As with most youth sports, soccer is a balancing act. You want your player to develop without burning out. You want to push your player’s limits without injuring them. It’s difficult to know where to draw the line – what is optimal. So, how often should kids practice soccer? US Youth Soccer recommends the following in their Player Development Model:
|Age Group||Frequency||Session Duration|
|U7 and below||1 day per week||45 minutes|
|U8 – U9||1 day per week||45 – 60 minutes|
|U10 – U11||2 days per week||60 – 75 minutes|
|U12 – U13||2 to 3 days per week||75 minutes|
|U14 – U15||3 days per week||75 – 90 minutes|
|U16 – U17||3 days per week||90 minutes|
|U18 and above||4 to 5 days per week||90 – 120 minutes|
The table above is a good place to start and will likely be a minimum for a player on a competitive team, but for each individual kid, the specific answer is: a kid should practice as much as the kid is willing to practice! Every child is different and their desire or drive to play soccer is going to vary. The amount of practice needs to fit the player.
Ultimate Goals Will Help Determine the Amount of Practice
Perhaps the best way to determine if your child is practicing sufficiently is to talk about ultimate goals with respect to soccer. At about the U10 level, kids will often start figuring these goals out. Do they want to play in high school? What about college or even professionally? Is it just something fun to do with their friends?
Those goals will inform how much practice is needed for your player. The further your player wants to go with soccer, the more practice your player needs. The general guidelines above assume your player is a competitive player that would like to continue playing in high school and beyond.
A recreational player, on the other hand, can probably stop increasing the amount of practice at 2 days per week, 60 minute sessions. That amount is good enough to maintain a decent level of soccer while avoiding overkill.
How Long Should Youth Soccer Practice Run?
One of the most important aspects of training volume is session duration. When looking at session duration, keep in mind that, at the younger ages, more isn’t necessarily better. Do not think that, if 45 minutes is good, then 60 minutes must be great. Younger players naturally have shorter attention spans. 45 minutes is about the limit for proper focus. Any more than that is wasting time.
As players get older, their attention spans increase, so longer and longer sessions become possible. Longer sessions allow for the implementation of increasingly complex techniques and tactics.
What About Soccer Camps – Are They Worth It?
Soccer camps try to fill the training gap in the offseason, but are they worth it? Take a look at “Soccer Camps: Are They Worth the Time and Money?“.
What Makes a Good Soccer Team Training Session?
A good soccer team training session should include these elements:
- preparation – the coaches / trainers should have planned out the training session ahead of time. Improvising typically does not work well and leads to inefficient practices.
- theme – the practice should usually focus on one theme throughout the session. For instance, the theme may be switching the field, in which case, the training exercises could involve recognizing the correct opportunity to switch the field, whether to combine several short passes or one long ball, how to properly strike a long ball, etc.
- organization – the coaches / trainers should be organized with cones set up prior to the start of the practice. Every moment of a training session should count. Time should not be wasted moving equipment around.
- progression – the session should progress from individual skills related to the theme, to small group games and, finally, to a larger scrimmage context. The practice should always end with a scrimmage of some sort. Kids love scrimmages and they’re a great way to drive home the theme of the practice in a more game-like situation.
- intensity – the level of intensity needs to vary based on the circumstances. A Monday practice after a Sunday match should be less intense than a mid-week practice before an important tournament. An ideal practice schedule would have recovery days (either no practice or a light practice) both immediately before and after a match or tournament.
- adjustment – coaches / trainers should be prepared to adjust. I always start practice knowing exactly what activities I intend for that session. But, no matter how well an activity works in my head, it doesn’t always work out on the field. I have to adjust the activity to fit the players that are at practice and the situation we are practicing in (inclement weather, finals week, etc.).
- water breaks – I mention this only because I’ve seen water breaks literally ruin training sessions. Short breaks and hydration are important, but they should not devolve into gossip sessions about what happened at school that day. Focus and intensity should be maintained. The rest can wait until the end of practice.
- feedback – players should have an opportunity to voice their opinions about practice. If practice is framed as a collaborative effort, players will buy in more readily. That doesn’t mean coaches must alter their sessions in response to those opinions, but the players will appreciate being heard – and the number of good ideas developed might be surprising!
Do Soccer Players Need Individual Training?
Note that the guidelines above are for formal, team training sessions. Highly competitive players will likely need to train on their own as well. Again, the amount of individual practice will depend on the player. Starting at around the U12 age group, a good rule of thumb is 30 minutes of individual training, 5 days per week.
Individual training should involve:
- Foot Skills
- Passing and Receiving
- Mental Training
How to train foot skills
There are many options for training soccer foot skills, but two of my favorites are Renegade Soccer Training and Techne. Both of these programs provide good individual foot skills training sessions with limited equipment required. However, both also come at a cost. If you don’t want to pay for a subscription service, all you really need is a ball, a set of cones (or something you can use as cones) and some creativity!
How to train passing and receiving
Passing and receiving can be trained with a ball and a wall. Again, Techne has some good wall work exercises, but all it takes is some imagination. The focus should be on technique with respect to the pass into the wall as well as the first touch from the rebound.
Mental training for soccer
The mental aspect of soccer is often overlooked, but it’s one of the most important pieces for high level players. Players need to be able to evaluate pressure situations quickly and react appropriately.
There are two easy and effective ways to train the mental aspect. First, simply actively watching high level matches is very helpful. Premier League matches are broadcast regularly and work well.
Have your child spend some time watching the organization of the teams and their shapes both on offense and defense. Then, pick the player in your kid’s position and follow that player and their positioning as much as possible.
The second easy way to train the mental aspect is to play the FIFA video game (EA Sports). FIFA is actually a very good simulation of a real game. Like most video games, FIFA requires quick thinking and reactions, but FIFA also encourages true soccer tactics like spacing, quick passing and through runs for success.
Is Speed and Agility Training Good for Soccer?
Specialized speed and agility training seems to be the latest fad in youth sports. While speed and agility training can help some with general athleticism, it doesn’t have a big impact on soccer ability. This seems counterintuitive, but several of my teams and players have done speed and agility training; and the results just weren’t there. That said, if the speed and agility training also involves ball work, it can be beneficial.
Let the Kids Lead the Way
When trying to determine how often kids should practice soccer, it’s best to let the kids lead the way. While every youth player will likely need a nudge from his/her parent from time to time, the player should drive the amount of practice. Remember, this is ultimately about the kid!