Posted on

Dribble Up Soccer Skills Contest Guide

The Dribble Up soccer ball, smart ball app, and the coach’s dashboard helped us run a soccer skills contest this summer during the World Cup. If you’re a parent or a coach this will be a Dribble Up review of how you can run a contest for your family or run a soccer skills contest for your team.

France vs Croatia World Cup Final

Our main goal was to get players more touches on the ball over the summer. I’ve always wanted to run a soccer skills contest like this for our team but until now there wasn’t a great way to plan, coordinate, and track the players, drills, and results. We’ll share some suggestions for Dribble Up on ways to make it better but overall it was a success and our experiment got in over 30,000 touches in 30 days!

Soccer Skills Contest Results

I’ll go into all the details of how we setup and ran the contest for other coaches that want to get their players on the ball, but I’ll be honest, it was a lot of work. It didn’t help that we were on our family vacation and then away at summer camp during most of the month-long contest, but two things made it worth the effort.

Player family feedback

1) Kids Loved the Contest
Since it was the first time running a soccer drills contest we reached out to parents during the month to see how we could make it better. We heard some useful feedback that we tried out, but the most rewarding responses were from families who were loving the contest and were in the smart ball app and on the ball every day.

Some families had siblings that were competing on the leaderboards and fighting over whose turn it was to use the Dribble Up ball. (Side Note. I was a counselor at a youth camp during one week of the contest and the only time I had to work on it was late at night once all the kids in my cabin were asleep and I could barely keep my eyes open. Every night I would ask myself if it was really worth it but reading those emails from parents kept me going!)

2) Better Ball Control
Summer is a busy time for soccer families. It’s hard to schedule regular weekly training because you’re out of town and trainers/coaches are on vacation. Plus, a lot of parents and kids want to take time off from the busy schedule of training and give their brains and bodies a break.

However, I figured putting in 5 minutes a day on ball work would be a reasonable thing to tryout. So, the test was to see if we could get consistent touches on the ball using both feet every day over the course of a month. Simple & unopposed reps using a variety of drills to get them moving the ball & their body in different ways & manipulating it with different parts of their feet.

Daily Soccer Drills

DribbleUp at Summer Camp

Turns out that we were able to get touches in every day except for one jam packed Tuesday at camp when the kids were asleep almost before their head hit the pillow. They did playlists at rest areas, hotel hallways, living rooms, patios, dorm lounges, parks, sidewalks – never once on a soccer field – but several times during half time of a World Cup match.

Dribble Up Leaderboard

One of the cool things about the smart ball is being able to go back and look at the data. Over 30 days he did 787 drills in the Dribble Up app. Although that averages to about 26 drills per day there were some really busy days where he’d only do 10 drills but then other days where he’d do 40.

For example, towards the end of the month he realized he was almost at the top of the big leaderboard so there were a few days where he hit it really hard to get up to 2nd place overall. Looking back at the data he averaged about 12 minutes a day on the ball, definitely more than the 5 minutes we were targeting. Over the 30 days he got in about 31,100 touches so over 1000 touches a day.

Foot Skills on the Soccer Field

All that training was great but the real question was whether all those reps would make a difference on the field. Our first training session of the season started off with some 4v4 play in a pretty tight space. The head coach spent time talking to the parents while the assistant coaches sat back and watched the 4v4. It’s a mix of kids that haven’t all played together before so it was a chance for them to get on the field together for the first time.

After observing about 20 minutes of play in a smaller space it was obvious the time spent on the ball had paid dividends. Since the end of the previous season both ball control and confidence on the ball had increased. That’s what you would expect and the reason that so many people buy Dribble Up but it was our first experiment to really test it out over a period of time. Thanks to our busy summer we didn’t play in any leagues or do any regular training so the only consistent touches they got on the ball were using DribbleUp.

After getting on the field after 30 days of footwork I noticed the constant process of scan, decide, play was both sharper and faster. The turns and moves were more decisive and stronger. The ability to evade pressure and then turn the ball or find a teammate meant more possession and more scoring for the “blue” team he was a part of. It was good to see the work paying off both because it made him a better player but also to know that contests like these have the potential to motivate and improve youth players around the country.

If you’re interested in doing something similar keep reading and we’ll go into detail about how to set it up and run the contest.

How to Run a Soccer Skills Contest

When you setup a contest how you design it depends on what outcome you’re trying to achieve. We wanted to get kids more touches so that’s a common thread across all the areas we’ll talk about. First we’ll go into player motivation and how holding a contest in conjunction with a soccer event can really bring it to life. Then we’ll go into more of the nitty gritty details on:

  • Offering Rewards
  • Building Playlists
  • Assigning Homework
  • Choosing Winners
  • Contest Sponsors

As you read through the details, if you have questions or suggestions you can send them to us at this email – contests@soccerstripes.com

Player Motivation

Soccer Brain
Soccer Brain

The most important factor in getting kids to put in extra work is motivation. Ideally every kid would be self-motivated and young soccer players would be in the backyard or park working on their foot skills every day on their own. Since motivation levels vary across players, a contest is a great way to get everyone fired up to train. This is true particularly when you’re talking about consistent practice.

I’d venture a guess that the percentage of kids who kick around twice a week in the backyard is much larger than the percentage of kids who are doing footwork every day of the week at home. Of course, we all know kids that are out training on their own every day…. but for every one of them how many more do we know that don’t have that same level of intense motivation to improve? A contest gives them a reason to get on the ball for the duration of the contest.

Soccer Events

Tying the duration of the contest to some real-world tournament or league can be a great way to get kids even more excited about competing. In our case we ran it in conjunction with the World Cup so there was a lot of enthusiasm to tap into after watching the best players in the world on the field using their moves.

Every day we’d give a preview or backstory about one of the matches and the name of the playlists would be pulled from the games. We used a few different approaches like focusing on famous players:

  • Mohammed Salah Stylin
  • Messi Magic
  • Debryune De Beast
  • Romelu Lukaku

Talking about soccer culture – going into some history, well known programs, team nicknames, etc.  Kind of like “soccer appreciation”

  • Ginga Football
  • Golden Boot
  • Les Bleus
  • Viking Clap
  • Die Mannschaft
  • Three Lions

As we got towards the end of the World Cup and there were fewer teams left we also talked about matchups:

  • Croatia v Denmark
  • Brazil v Belgium

Of course the World Cup is only every 4 years but you could do the same thing with the Euros, Gold Cup, or the Champions League. You could also use run a contest alongside part of the season for Bundesliga, La Liga, English Premier League,etc. It’s not quite as exciting in terms of a tournament atmosphere but lots of players know those leagues and would be another good reason to encourage players to watch more soccer.

