U12 soccer players are beginning to come into their own. Play is becoming refined, they start thinking towards competition, and they stay focused for longer. At this point, a coach can begin to see sets of skills emerging.
As a U12 coach, you need to nurture the growth of players. Players understand the basics, and will be looking for ways to improve. These drills are about taking play to the next level.
What should U12 soccer drills teach?
Under 12’s are starting to get a good understanding of the game, but they’re still very young. Positive reinforcement should be at the forefront of teaching.
At this point they need to be learning about the rules of the game, and fostering a competition attitude. Regularly play small games, as this is the quickest way to learn while keeping practice fun. Slowly introduce rules as they gain confidence.
Players will be starting to show skill, so repeat techniques and remember the basics. Things they learn now will be fundamental to future play, so regular repetition keeps them sharp.
By this age, the players should start to show some of their own initiative. Draw them into the training sessions and ask them what kind of drills they would like.
You can never please everyone, but finding out the areas the children are enthusiastic about allows you to tailor sessions to be more engaging.
5 Key Drills for Developing U12 Players
1 v 1 Get Out
What is it?
A small team game that teaches defensive play, dribbling, and attacking. Players enter the pitch one on one, and attempt to score. When a goal is scored, the losing player rotates out. A fast-paced game to encourage quick thinking.
- Mark out your pitch. 25 x 15 yards is good for 1 v 1, but you may need to adjust the size for skill level.
- Place a small goal at each end of the pitch.
- Divide the team into two groups, and assign them different colored vests.
- Each team must line up at either end of the pitch.
- The first members of each team prepare to enter the field of play.
- Only one ball is needed, and the coach must stand on the sidelines.
- When the first players are ready, the coach throws the ball into play, and the players attempt to gain possession.
- One member of each team prepares to enter the field.
- The coach places the ball into play, and a member of each team tries to gain possession.
- The players attempt to score in their opposing goal.
- If a player scores, they win a point and are allowed to remain on the pitch.
- The other player must exit the pitch and go to the back of the line. They’re replaced by another member of the team.
- The ball enters play again, and the game continues.
- If the ball goes out of bounds, no point is scored and both players must leave the field. They’re then replaced by two new players.
- When a player switches in, the ball is placed into play quickly. The game should be fast-paced.
- This drill can be easily adapted for small teams rather than 1 v 1. 2 v 2 and 3 v 3 can both work, although any more than that and it loses the integral rapid nature. Play 1 v1 to encourage defensive and attacking plays, and 2 v 2 to work on passing and awareness.
- If you intend to use more players, expand the size of the pitch.
- Start with 1 v 1, and build up from there. By adding teammates quickly into the game, you encourage a fast response from the players.
- If playing 2 v 2 or 3 v 3, limit touches. The players should be attempting to pass regularly, rather than keeping the ball to themselves.
- Add limits that force the player to take on the defense. For example, the player must evade an opponent before they can pass.
Tips for Coaches
The 1 v 1 game should be used to encourage players to take on defenders.
As the number of players progresses, they should be making passes as well as beating defenders. Remind them to communicate with each other, so they develop as a team.
This game should be played quickly. Make sure the changeovers occur quickly, and always be ready with an extra ball to get play going.
Prison Break Out
What is it?
A small team game that focuses on possessive play, passing, and quick responses. The group is divided into teams of six. One team are the guards and the other are the prisoners. Four of the prisoners take on the guards to steal the ball, at which point the teams switch.
- A large square pitch is needed for this drill, 40 x 40 is ideal.
- Divide the pitch into two, marking a line down the center. Each half should be equal.
- Place cones, poles, or flags along the dividing wall at equal intervals. These are the prison bars.
- Separate the teams into groups of six. Assign one team as the guards, and one team as the prisoners. These roles will switch throughout the game.
- Each game is 6 v 4. The 6 guards and 4 of the prisoners will start on one side of the dividing line. The 2 remaining prisoners stay in the other rectangle, where they act as accomplices.
- The guards attempt to keep possession of the ball, while the prisoners try to steal it and pass the ball to the accomplices.
- Divide the team into groups of 6.
- In one half of the pitch, 6 players will take on 4. The other 2 players stand on the other side of the bars, to receive the ball if it gets kicked through.
- The 6 guards must try and keep possession of the ball for as long as possible.
- 4 prisoners must attempt to intercept the ball.
- Once the ball is won, the prisoner must pass it through the bars of the jail to the accomplice.
- When this is achieved, they score a point.
- Now, the game switches round.
