Stage 1: Ages 7-11

Building Technique and Motor Skills

At this early period, players are able to learn and refine their motor skills very quickly with high amounts of repetition with the soccer ball.  As a result, training should be focused on learning the various fundamental skills necessary for success in soccer as correctly as possible while having fun.

Soccer players in this age range will be enthusiastic and eager to learn, and they will learn and improve quickly if they are given the correct environment in which to do so.  Players of this age will have less ability to understand more advanced tactical problems, and they will generally lack the playing ability to allow them to solve those problems because they have not developed it yet.  While they learn to control the ball, they will need to be encouraged, particularly when they struggle.  Above all, players must enjoy their training and games.  

Technical Qualities

Repetition is the name of the game, and building skill with the soccer ball must be the emphasis in this phase.  Players in this age range will see greater improvements in their fine motor skills and their soccer technique at a faster rate than at any other time in their development process.  Correct repetition of ball skills, particularly dribbling skills, will improve players’ comfort on the ball and will increase their confidence.  Training exercises should provide repetition of fundamental skills in both artificial settings ("drills" without pressure from a defender) and in more realistic training games that are designed to provide players with a relatively high level of success.  Training activities should provide:

  • precise repetition to build correct technique
  • simple situations, often with numerical advantage
  • a high rate of success early with increasing challenge/pressure
  • variation, forcing the players to use skills in different situations and combinations

Physical Qualities

During this phase, players are physically immature.  There could be a wide variation in the size of players and in their levels of coordination.  They will be learning to control their bodies in addition to learning to control the ball.  Players do not need to do fitness work without the ball.  They will gain the fitness they need from playing, and they will benefit more from "conditioning" that improves their balance, coordination, agility and flexibility.  Much work that is beneficial in these respects can be integrated into simple training games or "drills" that also isolate technique.  The emphasis in terms of physical training of players at this age should be on:

  • balance
  • coordination
  • running technique
  • body control/awareness
  • flexibility (static stretching after training)

Young soccer players need plenty of rest (physical and mental) so that they remain fresh and hungry to play and learn.  When soccer players are well rested, they will learn more quickly.

Tactical Qualities

During this beginning period, players will generally lack the necessary mastery of the ball to deal effectively with complicated in-game situations.  Young players’ cognitive ability is still developing in the same way that their skills are developing, and they will not be able to understand complex situations and relationships between multiple players.  Training activities games can have tactical elements in terms of their organization, but they should be limited to having the players recognize basic cues and make simple decisions.  Good introductory activities should:

  • offer repetition of simple game situations
  • offer a high rate of success
  • help players recognize basic "cues" in the game (body language of player with ball or player receiving, position of defender)
  • suggest correct positioning, but not necessarily emphasize it (i.e. passing exercises organized in diamonds or triangles); concentrate on correct technique with the ball instead

Psychological Qualities

Young players will be very enthusiastic, and they are playing the game because it is fun.  They will be eager to learn, and should be encouraged to try to use the skills they are developing, even though they may often fail early on.  Players of this age must be constantly encouraged to try new solutions to solve problems by using skill.  Failure is an unavoidable part of the learning process.  Building confidence in the ability to solve problems with skill is absolutely the top priority. It is very important that you:

  • allow players to solve problems by helping them, but without giving them the answer to the problem
  • correct players in a way that encourages them
  • reinforce the need to use skill, and support them when they struggle
  • provide the players with the tools to build confidence
  • emphasize improvement and enjoyment over game results