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Why won’t my girls control the ball with their body?

“I coach girls U12 in Victoria, British Columbia. I love the idea of the Maradona/Messi drill as girls often tend to err on the side of passing too soon as opposed to trying to dribble through players. I will definitely try this with our U12 girls when we start back in September!

“On another, but related, matter. I’d love some ideas on why we don’t seem to see as much heading, chesting or thigh-trapping of the ball by girls of this age group and older. Do you have any drills to help introduce them as part of the game?

“My guess is the majority of coaches are male and don’t want to press the girls to be chesting the ball because of the whole breast/developing issue.

Trying to make my players comfortable

“I encouraged my 10-year-old girls to chest, head and thigh-trap at practice from time to time this past year, just to get them comfortable with the skill. Some used it in games, but most are still uncomfortable. What are your thoughts and suggestions?

“When I watch boys of the same age group, they don’t seem to shy away from either and I see no reason why girls should. In my opinion, there should be no difference between teaching a boy and a girl to chest a ball, regardless of breast size!”

My answer

All the girls I’ve coached (with one or two exceptions) have been reluctant to head the ball or control it with their bodies until they reach the ages of 13 or 14. I really don’t know why.

I’ve taught my girls how to head the ball and, like you, encouraged them to head and control the ball with their chest/thigh from a young age. I’ve used all the usual drills and games, and played small-sided games (SSGs) using a soft ball, where the only way a player can score is with a header.

But it seems to be a developmental thing. I can only suggest that you persevere, reward anyone who deliberately chests or heads the ball in training or matches, and try not to get too frustrated when all your attackers duck as the ball flashes across the penalty area!

Below are a couple of useful links that will hopefully encourage your girls to head the ball.



Cops and robbers

This simple and fun game encourages your players to work as a team and develop their core football skills.


To improve passing, defending and shooting skills.

Skill level:


Set up:

For a squad of 12 beginners, create a circular playing area about 20 yards across. Make it smaller for fewer or more skilful players.

Place a small goal (ideally with a net) in the middle of the circle. Split your squad into two groups with a ratio of three to one. If you have 12 players, for example, you should now have one team of nine and one of three.

How to play:

The team with the fewer players (the cops) defend the goal from the larger group (the robbers). When the robbers win the ball, they try to score in the goal. If they succeed, the player who scored joins the cops.

Who wins?:

The robbers win the game if they all become cops within a set time, say five minutes. The cops win if they can score a set number of goals in the same time.

Discipline problems? Not any more!

What is ‘misbehaviour’?

Don’t make the mistake of confusing immature behaviour with misbehaviour. Children don’t turn up to training sessions to study football. They want to kick a ball, chat with their friends and generally have what they think is fun.

So you have to allow them to let off steam now and then. That’s not misbehaviour, it’s natural. But they, and you, need to know where the dividing line is between normal childish behaviour and misbehaviour.

A lot depends on your attitude and expectations

A coach who demands eight-year-old children should listen to them 100% of the time is definitely going to get frustrated and anxious. Whereas, a coach who wants to be liked by their players is going to worry that they are not going to be liked when they need to correct poor behaviour.

And a coach who feels they need to control players will worry when they see them having a bit of innocent, age-appropriate fun. These feelings of worry and frustration may well result in a coach making hasty decisions when confronted by behaviour they do not want to see.

So it’s important to manage expectations. Accept that sometimes, kids will be kids. Coach them with a smile on your face, not a frown.

Good planning is vital

1. Age appropriate activities
Trying to make six-year-olds do things more appropriate to 12-year-olds (and vice versa) is guaranteed to create frustration among your players and cause you a lot of stress. You need to challenge the more experienced players, but you must also make certain all your players have the necessary core skills before moving on to more complicated moves and tactics.

It’s silly, for example, to try to teach the wall pass to children who can’t pass the ball accurately over a short distance. You might think that’s obvious, but many coaches seem to think they must be teaching their players relatively advanced skills by week two of their training programme.

Take your time and make sure all your players are proficient in basic ball skills.