- The 4 prisoners join the 2 accomplices in the other rectangle. These are now the guards. Meanwhile, 4 members of the other team pass through, to try and steal the ball back. 2 players stay behind, and are now the accomplices.
- The game repeats, with the teams switching sides as someone wins the ball.
- This is a timed game. After 5 minutes, it finishes and the team with the most points wins.
- Make the game harder or easier by closing the gaps between the bars. Setting up small sections the prisoners have to pass through makes the game much harder, and prevents accidental kicks from scoring points.
- Rather than passing, the prisoners can dribble the ball through the bars to score a point.
- Limit touches to encourage passing and make it easier for the prisoners to take possession.
Tips for Coaches
The ball should remain on the ground.
Organization is key to ensuring this drill goes smoothly. Rotating who remains behind as an accomplice allows everyone to get a chance to play. Before play starts, the teams should discuss an order to the changes.
Accurate passing is a must, and it needs to be done at speed. Ensure the players are making use of the space, looking for chances, and staying aware of the opponent.
What is it?
A dribbling game that’s played quickly. Most players are given balls, and attempt to dribble these balls through small gates. Other players are assigned as gatekeepers. These players move from gate to gate, blocking the attacking players from scoring.
- Mark out a 20 x 20 yard pitch. You may wish to make it bigger or smaller, depending on the number of players involved. However, remember that most of the drill should be spent dribbling, not running long distances.
- Within the pitch, use cones to mark out gates. Two cones should be placed a yard apart from each other.
- Arrange these gates across the pitch. 6 or 7 across a 20 yard pitch should be enough.
- Assign a number of gatekeepers. There must be at least two fewer gatekeepers than the number of gates. Some gates must be free at all times, so it’s possible to score. They must stand in a gate in anticipation of the whistle blow.
- The remaining players are each given a ball.
- Arrange them around the sidelines at intervals, ready to enter the pitch when the drill starts.
- Every player with a ball must dribble the ball towards a gate. When they’ve successfully dribbled the ball through the gate, they score a point. Players must keep track of their own points.
- The gatekeepers stand in a gate, blocking the player from dribbling. A blocked gate is considered closed, and can’t be scored through.
- After 4 seconds, the gatekeepers must move to an empty gate. They can go to whichever one they choose, but only one gatekeeper is allowed per gate.
- Time the game for 45 to 60 seconds. When the time is up, ask every player for their score.
- Repeat, and each player will need to beat the previous score. Switch out gatekeepers occasionally, so all players get a chance to dribble.
- Change the game by adding gatekeepers and removing gates. The further away the gates are, the more time it will take a gatekeeper to travel. That gives the other players opportunities to score.
- Rather than having the gatekeeper lock the gate, allow players to score if they can dribble through. However, make sure the gatekeepers are still moving regularly, or the drill becomes too defensive.
Tips for Coaches
Players will need great control over the ball to move. Light, small touches are necessary to maneuver through the gate, where larger, more powerful kicks will help them travel.
To successfully navigate the pitch, players must make quick turns. Encourage them to use both feet, so they can easily change directions.
Players must stay aware of which gates are empty and which are closed - and this changes regularly. They must keep their head up, plan where they’re going, and be aware of other players.
Gatekeepers should be in charge of their own movement, keeping track of how long they’ve spent in any one place. They must also want to prevent scoring.
Remind them to stay aware of where other players are heading, and to avoid repetitive movements.
5 v 5
What is it?
A basic team small team set up. For U12s, this is a good way to get them regularly playing games. Try and fit at least one kind of match situation into every training session, to put individual skills into practice.
This should also teach your players to work together, and focus on teamwork as well as individual improvement.
- Set up a field, 25 x 30 yards.
- Place full-sized goals at either end of the pitch.
- Sort out your goalkeepers. If you have a few, one can be assigned to each team. For small numbers, have two remain in goals, switching out occasionally if necessary.
- Divide the rest of the team into groups of five. There should be ten players on the pitch plus two in goals for each game.
- Start two teams on the field. The remaining team members may want to continue with other drills, but it helps if they can watch and stay engaged.
- Place one ball in the center of the pitch, and the remaining balls around the goal. The game should be quick, so make sure all balls are within easy reach.
- Flip a coin to decide which team starts.
- Each team attempts to score on the other as many times as possible in a four-minute window.
- Flip a coin to start the game.
- If the ball goes out of play, a new ball is started. This is given to the goalkeeper of the team that didn’t touch the ball last.