Contest Rewards

Another way to motivate kids to compete is to offer rewards. You know best what will motivate your players in terms of a reward – you can get pretty creative when setting up your rewards structure. One thing to consider when you set up the rules for rewards is what behavior you’re trying to encourage.

We wanted to encourage a lot of touches on the ball so we setup our contest to run daily and so that every playlist you completed gave you an entry in the daily contest. The more drills a player went through the more entries they earned and the higher their chances of winning the contest for the day.

Footskills and Fortnite

We knew many kids were going to spend a part of their summer playing video games so our incentive tried to balance that with time on the ball. Our daily prize was an Xbox digital gift card that players could redeem in their video games. We also offered a PS4 version for kids that play on the PlayStation.

The idea was that players could see quick results from their efforts if they won (from a prize perspective) since they could cash in their winnings once we sent them out. Also, it was a prize that they’d want to win again so they wouldn’t slack off after winning it once. We wanted them to be motivated to be on the ball as much as possible every day. Since we were running the contest around the country it was also easier to distribute a digital prize.

Measuring Progress

The Dribble Up ball gives you a few different ways to keep track of player progress that can help you with offering rewards. If a player uses a smart ball to do their drills you can base your rewards on a variety of areas:

  • Participation
  • Drill Performance
  • Frequency
  • Difficulty
  • Improvement

Participation
The Dribble Up app actually lets you go through the drills with a regular ball and we wanted to encourage as many players to participate as possible so we gave people an entry for doing a playlist. We gave them a bonus entry for doing it with a smart ball because that way we could confirm the player actually went through it.

Drill Performance
After the player does the footwork in a playlist they’re given a score on how well they did. Typically, when a youth player does a playlist for the first time they run into at least a few drills where they have room for improvement. After they go through the drill enough times the score gradually rises if they’re working to improve.

I always tell players that rather than worry about the score, focus on the execution of the drill and the score will sort itself out. I bring this up because you could give entries based on score but it would be a lot of work to track in the current setup. We did give an extra entry if a player earned an A on a playlist. We did this because I wanted kids to think about the technique and not just rush through the footwork. Another way to handle that would be to not award entries for scores below a minimum level but I didn’t want to discourage players who were just getting started and learning the skills. When a player’s confidence is lowest is when they’re most vulnerable to stop trying based on a bad score.

Frequency
Our contest was daily so players had a chance to win every day. We didn’t put any limit on how many playlists a person could get an entry for completing so the more they did in one day the higher their chances of winning. At the time the smart ball app didn’t easily show how many days in a row you’d practiced with the ball. Since then the Dribble Up app has released an update that shows your “streak” of training days, so you could give a bonus entry for every day they keep that streak alive.

Difficulty
The Dribble Up app does have multiple levels of difficulty that it assigns to drills so you could create playlists based on difficulty levels and award more entries for higher skill levels. I’ll talk later about how we created playlists but we didn’t offer more rewards for more difficult drills. The age and skill level of players in our contest varied so we tried to assign a range of playlists to accommodate players at multiple levels of development. We didn’t want to discourage the younger players by offering the older or more skilled players a greater chance of winning.

Improvement
One of the nice things about the smart soccer ball and the app is that it keeps track of the players training data over time. In the next section we’ll look at some of those stats the contest but the ability to track the data could allow you to offer rewards or bonus entries based on improvements in drill performance, increased frequency of training, or tackling more difficult drills over time. Right now, this would be pretty manual since there’s nothing that calculates it for you in the dashboard but I really like the concept.

For purposes of development we always tell youth players not to judge themselves compared to their teammates but based on their own improvement. Running a contest that motivated them based on how they improved could have a pretty good impact. Here are some of the player stats from the contest

Player Results
Over 30 days he averaged about 12 minutes a day. This chart shows drills per day but you can see that the number each day varied based on what was going on in our summer schedule. For example, you can see the number per day drop the week we were at camp because pretty much every minute was scheduled and the only time he could get in his footwork was 10 or 11 PM once the day was done (and he was supposed to be in bed).

The cool thing was that even though he was exhausted those days he wanted to work on his foot skills because of the contest. One night we were both so tired we forgot, you can see it drop down to zero one day during the month, but 29 out of 30 is pretty good consistency.

Seems like this is a decent illustration of how if you commit to doing something regularly the end result can be good even if you don’t spend a ton of time on it each day. Of course, you don’t need a smart ball to work on your skills each day. We could just have easily stuffed his regular Adidas ball into the camp bag. The nice thing about the app and the Dribble Up ball was the accountability. On those days when he was tired and wanted to skip he couldn’t just “mark it down” that he’d done footwork – the app only gave him credit if he actually put in the work.

Total Drills Breakdown by Which Foot they Used

If you look at the trend line you can see the overall number of drills per day gradually increased over the month, I’ll talk more about that in the Playlist setup section.

This graph shows the breakdown of work on his strong foot vs his weak foot. The biggest percentage of drills involved using both feet. For example, in all these drills the player alternates feet from left to right during the drill:

  • Foundations
  • Push Outs
  • Sole Flicks
  • V Taps
  • Strong Rolls
  • Outside Inside
  • Toe Taps
  • L Pull
  • Triangle

Some drills were specific to a foot, like Right Foot Roll Tap or Right Foot Roll Chop, but they all had corresponding left foot versions and we tried to balance using both feet when creating the playlists. So overall, he strengthened both his strong and weak foot during the month. This was important for him because he likes playing in the middle of the field and really it’s good for any player to be skilled with both of their feet.

Scores Across all Drills for 30 Days

Drill Performance
The Dribble Up app gives players a score based on 4 factors – Speed, Control, Consistency, Pattern. The lowest score he earned was a C+ and many of those were ones he did with his weak foot. Even though the number of drills with both feet was pretty even he didn’t have as much control with his left. Looking back it would have been better to assign more weak foot versions of a drill to get in more practice on those. The “NA” category are drills that DribbleUp doesn’t track for performance yet, simply that they’re completed.

One thing that makes it tricky is that you’re assigning drills to a group of players so weak vs strong foot will vary depending on the group. It would be nice if Dribble Up stored the player’s weak foot in their profile and we could assign “Weak Foot” drills and “Strong Foot” drills and the app would have them do the Right or Left footed version based on their profile.

Combination Drills Tended to Have Lower Scores

Another area where he trended to lower scores was combination moves like triangles to sole fakes or triangles to L turns. That makes sense because they’re more complex and I didn’t include as many of them in the playlists so he practiced them less. Although combining moves on the field is a great way to deceive an opponent so definitely shows an area he needs work.

