How to Teach Timid Soccer Players Who Are Afraid of Contact
to be Brave, Physical, Aggressive, Tough Soccer Players
How to teach a soccer Shoulder Tackle and Strength on the Ball
A variation of the Win the 50/50 Ball Soccer Practice Game that will help teach physical play
4 Recommendations for mental and physical soccer training to help timid soccer players become brave

"Before we started practice, I went and got 5 Bravery patches out of my soccer bag, held them up in the air and told my team, if I see brave play, I was going to pass them out to that player. And boy did this change some behavior. The coolest thing was, I gave out three patches for bravery and when I did, I stopped practice right when it happened and had the kid come up to me and I explained what she did and why she was receiving the patch. One girl held onto her patch the rest of practice in her hand, she didn't want to let it go. But back to the coolest thing about it, the three patches I gave out were to three of my most timid players (significant breakthrough)." Coach Aaron

(The following letter is from a U8 Rec coach. He discusses how he is using the Win the 50/50 Ball or Be the First Defender 1v1 Attacking and Defending Soccer Practice Game and the problems he is having teaching his players to be brave and aggressive - his players are timid and avoid contact.)

Why the word "Brave" is better than "Tough" or "Aggressive" -- We have been told by many coaches that "Brave" is a much better word to motivate players than "Tough" or "Aggressive". A lot of parents don't like the idea of a coach encouraging their kid to be "tough" or "aggressive", but everyone wants to be "Brave". Brave is a lot more positive word. Also, think about what the words convey - Heroes are Brave and the word "Brave" conveys an image of a hero. But "tough" conveys an image of a fighter or a villain. You will get better results using the word "Brave". We are coming out with a special "B" for Bravery patch.

Hi SoccerHelp,

Apparently winning our two games over the weekend has all the parents excited and not only did everyone show up (except one kid: parent works and I know they will always be a few minutes late), they all showed up 10minutes early. Very nice for me. I went ahead and goofed off with the kids for 10minutes with the balls at their feet though.

Okay, the real reason I am writing. I had tried both the shoulder tackle and strength game and the win the 50/50 ball games before. The win the 50/50 ball game was a complete disaster. I tried it again, explaining it very slowly and even demonstrating with my assistant coach. It was a disaster again. So I changed it up a bit, b/c I know my team is very, very timid (most of the team). I used the same dimension and setup 6X8 cone setup rectangles. But I had one side start b/n their cones (with NO ball; this side was called the offensive side) and the other side played defense (using NO hands and started in the middle of the rectangle and focused on shifting left to right and backwards to stall the offensive player from getting across their cones). The object of the game I set up was for the offense to try and get across to the other side, using some kind of contact. You ought to have seen some of these kids try to get across. They would stand there and shuffle their feet and do a happy feet dance in one spot and not go across. It really opened my eyes on how timid some of the girls were and no wonder why when we tried to dribble the ball around someone and the defense boxed us out, that my team would just stop and let the other team get the ball. I demonstrated to them why this drill was important and showed them what the point was using a ball. I let them do this for awhile switching up pairs. I let offense go twice and then switched offense and defense, then I switched up pairs. During the drill, I showed them that if the defender steps forward, then make a run to the left or right really quick. I told them to not be afraid of bumping into them and I promised they would not hurt each other. I think if I can get them over of the lack physicality, that we will start to go more aggressively at the ball. On Thursday's practice, I am going to once again keep the defender in the middle but put a ball behind the defender that the offense has to get as well as get around the defender first to get to the ball and then dribble the ball to the cones. Let me know what you think.

Coach A

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Hi Coach A,

I think those are great ideas about the "Win the 50/50 Ball or Be the First Defender 1v1 Attacking and Defending Soccer Practice Game", and that you are correct that you need to focus on getting your girls used to contact and "Brave" play (use the word "Brave" instead of "Aggressive", "tough" or "physical" - it sounds better to Moms and is more motivating). Right now, if you run into a physical team they will kill you.

During the next few practices if you have time to do the things I recommend below AND the "Win the 50/50 Ball or Be the First Defender 1v1 Attacking and Defending", great. But if you don't have enough time to do them all, choose the things I recommend below - I believe you will see faster results from the things I recommend below.

For right now, I suggest using some games that get your girls used to physical contact and working on the mental part of explaining that they must learn how to be "Brave" in order to be good soccer players. Encourage Bravery and explain to the girls that they CANNOT let someone just push them off the ball and take it away. Kids have been taught to "be nice" and "don't push" and "share", and this sort of thing, and you will have to explain that in soccer we want to take the ball away and that they can't let someone take it away from them. When they are on the soccer field, it is ok to take the ball away and to push the player with the ball with your shoulder, but not your hands or arms.

Here are 4 things I recommend:

  1. Continue working on the mental aspect, emphasizing Bravery and that they must learn how to be "Brave" in order to be good soccer players. Encourage Bravery and explain to the girls that they CANNOT let someone just push them off the ball and take it away. Kids have been taught to "be nice" and "don't push" and "share", and this sort of thing, and you will have to explain that in soccer we want to take the ball away and that they can't let someone take it away from them. When they are on the soccer field, it is ok to take the ball away and to push the player with the ball with your shoulder, but not your hands or arms.
  2. Designate a special patch for bravery and improvement in becoming Brave. The Lightning Bolt would be good for this, or a Red Star or a Red Soccer Ball - choose something that stands out. If you need more patches, ask the parents to contribute for them - some of them will be glad to since they see the results you are achieving.
  3. Play the Shouder Tackle & Strength On the Ball Soccer Practice Game a LOT, unitl is is normal for your players to push each other and make contact. Play it as a warm-up to start every practice, at the END of every practice AND as a warm-up before every real game. Use this game to teach the correct way to do a "Shoulder Tackle" and how to be "strong on the ball" so you don't get pushed off the ball by a Shoulder Tackle (a "Shoulder Tackle" is NOT a tackle like in American football - it is a legal way of pushing a player off the ball by using the shoulder, but if not done correctly a foul can be called. Once you teach how to play the game and the correct way to Shoulder Tackle, this only takes about 3 minutes. Rotate the girls so they compete against each other. Encourage Bravery and explain to the girls that they CANNOT let someone just push them off the ball and take it away. Teach them that when they are on the soccer field, it is ok to take the ball away and to push the player with the ball with your shoulder, but not your hands or arms. The games instructions explain how to teach a legal "Shoulder Tackle". Basically, you tell your players to keep their arms straight down by their side (they cannot raise their arm or push with it, just the shoulder). Also, they must stay straight up and cannot "dip" their shoulder (if they do, they will often be called for a foul). They can move their feet, bend their legs and use their hip so long as their shoulder is in contact with the opponent's shoulder.
  4. I think it is VERY important to play the Dribble Across a Square Soccer Practice Game to start every practice using the small square (about 7 of your steps wide). That willl get them used to "traffic" and to bumping into each other, and the idea that they can't apologize every time, and that it is "ok" to bump into someone and "not worry about it".

Please let me know how it goes and which of these help the most.

David at SoccerHelp