In mini soccer, it is a common site to see children chasing after the ball wherever it goes. Think of a play ground, when playing at break time if a ball is ‘allowed’, what usually happens? Herds of children chasing one player to win it back but also to trying to get passed too. Cries of ‘pass, pass, pass’ commonly can be heard as the one player that has the ball has multiple decisions to make… In this blog I am going to explore some ideas on how you can support children find space and not bunch up.

Throughout my journey, I have always thought about this phrase ‘we just want to play good football,’ which I commonly hear from coaches when working with younger players. Often, if players don’t pass and the ball is not kept in the team it is deemed ‘not good football.’ In order to build and develop children that can make the right decision, your environment to help teach this is vital.

Creating Chaos…

Firstly, we need children that can stay on the ball. Children that are brave that can manipulate the ball in tight areas, stay calm and play with their eyes up and are able to scan for others are the ones that will be able to find space for themselves for find a team mate. This is why in and amongst the chaos of play ground football, children are all the time developing the sense of space as well as the ability to find their way out of tight areas. So my first piece of advice? Create organised chaos to help children find their way out of tight situation and force them to get their eyes up to scan. Don’t be afraid of what it looks like in your sessions but instead focus on the outcomes it provides.

Small Numbers
In one of my previous blogs I spoke about the importance of providing players with plenty of variety in training and games. Whilst you’ve got chaos to help children get their heads up, also giving them the opportunity to play with small numbers can also give them less to focus on and in turn start to think more about the decisions they can make. Small numbers of 1v1, 2v2 will not only increase the number of touches and opportunities each players have, but it will also help to recreate pictures for the children to help support their decision making. Let’s take a 2v2 for example, you will now as a coach be able to start educating how the person on the ball can create space for themselves as well as their team mate, but also how the person without the ball can create space for them too. By making simple practices and pictures for the children, it will give you a platform to start teaching the importance of space and how it can help them.
Dividing your pitch up… 
In order to help a car stay in it’s lane, you have road markings laid out to help give them the guidance to be able to do so. In taking this simple concept, you will be able to think about how you can divide your training pitch to support them in finding space. Here are some ways you may do this:
– Thirds (split the pitch into thirds horizontally and vertically, creating 9 boxes)
– Quarters (lay a half way line across the pitch both vertically and horizontally to create 4 boxes)
– Channels (lay cones or flat markers on the outside of the pitch to create wide channels)
By using flat markers or cones to separate the pitch into one of the above, you will give children some ideas visually of what areas of the pitch they are in and where they can move too. This method can also be really beneficial to help teach through rewarding them by using these areas as well as providing constraints to challenge them as well. For example, you may want to challenge them not to be in the same box as another team mate. Continually reinforcing through this approach can really help support the children with developing a better understanding of space and the benefits of it.