One suggestion for Dribble Up would be to keep track of drills that players did the worst at and let them know which ones needed the most work.

For example, after looking through the scores over the month he seemed to struggle the most with the “Outside Outside” and “Back Side Turns”. I remember hearing him complain about the “Outside Outside” a few times as he went through it, that it was tough for him. That would be a good one to focus additional work on to add comfort with that movement to his soccer toolkit.

Scores Improved Over Time

One thing we saw was an improvement in scores over time. This graph shows the breakdown of scores for the first two weeks of the month vs the 2nd two weeks and you can see a higher percentage of better scores in the second half. It makes sense because he had 2 weeks of going through those drills under his belt but it’s nice to see that the reps led to improved technique.

 

 

Creating Playlists

Creating Playlists in the Dashboard

Building the playlists took a while at first because I tried to design them using a progression of similar footwork. Kind of like you might design a training session to focus on one specific area and not be a hodge podge of skills the goal was to make playlists that were composed of related moves.

For example, one playlist might have drills that involved using the sole of the feet. When I created the “La Furia Roja” playlist it included drills that worked on changing direction and turning with the ball. After the first week and a half of creating playlists it got easier because I was able to start re-using some of them or making a copy and tweaking them slightly.

Gradually Longer Playlists

The coach’s dashboard makes it pretty easy to clone a playlist and change it, one thing that would be nice would be the ability to categorize similar playlists so if you had several that were variations on each other you could group them together on the back end. That way when you’re assigning homework it would be easier to know more about a playlist you created several weeks back.

One thing we touched on some already was that as the contest went on I created longer and longer playlists. We started out in the beginning with 8 or 9 drills in a playlist and as the days went by we gradually added drills. As you can see here towards the end of the contest we had playlists of 14-15 drills.

Assigning Homework

During the contest we assigned multiple playlists each day. The way homework assignments work now isn’t perfect because you can only assign playlists for one week at a time. It would be nice if you could assign multiple weeks out. The current setup makes it more challenging to plan a multi-week contest or for a coach to plan a few weeks of foot skills training. We still used the Homework for the contest, it was just a little more work.

Each day when the player opened their app and tapped Daily Workout it showed them the playlists available for the day. We started off with just assigning one playlist and the player could go through it as many times as they wanted. Each completed entry earned them another entry in the contest.

Quickly we discovered it wasn’t very exciting to work on the same playlist multiple times in a row, so we started adding multiple playlists for homework each day. We added our custom playlists and a few pre-made ones from Dribble Up as well to give the kids some variety.

Some of the feedback we got from parents was that the playlists we were creating/assigning were too difficult for some of the younger kids and was getting a little discouraging. In some families the older sibling was enjoying it but the less developed players were struggling so we started using a range of playlists each day.

Homework Suggestions

We went with an approach of having 3 levels of playlists, each with an increasing level of complexity and also number of drills. We tried to add multiple playlists at each level to give the players some variety. Currently there’s no way to indicate the complexity level of the playlist or the “level” so we simply listed them in a range of most challenging at top and simplest at the bottom.

Playlist Ordering – One suggestion for Dribble Up is to allow us in the coaches dashboard to re-order the playlists for the day after we assign them. If you want to add another playlist and the order which they appear in the app is important to you (it was for us b/c that’s how we showed the various levels) you must remove the playlists you’ve added and re-add them all in the desired order.

Playlist Categories – Another suggestion would be to let us assign categories to playlists, we could then use those to organize and display the playlist by level. That would also be a helpful feature for coaches who might want to assign playlists by topic (turning the ball, juggling, etc) or by player role (back line, mid-fielders, strikers).

Favorite / Worst Drills – As we went through the contest my kids figured out their favorite drills, for example multiple times I heard my daughter commenting she really liked the Push-Out drill. From a player’s perspective it would be nice if they could tag their favorite drills and then each player could have a “Favorites” playlist. That would be nice for a contest because if they wanted to get more entries they could run through a playlist of their favorite moves. Similarly, if there was an automatically generated playlist that kept track of their worst scoring drills it would be nice each day to have them work on the drills that they needed the most work on.

Choosing a Winner

Picking a daily winner was the most arduous part of running the contest. We kept a spreadsheet with the Dribble Up handles of the players in the contest and would update it based on their stats in the coach’s dashboard. Basically each player had a row in the spreadsheet and would get a certain number of entries each day based on the number of playlists they completed. They also received bonus entries for using a smart ball and for earning a score of A+.  Those entries were each assigned a number by a formula in the spreadsheet and we used Google’s random number generator shown here to choose the winning number for the day.

Contest winner email

Obviously, this was time consuming so we eventually figured out a way to automate the process to make it go more quickly. However there were still manual steps involved which meant we were typically behind on notifying the contest winners.

The players were patient in waiting to find out who won each day but announcing the winners sooner probably would have been better motivation to keep more kids active each day.

I was happy with the approach of basing the contest on participation and not on skill level. This allowed a variety of ages and skill levels to participate. Players competed against each other by who trained the most each day so it motivated them to get more touches. Having it daily gave them a fresh start each day, they didn’t get “behind” the person on the leaderboard and get discouraged.

We tended to batch up choosing winners and sending out prizes so we’d do multiple days at once. After we figured out the winner we’d notify their parents and ask them if they’d prefer a PS4 or Xbox gift card. Then we’d buy them online and email the code to the parent of the winner.

Next time we run the contest we’ll branch out and add additional prizes so we can motivate players who don’t play video games.

Contest Sponsors

Contest sponsor calendar

Finding sponsors for the prizes was another time intensive part of running the foot skills contest. It definitely required a good deal of pre-work to communicate with companies or products that the players would be interested in. Whatever the duration of your contest, it helps to come up with a list of 2 or 3 times the number of actual sponsors that you’ll need because some won’t get back with you until later and some won’t be interested in participating.

You’ll likely have a lot more success dealing with small or medium sized sponsors because the big companies take a lot longer to make decisions and a lot of them don’t even have a process in place to be able to sponsor a $10 prize for the day.

You may encounter some companies that prefer to give away their own product as a prize rather than support the prize that you’re offering. Keep that in mind when you reach out to sponsors because logistically it could be difficult to deliver certain products.

As part of being a sponsor we also included a summary of their site, product, or service in the contest announcement each day. It really helps to work with companies that you know well because it makes putting together the write-up a lot easier. If you choose companies you’re not familiar with it requires a lot more research and prep time.

Contest sponsor example

One of the cool things about having prize sponsors is that if you do it correctly you can introduce your players and their families to a lot of neat tools that will really help “soccer dads” and “soccer moms” out there.

