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Coaching Education



Play-Practice-Play is a Grassroots developed philosophy designed around a player-centered approach to coaching. Taking a player centered approach places the needs and motivations of the player at the forefront of a coach’s approach to coaching his or her players. The concept of Play-Practice-Play is to allow young players to experience the game and game-like situations as much as possible. This approach differs from traditional practices that may have children standing in lines, running laps and participating in drills that don’t resemble the game of soccer.


When players arrive to practice, the first responsibility of the coach is to create an environment that is safe, engaging and fun. In the first Play phase, players engage in small-sided games with the primary focus on having fun. It is important that these pickup-style games are led by the players and facilitated by the coaches. During this first Play stage, players have the opportunity to experience the game while the coach observes and guides them towards developing their own solutions rather than being directed what to do.  


In the second phase of Play-Practice-Play, children are engaged in different forms of targeted learning activities to further guide their opportunities to develop. The goal of the Practice phase is to create an environment filled with opportunities for players to experience and learn about the goal of the training session through repetition.

Practice activities should be of appropriate challenge (striking a balance between success and failure), resemble the game, involve the players making decisions and allow for creative problem solving. The role of the coach during this phase is to guide players while using teaching actions. While it is during this phase that targeted learning takes place, there should always be an emphasis on keeping the atmosphere fun and enjoyable for the players.


The final stage of Play-Practice-Play is the game. This phase offers players the opportunity and freedom to play, without interruption, in an environment that mirrors the actual game. The focus of the final Play phase is to encourage players to express themselves and demonstrate what they learned during the Practice phase. A coach should observe and guide using minimal dialogue if possible. By silently observing the application of the Practice phase in the final Play phase, the coach is able to check each player’s understanding and ability to execute the goal of the training session.

play practice play explained.pdf


In order to make practices run smoothly and be fun, it is important for us to have a basic understanding of the intellectual, emotional and physical developmental stage of the players we are coaching.

           Here are some typical characteristics of the Under 6 player.

  • Focused on themselves – reality to them is based on what they see and feel

  • Unable to see the world from another’s perspective

  • Everything is in the here and now

  • Cooling systems are less efficient - need frequent water breaks

  • Enjoy playing, not watching. Every player should have a ball in practice

  • Limited attention span - keep directions concise and to the point

  • Effort is performance – if they try hard, they are doing well

  • Active imaginations – utilize their imagination in activities, and they will love practice!

  • Look for adult approval – be encouraging when they say “Coach, look what I can do!”

  • Unable to think abstractly – spatial relationships are a mystery

  • Typically have 2 speeds -- extremely fast and stopped

  • Usually unaware of game scores – keep it that way

            Characteristics of the Under 8 player:

  • Enjoy playing in pairs

  • Are now able to take another’s perspective.

  • Still unable to think abstractly – be patient.

  • Cooling system still less efficient than adults – still make sure to give frequent water breaks.

  • Still prefer playing to watching – keep everyone active during practice.

  • Limited attention span

  • Have an understanding of time and sequence – “if I do this, then that happens”.

  • Some now have a third or fourth speed in addition to stopped and as fast as possible.

  • Very aware of adult reactions – be very aware of your reactions.

  • Seek out adult approval and need reassurance – be supportive.

  • Begin to become aware of peer perception – a social order is beginning to develop.

  • Wide range of abilities between children at this age

  • Beginning to develop motor memories

  • Some become more competitive

  • Less active imaginations than U6 players

         Characteristics of the Under 10 player:

  • Lengthened attention span - they are still in motion, but not as busy, only holding still long enough for a short explanation

  • More inclined toward wanting to play rather than being told to play

  • Psychologically becoming slightly more firm and confident 

  • Some are becoming serious about their play

  • Team oriented – prefer team type balls and equipment. Enjoy the uniforms and team association.

  • Boys and girls beginning to develop separately

  • Developing the pace factor – thinking ahead

  • Gross and small motor skills becoming much more refined


West Florida Soccer Club (WFSC)
3360 Joppa Dr. 
Pace, Florida 32571

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