I went to the Annual General Meeting of the North Texas State Soccer Association in Midland in July 1995 having heard a
rumor that we might be required to play 4 v 4. Like most coaches who don’t like 4 v 4 I had never seen it and didn’t know anything about it. I knew we needed to start playing positions earlier because it was taking a long time for the kids to understand playing positions. I attended Dave Simeone’s lecture about 4 v 4 where he described the reasons why the Dutch developed the system and how they implemented the system. I was interested enough, though still skeptical, to attend Larry Nees’ field session the following day. Larry was then assistant women’s coach at SMU. It didn’t take long to see the ten year olds that had never been exposed to 4 v 4 before were having fun and getting lots of touches on the ball and working on creative passing combinations to set-up scoring opportunities. I could see this would be a great improvement over the herd ball 6 v 6 with no goalies we were playing at the time. I still remember one girl on my youngest daughter’s team in Lake Highlands Soccer Association that didn’t touch the ball in a game until the sixth game of the season! In 4 v 4 there is nowhere the player can’t see the ball and be drawn into the activity instead of following the herd. I also thought back to all the practice time spent on trying to teach the U6 kids about goal kicks, corner kicks, and throw-ins. What a waste of everyone’s time. They needed to be working on balance, dribbling and shooting.
I came back from Midland a pro 4 v 4 person. I made a presentation at our next board meeting and made a motion to adopt the 4 v 4 playing rules for U6 in the fall. I was made chair of the committee to put everything together in time for the season to start. At the first committee meeting I told everyone we decided this was the best thing to do for the kids and it was our job as adults to find ways to make it work not reasons why it couldn’t work. We had all read the handout from the AGM “4 VERSUS 4 THE GAME FOR KIDS” by Dave Simeone. We quickly ran into a space limitation for the number of fields to implement the tournament style of multi-team play. We opted for a team “A” versus team “B” approach with twelve players per “team” as we could only use one field at our Moss complex. This allowed us to have three 4 v 4 fields with three mini-games going on simultaneously and we play three ten-minute games with five minutes in between. I remember one coach asked, “But Steve. How can I coach three games at once?” I told him he couldn’t that was the beauty of it! I told him he needed to coach the players at practice, but the game was the player’s. He could tie shoes and cheer and work on how to make the teams more even for the next game. I asked him if he wanted his players to think for themselves or wait for someone to tell them what to do in a game. I told him if that’s what he wanted he had to let them make mistakes, learn and grow. Besides, U6 players will look at you when you call their name and miss whatever action you were trying to tell them about anyway. If you watch them it takes all of their focus just to keep the ball moving in the right direction. They are not mature enough to think about giving the only toy on the field to someone else by passing the ball. Think about it, if someone can just barely dribble can they calculate how to hit the ball to intercept the path of another unguided missile. This is all going on while they are trying to fend off almost every other player on the field, including their own teammates!
The coaches are given the following charge at the coaches meeting at the beginning of every season. The coaches job is to work together with the other coach to have every player play all three games, to try to make the teams as even as possible and to try to move the players around so they don’t play with or against the same players all three games. If there are odd numbers use players form both teams to make a team. Play 3 v 3, 3 v 4, 4 v 4, 5 v 4, or 5 v 5 whatever it takes to get everyone playing. The coach and parents are there to chase balls and the game official is a facilitator not a “Ref”. The difference, a Facilitator has a ball under each arm to keep the game going and talks to the players not just gesturing. The rules are simple play starts with a kick-off from mid-field. All restarts are indirect kicks and out balls are put back into play from the touch line by indirect kick. There are no fouls, but rough play can result in players getting time-out, which U6 players are use to. This is not the only way to successfully implement 4 v 4, but it has worked well for us. I get a lot of very positive comments from parents, players and coaches about the program which is a great change from the death threats I received prior to implementation. Try it or come by Moss field #2 on Saturday and see what’s going on and talk to the players, parents and coaches
This summer I received my National Youth License after attending the National School in Norman Oklahoma. The NYL is a 5-day residence course designed for coaching the youth player U6 to U12. A full day, from 8AM To 9PM is devoted to an in depth study of the characteristics and capabilities of each age group U6, U8, U10, and U12 and field work with children of the age group. I received my candidate’s workbook in the mail prior to the course and noticed the National Coaching staff was recommending 3 v 3 for U6 and 4 V 4 for U8. Once again I though “Here we go again!” I still felt the players needed to start playing on larger teams with larger fields at U7. I mean 4 v 4 is OK for U6, but U8! No Way!
I figured the people that came up with this must be “A” licensed coaches that were used to working with the National team not U6 players. Wrong again! The National Staff that put the course together included several Ph.D.’s in child development, college coaches and U6-U12 coaches. Dr. Ron Quinn, a developer and instructor, has a Ph.D. in child development, is the women’s soccer coach at Xaivier College and coaches his child’s U7 team.