I know we’re very thankful for all the companies we worked with that helped motivate the players in our contest and that so many were willing to participate is a good sign for youth soccer in this country.

Soccer Contest Results

After reading through the story of the contest you may be thinking that it’s too much work to host something like this event and that the effort isn’t worth the end result. From our perspective, two things made it worth the time and money.

Motivation

The first was the enthusiasm that it generated in the players that joined the virtual “Soccer Stripes Squad”. As a coach you can teach kids tactics and technique but what’s tricky to inspire is getting them to play with passion. If you get them to love the game and to be excited to train it’ll make the soccer experience more rewarding and make them a better player. Each kid is motivated differently but the fact that contests like these get some players into the game makes it worthwhile.

Confidence

The second reason is that all these reps on the ball can really build confidence in a player. All these touches give them additional control and that ease with the ball translates to more confidence on the field. The gift of confidence is one of the most valuable things you can give a young player. However, you can’t really “give” it to them, they have to earn it. Buying them a new pair of cleats might make them feel good for a few minutes into the game but unless they have the control and moves to back up those shiny new shoes it will be temporary confidence. Contests like these are a great way for players to build that confidence and after these 30 days we’ve seen great results in 1v1 situations, small sided games like 4v4, and on the full pitch.

Our goal in publishing this is to make it easier for you to run a contest if you think it would help your players. If you like the idea but don’t have the time then we’d invite your players to join the contests we’ll be running with this virtual team.

Update – After the contest ended we discovered that the smart ball app actually counted a players touches as they went through the drills. That data isn’t available in the coaches dashboard yet but we asked the team at Dribble Up to run a report for this contest and it turns out that for the 30 days he had over 31,000 touches.

To help your player get over 1K touches a day have them join our virtual team. If you’d like to learn more about the Dribble Up ball for your player or about using the ball as a coach or for your club you can enter your email below.

Posted on

Dribble Up Soccer Shooting App Review

The Dribble Up soccer shooting app is out and we had some fun with it last weekend. Until now the ball was good for solo footwork and juggling but the shooting game lets you get better along with your friends or family. You can already match your foot skills against your teammates on the leaderboard but the shooting app is fun because you come together to compete.

Our kids tried it out after getting in some touches in the backyard and had a shoot out against an older player who was training with them. It was his first time using the Dribble Up ball and they had fun showing him how the smart ball worked and challenging their shooting skills.

Dribble Up Shooting Setup

While the kids were going through some drills I setup the app for the shooting game. It took me a bit the first time but it’ll be faster now that I know how it works.

From the home screen of the Dribble Up app you select the Shooting tile and it takes you to this setup screen. Basically it gives you instructions on how to setup the shooting game and also has a video that demonstrates the steps we’ll talk about below.

If you press the “Start” or “Let’s Go” button the app will ask you to scan the smart ball. Typically we’re used to scanning the ball when it’s already in the stand but when setting up the shooting you just hold your phone or tablet in your hand and point it at the ball with the app open and put the ball in the scanning circle. That part was easy, peasy.

Goal Tracking Setup

After scanning the ball you put the device in a stand behind the goal and tap the 4 corners of the goal on the app. We used the new iPad stand Dribble Up came out with recently and it worked pretty well, shown in this photo. It can hold a phone or a tablet, it’s pretty adjustable, sturdy, and it folds up and can fit in your pocket so definitely glad we picked one up.

This setup step is what took me the longest. If you’re kneeling right in front of your iPhone to setup the shooting then you block the camera that’s looking at the back of the goal.

So I had to kneel off to one side of my iPhone in order to see the goal for the next step. There’s a hill behind our goal so we were raised up higher than ground level which made it trickier to angle the phone and setup the goal corners.

As you can see in the picture, the next step is to tap each of the four corners of the goal on the screen. This part was pretty easy, my first tap was too high above the top corner but I simply tapped the actual spot and it reset the goal corner.

One thing I would like is if you could put your finger in the middle of the goal and pinch out to draw a rectangle that covered the 4 goal corners. Would be simpler than tapping each corner but after mentioning that to the DribbleUp team it sounds like they’re working on a solution that would be even easier. However, for the time you tap each corner of the goal to let the app know what area you’re shooting at.

One thing I didn’t realize until after we were done is that I tapped the bottom right corner a little too high. I’ll talk a little later on about how that impacted the shooting game but make sure you get each corner in in the right spot.

After the app knows where the goal is you’re finished with that device, it’ll stay behind the goal the entire time and track the shots.

Contest Device Setup

At this point you need a 2nd device with the Dribble Up app that’s your view into how the game is going, we used a newer iPhone for the tracking (iPhone 8) and an older iPhone (iPhone 5S) for the display.  Always use the newer model device for tracking since they have a faster processor and better camera. You’re supposed to be able to use a combination of Android and iOS devices with shooting but we haven’t tested that so we don’t know what the experience is like.

Open the DribbleUp app on the 2nd device and the home screen of you’ll see a green ribbon at the top that says something like “Shot Tracking Device Found – Tap to Connect”. Once you tap the ribbon it’ll open a setup dialog, as you can see in the photo.

This is where you tell the app whether you’re working on your shooting by yourself or doing a shooting contest by choosing 1 or 2 players.

You can also tell the app how many shots you want to take. If you’re shooting on your own probably just pick Unlimited so you can keep shooting as long as you want.  If you’re doing a contest you can choose  between 3, 5, or 10 shots.

Right now only 2 players can compete at once, I imagine as they build out the game you’ll be able to add additional players. The Dribble Up user shoots first followed by a “Guest” player. It would also be cool if multiple players that had Dribble Up handles could all join the same game.

Dribble Up Shooting Game

Once the setup is complete you’re ready to start shooting. As I mentioned, it takes a bit the first time you go through it but it’s simpler in the future once you’re familiar with it.

Shot Accuracy & Scoring Points

Once you enter in the number of players and the number of shots you’re shown a virtual view of your goal in the app. They divide the goal into 18 different zones and assign a point value for each one depending on how valuable a shot placed in that zone would be.

For example, the highest values are 500 points, both upper 90 corners. To the side and bottom of the upper 90 are zones worth 250. Basically the harder it would be for a keeper to save the shot based on where you place it, the more points you get for it.

The other sections are worth 150, 100, and 25 points. The value gets lower for sections that should be an easy save for the goalie.

Dribble Up Shootout

This view is from the middle of a 3 shot match between GoldenTouch and a Guest player. As you can see Golden Touch is winning, 375 – 350 points, but he’s already taken all 3 of his shots and the Guest player still has one left.  So all the Guest needs to do at this point is hit the goal and they’ll win.

