Coaching youth soccer games and exercises

Below are coaching tips, exercises, and games I used in my soccer practices. A good resource where some of these exercises originated from can be found at

Coaching Tips


Kids have a boundless supply of energy and are usually very excitable at the start of practice. The first thing I do to get them warmed up while also getting them involved early in the practice is to play a game of “Tag the Coach”. It’s part follow the leader and part tag. The players love the competition to see who can tag coach and in the process I’m able to get them to run for 5-10 minutes. I always end it with one of the players tagging the coach.

Water breaks

Use 2-3 minute water breaks as a chance to prepare for the next exercise or game.


Cones are invaluable in practice, especially for younger players. When I want the players to form a circle for an exercise, I’ll put cones in the size of the circle I want during a water break or other transition. Then all I need to do is instruct them to go stand next to a cone.

One item I highly recommend you purchase before your first practice are one or two pop-up soccer goals. The YMCA gave me 4 large cones and 4 small cones to use for marking out the goals and boundaries. You will find some of the exercises in the practices cannot be done without a pop-up soccer goal.

Soccer games and exercises

Sharks and finding nemo

Form a circle with cones. All the players (Fish) start off dribbling a soccer ball inside the circle (the pond). The players must keep the ball inside the pond. It works best when there are two coaches or a coach and parent (the sharks) who circle the pond. The objective of the game is the sharks try to take the ball away from the fish. The goal of this game is to keep the players learning to constantly move with the ball without running into each other and keeping it within a boundary. The smaller the circle, the closer the players are forced to keep their head up to make sure 1) they don’t run into someone else and 2) being aware of where the coaches are. By the end of the season, this was one of the players favorite games.

Octopus and seaweed

This game is very similar to Sharks and Finding Nemo. Expand the circle of cones to half the field. This is the ocean and there are no “safe zones”. The players are all fish dribbling their soccer ball around the ocean. The coach is the Octopus who will try to steal the soccer ball from the player. If the coach takes the ball away, the player must pick up the ball and raise it above their head. They are now seaweed and must cry out for help from the other players. The only way to free the seaweed is to have another player kick their soccer ball between the legs of the player who is the seaweed. Play continues until all the players become seaweed.

Turn around game/exercise

Using 4 cones, set up a small rectangle field with a coach on each end. If you have pop-up goals, place them directly behind the coach. Have the players start on one end and dribble with the ball towards the coach/parent at the other end. As the players get close to the goal, tell them to “Turn Around”. I finish the exercise up by having them kick the ball into the goal. The goal of this exercise is to practice dribbling in traffic and it has a benefit in games. Younger players will lose track of which goal is they should be trying to kick the ball into. If you get a player going the wrong way, telling them to “Turn Around” will actually make sense.

Go score

One of my favorite exercises. This one requires a pop-up goal to perform. I start the exercise off with each player dribbling a ball. When I say “Go”, I take the goal and run 15-20 feet away from the players. Encourage the players to try to “Score” a goal before you move the goal again. Mix it up on where you place the goal and how many balls you allow to score before running with the goal again. The idea is to get the players to speed up the pace of dribbling the ball while also practicing to kick the ball at a goal. Since the goal is constantly changing positions, it also forces them to keep their head up and eyes moving.

Hit coach

This exercise allows your soccer players to work on kicking the soccer ball at a moving target. Start the exercise by having each player dribbling a ball. When I say “Go”, the players start trying to kick the soccer ball at the coach. If you have an assistant coach, get them involved too. If a player hits you with the ball, ask them what kind of animal do they want the coach to pretend to be (e.g. lion, tiger, horse, etc). Then pretend to be that animal for short period while trying to avoid being hit by another soccer player’s ball.

Danger zone goalie stance

This drill requires your soccer players to stand in a circle with one or two coaches in the middle. One thing I have found works great for younger players is to use cones to form the circle. Evenly space the cones then instruct the players to stand in front of a cone. Once all the players are in front of a cone facing you, instruct them on the proper stance. This includes both hands up, feet should be shoulder width apart, and knees slightly bent. Have the players mimic the coaches, once they are in this stance, you can proceed to the Hot Potato game.