On the first day we were asked to keep a journal, daily reflections on what we heard and did and how it fit into what we knew. After the morning lecture on U8 players and how they were just getting to the point of cooperative play I was at lunch thinking about my journal entry I would write afterwards. I looked up and saw a young boy with a T-shirt on that had a baseball and under it “This is your Brain”. Next to the baseball was a soccer ball and under it, “This is your Brain on Drugs.” At first I got mad, but because of thinking about my journal entry I had an epiphany. U6 players play “T-Ball” then move to coach pitch, then machine pitch, then to kid pitch with modified rules and at U14 start playing the “ADULT” version of baseball. In soccer, which is very much an adult game, we expect U7 players to start playing a sized down adult game and U11 to play the full version adult game. Using my newly acquired knowledge of U8 players, I thought about the transition from 4 v 4 to 7 v 7. Suddenly, they go from 8 players on a small field to 14 on what to them seems like a huge field. This happens just when they are reaching the point where they will play cooperatively with one playmate and we expect them to cooperate with 6 other players. Plus, they have to learn and remember about kick-offs, corner kicks, goal kicks and throw-ins. Players at this age have limited attention spans at best yet we expect them to remember all of this while fighting to keep the ball moving in the right direction. No wonder so many get stressed out they don’t have the spatial awareness and cognitive capacity that the 7 v 7 game demands. At the time I was coaching the previous teams I’ve coached through this age group I thought “We need to get them started earlier. They just don’t get it!” Now with a little knowledge of the developmental characteristics and qualities of U6 and U8 players I know I just didn’t get it! I thought back to last year when I was coaching a U6 team and I only saw one real pass and that was from a child that was very advanced for his age and it came at the end of the spring season.
I still get and seek out comments from parents, coaches and players about the 4 v 4 format most parents and players like the format. This summer I started asking people about extending the format to U8. The coaches most opposed to the idea were coaches that have not coached a team through this transition. The coaches in favor of the idea had usually coached multiple teams through these age groups. I had one coach at a recent “G” clinic I was teaching tell me her whole team wanted to quit or go back to 4 v 4. I was calling the players from last season to see who was returning and I asked people I knew had children that had been through the transition from 4 v 4 to 7 v 7 how their child dealt with the change. The first person I called said her daughter played U7 last year. I asked how she liked it. She said “She hated it.” I was ready for anything but that response. I asked her why she hated it. She told me the girl had loved 4 v 4 and so had the other girls. The coach was a nice guy and they all laughed and had fun. When they moved to the bigger field the girls got to tired and the coach was yelling all the time. She told me the coach told her daughter she was not producing like he knew she could. This was the best player on the team! The result, the girl quit playing soccer all together. She quit because of the coach, or did she? If they were still playing 4 v 4 with multiple games and most kids not able to keep tract of winning versus losing would the coach feel the pressure to win? Would he be telling a seven-year-old she wasn’t PRODUCING? Even though there are no scores reported and no standings the coach felt pressure to win. I consider we have three years of no pressure about winning to work on soccer fundamentals. That’s why we don’t keep scores or standings until U9! Maybe we as coaches and parents need to redefine winning. Winning to me is to have everyone still playing at U12 that started at U6. Winning is giving the children a passion for the game they can enjoy for life. Winning is challenging every player to achieve realistic goals based on the child’s individual abilities. Winning is giving them positive role models. Think of the difference the child sees in the 4 v 4 coaches working together for the kids to have fun versus two coaches screaming at the players, the Ref and each other from across the field at a 7 v 7 game. Soccer can be enjoyed at all ages. Let’s not drive the next Mia Hamm or Claudio Reyna from soccer at U7 because of our misguided concept of winning. Let’s challenge them and most of all let them have fun and remember it’s their game!
This article is reprinted from Oct. 1998, "The Pitch," published by the North Texas State Soccer Association . It was written by Steve Haney who holds the Education Chair for North Texas, is a State Staff Coach and is V.P. and Coaching Director of Lake Highlands Soccer Association. We greatly appreciate their willingness to share this information.
"My interest has always been youth soccer and particularly educating new youth coaches. The article was really looking back on the last ten years of my coaching and teaching experiences of getting more advanced licenses, yet further from the answer of what to teach new coaches. The National Youth License was what I was looking for. The Dutch Vision is incorporated into the NYL material. The USSF staff investigated how the world teaches youth players and coaches and relied heavily on the Dutch model. I have been teaching NYL models since 1998 and can see the results in both the coaches and players in Lake Highlands. I feel it helps the non-playing coach because games and activities are used and responsibility to solve problems is left to the player. This is the way learning takes place, not by being told every move to make by a well meaning, but misguided over coaching parent/coach."
Steve Haney, State Staff Coach & Education Chair. North Texas State Soccer Association, VP & Coaching Director of Highlands Soccer Assoc.