After each player takes a shot the app dings and shows where it landed and how many points they player earned for it.  When it worked the shot tracking was pretty sweet but we did run into two issues as we went through the game.

Goal Alignment

Earlier I mentioned that I had slightly misplaced the bottom right corner of the goal when setting up the tracking. That meant that shots to the bottom right corner of the goal weren’t registered. It made sense after figuring that out when we were finished but was a head scratcher in the middle of the game. So if you have shots that aren’t being picked up at all it could be that you didn’t set up your corners of the goal properly on the tracking device.

Device Connection

The other issue we ran into was with the Bluetooth connection between the tracking device and the viewing device. At one point it lost connection and we had to start the game over again. My son was happy because he was losing the but other player who was ahead wasn’t happy about it. Our viewing device was an older iPhone, an iPhone 5, so not sure if that had something to do with it. When we first started we chose a 10 shot game and were 6 shots in when the connection dropped.

So when we restarted the game we only choose a 5 shot game so we’d be sure to get a winner in case the connection dropped again.

The two shooters were 11 and 20, you can guess which one had the harder shot. The 20 year old shots registered right away every time but once or twice the 11 year old shot’s didn’t register immediately. In those cases the points weren’t awarded for 10-15 seconds after the shot. We didn’t know exactly what was happening in those cases so we just waited for a bit until the shot finally registered and the next player could shoot.

At one point it kind of reminded me of watching an episode of the EA Sports FIFA Live Challenge, pretty neat. When all the tracking was registering it was fun watching the players go back and forth with their shots with the appropriate amount of trash talking in between.

Shooting App Suggestions

After trying out the shooting feature we sent over a few suggestions to the team at Dribble Up.

1) Add a Miss Button

During the second round my son put the ball totally over the goal so it didn’t register at all and the “guest” player couldn’t shoot because the app still thought it was my son’s turn. So he shot again and hit the bottom right post which didn’t register, probably because I messed up the setup as I mentioned earlier.

Finally he took a third shot and put it on goal. Of course the other player was quick to point out that he’d gotten 3 tries to earn points when in reality he should have earned zero points for that shot. It would be nice if there was a “Miss” button so we could indicate a total miss and advance the turn on to the next player.

I imagine at some point the Dribble Up app will be able to register a total miss by itself but until then a “Shank” button would be a nice feature.

2) Allow Game Resume

After we lost connection to the tracking device from the viewing device and reconnected it would have been a lot better if we could have picked up the game where it left off rather than having to restart.

3) Allow Additional Players

It was fun to watch the two players in their shoot out but it would have been more fun if I could have jumped into the contest as well. I’m sure they have plans for this eventually but it’ll be nice when we can have more than just 2 players in a shooting contest. Would also be cool if multiple Dribble Up handles could join a shoot out rather than just 1 Dribble Up user and multiple guests.

4) Game Start Indicator

This one is pretty small but after you finish setting up your game in the app there’s nothing to let you know that you’re done and that the first shooter should start. Some kind of indicator to start the game would be good I think. Perhaps some kind of visual or audio signal to let the next shooter know to go would be helpful.

5) Record the Shot Data

After we were done playing when we stopped the tracking device you could see all the places on the screen where shots had gone. Not sure if that data is saved anywhere but right now there’s no way to see a history of your shot placement. Would be nice to see a history of games and also where your shots ended up.

Summary

Although it has some bugs the shooting feature is pretty slick and I can see us having lots of fun with it on the backyard goal. It’ll be a neat way to create some friendly competition when we’re working on shooting and eventually have a history of shot placement.

The first time you set it up will take the longest as you go through the steps and understand how it all works together. You do need two devices which could be an issue if you only have 1 phone or tablet. I am glad they set it up to use 2 devices because it wouldn’t really have been convenient to have someone running back behind the goal to look at the contest status.

From what they’ve said you can connect across different types of devices, like Android and iOS but we haven’t tried that yet. I’m glad they used Bluetooth rather than requiring an internet connection to have the 2 devices communicate because a lot people don’t have a connection available at the soccer field.

I can see the shooting app have a functional use in additional to just creating some fun competition. If you set it in single player mode you can certainly use the app to track your shots and work on your shot placement. The app won’t lie to you, you’ll know if you’re putting the ball in the best spots and be able to see if you can do it more consistently.

Unless you’re working on your free kicks or penalty kicks I wouldn’t practice shooting a dead ball. How many chances do you get in a game to shoot a ball sitting still in front of the goal? Good to take a setup touch first before you take your shot to help you train like you play. That being said, it never hurts to practice placing your penalty kicks. I’ve already seen many youth games where simple PK’s are sent wide, over the crossbar, or right at the goalie.

Coaches don’t often work on penalty kicks at practice since there are so many other important technical and tactical topics to cover during the relatively short period of time you’re with the coach. However, if you can make the time at home to train your shot then you’ll give your team a boost the next time they run into a PK situation. When the coach asks who’s up for the pressure of the PK it’ll be easier to step up and face down the goalie.

Overall it’s a cool addition to the juggling and footwork in the Dribble Up app and once they implement some version of the suggested improvements it’ll be even better.

Posted on

Dribble Up Soccer App Review

The new Dribble Up soccer app released yesterday has a lot of upgrades that make it easier for players to train with the smart ball. To celebrate the launch of the new app we’re running a special. Your discount will be applied in the cart, click the size ball you need to add to cart - Size 4 | Size 5

Better Ball Tracking

One of the biggest differences for players is that you don’t have to hold the ball up to the app to scan it any longer. Now once you start a playlist you leave the ball on the ground and simply roll it into the middle of the tracking circle. Not only is this a lot more convenient it just “feels” a lot better as a soccer coach.

I don’t know how many times I told my 5 year old daughter’s team “no hands” when they went to touch the ball yet my 11 year old was picking up the ball every time he wanted to start a Dribble Up playlist. We were willing to use our hands because the smart ball was so great in many other ways but now that we don’t have to pick it up to scan the ball it makes the whole experience even better.

The overall ball tracking is definitely improved. When you do your first playlist with the new app you’ll notice that the tracking seems smoother, not jumpy like it used to feel at times. The ball tracker seems a lot more fluid and moves much more quickly across the screen along with the ball.

No Smart Ball Required

Another new feature in the Dribble Up app is that you can do the drills without actually owning a smart ball. When you choose a playlist or drill and click Start you come to the screen where you scan the smart ball. On that screen there’s a button that says “Continue With Any Ball” that lets you do the drills without a smart ball.

If you click through and press “Start Workout” the video preview of the drills shows and it times you while you run through the drills with your own soccer ball. The virtual cones stay red and it doesn’t do any tracking of your performance but it does let you go through the drills without a smart ball.

