Thoughts from a U11 Soccer Coach

Managing U11 (and Below) Soccer Games

7 Ways to Help Coaches During Games

Ian Rowe
5 min readFeb 11, 2022


This article is an excerpt from a more comprehensive piece covering the core jobs of a coach, tips for practices , and managing games (this article).

Coaching games can be chaotic. From figuring out lines, which players are late, which are not coming, what positions they want to be in, managing shift times, and on top of that hopefully having some sort of positive impact on game play.

These tips are all things I wish I had learned years ago. I hope they can help you now.

1. Coach what they already know

Nothing new should be coached in a game.

If you see a new opportunity a) note it for practice, and b) try to use what you have already taught/are focusing on to correct it.

Kirsten Stewart on Saturday night live says “Oh I already know those answers”
How players should feel during the game

There might be simple things you can correct on the fly. ie. The opposition is kicking the ball over your heads so have midfield back up when the other team has the ball. But don’t try to fix everything in the game. Stick to the coaching points they have already heard from you.

2. One to three ideas per game maximum (just like practice)

Coach just two (ish) things during the game. Direct players on field as you can, but especially take time to coach the players who are off. Show them what you see, tell them what they need to do on their shift, and keep them aligned to the key coaching points.

Martin saying “I’m telling you, I got a lot of ideas, I got a lot of ’em y’all.”

3. Rotate positions every three games and track/balance playing time

Managing player positions, lines, and shift time can be a headache, but if managed properly it becomes super simple and a core tool in driving player development.

Kids should not specialize in positions. They think they will and some coaches will tell them they are a winger, Stricker, whatever. Don’t. Most kids will develop best by playing all positions (including goalie) and every time you have the same kid in the same position another player is not learning that role.

Kids really benefit from knowing what to expect. Setting them up to play the same position for three games helps them to be comfortable and to dramatically grow their understanding of roles. This system also helps to balance playing time in a way that makes sense to your players while developing them.

Having this set up also lets you play positions, not players. It is really tempting to put that kid who can do that thing in to win a game, but that means that the other kid didn’t learn anything, and your team just learns to rely on that kid instead of learning how to play. When your midfield needs a break or is breaking down play the next scheduled player, not your star.

I’ve written a detailed article about the benefits of this and how to execute it.

4. Focus on skills and building from the back, not winning

Don’t try (too hard) to win. ie. Don’t play the long ball over the opposition’s heads and run after it game.

Winning is helpful for engagement so win some games for sure, but younger players need some losses to develop resilience.

You are not coaching this game

Games are how kids get better. They are not how they get fame, paid, or become stars. If you focus on getting your team to win you are likely to under develop their skills.

5. Play a slower game, do not try to use speed to your advantage

Kids do not know what is going on around them. Encouraging speed just confuses them. If you transition quickly maybe two of them know what is going on and the rest are out of position and not ready.

Calm it down, help them to focus on skills.

If anyone knows…

6. Have defence take all throw ins

This pulls them up the field and into forward play. The modern game requires keepers to be good with their feet and backs to give a scoring advantage.

7. Praise

It was said earlier, but let’s say it again: Praise the kids on your team.

Praise passes, assists, stops, positional play, good ideas, attitude, effort, saves, runs, and listening. Goals only need a tiny amount of praise because everyone on the field already wants to score, and everyone will be proud of a goal.

Seven little kids in yellow jerseys with black numbers cheer in a circle.
Winning is everything, right?

Praise individual players and the team all game to renforce behaviours and boost confidence.

If you remember only one thing, this is the one.

I would love to hear what you think about these ideas. Where am I wrong? Do you do this or something similar? Let me know your thoughts in a comment or shoot me an email, or send me a tweet.

If you found this interesting you might also like this article about how to use rotations to develop players or maybe this one about how to better use competition in practices.

Keep coaching and thank you for reading.

I mostly write about leadership. A popular article is this one about Getting Comfortable with Conflict.



Ian Rowe

13 years at Apple, now coaching soccer, reading, paddling, snowboarding, making products, and thinking about development and leadership.