The youngest youth players in soccer are notorious for swarming around the ball. “Swarm ball, herd soccer, mass chaos” are the names applied to the typical formation seen at youth soccer matches, notes Lindsey Blom in “Survival Guide for Coaching Youth Soccer.” You want to provide soccer drills that get your players to think about moving into the 85 percent of the field away from the beehive around the ball.
Lane Spacing and Separation Game
This drill from Chris Johnson of SoccerXpert teaches positioning and spacing. Set out cones to mark an area 40 by 30 yards with three long lanes 10 by 40 yards within the area. Put a portable goal, flags or cones in the middle of the side measuring 40 yards across. Divide the team into two groups of four; each has an attacker in its top lane, a defender in the bottom lane and two midfielders in the left and right zones of the middle lane. Play a 4v4 game with each player confined to his zone. Players can dribble, pass and receive as long as they stay in their lanes.
Sam Snow, director of coaching education for US Youth Soccer, recommends 3v1 to teach players to use the flanks. Keep the same area measuring 40 by 30 yards and maintain the goals in place. Start the drill having three players space themselves widely to attack the goal. When you see the players moving as a unit, supporting each other with wide spacing, add a single defender to field. Encourage the kids to make good decisions on when to shoot, pass and dribble and good efforts to get open and help teammates.
A 3v2 game adds a second defender to US Youth Soccer’s 3v1 game once the players show they can work as a well-spaced unit and beat the lone defender. Encourage the players on the flanks to stay wide and to run ahead into space to receive a pass. Look for the players on offense to maintain a good angle of support, typically 30 to 45 degrees from the player in the middle, and a close distance such that their teammates can reach them with an easy pass. Ask players to disguise where they are passing to confuse the defense.
4v4 Playing Wide Out of the Back
This 4v4 drill from SoccerXpert also encourages players to stay wide and use the edges of the field. Mark with plastic disks a grid measuring 40 by 25 yards. Set up cones at each end to serve as goals and additional cones to mark two outside gates 7 yards wide along the midfield edges of the grid. Assign players to two teams of four. The teams play a scrimmage attempting to score with the proviso that a ball won in the back half of the field needs to be passed or dribbled through the gate to go forward into the front half of the area.