 

Player Customization

Trainer Feedback
My daughter is not a fan of the verbal feedback the app gives her as she’s working on her playlist. Her least favorite is when she’s working on her weak foot and struggling along and the virtual trainer tells her “needs to be better”. Sometimes she snaps back “I’m doing the best I can”. Well now she’ll be much happier because a player can turn off the audio feedback if they don’t want to hear it.

Background Music
We like the music in the background when we’re out on a soccer field but when we’re using the Dribble Up ball at home sometimes we crank up the Alexa Show with a Spotify playlist and don’t want the background music so now it’s nice that you can toggle that on and off as well.

Preview videos
In one of our Dribble Up smart ball lessons learned posts we suggest reviewing the preview videos before you do a drill so you know how the move works before you track yourself in it’s performance. We still recommend that for players new to Dribble Up or for players doing a new move for the first time. However, for players that know the drills well they might not want to watch the previews each time. The new version of the Dribble Up app lets you turn off the preview videos. We’ve seen that requested by several coaches on Facebook so that’s a welcome feature for some.

Player Profiles
If you have multiple players that share the same device like we do there’s another new feature that comes in really handy. It used to be that if you wanted to share a smart ball and a device that the players had to sign out/sign in when switching back and forth.

Now on the Settings screen there’s an option to switch player profile right inside the app and you can easily go back and forth between multiple profiles once you setup the password for each one.

Training Options

The latest version of the app has multiple different programs that you can choose between. These programs are cool because it sets the player up with a playlist for each day. You can choose your training program in the app settings screen. Here are the ones they offer:

  • 30 Day Program
  • 14 Day Youth
  • 14 Day Intermediate
  • 14 Day Expert
  • 14 Day Pro
  • Daily Touches for Beginners

I still think they should offer a weak foot program that gets kids regularly working on their weak foot.

New Drills & Playlists

One of the moves that we requested be added was the Scissors so we’re glad to see that in the new version. Some of the other moves that the app has added are:

-Triple Sole Role
-Elastico
-V’s (Left, Right, V-Tap)
-Three Step (we call this Brazilian toe taps)
-In & Out Rolls (Left and Right)

In addition to adding new playlists Dribble Up also released new videos for playlists. Now the video starts zoomed out on the whole trainer’s body doing the move and then zooms in on their feet to give you a better idea of how the move is made. If you’ve been using the app for a while one thing to note is that a few of the drills were renamed:

Squirts -> Push Outs
Side Taps -> Foundations
Ball Steps -> Toe Taps

That’s why it’s good to watch the preview video first, to see what the drill actually looks like.  We had turned off the preview to test out the new settings option and were running through one of the new programs. One of the drills was the Triple Sole Role which we hadn’t done before and without the video preview we just guessed at what to do and our score definitely suffered.

One comment we have is about the Outside Scissors skill. We always emphasis to our players that they should explode into the push with the outside of the foot after the scissors move. The move gets the defender to lean one way and then you create space by exploding into that push the opposite direction. The video shows the push as just a tap but we’d like our kids to train with it as a big push so that’s one adjustment that could be made to the drill video.

Improvements
The team leaderboards are working much better than they used to. In the past there was a maximum number of players you could show at once on a leaderboard but now it shows however many players are part of a team. The leaderboard sorting also appears more accurate based on the players performance than it was in the past.

 

Training Calendar

Dribble Up added a training calendar along with their various programs so you can see your progress over time.

The app already showed you your drill history so you could look at how you were progressing in terms of technical ability but it didn’t really have a time component. Now it has a calendar so you can see how you’re doing in terms of training consistently over time. There’s a calendar view for both Homework and also for Practice Drills.

One of the things I liked about Techne Futbol was that it showed you how many days of a training streak you had going. Psychologists have shown us that once you get a streak going you’re more likely to do the work necessary to keep it alive. You get a taste of that with the new calendar view in this app update.

 

Summary

As you can see from this screenshot the main Dribble Up app screen has also been updated. I like how it organizes the Practice Drills, Homework, and your Teams. I already follow Dribble Up on Instagram so I don’t really need that tile but I can see how it’d be convenient for folks that don’t.

Overall the new app version seems to make it easier for a  player to train with Dribble Up. The better ball tracking, player customization,  training programs, new drills & videos, and the training calendar really show a focus on the making the overall experience better for players. I have to say I’ve been impressed with how the team has incorporated player and coach feedback into the new app version and think it’s a big improvement.

One thing I would like to be able to do that I don’t see anymore is a list of all the drills you’ve done over time and your scores for them. It seems now you have to go into the calendar view to get access to your drill history.

 

Shot Tracking

I know a lot of people were hoping to see the shot tracking functionality as part of this release. We were as well so I texted the Dribble Up team to check on it’s progress. They sent me back a sneak peek video of them in their “soccer lab” working on the shooting functionality the day after they released this update so they’re definitely working on it.

Sounds like the shooting tracker is coming pretty soon so stay tuned for more exciting app updates in the coming weeks. I think we’re going to be able to do a beta test of it next week, we’ll share our experience. Enter your email below for more info on Dribble Up updates and shot tracking. [Update: Dribble Up ran a live competition with the shooting feature at a tournament last weekend and will release the feature in the next week or two]

DribbleUp Smart Soccer Ball

 

Posted on

Parents Guide to Youth Competitive Soccer Clubs & Soccer Tryouts

If you’re trying to find a local soccer club to join, deciding which competitive soccer club to choose, looking for a travel soccer team, or wondering which select soccer team tryout to attend this guide was written for you.

At the end of every Spring soccer season we get lots of questions about which youth soccer program to sign up for or which soccer association to register with if your child is ready to play competitive youth soccer.

We know you’re probably too busy to read this whole guide but we can promise you this, the

  • More Money you spend…
  • More Time your family invests…
  • More Stressed out you feel…
  • More your daughter or son falls in love with soccer…

the more valuable you’ll realize this guide is.

Here’s a challenge you’ll face. When your kid first starts out it probably won’t make sense why all this is important. It might even seem silly to put in the time we suggest you invest to choose the right soccer team and the best soccer club for your player.

However, the longer your kid plays for the club the more you’ll realize whether you made a good choice or whether you regret it. A year is a long time in a kid’s life and for any soccer family it’s a big decision. We want you to look back on your soccer club tryouts and know you didn’t just settle for the nearest soccer club or the one at the top of the youth soccer rankings.

We want you to feel confident and excited about your choice of youth soccer clubs and know that you considered all the important criteria when picking the right soccer team for your family.

