HOW TO SCRIMMAGE WITH KIDS (U8 to U12)
Jumping into the game is a great way for coaches and parents to motivate young players and help them have fun. Adult participants can challenge players to perform at a level just above what they can achieve by themselves and help players steadily acquire a deeper understanding of the game.
Beware, however, that an adult-child mix can easily turn into a double-edged sword. Unless you understand your role and follow some basic dos and don’ts, you could become an unwanted guest at practices and pick-up games.
GENERAL GUIDELINES: ALL AGES
Always think safety first! Incorporate safety into every interaction with your players. You could be twice as big as some of the kids you play with. Keep this size advantage in mind at all times. There is no such thing as a 50-50 ball between adults and children. Even when a child fouls an adult the smaller player may get hurt. Especially in the younger age groups there is no need to challenge a player; there are plenty of uncontested loose balls that coaches can easily track down, control and distribute.
When should you play? Join in when you feel you can lift the level of play, or if your presence can help more get involved and touch the ball. Especially when players start learning combination play, a coach can help players work on possession and change the point of attack.
Where should you play? As players learn how to link up and combine, the best place for a coach to play is in the center of the field. From midfield, coaches can deliver balls that players would never see from their peers and use passes to direct their runs. A concrete demonstration in a scrimmage is worth more than a hundred lectures.
Consider your ability! Your skill level will determine how you participate with children. A skilled, experienced and conscious adult can play safely in tight spaces and spray the ball around the field. Less experienced adults can help out in the younger age groups.
Don’t Score! Be a set-up guy! Helping youth players score goals is fun and beneficial for your team. As players see their runs to goal rewarded with timely thru-balls and crosses, they’ll want to become set-up guys too.
Defend selectively! Use your defensive presence to help players become better attackers:
- When running beside players, deliberately overplay the ball to encourage them to cut the ball across their bodies and beat defenders on the dribble.
- To encourage vision and decision-making, cut down a passing lane, but leave another option open for a safe pass.
- Don’t park yourself in front of goal! Adults often have no idea how much space their full-grown bodies take up in smaller age-appropriate goals.
Don’t lift the ball! For safety reasons, keep the ball on the ground! Don’t even think about lifting the ball in the air or chipping it over a clump of little players!
Stay on your feet! Adults should never leave their feet when playing with children. If you jump for head ball you never know whom you will land on. A slide tackle or slide kick could injure a young player or even yourself.
Observe! Playing in the middle of the field you can help you experience the game from a player’s perspective. Read expressions on players’ faces to measure focus, intensity and understanding. How do players read the game? How fast can they react to transition? Are touches clean or sloppy?
Step out when you’re not needed! When you feel that players begin to grasp the teaching point, step back and watch them have fun and learn on their own. Never forget that you are not a U8 or U10 superstar, and that the game belongs to the kids.
Be realistic: Although players can raise their game when playing alongside adults, it’s not always realistic to expect them to sustain the same level of play on game day when you can’t join them on the field. Instead, think of your participation as a long-term investment in your players. If playing with your team doesn’t lead to wins, the seeds of tactical awareness and confidence you plant in your players can inspire them to kick around with older players and seek out higher levels of play.