I always have a 'Fun Practice' with my teams after a tournament weekend. This break from the normal routine gives the players a chance to play some fun games and just enjoy being with their teammates.
'Fun' is defined differently depending on the age and competitive level of the team. My younger teams (U9 & U10) usually want to play skill games that they have enjoyed like Foxes and Rabbits, Stuck in the Mud and American Gladiators that I described in my last post. Players in the middle age groups (U11 - U13) have usually chosen to play competitive team games that have elements of soccer but are not just a scrimmage. These games include Wembley, Half-Line (a shooting game) or Soccer Baseball. My older teams generally want to play small-sided games, often in a tournament format.
My recent 'Fun Day' practice was with my U11 and U12 girls teams. True to form, they wanted to start with Wembley so we played two games that lasted a total of about 15 minutes. I think most coaches play some form of Wembley so I won't describe it here.
Next, the girls picked Soccer Baseball. We play this game as a modified game of Kickball that is played in most elementary schools. The pitcher stays in a 6x6-yard box or pitcher's mound. The rest of the defending team spreads out around the diamond. The team who is 'Up', lines up next to one goal. Another goal is located in the outfield.
The pitcher pass the ball to the first player in line who shoots toward the opposite goal or puts it into play anywhere on the field. If it goes in the goal, it's a homerun. If a fielder heads the ball, the 'batter' is out. Once the ball touches the ground, the fielders must make three passes and pass it to the pitcher who then tries to score in the goal behind home plate. The next player in line for the team that is 'Up' can act as a goalkeeper and try to save the shot. All of this has to happen before the 'batter' manages to run around all of the bases and run into the goal he started from. Each team is 'Up' until the fielding team gets three outs or everyone has had a chance to 'Hit'.
After playing soccer baseball for about 30 minutes, the girls where ready for a change. They voted to play soccer tennis. Again, a popular game that most coaches are familiar with. We play it as a 'doubles' game. We usually have three games going on so that at the end of 5 minutes, the winning team moves up one court until they reach, 'Center Court'. The pair that looses that game moves down to lowest court. To create more rallies, the ball is allowed to bounce twice for each team every time the ball comes over to their side of the court.
Following about 15 minutes of soccer tennis, I offered the girls a chance to play a game they hadn't played before. I called it, 'Crossing Wembley'. We created two teams, Yellow and Red. I take a supply of balls to the corner and serve a ball into the box as it would be for a corner kick. Both teams are attacking the ball trying to score. If a goal is not scored directly from the cross, play continues until someone scores or the ball goes out of play. Three points are awarded for goals that are scored from a header or volley and one point is scored for another other goal. Each time a goal is scored or the ball goes out of play all of the players must run around a cone outside of the box before they are allowed to attack the next cross. The girls really enjoyed the challenge of this game.
As an aside, I've recently started to give the girls an incentive to head the ball around the goal. If they score a goal with their head, I bring ice cream to the next practice. I'm not usually a fan of extrinsic motivation; I would rather have the player do things for their own sake. Having said that, I've had great success with this little extra incentive starting at U11, especially with girls. Once someone scores a goal with their head, the other players start to give it a try and suddenly they're heading the ball in all areas of the field.
What do you do to change things up with your teams? Have you come up with any creative and effective ways to encourage your players to head the ball more confidently?