How to Coach Soccer

The quick and easy guide to coaching youth soccer


| 6 min read

You don’t have to have professional soccer experience to successfully wrangle a dozen or so young soccer players for a season. But you do need to have a decent grasp of the rules, a sense of the key skills, and a commitment to making soccer fun.  

The rules

Rules for youth soccer vary slightly from league to league and age group to age group. Generally speaking, leagues abide by IFAB’s laws of the game, but with flexibility to keep the game fun and flexible for players who are still learning. 

The five most important rules to understand?

  • No hands — unless you’re the goalie. 
  • When the ball goes out of bounds on a sideline, it’s a throw-in — the ball goes overhead and both feet need to be on the ground. 
  • When the ball goes out of bounds on an endline, it’s either a corner kick (off the defense) or a goal kick (off the offense). 
  • The offside rule is so confounding that the youngest players are usually exempt. Thank goodness.
  • When in doubt, the ref is always right (even when they aren’t).

The skills

Like any sport, technical skills are key to improving and, well, winning. That’s why every great youth soccer coach has one thing in common: they teach the basics. 

Dribbling: Emphasize small touches and ball control. Players should tap the ball using the inside and outside of the foot, not the toes. 

Passing: Focus on passing accurately and quickly, whether on the ground, in the air, or on the go. And don’t forget about trapping and receiving the pass, too.  

Shooting: First, get them to kick with their laces. Then expand their repetroire, like shooting with the inside of the foot when closer to the goal. 

Attacking: Emphasize spacing and how to maintain possession through passing. After all, the ball moves faster on a pass versus dribbling.

Defending: Teach them to apply pressure on defense by quickly coming in on an angle, closing down the space, and always moving their feet. 

Goalkeeping: Goalies get to work on scooping, catching, and punching the ball, as well as footwork and punting.  

Practice 101

Running an effective youth soccer practice is all about being prepared. Kids thrive in a structured, fun setting — and here’s how you can provide just that.

And last but not least, keep it positive. Feedback is best when it’s centered around player development — not results. It’s easy to applaud a player’s goal. But it’s more effective to recognize their efforts. 

Parents FTW

Parents are wonderful cheerleaders… until they’re not. And in those moments, coaching can be tough. 

Calm, confident, proactive communication is the key — even when dealing with that parent on the sideline (you know the one). Before the first practice, send a friendly welcome email, or hold a team meeting to let everyone know that while cheering and good sportsmanship is encouraged, critiquing and yelling is not. Recruit your A-team — assistant coaches, team parents and the like. Build rapport by chatting with parents before or after the game, offering encouraging comments about their child’s progress. 

Lastly, act confident in your role as coach — understand the rules, be prepared, and, you know, know your players’ names. Building relationships is easier once you’ve earned their respect. 

Game time

Game time is go time — for your players. Experienced coaches don’t actually coach much from the sidelines on game day. They use it as a chance to see what their players have mastered at practice and where they need to work. Strike that balance between under-coaching and over-coaching. 

It’s good to think about pre- and post-game routines as well. Greet the refs and other coaches, show good sportsmanship, dish out all the high fives, and thank everyone for participating. Always leave on a good note — win or lose. 

The FUNdamentals of a great season

Here’s the secret of youth soccer: It’s the experience that keeps them coming back, not the Xs and Os. Warm, positive feedback — the more specific, the better — is always welcome. Be sure to celebrate your team at the end of the season, and remind them how much they’ve grown. 

Bottom line: Focus on growth — not your record — because that’s what you’ll remember, too.

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