Practice time usage: to scrimmage or not? Whadda say?

wiffleballhero

Member
SoSH Member
Mar 28, 2009
1,458
In the simulacrum
I am coaching 12U girls soccer. We are not very good, even by the standards of our basically low level, everyone plays league. So I am struggling with the amount of time I should devote to scrimmaging in practice.

I'm of at least two minds: on the one hand, we are so weak at just about everything that I can easily use all of our time together to usefully work on basic stuff like trapping, basic passing and ball movement.

On the other hand, because this group of kids generally plays so little soccer outside of our time together, it seems that the move between a drill and the impact it would have on being a soccer player in a game is pretty mysterious to the kids. They don't play enough soccer outside of our team to translate. Sometimes they do the drills so slowly that it is next to worthless to have done it and they get bogged down in a wrong headed approach to the drill. (For example, two girls doing a trapping drill will, instead of continuing to put the ball to each other hard to work on their traps, will essentially tap it back in forth so the 'traps' are easier and thus they can show that they 'did it' well.)

Also, in in-game situations they are, as a group, not super experienced and so the game often seems to move too fast for them, both as a team and kid to kid. So as a result, I am increasingly leaning on practices just being broken into three or four long periods of modified scrimmages for the whole practice:

scrimmage 1: 'handball/ultimate frisbee' style where the ball handler can't move or be defended, but has to pass.
scrimmage 2: 2 two/three touches then pass. (no dribbling, keep your head up)
scrimmage 3: three passes before shooting.
scrimmage 4: finish with a regular scrimmage.

Along the way I try to keep a sub or two so I can rotate kids in and out to do some individual coaching/ talking about their decisions.

But IDK, there are some really basic issues that don't get resolved with all of this scrimmaging. I've got kids who still toe the ball and who can't execute the most basic give-and-go/passing triangle around a defender, even when it is spoon fed to them.

Any ideas?
 

Saints Rest

Well-Known Member
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
I coach boys, U8 last fall and U9 this spring. I try to spend the first half of practice (in my case 30 minutes of an hour-long practice) doing drills and trying to teach. Then the last half is a scrimmage. But it's a controlled scrimmage and I will often stop the scrimmage ("Freeze!") and try to emphasize something that came up in the scrimmage. I'll also try to begin the scrimmage and end the scrimmage with a brief reference to the skills we worked on during the first half of practice, to try to connect it to the in-game play.

My reasons for this method:
  1. The kids love to scrimmage and I want soccer to be fun!
  2. I think that they can learn more by seeing and doing things in game-situations than in just more drills.
  3. Drills often are boring (see point #1).
 

rickmac

lurker
Aug 26, 2015
8
For players to develop skills they need a ball at their feet and a scrimmage ends up with one ball being shared. For them to develop teamwork and a sense for the game they need controlled scrimmages. Mixing the practices with some of each is probably necessary if they are only practicing once a week.
 

DrewDawg

Dorito Dink
SoSH Member
Dec 16, 2010
34,106
Small sided games in forms of keep away drills. Touches, touches, touches.
 

Omar's Wacky Neighbor

Well-Known Member
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Kids need to scrimmage to keep them coming to practice, especially at lower skill levels.

Use scrimmage as a reward for working really hard and focusing on your fundamentals in the first part of the practice.

Assuming you've got water breaks spaced in there, 40 minutes of training with 20 minutes of scrimmaging is fine as long as the scrimmage doesn't turn into a free-for-all (IOW make it a controlled scrimmage).

More important thing you could get thru to the kids is to work on skill outside of practice: at home, at school, at the town pool, where ever. As long as they have a ball on their feet, but NOT just firing shots with poor mechanics at a huge undefended goal (that drives me crazy).


(as we used to say in lax: 45 minutes of good fundamental hard work, shot to hell in the first 3 minutes of scrimmaging)
 

wiffleballhero

Member
SoSH Member
Mar 28, 2009
1,458
In the simulacrum
But it's a controlled scrimmage and I will often stop the scrimmage ("Freeze!") and try to emphasize something that came up in the scrimmage.
I do a lot of this, for sure.

Small sided games in forms of keep away drills.
And this, especially since I only have 12 on the team anyway. A 'full' scrimmage is usually 5v5.


More important thing you could get thru to the kids is to work on skill outside of practice: at home, at school, at the town pool, where ever.
Dare to dream. I live in a precious little college town with adorable little kids who have too much going on in their wonderful, cute little lives. As a result, for example, I grapple with setting up practices that don't conflict with dance recitals, art museum programs, and endless band, chorus and painting programs. If I drove by one of my players outside kicking the ball on her own, in shock I'd immediately crash my car into a telephone pole.

