Pre-season football training for young players
Need to get your players aged 5-12 ready for the new season? Pete Sturgess, FA national coach for the Foundation Phase, gives ten top tips for working with your team the summer before the season starts.
1. Remember that you’re coaching children
Pre-season football training for adults can be a slog, full of laps and doing ‘doggies’ until exhaustion sets in. That sort of preparation isn’t suitable for young players aged 5-12.
Instead, sessions across the six weeks should be enjoyable, exciting and active. That’s the case throughout the season, in fact.
2. Include fun movement activities
Make your warm-ups fun by including a wide range of movements and activities. Try running, chasing, dodging, jumping, twisting and turning.
Get the children laughing and out of breath. Include throwing and catching where you can. Games like tag rugby or dodgeball are great warm-ups.
3. Prioritise the ball
Players come to training so that they can play football. So, give them lots of touches by using the ball as much as possible in your sessions.
4. Vary your games
Play lots of small-sided games with different numbers of players. Vary the pitch size too.
It’s great to get your team playing matches early on, in sessions as well as across the pre-season programme. Try to play the format that's used on matchday, whether that’s 6v6 or 7v7.
5. Play as one big group
In the first couple of weeks, get your players working together as one big group in a large area. Or you can use two smaller groups.
The lower intensity works great for pre-season football training, easing players back into action.
6. Make things gradually more difficult
As the weeks go on, introduce smaller groups in smaller areas. After week three, 4v4 is perfect – especially if you’ve played 6v6 or 7v7 in the previous two weeks.
Think about how you can make each session slightly harder by increasing the time spent on the task.
7. Create individual challenges
Remember, every player is an individual. Adapt the session or challenge for each child.
Why not try pairing or grouping players together for different outcomes? This is a great way to meet individual players’ needs.
8. Keep it fresh
Avoid getting stuck in a rut. If you train more than once a week, vary what you work on during sessions. For instance, try changing the session theme to avoid players constantly repeating the same actions.
9. Pitch your communication right
Whatever activities and games you’re using, always communicate concisely. Give brief instructions, and then follow this up with lots of practice.
Provide clear and simple advice along the way. And don’t forget to add a good helping of encouragement.
10. Make them want to come back
Pre-season football training should be so special that players can’t wait for the next session.
Achieve this by including play and prioritising enjoyment. And get the group into small-sided games as often as possible, so that they’re playing the sport for real.