- When a goal is scored, the goalkeeper of the team that was scored on starts a new ball.
- Play until 4 minutes are up. The team with the most goals wins, but ties are also allowed.
- Rotate the teams round. This can be played as a round-robin tournament. If time is limited, play until every team has had an equal chance at the game.
- If playing multiple rounds, tally up scores. 3 points are awarded for a winner, 1 point for a draw, and no points for a loss. The team with the most points at the end are the winners!
- 5 v 5 with 2 goalkeepers is good for a tournament with multiple teams, but increase the team size if necessary. Alternatively, play 4 v 4 with no goalkeepers.
- Add limitations to focus the game on one specific area that may be lacking. For example, limit touches before a pass.
Tips for Coaches
As well as giving feedback between games, this is a time that a coach can use for discussion. Ask the players how they felt about the game, and what they thought of their own performance.
Pay close attention to play in order to find out which areas are weaker. Some skills can be great in a drill, but suffer in a game situation. This can help when moving forward.
Encourage teamwork and competition. Players should be working together to win.
Try to hang back at times. The game itself should be the primary teacher, as the players will quickly discover.
Dead Ball Striking
What is it?
A shooting game with added difficulty. This drill is used to teach passing, teamwork, accuracy, and striking. It’s also good practice for goalkeepers. Increase difficulty by adding passes and finishes, or keep it a simple striking drill.
- Decide where the center of the pitch will be. Place two cones 15 yards from each other, either side of the center.
- Set two goals, 15 yards away from each cone. The cones act as a simple marker for shooting.
- Divide the players into four equal groups. Place each group at opposite corners of the pitch, in an orderly line. Every player has a ball.
- Put a goalkeeper in each goal. If you have several, rotate them out as necessary.
- The players will then dribble towards the cone to make a pass, and a shot on goal.
- The drill should begin with a group on each corner of a square pitch, centered around two shooting cones. At either end of the pitch is a goal with a goalkeeper.
- One person from two diagonal corners must dribble the soccer ball towards the nearest shooting cone.
- They stop the ball, sprint around the cone, and take a shot using the ball the other player stopped.
- Once the shot has been taken, they collect the ball, and run to the end of the line diagonal from where they started.
- A member of each group from the other diagonal then repeats the dribble and strikes.
- When each player has had a shot on goal, add in passing. Rather than stopping the ball, players can pass the ball to one another before taking the shot.
- Run through slowly to begin, and gradually bring up the pace. At first, you want to get the players used to when they need to move, and where they go after the shot. The goalkeeper also needs time to prepare.
- Gradually increase the difficulty of the passes and the finishing patterns. Once they’ve mastered the basics of the drill, introducing passes encourages responsive play.
- Introduces limitations, such as decreasing the number of touches allowed.
- Turn this into a tournament by giving every player the same shot. Those who score get a point. Everyone keeps track of their own points, and a winner - or winning team - is declared. Goalkeepers can get points for stopping two goals.
Tips for Coaches
Before you start, go over the types of shot you may be using. This prevents any confusion when the game is going.
Players should aim to strike with only one touch, They should be considering which area of the foot should be used to strike the ball.
Have them consider where they aim the ball, and how to compensate for the goalkeeper.
Keep the game moving with good speed. The players should be learning to think reactively, and should have a decent level of control over the ball.
While this is individual work, they need to come together as a team to ensure the drill runs smoothly. For large numbers, set up two pitches and score the teams against each other. Every four groups then become part of one large team.
Quick Warm Up/Cool Down Drills
Cone knock down
- Set up a square pitch, 15 x 15 yards.
- Place two players on either side of the pitch, equally distanced.
- The players are partners with whoever is opposite them.
- Inside the pitch, arrange tall cones. At least four are necessary, but more may be needed.
- Every other player is given a ball. They then must pass the ball to their teammate on the other side of the pitch, while remaining on the sideline.
- As they pass, they must aim to knock down cones.
- For each cone knocked down, a pair earns a point.
- When all cones are knocked down, set them up again.
- The pair with the most points wins.
Turn and Shoot
- Mark out a 20 x 20 yard pitch, and divide into two rectangles.
- Place a goal at both ends of the pitch.
- Divide the team into two groups, and have them stand at the side of the pitch. Place a cone opposite each team, on the other side. Every player is given a ball.
- One player from each team dribbles the ball to their cone, turns around the cone, and dribbles to the center of the pitch.
- From here, the player shoots at the goal.
- Once the shot has been made, the next player can start.
- The winner is whichever team finishes fastest.