The "9-Step Practice Routine" — It Works

After 13 years of coaching soccer, plus lecturing, writing, living and breathing sports for most of my life, the last thing that I wanted to do was to read and watch another DVD on soccer training. I know that there is always more to learn — more complicated formations, systems within formations, tactics within systems, different methods to analyze players and combinations of players, complicated off-the-ball third man runs, sophisticated visual cues, and so on. That's the beauty of the "simple" game. No matter how experienced you are as a coach, there is always more to learn — but from another book and DVD? No way.

Wrong again.

For the advanced coach, the CYSA "9-Step Practice Routine" of teaching the game to young players works. It's not perfect, but by using some creativity in your practice sessions, you will be guaranteed to do the one, most important thing necessary (aside from having some fun) to teach kids our sport: to give them the opportunity to have many touches on the ball within a logically progressive teaching routine based on repetition of movements.

The routine taught in the CYSA pre-F, F, E, and E/D courses is geared toward player involvement in adjusted space to force multiple, quality touches on the ball — with and without pressure — during practice. The "9-Step Practice Routine'," which I will discuss later in this article, is crafted to give a coach time to explain, demonstrate and correct technical issues, yet also to give the player space, with and without pressure, to practice the corrected technique in an enjoyable environment.

For example, the use of "the Serve" — the starting place for many of the exercises taught — has built into it a process by which the beginner or advanced player must dribble the ball in all directions, possibly feint using a step-over, cut, pull-back or other move with the ball (as the coach instructs), and then set the ball up for a pass with one touch, peeking and placing the ball at the feet of his/her partner on the other side of the grid. The player will receive about 20 good touches on the ball each time that player makes his/her way through "the Serve" just one time.

The rule for the advanced player is 1,000 touches on the ball per practice. As a coach, you must ensure that each of your players hits that 1,000 touches per practice. For every five serves, the player hits about 100 quality touches, in all directions, ending with a feint or two, a few moves on the ball, a set-up touch, a peek and a pass to his/her partner. This all happens at the start of each exercise, without pressure, so that the player can perfect his/her individual technique with your help. So long as you introduce various moves with the ball during "the Serve" and insist that each player perform a few of those moves before the pass is made at the end of "the Serve", your player's foot skills will improve within a low-pressure environment that allows time and space for player correction.

The following "9 Steps" in the CYSA routine, to be used for every practice session, not only help you to organize your practices but help ensure that your players will:

  1. understand the theme for the practice (explain and demonstrate);
  2. be adequately warmed-up and work on ball-handling confidence before the strenuous physical activity starts;
  3. enjoy a cooperative, no-pressure environment (1+1) during the initial learning phase of a new technique;
  4. benefit from pressure-filled competitive play (1v1) simulating game pressure;
  5. learn from half-time discussion;
  6. practice what they have learned in small-sided cooperative and competitive games;
  7. and a cooperative and competitive scrimmage;
  8. have an adequate cool down, and;
  9. hear a review of the practice theme and information learned at the end of each practice, then receive a home-play assignment from the coach.

The important overall theme repeated throughout the "CYSA 9-Step Routine" is player touches on the ball. If a coach is creative, within the confines of this routine, he/she can incorporate more and more touches for each player during the warm-up, 1-plus-1 cooperative play, 1v1 competitive play, cooperative and competitive small-sided games, and the final cooperative and competitive scrimmage, before cool down, in order to hit that magic 1,000 mark.

The CYSA "9-Step Practice Routine" is not perfect. Add some creativity during the exercises, good weekend competition and nurturing encouragement from a caring coach and the "Routine" is as close to perfect as has been developed in soccer communities throughout the world.

The advanced coach may ask, "What about plyometrics, speed, endurance and quickness training, set plays on offense and defense, mental preparation, zonal and man marking defense, off-side traps, shifts in formation on the run?"

Believe it or not, with some adjustment, it can all be taught within the structure of the "9- Step" CYSA routine. For example, insert 10 minutes of plyometric training at each practice right after the figure-eight stretch (warm-up); work the mental aspects of the game during the half-time routine; if team defending (pressure, cover, balance) is your theme, walk the players through zonal- and man-marking during the cooperative parts of the practice, then work these concepts under pressure during the competitive parts of the practice, and during the scrimmage toward the end of practice. These are just a few examples to dissuade coaches that believe the CYSA Routine is too simplistic to teach the more complicated aspects of the game.

The key to teaching our game is to break complicated concepts down to simple parts, then to practice these concepts over and over again until they imprint onto the player. Once imprinted, this complicated concept becomes part of the players' routine when playing the game. It is then advantageous to move onto the next theme to be taught to your team using the "9-Step Routine." The routine is built to cause repetition of concepts and movement revolving around a central theme for each practice. If you choose your practice themes so that there is a logical, progressive connection between the themes, you will be surprised how fast the imprinting takes place and how quickly your players adopt your way of moving the ball, and moving on the field without the ball.

I don't agree with those that say soccer is a simple game. In my mind it is very complicated, but, if played as a high-possession game, allowing each player on the field to touch the ball many times during the game, it is a beautiful thing to watch. Coaching is complicated and encompasses much more than just teaching a player to move into space and move the ball during a game. However, teaching children to play the game is simple if you break down the themes, moves with and without the ball, formations, systems and tactics into small, digestible bites just big enough for your players to swallow.

The trick is to make sure that what you are feeding them tastes good, so they want to come back for more.

Want to learn more about our "9-Step Routine?" Attend a CYSA Coaching Course in 2009. Click here for more information.