For players to develop skills they need a ball at their feet and a scrimmage ends up with one ball being shared.
OK, so this is where I started and also where I am burning out. I am completely against drill-and-kill practices where kids are ever in lines. I just don't do it (although when my 'assistant' gets the floor trouble comes up sometimes). But even when I am doing 12-kids-12-balls drills, the return seems really, really low. I don't know what the causes are for any of this, but this group of kids is not athletically aggressive or assertive enough to embrace drills at a pace that makes them especially useful. So I work on basic dribbling, passing and trapping, but again they engage it so slowly and weakly that I'm losing faith in the process.

As I was mentioning above, kids will either do them following the letter of the law, but not the spirit, making the drill of little value, or they go so slowly that they just make the drill enforce either bad or useless habits. This, again, is not out of malice either, I think it is that they have so little sports instinct that they just don't translate. For another example, I do standard versions of passing squares, both with and without defenders. It sort of, almost, works except that they don't see the translation with respect to moving to space. I can spend 20 minutes on this, pivot to a five a side scrimmage and then immediately watch girls still just stand behind the defender yelling for a pass -- when three steps in either direction makes them wide open for a simple, clean pass!

Sisyphus.

Also, weirdly, because of some field scheduling problems, I overlap with a 12U boys team at the start of my practices. We have taken to scrimmaging them. That turns into a strange experience because the girls invariably rise to the game. If I could get them to play as hard vs other girls as they do vs the boys from their class, we'd realistically have no more than one loss so far. As it is, we have only one win.
 

DrewDawg

Dorito Dink
SoSH Member
Dec 16, 2010
34,106
Also, weirdly, because of some field scheduling problems, I overlap with a 12U boys team at the start of my practices. We have taken to scrimmaging them. That turns into a strange experience because the girls invariably rise to the game. If I could get them to play as hard vs other girls as they do vs the boys from their class, we'd realistically have no more than one loss so far. As it is, we have only one win.
This is so true. My daughter plays at the U17 travel level, and from time to time she's guested with a boys team. She plays so much more aggressive. When I ask why that doesn't translate to the girls games she shrugs and says "I don't have to there". Ah yes, but imagine if you *did it anyway*.
 

BigJimEd

Member
SoSH Member
Jan 4, 2002
2,547
Are the drills competitive? Not a soccer coach but in other youth sports I've found drills where they are competing against each other or towards a goal to be more effective.
 

wade boggs chicken dinner

Member
SoSH Member
Mar 26, 2005
16,367
I don't coach but my kid is in soccer so here's my $.02.

I don't think kids get a lot out of cones and such but certainly you should do it with them a little bit just so they are used to it.

I do think kids get a lot out of competitive, fun drills. Like soccer keep away 5 v 2 drill (see here) - I see pro teams doing this drill before games as far as I can tell, it's one of my kid's favorite drills. Fun, teaches ball skills, but something they have to do fast or they won't be able to keep the ball away.

Also, instead of scrimmaging, have you thought about working on more limited game-like situations like they do in football? So instead of doing 5x5 scrimmage, where a lot of time is wasted running up and down the field, have 3 offensive players go against 2 defensive players and a goalie and switch out when the ball is scored/saved. DrewDog's post has a bunch of similar kinds of drills that look like scrimmages but are not.

For example, this drill: https://www.soccercoachweekly.net/soccer-drills-and-skills/small-sided-games/substitute-game/. It's 3x3 with a goalie with the twist that if a player loses a ball (whether turnover or kicking it out of bounds), she is subbed out. You can keep score so it looks like a scrimmage.
 

wiffleballhero

Member
SoSH Member
Mar 28, 2009
1,458
In the simulacrum
For example, this drill: https://www.soccercoachweekly.net/soccer-drills-and-skills/small-sided-games/substitute-game/. It's 3x3 with a goalie with the twist that if a player loses a ball (whether turnover or kicking it out of bounds), she is subbed out. You can keep score so it looks like a scrimmage.
I'm going to try this drill next practice. It would force the issue on many of our weaknesses (which we'll see in those substitutions), while also being a bit up-tempo.


have you thought about working on more limited game-like situations like they do in football?
My 'assistant' coach loves this move, but frankly, it does not work for the level of player I have. The kids don't practice at a pace to make it translate, and all of the kids -- even my best players -- have such a blunt first touch on the ball, that the defenders end up at too much of an advantage when they themselves don't have to transition up the field.