The difference between a great club and an average club (in our opinion) is that a great club puts the development of the players first. It’s not about the coaches or how many championships or medals they win. Question is, how do you know if they put the players first? Many soccer club websites will say they’re about player development but how can you actually tell?

We’ll start off with a quick summary of what we think is important and give you a list of questions you can ask coaches & clubs to get down to the details of how they actually work. A big part of choosing the right team is picking the right club so we’ll give you the information you need to find a club that’s right for you.

Lastly, we’ll talk about helping your player get ready for soccer club tryouts.

Where to Start?
One of the simplest ways for you as a parent to help navigate the world of youth soccer is by asking yourself the following question any time you have to make a decision about your player. Does this help or hurt my kid developing as a player and a person?

We hear from soccer families in SoCal, Orlando, Houston, Ellicott City, Chicago, Kansas City, Denver, Phoenix, and soccer cities all across the US. Although the leagues, regulations, and clubs differ around the country answering that one question always seems to make it easier for you to make decisions that you’re happy with months and years down the road.

When you’re new to youth soccer there are a lot of things you don’t know about the sport and the organizations involved. Coaches, team managers, registrars, and other parents will be asking you to make decisions about your player that are new to you. You’ll rely heavily on the advice of others so you’ll have a lot of uncertainty about whether you’re making the right choices. That’s why it’s nice to rely on that simple test – does this help or hurt my kid developing as a player and a person?

Typically for competitive youth soccer in the US when you commit to a club it’s for a year, the Fall and Spring season. A lot can happen in a whole year in a kid’s young soccer career. A year is definitely long enough for a kid to fall in love with the sport and to thrive in the right club/team for them.

It’s also unfortunately enough time for bad experiences to sour a kid on the game and drive them away from soccer forever. That’s why this guide exists, to help you make decisions about soccer and your kid that will help them get the most out of their time on the field next season.

“Put Me In Coach”
We can all sing those four words from John Fogerty’s famous song with gusto because we know what it feels like to be on the bench and itching to get into a match. They also sum up the two most important parts of the game, the player and the coach.

In youth soccer the coaches job is to be teacher. How well prepared they are to teach your kid to love and compete in soccer is the biggest question you want to answer as a parent. In this guide we’ll look at how you can gauge coach competency and a coaches commitment to continually improving themselves as a coach.

The organization she or he coaches for plays a huge role in both how the coach prepares themselves and also with the plan that’s followed to develop the skills of your player.

The 3 main areas we’ll give you questions to ask about are:

  • Coach Competency
  • Coach Development
  • Player Development

If player development is your main concern as a parent why do we list coach competency and development ahead of player development you might ask? The answer is simple. Clubs and teams that put a lot of emphasis on high quality coaching typically see that translate into well planned and executed player development systems.

This holds true whether your child is 5 and playing soccer for the first time or 15 and figuring out where they fit into an 11v11 team. If you get these wrong then the next set of factors we’ll cover won’t be able to makeup for shortcomings in coaching or player development.

For example let’s say your player is on a team with a coach who understands the game but not necessarily how to teach young kids. On the other hand the cost is low, facilities are great, and practices are close by. That team might check a lot of boxes but if your kid is frustrated or stressed because the coach isn’t connecting with them then chances are they’ll eventually be unhappy and either want to quit the sport or switch to a different club.

If you’re lucky enough to have found several teams with quality coaches and player development approaches then there are additional other things to consider:

  • Club Mission/Values
  • Accountability
  • Programming
  • Safety
  • Facilities
  • Finances
  • Travel
  • Organization
  • Community
  • Parent Engagement

In this guide we’ll go over questions to ask about each one of these areas and also explain why it’s important to your player. If you just want a list of the questions to ask without all the explanation enter your email address and we’ll send it to you.

Who is this Coach?
When you’re looking at a new club one of the things we would ask about is their minimum required level of coaching education. What’s the lowest level of coaching education a coach must have to be a coach in their club? If the answer is no minimum then we’d move onto the next club.

As an example, my 8 year old daughter’s team played against a good team from a neighboring city last season. The opposing team was a little overmatched and their coach was getting frustrated with his girls for mistakes they were making on the field. He was correct about how his players should have handled the situations on the field and what they should have done differently. However, the way he was yelling at his players wouldn’t have motivated any 8 year old I know to keep playing soccer.

Curious, we looked up his coaching profile on their club’s website after the weekend and saw that although he had experience playing soccer he didn’t have much coaching experience and little formal coaching education.

It’s not that having coaching education means you won’t ever yell at your players but a coach who’s been given the tools can teach their players in training and in games with methods that are more effective than simply yelling at 8 year olds.

Coach Competency

The minimum level of training that you’re looking for depends on the age of your player.

The level of the license a coach earns is based on the age group that they want to be trained to coach. It can be confusing because the names of the licenses and diplomas have changed over time but it’s important to understand that the training is age based.
There are 2 main bodies in the US that train coaches, US Soccer and United Soccer Coaches. Both have their own licenses coaches can earn. US Soccer calls them licenses and United Soccer Coaches calls them diplomas.

US Soccer used to have an E and F license. The F covered ages 5-8 and the E covered players ages 9-12. Now they have the 4v4, 7v7, 9v9, 11v11 licenses as part of the Grassroots Licenses that align with the new US soccer age group guidelines.

United Soccer Coaches used to be known as National Soccer Coaches Association of America and had a Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 Diploma for the younger ages. Now they offer Foundations of Coaching, 4v4 , 7v7/9v9, 11v11, and Advanced Diplomas.

The alphabet soup of acronyms can be confusing so here’s a chart to help simplify which level of coaching education to ask about depending on the age of your player.

 

 

 

It’s actually good to find a coach who’s studied the level above where your child will play so they understand the level they need to be able to coach your kid up to in order to move onto the next age group.

Some of the training is online but I’d look for a coach that’s gone through the in person sessions. One of the main benefits of in person training is what they learn both from their instructors and also from their coaching peers in the course. Finding coaching mentors and also forming a network of coaches is an invaluable step that makes a coach more capable of meeting the training needs of your kid and their teammates.

One thing to note is that for coaches who are interested in self-improvement, years of coaching experience can give them the same type of “on the job” training. So if you have someone who’s been coaching younger age groups for 10 years as part of a respected club then chances are they’ve learned far more than they would have in a coaching course.

If you’re still wondering why coaching education makes a difference for your kid let’s take a look at some of the self-reflection the courses ask the coaches to go through. Coaches are asked to think, write, and talk about the importance of development in the competitive environment. They’re also challenged to examine the differences between a player-centered versus a coach-centered training and game environment.

