Player Development

How to Build an Effective Practice Plan in Youth Soccer

A quick guide for building the most effect team practice plan for youth soccer teams.

by Griffin Lloyd

Former college athlete and video editor. Current content creator, sports enthusiast and dog dad.

Coaching a youth soccer team comes with many responsibilities. With multiple practices, at least one game a week, and extracurricular events outside of team activities, there is a real need for planning ahead and adapting as you go. One of the responsibilities that’s often overlooked by parents and players is planning each individual session. With the number of times your team gets together, it’s impossible to fly by the seat of your pants. As a coach, your players and parents are expecting that you use your expertise and have a game plan as you enter the season.

On top of this, youth soccer players are constantly developing and growing, so it’s important to tailor each practice to their specific needs and the team overall. With each individual at different stages in their development, this can be a difficult balance. You want the team to have a successful season, but it’s likely more important for you to develop your players to their full potential and worry less about team success. By planning each practice with a focus on player development, goals will be hit along the way, and the season will be a success no matter what.

Ask Yourself These Questions

  • Who is on my team?
  • Why are they here?
  • What do they want out of this?
  • What do I want out of this?

Every team is different. Different methods can be used to have a successful season but you should first make sure you understand your team and what they’re looking to get out of this season. Maybe the goal is to have fun, or maybe the team is ready to take the next step with their eyes on a national championship. No matter the answer, simple questions like these can help you determine how each practice should flow, and you’ll be able to quickly determine the tone you should set for each session.

What should I focus on?

As any youth soccer coach knows, determining what to focus each training session on can be strenuous. There are many factors to consider, from individual player goals to team-wide objectives. The first step in determining a theme to build practice around is based on player and team goals. If you’re not already using goal-setting with your team, you should be. Goal setting is proven to lead to higher success for individuals and it’s sure to keep the entire team accountable through the season. Here’s a quick guide to setting goals and why it’s crucial for even more than planning practice sessions.

Another helpful tool in determining a practice theme is technology. New tools have made it easier to identify improvement areas, whether that be through prior game data or footage. Reviewing footage and metrics from previous games allows coaches to accurately pinpoint areas that need work and design training sessions to address those specific issues. This process of using film to identify breakdowns and areas of improvement has become very popular in recent years and is proving to be essential for any youth soccer coach looking to accelerate their team forward.

One example of technology being implemented at the youth level is Trace. With the ability to offer automatic recording and automated editing for the team and each individual, the ability to review game footage has never been easier. By automatically sorting every important moment of every game into playlists, you can now review team play in minutes, while having the ability to do a granular dive into individual play and performance metrics. Player footage and metrics previously unseen are now available, and we’re seeing accelerated development with the addition of these tools. Use this insight to zone in on areas of play that your team can improve on and implement these objectives into each training.

Now it’s time to narrow it down and determine a broad category for each session you can plan and build around for the rest of the week. Here are five themes to get started:

  1. Passing/Receiving
  2. Possession
  3. Defending
  4. Finishing/Exercises to goal
  5. Counter Attacking

Once you’ve selected a theme to build a practice around, use this chart to outline each individual session:

Warmup: Going through a proper warm up will ensure your team is ready to hit the ground running come their first drill is essential. Start with some light jogging and stretching and progress to more dynamic movements such as lunges, leg swings, and eventually short sprints to get the heart rate up.

Drill 1: Now that you’ve warmed up, it’s time to jump into the first intense drill. No matter the theme you’ve chosen, each drill should build upon another, ultimately leading to the internal scrimmage towards the end. In a possession-based practice, the first drill could be a small-sided possession and transition game. Possession in tight areas will help develop decision-making and technical skills to make things will easier as the field expands. Use drill progressions (such as touch limits) to ensure your players aren’t going through the motions and are challenged, as found in the video below.

Drill 2: This next drill should be the most challenging for your group. While presenting a more difficult exercise, ensure your team is prepared and understands the expectations. If you’re moving from a smaller-sided possession game, work your way into a larger-scale possession game, again including a touch limit to start and using targets or goals at each end to work directionally. As you increase the space, you’ll gradually be building to a game-like scenario. If you’re looking to push your players and create a more competitive environment, add in conditioning punishments for the team that loses each segment. These can include push-ups, sit-ups, or even sprints once a drill is completed.

Game time: Now is the time to let your players play and show off their talent and what they’ve learned from the rest of practice. Whether this is a 7v7, 9v9, or 11v11 scrimmage, allow them to play with the natural flow of a game. Don’t be afraid to stop play and point out a teaching moment should one arise, especially if it concerns what you’ve just spent the last hour working on in training.

Cooldown: Running a proper cool down after a session is more important than ever. Without this, your players will go from working and running hard to a complete stop. Make sure your players receive a proper ending to practice and run through slower stretches for adequate maintenance and to avoid further injury.

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