This is about a U-10 Boys youth soccer team. First the good news - I really liked my F license class, and the book and tapes "FUNdamental Soccer Practice" - I feel I learned a lot from them, that my practices were much better because of them, and I am really looking forward to my E course. Now the bad news - the 1v1 games didn't work out at all and I had to drop them, and keeping "score" of practice activites was a real failure.
I decided against keeping scores for soccer practice sessions because it was always the same 3 kids who won no matter how I tried to juggle the scores to reward the less skilled for effort, or improvement, or anything else. The more experienced kids not only won on sheer skill, they also picked things up faster, tried harder, and improved more than the less skilled. In addition, all the parents were becoming increasingly unhappy with the score keeping, even the parents of the winners, because they didn't feel that practice should be a place where the less developed youth soccer players needed to be reminded of their inferiority, and I found I agreed with them. This keeping score idea might work with a selected team where all the youth soccer players meet some sort of minimum standard, but on my average U-10 recreational team, the skill level was far too broad to make any sense out of scores for practice. I had one kid this past season who could kick a ball though a brick wall at 30 yards, and another two who couldn't knock over a match stick at 1 yard. Keep score? What for?
Here's the "practice from hell" that caused me to drop the 1v1s after 5 weeks (10 practices). We had 12 players on the team so there were 6 games going on. In one game, two of the best players got into a loud argument over whether one had scored a goal or not and when I looked, I saw that one player was very broadly interpreting what a goal was (i.e., he was cheating). I couldn't referee their game because I was immediately distracted by my worst player who was in tears because a ball went in the air near his head and 'it could have hit him.' A lot of kids are like him and have gone through many seasons standing around in lines waiting to give the ball one little kick or waiting in their "position" for the ball to come near them so they can boot it away. They then find 1v1 games to be too hard and scary so they try to do something else, or make a commotion to avoid the experience.
Back to the practice - meanwhile, another "worst" player was complaining loudly that his opponent wasn't playing fair. I took a look and found that the opponent would gently kick the ball towards the complainer's goal - as it rolled gently towards the goal, all the complainer had to do was put his foot out in front of it to stop it. This was beyond his capabilities at the time (yes, I know - "huh???!!!") so he responded as many 8 yo boys do when confronted with a situation he cannot handle - cry "that's unfair!" His unfortunate opponent was hurt and confused.
Simultaneously, another moderately skilled youth soccer player was just booting the ball as far as he could for the sheer pleasure of annoying his opponent (and friend) by making him go chase the soccer ball - this despite my rule that it was essential to control the ball when scoring a goal. Even when I insisted that he get the soccer ball, it didn't matter - booting it far away was more fun than trying to play a 1v1 game, even if he had to chase all over to get it back.
Where was my assistant coach during all this, you may reasonably ask. No one wanted to be assistant youth soccer coach claiming that they didn't know anything about soccer. (This is the 3rd season I have had this response). I drafted a few parents who were hanging around simply for crowd control, but they were so intimidated by their own inexperience that they would not say or do anything to correct blatantly poor skills or to referee the micro games, or even just keep kids in some sort of order. Even when it was simply a matter of keeping the kids moving and well distributed in a few passing drills involving lines (lines which should have been 1 person long, and even that just long enough to grab a ball and start over), the parents would zone out, watch the balls sailing around until everything finally stopped because there were 12 players behind 1 cone while 5 cones (serving as starting points) were devoid of players.
In the local youth Baseball and Football leagues there are more coaches available than kids wanting to play. Maybe in 20 years when every parent has gone through youth soccer, there will be plenty of people with some clue as to what to do so we can have some decent coaching, and some support, but for now, anyone drafted for youth soccer coaching is pretty much on their own.
Now one obvious solution to the problems I've mentioned that many youth soccer coaches use is to have a single line of kids waiting to kick the soccer ball to keep an eye on them while watching one kid kick a soccer ball. That would solve the crowd control and behavior problem, but obviously is unacceptable from the standpoint of keeping kids moving with the ball and learning. Another solution youth soccer coaches use is to just have 6v6 scrimmages all the time. This usually means a few kids move around with the ball, and everyone else stands around hoping the ball wanders nearby so they can kick it far away. This is precisely what gave me such a poorly skilled group of players to begin with.
But! I am not giving up. The score keeping is out permanently, but I definitely beleive in keeping kids moving and having small sided games, including 1v1. What I am going to try is to draft all the parents early at the parents meeting before the first practice, and spend more effort to coach THEM early as to my expectations of what they should be doing to help - hoping they can figure it out during a practice is clearly more than I can reasonably expect. Another thing is to use youth soccerplayers to ref the micro games and asst. coach each other. Perhaps by involving the players in their own team management, I can instill a little pride and team spirit in trying to make practice fun but still be a learning situation. In my experience, 8-9 year olds can be pretty nice to each other and try (usually) to help each other. Finally, I found the kids enjoy 2v2 games much more than 1v1 - they can pass to their buddy which makes it a more social activity. They can also model themselves on their team mate who will usually be shouting out "helpful" instructions. If I make restrictions like "5 touches before a pass," or "step-over fake before passing" and "no one can score twice until everyone (including the opponents) has scored once" I can still get a lot of ball contact and ball control.
I still fervently believe that it is vital to keep everyone moving with the ball, but it is not easy, and while some people seem to get good behavior with just a look or a word, most do not, and I am certainly not one of them. In the tapes I occasionally see a bunch of kids quietly and patiently listening to the youth soccer coach - my immediate gut response to those scenes has always been to wonder if they were on tranquilizers for the filming.
When people say things such as "while group A is playing a youth soccer game - coach group B in (insert skill)" - always omitted is who is minding group A. Even when people volunteer to be asst. coach, they seem to feel that "asst. coach" means you don't need to show up very much, or if you do, just stand around and watch.
There was a (sort of) happy ending to the season - half way through the season when one of the kids teased another kid too much while I was looking away, the teasee's mom complained (she had been reading a book, but had seen the incident and done nothing). I pointed out that there was 1 coach and 12 kids - no way I could watch every one all the time and that I had repeatedly asked her and some others to help. So I (finally) was able to recruit her and a number of others to help out (though still the parents were too tentative to do very much) - and with a lot of 2v2 and 3v3 games and some random skill instruction and drills thrown in when the kids were too tired out for horse play, every one of the kids showed wonderful improvement and all the parents (including me) and players were happy with the youth soccer player skill development.