yell instructions the entire time. Also, the kids do have a mind of their own and plans don't necessarily survive the field of battle! More so at the even younger ages.
     
  18. CornfieldSoccer

    Aug 22, 2013
    My son's club surveyed parents a couple of years ago, with one question asking them to rate a number of areas (practice, games, time working on your own, ...) in terms of relative importance for development in the opinion of the parents. I was shocked by how many put time spent on your own with a ball at or near the bottom of the list.

    I'd also suggest enlisting an enthusiastic parent or two to help run the practice. Maybe break the kids up and let them play short 3v3 games or something like that through practice -- monitored by your helpers -- as you pull groups aside to work on fundamentals? At those youngest ages I coached my son on teams where those duties were shared by three to four parents coached and additional parents jumped in to help as needed (the guy who got me involved had a real knack for convincing most of the parents that they could and should help out, and have fun doing it), in large part to make sure kids were standing around waiting to do things as little as possible.
     
  19. Cantona's Eyebrow

    Dirty Leeds
    Togo
    Oct 8, 2018
    :unsure: Couldn't disagree with this more.

    In my opinion, this is wrong on so many levels.

    Firstly, from a child protection point of view. Have the parents you're bringing in to help with sessions been properly vetted? In the UK anybody who works with children has to have been properly vetted by a child protection agency for a multitude of reasons: history of substance abuse, police record, inappropriate conduct with children, are they on the sex offenders register etc etc? The last thing you want is having a paedophile on your coaching staff ;)

    Secondly, is your club insured to have unqualified coaches working with children. If a child gets injured and the enthusiastic (but unqualified) parent handles the situation badly you could be leaving the club open for a costly lawsuit.

    Thirdly, from a player development perspective. Are the parents teaching correct technique/giving sound coaching points. If not, at best the kids are learning little, at worst they are learning incorrect technique that takes longer to rectify.

    Coaches coach. Players play. Parents support. Simple.
     
    bigredfutbol repped this.
  20. pu.ma

    pu.ma Member

    Feb 8, 2018
    I would disagree with what you disagree with. I think it depends on the environment and age group. In the context of U6, mostly it's just to keep the kids moving and engaged. Monitoring 3v3 or doing little more than just saying "wait", "go" for a light drill isnt exactly coaching but it sure helps the coach. Also, may spark the interest to learn more about the game or teaching/coaching, to become a volunteeer coach or team manager, etc in the future. Great time to get parents involved.
     
  21. CornfieldSoccer

    Aug 22, 2013
    I get all of those concerns, and the only parents who coach in my son's club are professional coaches (I can only think of two, both of whom coach on the college level, as well).

    So I'll clarify this a bit. My example re parental help was from rec soccer -- all of the coaches were parents, and in this case, with players who were ages 6-9 (the years I coached before my son joined a club). The parents who were roped in as extra help were on the sidelines at the practices, anyway, because the players were their kids. The organizing body -- a local park district -- was fine with the approach (they were and remain perpetually short on coaches to take charge of teams). Families paid something like $100(?) a year for their kids to play, coaches were all volunteers (with abilities ranging from "None, but I'm willing to learn" to pretty good).

    I could have been more clear here, but I was suggesting the extra parental help essentially just herd kids -- oversee those small-sided games and let the kids play while the coach runs the side sessions where you teach specific skills.

    And as someone else suggested, the coach can and probably should be giving parents and players things to work on at home, anyway. No reason the extra help can't put that limited knowledge to work if they see a player doing something obviously not quite right.

    Perfect? No. Better than having one overrun parent try to keep 15-18 6-year-olds engaged? In my experience, oh yeah.

    As an aside, of the 18 kids on my son's current u14/15 club team, at least a dozen of them came out of parent-coached rec teams at those young ages (at least five of them played at one time or another on teams I coached or helped coach).

    The bonus of using parent help was having at least some of them look at youth soccer as something more than transactional -- I pay you to take my child off my hands for X number of hours a week while I stare at my phone. A lot of those parents got a kick out of helping and worked more with their kids away from practice. A couple decided to coach rec on their own. I've seen a few show up in adult leagues over the years who might hot have otherwise. After watching it play out over the 10 years I've been around youth soccer, I suspect the transactional way most people view youth soccer contributes to the problematic soccer culture here -- or lack of soccer culture. But that's a different rant.
     
    bigredfutbol repped this.
  22. bigredfutbol

    bigredfutbol Moderator
    Staff Member

    Sep 5, 2000
    Woodbridge, VA
    Club:
    DC United
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Co-sign.
     

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