Youth Soccer Coaches Encouraged to Ease Regimen About 3 million children play organized youth soccer in the United States. Their practices follow a predictable pattern: drills, more drills, then drills and a lecture. The U.S. Soccer Federation recently released new guidelines for youth soccer practice that tell coaches not to coach so much, not to dictate what positions young children play, and to allow children to play pick-up style games. Mike Woitalla, executive editor of Soccer America magazine, says it's the way that the best soccer players in the world got really good at the game.
NPR logo

Youth Soccer Coaches Encouraged to Ease Regimen

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/5428473/5428474" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Youth Soccer Coaches Encouraged to Ease Regimen

Youth Soccer Coaches Encouraged to Ease Regimen

Youth Soccer Coaches Encouraged to Ease Regimen

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/5428473/5428474" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

About 3 million children play organized youth soccer in the United States. Their practices follow a predictable pattern: drills, more drills, then drills and a lecture. The U.S. Soccer Federation recently released new guidelines for youth soccer practice that tell coaches not to coach so much, not to dictate what positions young children play, and to allow children to play pick-up style games. Mike Woitalla, executive editor of Soccer America magazine, says it's the way that the best soccer players in the world got really good at the game.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

More than three million children now play organized soccer in the U.S. That's a lot of kids in uniforms and cleats and a lot of adults yelling at them from the sidelines. Recently, the U.S. Soccer Federation issued new guidelines for the adults who coach youth soccer and they pretty much boil down to this advice, don't coach so much.

Commentator Mike Woitalla is the executive editor of Soccer America magazine and he says the new guidelines sound like good advice.

MIKE WOITELLA: What would happen if we treated a day at the playground like a youth soccer practice? Make the six-year-olds line up and wait to take turns on the monkey bars. If one of the wanders off toward the swings, scream at him. At the sandbox, do not let them dig around making castles or mounds. Line them up for the shovel drill and yell, dig, dig, dig. After 50 minutes on instructions on the various aspects of proper playground usage, give the kids ten minutes to play, the sit them down for a lecture.

It sounds absurd, but it's equally ludicrous to drill six-year-old soccer players, to make them wait in line to kick a ball, instead of setting up small goals and letting them play.

It unnecessary and rude to yell nonstop instructions at soccer playing children. It's senseless to make little kids play positions, to force them to remain in certain sections of the field as if they were wooden chess pieces. And it's clear that children are much more likely to become talented soccer players if they're allowed to explore the game without adults bossing them around.

The U.S. Soccer Federation is concerned about creating great players. That's why is has created guidelines for youth coaches warning them that youth soccer has become too organized, too structured.

The world's greatest players have something in common. As children they considered the soccer ball a wonderful toy and they wanted to play with it whenever they could. That's because their early exposure to soccer was pure play. The Peles, Meradonas and Renaldo's developed their skills without adults looking over their shoulders, stifling their creative impulses or critiquing their mistakes.

In the United States, youth soccer comes with a dominating adult presence and 60 percent of kids quit the sport by the time they're 12-years-old. The thing is you don't have to teach soccer, the game is the best teacher for young players.

That's the message for youth soccer coaches in the U.S. Soccer Federation's new guidelines. They advise coaches to organize less, to say less, to encourage dribbling, to let kids move wherever they want on the field and to make practices simulate pick-up games.

Most importantly, the message is that youth soccer should be play time for children and that playing is the best practice.

BLOCK: Mike Woitalla is the executive editor of Soccer America magazine and co- author of the book More Than Goals: The Journey From Backyard Games To World Cup Competition.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.