2. Standing in lines
Nothing will likely result in young football players turning off as using drills that involve them standing in lines. There are no lines in games so there shouldn’t be any lines in training. Use small-sided games (SSGs) instead. There are lots of examples on the footy4kids website and there are some really good games in these publications.

You must agree ground rules

You can’t expect children to obey rules if.

They don’t know what they are.
They don’t understand why they have to obey them.
They are imposed without any discussion.
Discuss the need for rules and try to make them consistent with the aims of the team.

But you don’t need a rule book!

Football practices are not supposed to be run like a prison camp. Two or three carefully thought out and agreed rules are more than enough.

Make the punishment fit the crime

You also have to agree what the ‘punishment’ is for breaking the rules. Ask the players what they think the punishment should be but don’t be surprised if they come up with some pretty extreme ideas!

For a first offence, a quiet word might be enough. For a second offence, you may wish to remove the child from the group. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Just ask them to stand next to you or with an assistant until they feel able to join in properly again.

For more serious ‘offences’ I exclude players from the end of session/match (scrimmage), or give them less playing time in the next match.

You can justify this by explaining that as they aren’t working as hard as the others in training, players will have to ‘carry’ them in matches and that’s not fair. Also, players who have been paying attention need to practise what they’ve learned in the match. But the ones who weren’t listening, don’t need to.

Coaching tip: If your players persist in talking while you’re talking, be silent and wait until they stop. Usually, peer pressure will prevail and the offenders will be told to ‘shut up’ by their team mates. If this doesn’t work, walk away. Tell them it’s their team, not yours, and if they want to chat instead of work then that’s okay. But you won’t waste your time listening to them.

The carrot is more effective than the stick

Another mistake some coaches make is to punish but never reward. When a player, or players, make an effort to master a skill, tell them how pleased you are. But you must be sincere – children see through false flattery very easily.

Have the parents on your side

Parents are often viewed as a necessary evil useful for fetching children to practice and games, and that’s about it. But having parents on your side is critical to maintaining good discipline.

Explain the rules you’ve agreed with your players and ask for the parents’ support if you have to enforce them. A quiet word with a misbehaving player that you’re ‘going to have to have a word with mum’ is usually very effective.

Finally, if you follow these guidelines and your children still have days when they just won’t listen to you, reflect on what you might have done wrong but don’t beat yourself up over it. Youth football coaching is not meant to be easy.

How can I improve my players’ first touch?

“Hi Steve, I’m trying to improve my U10 girls team with their first touch. Have you any ideas that could help me out?”

My answer

You’re right to want to improve your players’ first touch. It is the most important part of any young football player’s armoury. Without a good first touch, everything else becomes much more difficult and frustrating.

There is quite a bit of advice about how to improve a player’s first touch on the footy4kids website. The links below offer two examples.



Emphasise to your players the need to receive the ball softly, to turn away from pressure and make sure they are competent at shielding the ball.

You can also play small-sided games (SSGs) and limit the number of times your players can touch the ball. Start with three touches, then two and finally one.

But be patient. It takes a lot of time for young players to master the skill and you don’t want to discourage them. They should be able to experience success at three/two touches before moving onto one touch.

Cone Run

With thanks to ayso.org. Finding new ways to warm up your players is always a bit of a headache. Today’s game is a very good way to get your players in the right frame of mind for a training session or match. It’s extremely simple to set up and explain, and it’s suitable for all ages.


To practise passing and receiving.

Skill level:

Beginners upwards.

Set up:

Create a number of 10 yards square grids with a cone at each corner. Divide your squad into pairs. One pair per grid. Players stand opposite each other on the centre of the end lines of each grid. One player has a ball.

How to play:

The player with the ball (player one) passes to the other player (player two), runs around one of the cones and back to his starting position in time to receive a return pass. He passes back to player two and runs around the opposite cone. Now it’s player two’s turn to run around the cones.

Coaching points:

Focus on the correct passing technique, accuracy and power. Have your players work at pace and don’t allow them to spray wayward passes. Make the game competitive by seeing which pair can continue for two minutes without making a mistake.


If your players find this exercise easy, reduce the number of touches and/or make the grids bigger. If they are finding it hard, do the opposite – make the grid smaller and allow them to take two or three touches before passing.

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