We have issues even in small 'competitive' drills where they sort of mail it in unless conditions are just perfect. After practice last night I had a small 'moment of clarity' in thinking about the coaching situation. I am bumping into two immovable objects -- at least immovable during a spring short season. 1. The kids have too much else going on, so they just are not invested enough. Soccer is just the thing they do at the end of the day, three days a week. So they don't really want to push themselves too much. 2. #1 gets exacerbated by the fact that I have, by force of the town's system for these teams, a wild range of playing abilities. I have maybe five kids who are just way better than, say, the bottom four. And the bottom four are brutal. Three of them literally are worse than having them not on the field during a game, because at least then they can't get in the way (looking at the clouds/ covering their heads and running away from the ball, etc.). And I think that mix of skills is becoming a bit of a drag on forward progress. The better players are annoyed by the super weak players, the super weak players really don't progress, and are sort of doing soccer until their parents let them quit.

I write all of this in the fear that I sound like a bit of a downer, the truth is that they've come along quite a bit this spring, I just want more translation.


Here's a few that I've used in past: https://www.soccercoachweekly.net/tag/u12/

And if you think the U12 drills might be advanced for your level of talent, check out the ones for younger kids. For the most part they make them into games, so it's not 2 lines of kids.
A couple of these look really good too.
 

teejay1324

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 9, 2008
483
Nashua, NH
Definitely a lot of challenges in the situation you're coaching in. I coached a lot of teams with a large talent and interest disparity earlier in my career(coach soccer full-time).

It's really important to find ways to work on technique without it being boring. Lines, passing patterns, dribbling through cones both have limited effect and are an absolute bore to most players as well.

The most conclusive advice I could pass on is to absolutely make time for an even sided game to end every session with no restrictions and game like. So no touch restrictions, no stops, just coaching from the sidelines(like a game) and allowing for throw-ins, corners, fouls(although I tend to let just about everything short of murder go) and so on.

Almost all kids enjoy the scrimmage, even the ones who might not be bothered with anything else.

With younger/less skilled teams I nearly always do 1v1 line soccer(no goals, players must attack/defend a line, usually an invisible one between two cones). So this is a directional game, 1 player against 1 player. If you had 10-12 players present you could split them into two groups, strong/weak. From there, you could go into 2v2s or 3v3s and then the scrimmage. By taking goals away in 1v1 to 3v3 you force more dribbling, more decision making and more difficulty as I would assume your stronger players in 1v1 to mini shooting goals just blow by someone in two touches and shoot.

Working backwards here for some reason, but anyway, I would start practice with a 1/3 of your time devoted to individual technical development. This is most simply done by marking out an area with four cones and giving each player a ball. Have them juggle for 4-5 minutes, then ask them to dribble in various ways(right foot only, left foot only, back and forth between their feet, sole roles), and then have them do some simple change of direction moves(pullback, outside of the foot chop, inside of the foot chop, scissor/step over).

The key for the above is to find someway to motivate them, I usually either challenge them to get a certain number of touches as fast as possible and then stop the ball and yell "done" as loud as possible or give them a certain amount of time and ask them to count their touches. Both work fairly well even for unmotivated players. This also allows everyone to go at their own pace. Juggling certainly allow the weaker players to pick up the ball and start off with right foot, catch, then left foot catch, the right-left, catch, etc. Really remarkable how quickly 9-12 year olds can go from not being able to juggle at all to 4-5 times with this simple starting point.

Also try to keep the topics for each day really simple. We either do a dribbling/1v1 day or a passing/keeping the ball day.

For passing, having every player partner in a big space with one ball and simply ask them to pass and move for a few minutes. Then ask them to try various types of passes(two touches same foot, two touches switch feet, receive with the outside pass with the inside) and then move on to asking them to play passes to each other between other players, receive a pass and dribble between two other players and then pass again. From there, you could do 8v2, with the team of eight trying to make a certain number of passes before the defending partnership can win the ball a certain number of times, maybe 20 passes against three losses of possession.

So a typical practice for dribbling might be(assuming 90 minutes):

Juggling 10 minutes
Dribbling/Ball mastery 15 minutes
1v1 Line Soccer 15 minutes
2v2/3v3 Line Soccer 20 minutes
5v5 Four Goal Game(two goals per team on same end line) 20 minutes
5v5 Game/Scrimmage 20 minutes

Typical practice for passing:

Juggling/Dribbling 15 minutes
Passing w/a partner 15 minutes
8v2 15 minutes
4v4+2 targets 15 minutes
5v5 Game/Scrimmage 30 minutes

Also check out this blog I kept last year for a town program I was working with:

*No longer at the Club mentioned

Hope that helps!
 
