TECHNICAL & TACTICAL GUIDELINES FOR GRADES 3-12
Technical Development of 8-12 year olds
It is important that each player be shown their own improvement and that we do not compare all players to the “best” player.
We must still stress technical development at these ages. In particular, players need to be able to perform ball skills when under pressure. This pressure may come in the form of speed of play or in the form of a defender. Whatever the case, children of these ages should be comfortable manipulating the ball with both feet and as they reach the age of 10 and 11, players should be able to pass the ball with both feet, (using inside and outside of the foot), shoot with both feet, and receive the ball with purpose. Below are recommended guidelines for you to follow in your work with these young players.
Age Group Skill Priorities
Grade 3/4 Continue with dribbling foci from Grade 1/2
Passing with inside and outside of both feet
Shooting with both feet
Receiving the ball with all parts of body
Proper 1 vs. 1 and 2 vs. 1 defending and attacking
Intro to 2 vs. 2
Grade 5/6 Continue with all Grade 3/4 foci
Basic combination play
Proper 2 vs. 2 defending and attacking
Ability to chip the ball
Accurately play long passes
Intro to 3 vs. 3
Tactical Development of 8-12 year olds
As we move from Grade 1/2 to Grade 3/4, the fields are getting bigger and dribbling is not always the best solution. At this stage, players need to learn when to dribble out of trouble and when to pass. As always, aimless kicking should be discouraged. Players at the Grade 3-6 levels should be learning to combine with teammates around them, using short ground passes and wall passes to move the ball forward. Players should understand how to support teammates with the ball and be learning to recognize where defenders are not (and hence where to attack). It is fair to say that children exiting the Grade 3/4 age group should know attacking and defending responsibilities of 1 vs. 1 and 2 vs. 1 play. In addition, they should have a decent understanding of 2 vs. 2; though expect to see a wide range of understanding of the defensive responsibilities of a second defender amongst your players. This is quite typical and highlights the fact that players are all maturing at different rates. That process, not only affects them physically, but also cognitively and socially. Some children may understand the idea of a second defender and some will not. Do not stress about this, as it is expected.
Tactically, Grade 5/6 players should be aware of basic support positions and be willing to communicate. They should know to be side-ways on when giving support, know to make their first touch active, and know to never deaden the ball. Teaching combination play and movement should be a focus for coaches, as should learning how and when to switch the point of attack. Defensively, players should know the roles of the first and second defender and know when to tackle versus when to contain. In addition, players should have a basic understanding of the roles of the 3rd attacker and 3rd defender. Similar to what we see at Grade 3/4, not all players will understand the roles of the 3rd attacker and defender and we should not stress over this as understanding will come in due time. However, we will recognize a larger proportion of our players do recognize these concepts as this is the dawn of tactics.
Please recognize that just because one player understands some higher level tactical ideas at this age, it does not mean that all players do or are capable of understanding at this time. Spending a significant amount of time on tactical ideas will ultimately hurt these players in the long run. They are still in a period in which their motor-control skills are developing. In fact, this age is a crucial time of motor-control development. Just as there are times in development in which a young person can more easily learn a second language, there are times at which a young person more easily and most efficiently can learn motor-control. We stress this point because we should use our practices to teach players the skills that they can learn best at each age.
Spending a lot of time teaching tactics will not only detract from skill/motor-control development, but it will not guarantee tactical knowledge as children will only be able to comprehend a limited amount of knowledge. Even if we are the best coaches in the world, children have a limit of conceptual understanding at this age. Expecting too much will result in teaching very little.