Hot potato

This game requires the players to be in a circle, standing in front of a cone. Ask them to get into the Danger Zone Goalie Stance, then using 1 or 2 soccer balls, start pretending the balls are very hot. Toss, roll, and bounce the balls to the players randomly. Make sure they pick it up with both hands and throw it back with both hands to the coach in the middle of the circle. Continue randomly pretending the balls are hot and randomly selecting the players to throw the ball to. The faster the coach(es) can keep the balls moving the more the kids will enjoy this game. One twist to this game is to also instruct the players to keep their cone from getting knocked down. If the coach knocks the cone down with the ball they must sit down. This encourages the players to stand in front of the cone and stay more alert.

Cookie in the middle

Setup two goals on opposite ends of the field similar in distance to a regular game. Split up the players into two teams and have each team run to a goal. If you have pop-up goals, instruct the players to remain touching the goal until you give the signal. If you do not have pop-up goals, have the players stand between the two cones. Depending on the number players on a team, randomly place soccer balls near the middle of the field close to the sidelines. When first starting off, if a team has 5 players on it, place 6 or 7 balls out there. The goal of this game is to get all the balls “cookies” in play into the opposing goal. Once a player kicks a ball into a goal, they must remain next to the goal and wait until no more balls remain in play. Once all the balls are in a goal, restart the game by placing a different amount of balls in the field. If you put a single ball out in the middle, this game becomes more like a scrimmage with everyone fighting over the one ball. Those players who are less aggressive will be less likely to go after the ball. By placing multiple balls out in the middle, more one on one competition will occur. One word of advice on this game, do not put any balls near the center of the field. This prevents the faster players from running to a ball first and kicking the ball right into the opposing team who might be charging in from the opposite goal. This game helps players to getting used to competition, dribbling, decision making, and scoring goals.

Red light/green light

This game uses the same setup as the Turn Around Exercise. Using 4 cones, set up a small rectangle field with a coach on each end. If you have pop-up goals or large cones, place them behind the coach. Have the players stand in line in front of one of the coaches. Each player should have a soccer ball in front of them. The coach on the opposite side of the players begins yelling out “Red Light” or “Green Light”. When “Green”, the players are to dribble in a controlled manner as quick as they can toward the coach. The first player to touch coach and kick the ball into the goal wins the game. On “Red”, every player must “stomp” the ball with their feet to keep it from moving. If a player’s ball continues to move after “Red Light” has been called out, the player must return back to the beginning. For younger players, you can make this more fun by saying the monster is coming to take their ball away. Either coach “monster” can then kick the ball back to the starting line.

Red light/green light with turn around

Same as Red light/Green Light except before the first person reaches the finish line you call out the team’s name or say “Turn Around”. This forces the team to change direction with the ball and avoid teammates. This is also useful for leveling out the players to ensure different team members finish first.

Not in my backyard

Split the field in half with circle cones. For younger teams, put all the players on one side with the coach(es) on the other. Start the game by having all the balls on one side of the field or the other. The object of the game is to kick all the balls to the other side of the field. When the coach yells time, whichever side has the most balls on it loses the game. For older players, split the team in two and have them play against each other. Run each game approx. 2-3 minutes.

Cowboys and aliens

This game uses the same setup as the Turn Around Exercise. Using 4 cones, set up a medium rectangle field with all the players on one end of the field. Each player (the cowboy/cowgirl), must safely dribble their soccer ball (horse) to the other end of the field (pasture). Each end of the field is a safe zone where the Aliens cannot enter. The coach and/or a player are the alien(s) who must try to steal the soccer ball (horse) with their feet. If the player loses the soccer ball to the alien, the coach can decide if they become cactus (stationary obstacles for the players to go around) or additional aliens to swarm the remaining cowboys/cowgirls. The game ends when only one cowboy/cowgirl remains.


Setup the field similar to a regular game with two goals on opposite ends. For this exercise, I prefer to make the field slightly shorter. At the midfield, place a cone on each side of the out of bounds. Split the team into two with each team standing across from each other by the cones at midfield. Assign each player a unique number. For example, if you have 8 players, each player should have a number from 1 to 8, with one side having 1-4 and the other 5-8. The game starts by the coach yelling out a random number from each side then throwing the ball up in the air around midfield. The two players who have their number called will compete one-on-one to try to score in the opposing goal. You can also expand this by yelling out four numbers (two from each side). If the ball goes out of bounds or neither player is able to score after a certain time period, both players return to their line and await the next numbers to be called.