Last edited:

wiffleballhero

Member
SoSH Member
Mar 28, 2009
1,458
In the simulacrum
Definitely a lot of challenges in the situation you're coaching in. I coached a lot of teams with a large talent and interest disparity earlier in my career(coach soccer full-time).

It's really important to find ways to work on technique without it being boring. Lines, passing patterns, dribbling through cones both have limited effect and are an absolute bore to most players as well.

The most conclusive advice I could pass on is to absolutely make time for an even sided game to end every session with no restrictions and game like. So no touch restrictions, no stops, just coaching from the sidelines(like a game) and allowing for throw-ins, corners, fouls(although I tend to let just about everything short of murder go) and so on.

Almost all kids enjoy the scrimmage, even the ones who might not be bothered with anything else.

With younger/less skilled teams I nearly always do 1v1 line soccer(no goals, players must attack/defend a line, usually an invisible one between two cones). So this is a directional game, 1 player against 1 player. If you had 10-12 players present you could split them into two groups, strong/weak. From there, you could go into 2v2s or 3v3s and then the scrimmage. By taking goals away in 1v1 to 3v3 you force more dribbling, more decision making and more difficulty as I would assume your stronger players in 1v1 to mini shooting goals just blow by someone in two touches and shoot.

Working backwards here for some reason, but anyway, I would start practice with a 1/3 of your time devoted to individual technical development. This is most simply done by marking out an area with four cones and giving each player a ball. Have them juggle for 4-5 minutes, then ask them to dribble in various ways(right foot only, left foot only, back and forth between their feet, sole roles), and then have them do some simple change of direction moves(pullback, outside of the foot chop, inside of the foot chop, scissor/step over).

The key for the above is to find someway to motivate them, I usually either challenge them to get a certain number of touches as fast as possible and then stop the ball and yell "done" as loud as possible or give them a certain amount of time and ask them to count their touches. Both work fairly well even for unmotivated players. This also allows everyone to go at their own pace. Juggling certainly allow the weaker players to pick up the ball and start off with right foot, catch, then left foot catch, the right-left, catch, etc. Really remarkable how quickly 9-12 year olds can go from not being able to juggle at all to 4-5 times with this simple starting point.

Also try to keep the topics for each day really simple. We either do a dribbling/1v1 day or a passing/keeping the ball day.

For passing, having every player partner in a big space with one ball and simply ask them to pass and move for a few minutes. Then ask them to try various types of passes(two touches same foot, two touches switch feet, receive with the outside pass with the inside) and then move on to asking them to play passes to each other between other players, receive a pass and dribble between two other players and then pass again. From there, you could do 8v2, with the team of eight trying to make a certain number of passes before the defending partnership can win the ball a certain number of times, maybe 20 passes against three losses of possession.

So a typical practice for dribbling might be(assuming 90 minutes):

Juggling 10 minutes
Dribbling/Ball mastery 15 minutes
1v1 Line Soccer 15 minutes
2v2/3v3 Line Soccer 20 minutes
5v5 Four Goal Game(two goals per team on same end line) 20 minutes
5v5 Game/Scrimmage 20 minutes

Typical practice for passing:

Juggling/Dribbling 15 minutes
Passing w/a partner 15 minutes
8v2 15 minutes
4v4+2 targets 15 minutes
5v5 Game/Scrimmage 30 minutes

Also check out this blog I kept last year for a town program I was working with:

*No longer at the Club mentioned

Hope that helps!

Thanks for the post.

I am going to give much of this a go when we start again in the fall.

In the end -- and we just hit the end this afternoon as the spring season had its last games today -- I think we got meaningfully better, but there is still work to do. I like the idea of using juggling as a heuristic to help them build up a sense of feel for the ball. It has the problem that it violates the "don't pick up the ball" routine but I think it will really help with getting them to a softer touch. In the last 10 days we have played four games against some tough teams and we went 2-1-1. I'll take it. The loss was vs a team that would have beat us 15-0 six weeks ago and we were 1-1 with about four minutes left. Just ran out of gas. The tie (today) was a great, OT 0-0 tie. We actually got lucky on some crossbar shots, but we played a very good, stout game for our level of play.

The fall should be fun.