Developmentally speaking, getting good soccer skills training at ages 9-11 is so helpful. These are the 3 optimal years to begin soccer skills training. They are old enough to almost do anything you show them and their attitude is so positive. Mentally it’s important to learn younger because players believe and trust parents/coaches so much. Ages 12-13 kids start to think they know everything and lose some of that “child like” faith in the values of training. Middle and high school kids who learn these things younger tend to respond better when reminded of the key character traits.
Certain soccer drills work way better than others
There are certain drills and methods that are best for all ages. These soccer skills training methods need to be worked on a lot to become smooth. If you search for soccer drills on YouTube, you’ll see tons of cone drills. Be careful with that crap! On game day you won’t see a single cone.
Video below you’ll see a good 1st touch drill with an 11 year old player. You can see his touch is very good. Some might think this skill is natural. He is good, but we’ve worked together for 6 years. His mindset is on another level, as he also watches soccer on TV and plays with the ball at home. He knows that when we train, much of what we do is the same as the week before. This is a mature mindset. Teaching kids why we work on certain things is important. This way they don’t get the attitude of ‘O I already know this’.
Size doesn’t matter as you get older
Players who are already more skilled are either the natural ones (very few) and the ones who put in the work with the ball. The players who are really good with the ball, but slow might still struggle between ages 10-16. The older you get, the more you’ll see that good skill outweighs speed. College and especially pro is when it comes down to mentality and skill. I’ve seen a lot of average pro athletes, but next level mindset and proper skill.
Players who are smaller but more skilled have to become even more skilled! Or else, when the big or fast kid builds their skill, the smaller player will struggle (unless they have good enough skill that the size or speed doesn’t affect them). Still, this is a young age and many kids really don’t show their full athletic potential until 9th grade. [though you want to have built the skills already]. Remember, do the right soccer skills training – not just any training.
Keeping soccer fun!
It might sound corny to some of you but I don’t care, these are still young kids age 9-11. Age 12-13 is when most kids stop playing sports. Yes, many kids have what it takes to get through the constant grind or certain coaches who forget they are kids. Hey, it’s easy to do when your goal as a coach or trainer is to improve the kids and your own coaching.
Remember The #1 reason kids quit is “It stopped being fun.” So from ages 9-11 the idea is that we IMPROVE their SKILLS as much as we can while making most moments fun. If we can get them past 13 the chances are good that they will continue in the sport. But the kid needs a chance to improve so they can compete so that it’s fun. Because knowing we are not as good as the others or as good as we want to be and sitting on the bench is NOT Fun.
For some kids, small groups are a lot of fun. Whether 2-6 friends, it gives them the opportunity to hang out with their buddies, laugh and improve. Scoring goals is one thing I’ve never seen kids get bored with. Think of how you can add all of this in for your crew.
Find the balance between fun & development
It’s a double edge sword deciding what to do. If you don’t give them the extra individual or small group training they will have a hard time keeping up later on. You don’t want them to feel they are not good enough. On the other end if you send them to a boring trainer or coach they obviously won’t have fun. Age 10-11 is especially important because age 12 is when most kids quit soccer.
Teach them that every day is not going to be fun, no matter what your passion, but with self-belief & hard work we gain so much. This is mindset/mental training that is needed for not just kids, but young adults. Again you want to take advantage of these optimal years to begin soccer skills training.
It’s normal that some days are not fun
So what do you do? I think you find a place that focuses on fun & development. Teach them that every day is not going to be fun, no matter what your passion, but with self-belief & hard work we gain so much. This way the player knows its okay to go through tough, frustrating times. Remind them that they are good at what they love or be honest and tell them they need extra work if this is what they want.
As people, we have to be tough and get through certain things so we are prepared for the future of ongoing challenges, frustrations and accomplishments. You learn that with hard work good things happen, but there are also the times good doesn’t happen. This is preparation for the life as a taxpayer. 🙂 We need to build strong character in the youth so they have good habits and are prepared for life after soccer.
The reason sports stop being fun
One day kids realize the gap between them and the top players is growing and the chances of them making the High School team will be very difficult. Players who don’t have that extra resources, belief in themselves or enough natural ability will not make it.
For players in a smaller schools or towns it’s one thing, but for those who live in certain big school districts this is sad because in some cities it’s VERY HARD to make the High School Varsity Team. Competing with 4 different grades, players who play for top clubs & receiving extra private training from a trainer or professional skills company like GFT creates a significant gap.
Where the focus should go
Pressure to win games can also be overwhelming for children ages 9-11. Instead, the focus should be on development & being comfortable with the ball. Even many of the best youth coaches are just telling the defender to kick it long every time. This is what I hear all the time and see with my own eyes. The coaches know it’s not the right way to teach the game, but it’s the easy way out to win the game.
What should they be teaching? That it’s okay to pass it back or switch the fields at certain times. In the attacking third feeling comfortable taking defenders on (dribbling) and taking risks with extra runners or making certain creative passes between defenders.
The athletes during this age should begin to focus more on becoming a well-rounded athlete with improving personal habits. Physical fitness, stretching, nutritional choices and rest. Also, more athletes may indicate a growing level of interest, passion, and commitment to improving. Technique through private lessons or backyard drills help.
Soccer team passing and shooting drills
One of my favorite things to do with larger groups like teams are splitting them in groups of 2 or 3. Each group can have 5-7 players. Make it a competition and see which team can score 10 goals first. If you have 3 teams, the odd team out could be doing running, dribbling, sit ups, push ups, resting or shagging balls. Up to you, it all depends on your teams situation. If it’s Summertime and 102 degrees, probably have the odd team out rest.
