Off season training needn’t be all that formal. Give the kids a ball and let them figure it out on their own. Pick up soccer doesn’t seem to get the credit that it deserves. All top-level players around the world have benefited tremendously from the opportunities they had as a child to simply play without adult influences.
One of our challenges in today’s culture is finding the right environment that allows kids to play in a “pick-up” fashion. Years ago, we created our 3v3 program to help replicate the type of pick-up soccer that we got to enjoy as kids.
In our version of pick-up soccer (3v3), there is no pressure from adult presence to perform in a certain manner. Kids take ownership of the games and they have the wonderful opportunity to figure out all aspects of the activity. They pick teams, they make the rules and set the expectations, and they police themselves. If things don’t work out, they learn to resolve the issues on their own.
By allowing this kind of environment to unfold, we are permitting our children to develop a love (passion) for playing that is unrivaled in any other format.
A few years ago we took nearly 200 children to the University of Notre Dame for a weekend visit and clinic. At dinner the night before the clinic, head coach Bobby Clark told me that he likes to start each clinic by setting up a bunch of 3v3 games and just getting the kids to play. He lamented, that in most cases, kids today didn’t really know what to do when presented with this option of playing pick-up soccer. He said that usually, the kids will stand around until someone actually shows them what to do. I told him that I didn’t think our kids would have an issue with playing 3v3 right out of the gates.
The next day at the clinic, Coach Bobby and his players set up about 24 fields for 3v3 play. Each field had two goals. The fields were not marked off with lines or cones, and there were no bibs to separate teams. It was an exercise to see how the children would react.
As our players began to arrive for the clinic, they were instructed to find a field and start playing 3v3. The kids just jumped on any field that was open, and began playing with anyone who was free. We had little boys playing against older girls, older boys playing younger boys, it was like a free-for-all. The beautiful thing was, all of our kids just started playing as if this was something that they did everyday. In a matter of a few minutes, Coach Bobby came up to me and exclaimed how impressed he was with our kids and their unabashed love to just play. He said he had never seen a group of young kids who were capable of figuring out this out on their own before.
It was a perfect compliment!