Youth Soccer

Youth soccer: Keys to a successful season

Photo: Jennifer Leszczynski

With the fall youth soccer season now getting underway, it’s a good time to explore how to make sure your child’s youth soccer season is a success. Through my concept of “The 3 E’s: Education, Effort and Enthusiasm,” coaches, players and parents can have a shared understanding of the three key focus areas that will contribute to an enjoyable season for all participants.

Coach: Focus on Education

While there are many aspects of being a successful youth soccer coach, the most important is for all coaches to remember that their main job is education—teaching young “students” to learn the new activity of soccer or to advance their current understanding of the sport.

Sometimes this notion can get lost on the typical volunteer coach who can find it challenging just to get a team to arrive on time at the proper location for a game or training session. Even with the enormous effort to get everyone properly assembled and ready to train, it’s not enough to just have the kids participate in some organized dribbling, passing or shooting drills. Coaches must remember that they need to teach proper technique for each of the skills they want their players to ultimately learn. A normal progression would be for the coach to demonstrate to the group, followed by individual skill practice, concluding with a scrimmage or fun game to test the skill out against opposition.

Coaches should try to view themselves as “soccer educators.” Children will be naturally drawn to coaches who are constantly teaching them new things and who focus on the skills they would like to see, versus faulting them for the mistakes they make. Parents should look for coaches who not only provide group instruction, but who find time to work with individual players on their specific areas of improvement.

Player: Focus on Effort

In youth soccer, there are many things that contribute to individual success early on in the sport. Many of these, like physical size or early exposure to the sport from parents or older siblings, are beyond the control of the player. Therefore players should concentrate on elements that all players can control, with effort expended by the player being the main area of focus.

Focusing on effort will pay huge dividends for players at all ages and levels of youth soccer. For younger players who will have difficulty mastering ball skills, they can have great pride in just trying new things or simply hustling after every ball. As they grow older, the focus on effort can extend into showing up at practice on time with proper equipment and continuing to be focused throughout the training session.

Youth players should be continually be reminded to focus on the effort they are putting into building their skills versus the outcome of their performance. Coaches should go out of their way to highlight stand-out efforts by players as a way to motivate high levels of effort across the entire team. Parents should be asking their children if they tried their best, not if they won the game.

Parent: Focus on Enthusiasm

The attitude and behavior of parents can make or break a soccer season for a young player and his or her team, so parents need to be focused on providing appropriate levels of enthusiasm throughout the season.

Parents should think of their enthusiasm as the fuel that drives the effort in their children. The more enthusiasm from the parents, the more effort the child will display on the field. Conversely, if parents are grumbling about the coach’s shortcomings or about the early morning start time for a game, players will pick up on the negative feelings and be less motivated when it’s time to play.

Children continually seek affirmation that they are doing a good job, and regardless of outcome, parents should be enthusiastically supporting their children. Youth coaches will also appreciate the positive attitude of the parents, which will continue to inspire the coach to further develop the team.

So, as your child’s season progresses throughout the fall, use “The 3 E’s: Education, Effort and Enthusiasm” to help keep a big picture view of what coaches, players and parents should ultimately focus on to have a successful soccer season.

Upcoming Labor Day tournaments

The summer soccer season typically comes to a close with the Labor Day tournaments: Here are a couple of local events:

2013 Philadelphia Soccer Club Ross Haney Labor Day Tournament: Aug. 30– Sept. 1

A competitive club and premier team tournament hosted by the Philadelphia Soccer Club for boys U8-U15 and girls U8-U19. Matches take place at 10402 Decatur Road in Northeast Philly (adjacent to the Northeast Philadelphia Airport), if you are up for catching some high-quality local youth action.

Pittsgrove Soccer Club Labor Day Tournament: Aug. 31 – Sept. 1

A South Jersey tournament for boys & girls ages U8-U16 held at Greenbranch Park in Pittsgrove, NJ.

26th Annual Al Perlini Memorial Tournament: Aug. 31 – Sept. 1

The Annual Al Perlini Memorial Tournament (“Perlini”) is a US Youth Soccer event for travel soccer teams held at three locations throughout Warminster, PA.


  1. Another key: pick the right team. Parents should not just pick a team based on closeness to the home, or based on how many friends the child has in the team. Parents should do a lot of research which team may be the best fit for their child and get the child to try out for 1-3 teams before the summer. Ideally a child is in a top travel team as of U8 and sticks with this team until U17.

  2. Great piece Adam. Lots of good take home points for parents and coaches. Some parents may misread your “enthusiasm” section and get carried away a little bit. Depending on the age, some children do much better when their parents are quiet during practices and games, rather than “enthusiastically” screaming at them from the sidelines.
    Also, a great resource for any coach is the US development manual. While it has more than most coaches need, it is a fascinating read and has very good sections for the skills and types of training for each age level:

  3. An article I read recently, that applies to the parenting angle: the best thing a parent can say after a game is simply, “I love to watch you play.” Don’t critique, don’t praise specific moments. That can come later. When the game ends and you’re heading to the car, those simple six words do a lot for your child’s confidence.

    • I’ve coached a travel team for a number of years. However, as a parent with three children in youth soccer at various levels, I’ve seen this simple sentence do wonders in my own children.

  4. You forgot “B” as in “bribe” as in WHO THE HELL CAN I PAY OFF TO AVOID THE EARLY MATCHES?!?

    see y’all at Hilltop at 8 am tomorrow!

    • We got lucky – 1:30 and 3:55 at Hilltop. I started to complain about the 8am at Lou Ramos next week until my hubbie reminded me that we will be done in time for our 5 hours of tailgating in Lot A!

  5. Southside Johnny says:

    Great stuff all around. Best advice I ever got on younger youth coaching came from a book which is long gone from my shelves written by a Brit. The gist was that you can never overdo small sided play. 3v3 provides infinite teachable moments and keeps everybody engaged with meaningful touches while developing relationships. It’s fun and our kids competed in 3v3 tournaments on their own through high school. I suggested a long while back that youth coaching would make a terrific regular feature on the page. How about it?

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