Soccer practice is the most valuable time you have with your players. This is when you have the most control of the environment to make necessary adjustments needed to bring your players to the next level.
Below, I have compiled a small table together on general guidelines on how long practice should last at each age group.
|Age Group||Practice Length|
|U6 and Below||30 to 45 mins|
|U7 to U8||45 to 60 mins|
|U9 to U10||50 to 60 mins|
|U11 to U14||up to 75 mins|
|U15 to U18||75 to 90 mins|
Fairly quickly, it is easy to notice that the older the team, the longer the practice can be. Now these are suggestions, and there is no shame in having a shorter practice especially before a match or tournament. Longer doesn’t necessarily mean better. Short, high intensity practice sessions can be more useful than long, lower intensity practices. There is a fine balance between the right amount of training and over-training. Use this as a guideline for your own discovery!
To learn more about the basics of soccer practice and what to include, keep reading!
What is a Good Outline?
Now, that you know how long practice should be, let’s discuss a few practice pointers. The purpose of practice is to build skills in a game-like environment to improve each player’s development. Easier said than done! As you know, every age group develops differently.
Check out the age specific guides I linked to several age specific drill articles to help with your training session. Here are several pointers for each age group:
- U6 and below – At this young age, players are gaining control and coordination with their physical abilities. Drills should be spent mostly with one ball per player or one ball per two players. Practice for U6 and below surrounds fun and engagement. Keep structure and formations to a minimum. Keep activity short and sweet.
- U8 – These children are learning to apply past experiences to current situations. Don’t introduce positions yet. Play with multiple goals and balls on the ground. Introduce boundaries of play. Maximize players time with the ball at their own speed. Show through experience as kids are ‘copy-cats’ at this age and will mimic their teammates and coach.
- U10 – Visual changes between players start to emerge as some develop hand-eye coordination and speed quicker than others. Introduce the idea of decision and relational movement with one or two teammates and one or two opponents. Practice games should include more players such as 3v3 or 5v5 plus goalkeepers. Give player simple problem-solving opportunities and plenty of shots on goal.
- U14 – This is the onset of puberty. Children’s bodies are starting to physically change. As a result, they will require more rest as their body grows. Each practice should address individual ball skill and small group decisions, including attacking and defending. Encourage them to experiment and take risks during practice and games. Articulate the game based on principles instead of position. Switch positions for players to experience the game from new perspectives.
- U18 – High school years is the time a child starts to transition into an adult. Games are 11v11 as the game pace and skill level increases. Competition is apart of practice games and activities, there are defined winners and losers. Two themes to focus on is when and how to get the ball out of pressure and transition to attacking and ways to win the ball back as a player and team. Personal accountability is a big theme that players should start to grasp. Their decisions with the ball can help or hurt their team’s ability to win.
Beware of Over Training
Competitive soccer leagues practice several times a week and compete in multi-day tournaments. In competitive sports, coaches and parents can lose sight of the most important aspect about youth sports: safety. If the players aren’t safe, we aren’t doing our job as coaches. We must look after our players.
Over training is when a player or players are pushed beyond their physical and mental ability. In this scenario, injuries happen, and players lose interest in the sport. We want to avoid this to the best of our ability.
Here are some signs that players might be over training:
- Drill and scrimmages are played at a lackluster pace. As a coach, you understand what a team is capable of because you have seen them play in many environments. When your team misses an opportunity repeatedly that they usually execute on, it may be a sign.
- For example, if one of your players is faster than the rest, but you notice over a training session a lack of quickness. Or your team misses numerous open, easy passes in an unchallenged passing drill.
- Players exhibit a lack of motivation to practice. At the beginning of practice, try to gauge a team’s energy level and enthusiasm. During drills and scrimmage, you will be able to see what motivation the team has to be there. Lack of motivation could stem from tiredness and over training. When I’m tired of doing something, I want to leave and spend my time elsewhere. The same goes for your team and players.
- When we feel pain or discomfort, our emotions tend to rise. If players are becoming irritable and unwilling to cooperate with each other, over training might be symptom. When I’m well rested, I’m more patient and willing to accept other things easier. When players snap or lash out at other players, it is a time to pause and resolve the issue, which might mean to end practice to allow players to recover.
A natural tendency when we see a lackluster effort is to push harder. Parents and coaches alike want the best for their children and players, respectively. In many situations, this is the right response, but if over training is the reason of sub-performance then pushing to point of breaking will cause physical and mental injury.
Ideal Number of Practices or Matches
The best solution to avoid over training is to reduce the number of organized matches and practices.
During the younger years (U8 and younger), children shouldn’t play any tournaments. Practice should be enough to keep interest and fun levels at a maximum. In most cases, practice should be once a week.
Once you coach a U9 and U10 team, players have progressed a good amount. US Soccer Federation recommends that players play no more than 20 matches per calendar year. The ratio of practice to game should stay between 2 to 3 practices for every match. Players should receive at least two days rest per week and there should be no more than one game per weekend. Tournaments should not exist.
U12 through U18 players should play no more than 30 games per calendar year. The ratio of practice to game should stay between 2 to 3 practices for every match. Players should receive at least two days rest per week.
From U14 and older, tournaments are commonplace in the competitive clubs. Guidelines states that a three game event should take place over a five day period for a day of rest in between each game. We all know as coaches, tournaments are played during weekends, so it can be quite difficult to follow. As a coach, it might be easier to have a reduce the number of practices on the week after the tournament. Find ways to work recovery into the season to avoid over training your players.
Coaches and parents should encourage players to take breaks from organized play throughout the year to avoid psychological and physical fatigue. Below U14 club soccer, parents and coaches should encourage players to participate in other sports. Competing in other sports can strengthen skills and techniques as they develop as a soccer player. In addition, it reduces player burnout.