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What are the core or basic skills that youth soccer players should focus on during practice?

I am new to coaching a youth (8 year old) recreational soccer league in the Midwest, USA.

I have already started my training as a coach by brushing up on the rules of the game; discovering drills for the kids to practice; and generally just thinking through ways to make both practice and the game fun.

I need guidance in identifying what the core or basic skills are that the kids should be focusing on as opposed to more advanced skills which presumably build upon the basics. Some players will be new this season, other players have a season or two. None of them have played under an experienced coach, so their background is pretty light still.

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The best drills for kids are the basic one. Since the kids doesn't resolve good on tactic and strategy (almost all of them), is better to let them do what the football is about: passing and kicking.

run with the ball using cones and kicking is by far one of the easiest and more accurate drill for kids. Passing to a fellow player and kicking also is a good drill, both for kicking and also for make a feel of team player.

Some kids will kick better than other, then you can focus on different types of kicks and ball control for them. And play.. play a lot, the kids are there for playing :)

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+1 for the "kids are there playing" comment alone. That's my philosophy as well. They've got plenty of time later to get overly wound up about a game. –  GlenH7 Feb 19 '13 at 13:06
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I agree with the basic exercises concept. Passing and shooting are by far the most important aspects of the game at that age.

Some exercises that will probably be fun for them:

  • "Piggy in the middle": players form a circle of about 5-6 players, one players gets in the middle of the circle. The goal of the exercise is to be able to pass accurately under pressure, once you are in the middle, you chase the ball and try to a) get control of it, or b) disturb the pass from a player to another. Once you succeed you change places

  • passes with alternating feet: pair the kids with a relatively short distance in between them. Then instruct them to pass the ball to one another; alternating the foot used for the pass. Then adjust the distance and/or tempo to increase difficulty.

  • team penalties: divide them into two teams, have them play a short match. Then give the losing team a chance to "redeem" by challenging the winners to a penalty shoot-out (of course there isn't much of a challenge, but it's probably more fun if you encourage them to see it that way).

  • if you have access to cones (if not just pick something large enough to be seen and small enough to be "dribbled") put them with a couple of meters distance, and have the kids slalom through them as fast as they can. No need to pressure them, as they are still very young...

I'll add more if I come up with other drills.

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