Preparation for h.s. soccer begins now
Most Boys and Girls age 8 probably would like to be good enough to one day make the High School Team. Not everyone thinks about or wants to play college soccer but high school soccer, yes. So the 3 Optimal Years to start skills training would have to be Ages 9, 10 & 11 as they are so hungry to learn and improve!
Kids age 9-11 can do almost anything you show them and they haven’t reached age (13+) where all of a sudden they think they know everything and so much more is going on during that stage of starting high school. But in high school – this is the time most soccer players and parents want to be prepared, so that they can make the high school team.
Sports help teach the kids that they don’t know as much as they think, so the challenge is to continue wanting to learn and get better at everything we do. Build habits so that they carry over to being a responsible adult one day.
Maybe it depends on the level or expectations?
If it’s a league where it’s just for fun and exercises (YMCA, REC or Club) that only want to play soccer not play Middle School or High School one day, then yes I guess just kick the ball long and try to score every play. But if you are really wanting to develop and play the game it should be played you need to be taught more than just winning and kicking the ball up. Ages 9-11 should be the time where you are out of rec and you are doing extra skills training.
I have seen kids in this age group that play rec, but are serious and do extra soccer skills training. Some travel for cool tournaments like sand/beach soccer or fun team gatherings. They just don’t want to pay for club for different reasons, usually being the time commitment or money.
Some clubs are so big that they have tons of coaches (half who have NO Clue) and parents don’t want to pay thousands of dollars for that. So instead organize a group who is serious about soccer and does not want to put up with that. Think outside the box! Make sure your soccer players are happy and challenged the way they need & want.
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Skill mastery / desired expectations for ages 9-11
- Short Passing
- Receiving balls from the ground
- Receiving balls out of the air using feet, thigh & chest
- Finishing balls from the ground
- Striking with the Laces, even though many HS players still don’t hit a nice ball due to lack of proper mechanics (form) Often times Private Individual Lessons are needed to become consistent
- Defending knowing how to position body, keeping the attacker to their weak foot, sideline or to pressure (other defenders)
- Heading techniques, Body Positioning
- Dealing with bouncing balls
Expert dribbling tips are introduced and can be mastered at this age group if worked on the right way and amount of time. Stick with the basics but start to introduce more advanced soccer skills training. You will be amazed at what this age group can do! The best thing to do is keep shoving the same skills that work. Yes, you want to show them new fresh skills, but if they do something different every session they won’t retain the important skills.
Developmental soccer expectations for Ages 9-11
1) Age 9
- Dribbling Skills / Foundations / Running with the ball
- 1 – Touch Juggling with both feet [Meaning pop the ball up using only 1 touch and catch] but with both feet, not just the strong foot.
- Passing short with inside of both feet
- Laces ball striking focus because if they learn it early, they will be able to retain easier, even when they grow. Some of the top High School Girls can’t strike a ball with their laces clean. They plant too close or they don’t have proper mechanics with the kicking foot.
- Receiving balls with the inside of the foot [Both feet; not just strong foot]
- Volleys Laces and Inside [Working at getting 80-90%]
- Turning while dribbling [Pull backs]
2) Age 10
- Dribbling / Foot skills
- Volleys should become more consistent with both feet inside toe up and laces toe down
- Receiving balls on the ground, air & bouncing
- Juggling goal should be 10+ using both feet not just the strong foot. Some kids this age start to get 25, 50 & 100+ juggles while some have a hard time with 7-10 juggles.
- Dealing with bouncing balls (Running through the ball) using chest, thigh, feet. Balls coming at chest & face height are tempting to head, so introduce jumping to use the chest instead of head. This is a challenge for this age still.
- Turning while dribbling
- Turning while receiving (Trapping with the inside of the back foot while opening up the hips) so that they can pass, shoot, dribble and see the field earlier.
- Trapping with the bottom of the foot (Note: many coaches tell you not to trap with the sole/bottom because the player will lose it more often, but if you practice on your own you will become better fast and be able to use this skill.
- Chest Trap and pass or volley
- Education on heading so that the players know what part of the head to use. Most High School Players don’t even know how to head the ball. This is so deep that it’s a course on its own! Check it out! Work on this at home with a volleyball or nerf ball just to introduce the skills and many things they need to become good at. Where the arms should be, how the knees should be bent, how to connect with the ball and much more
3) Age 11
- Heading skills because remember the new rule change banned heading for ages 10 and under, even in practice! SO now the kids only have 2 years to become good at this before they turn 13+ which is in the time frame where they get most concussions. That’s why it’s important to work on this at home with a volleyball or nerf ball just to introduce the skills and many things they need to become good at. Where the arms should be, how the knees should be bent, how to connect with the ball and much more.
- Dribbling / Advanced foot skills
- Volley Skills could be very consistent but some still have a hard time with both the laces toe down and inside laces up.
- Trapping while receiving, opening up the hips/body.
- Laces Ball Striking
- Bending Balls Inside curve
- Chipping a dead ball, then a moving ball will be hard for most players especially with both feet. Even as High School Varsity players chipping is not easy.
- Volley on goal different techniques and variations will get a player ahead technically. This is harder because you can’t improve on this alone, you need a partner. Even the top HS and College players have a hard time with this Finishing technique.