Basically putting the focus on your player and making them better rather than the desire the coach may have to only play the most developed players and focus on getting the win. Also to focus on teaching teams the important fundamentals necessary for their age and using them in a game, even if that means the team doesn’t win.

A great example of this is teaching kids to be technically skilled enough to be able to play a controlled pass from the goalie to a defender rather than the goalie just booting the ball down the field. In a game younger kids will make mistakes, lose the ball, and the team will be scored on. A focus on player development will allow a coach to let players know that mistakes like that are ok as long as they’re trying to do what the team worked on in practice.

Coach Development & Your Player

Here’s an example of a objective the coaching courses try to reach with each participant:

“Design and deliver an appropriate, reality based, progressive training session that will teach principles of attacking and defending in a small-sided game environment.”

Kind of a mouthful but what does it mean for your kid? Let’s look at each part of it below to show why coaching development is important for your player.

Design – The course gives coaches tools and methods for planning out a practice. A prepared coach will have a specific topic in mind that their team needs to improve on and will plan their practice around that.

A lot of times an instructor will give a coach a sample topic, for example here are some of the ones coaches had in a recent license course. Improve your team’s ability to:

  • create scoring chances from wide positions
  • recover the ball in the defensive half
  • ability to defend zonally
  • recover the ball in the attacking half
  • build up from the defensive half

One way to think about it is as an elementary teacher preparing a lesson plan to teach their students fractions. Except in this case the coach is creating a plan to help teach your child and their teammates how to build up from the defensive half.

Deliver – This helps a coach with the execution of the training plan. How early do I need to arrive to get setup before practice begins. How large should I make my cone grid? How do I introduce this concept to the players? What does the flow of the players look like? This helps a coach think through the details to help the training session go more smoothly for your kid.

Appropriate – This is really about recognizing the skill level of your player and their teammates in relation to the complexity of the topic.
For example, it’s a waste of your kid’s time to try and teach them about offsides when they’re not old enough to grasp it. The idea is to avoid introducing topics that are too complicated that will only frustrate the player and coach and take up practice time that could be spent learning something their brains are ready for.

Reality based – Does the environment that the coach places your kid into simulate actual situations that could occur in a game? Is the coach helping your player think about the skills they’re learning in the context of the game?

Progressive – Using a progressive approach means starting with a simple version of a concept and adding more complexity to the drill once your player demonstrates they understand the basic form of the concept.

You’ll be able to spot coaches that don’t understand or use this approach because they’ll start practice off with something that’s too complex and the kids won’t “get it”. The players get frustrated and lose interest. The coach gets frustrated with the kids and might start yelling and it goes downhill from there.

Of course this can happen even with coaches that have gone through the training because it’s human nature to get frustrated when you have a picture in your mind of how things should go and it’s not working out like that.

The difference is that trained coaches have made a plan and they’ve planned a progression so that they introduce a concept and they don’t move on until enough players understand it.

A progression doesn’t have to only be within a single practice. A trained coach can have a vision for where they think the team should be and also a plan for getting them there. The progression of complexity might build practice after practice during the season

Teach principles – Part of the planning taught in the coaching education courses are deciding which specific points to focus on in a training session.

For example for the topic of recovering the ball in the defensive half the coach might include details like the following in their session planning:

  • Who – 1,2,3,4,5,6,8
  • Where – Defensive half
  • When – Opponent attacking from mid-field into defensive half
  • What – Apply pressure on opponent while keeping defensive shape and avoiding numerical mis-matches
  • Why – Deny goal scoring opportunities and attempt to start counter attack after recovering possession
  • How – Closest player to the ball apply pressure, Close down attacking player quickly & then contain, Position body to force attacker to sideline or into other defender, Eliminate gaps between defenders in back line

Having broken a practice down ahead of time allows the coach to work with your player on very specific coaching points

The training also teaches coaches the most effective way to interject themselves into a training session so that they let your kid play and learn first on their own and then step in to make observations/comments at the appropriate time.

A very useful approach for helping your player learn faster and think for themselves is the method of guided discovery. Taught in many coaching courses, this approach can help your coach teach your child soccer principles that will stick with them. Guided discovery is probably not the method that an untrained coach would use to teach soccer skills. However a coach that’s seen it in use and recognized how effective it can be in teaching youth players is much more likely to use it.

Attacking & Defending
Teaching your kid to recognize what their role is on the field at a certain time will look different from age group to age group. As will helping them understand how that role changes based on which team has the ball and what part of the field they’re on.

Small-sided games – If your kid’s coach has gone through coaching education courses they’ll understand how to choose the right small sided game to reinforce the specific topic they’re coaching.

A small sided game is NOT just a scrimmage with only a few number of players. The layout of the field, the role & positioning of players, the constraints on players, & the rules of play for a small sided game are all carefully crafted so that your kid can have fun while she or he is getting a lot of touches and working on very specific skills or concepts.

Experienced coaches will have a whole “library” of these games in their head. However even newer coaches who haven’t coached much but have gone through training will understand how to apply a small sided game based on what they’re trying to teach your player.

The best way to see these things in action is to attend a practice for a team that you’re considering joining. Watch for things like this:

  • Does the coach arrive early and setup the training session?
  • Does the coach teach one topic (ex: defending, finishing) or do they have the players switching between a range of things like free kicks, throw-ins, passing?
  • Is there a lot of time spent standing in line?
  • Do players seem to understand the point of the drills? Do they seem confident or do they seem confused?
  • Do the drills seem to engage the players? Do all players participate?
  • Does the coach make adjustments if things aren’t going well?
  • Does the coach do a lot of yelling?
  • Does the coach jump right into complex topics or start simple and add complexity as they go?
  • Does the coach make coaching points during training? Do they continue to work on a skill or concept until the players grasp it or do they just move on in the interest of time?
  • Do they end with a small sided game?

Now that we’ve talked about the coach’s role in your child’s club let’s take a look at how the club approaches player development.

Player Development

What you want to find out is whether the club has a tested plan for helping your child develop. If so, do they also have people and processes in place to implement that plan? And do they have people and processes in place to make adjustments when the plan doesn’t work?

Can you get lucky with a coach and club that doesn’t have these things but does a great job for your kid? Of course but without trained coaches and a player development plan the odds are not as high. In addition, your son or daughter may have a good coach for a few years but eventually your kid will outgrow that coach. Just like your school district doesn’t give your kid the same teacher and curriculum K – 12, having the same coach their whole soccer career probably isn’t the best for your kid.

Here are some questions you can ask about player development:

  1. Who creates the player development plan?
  2. How do coaches know what part of the plan to teach on a given week or month?
  3. Who is in charge of coordinating the plan with the coaches is the plan age group specific?
  4. What happens to kids who come into the club behind in development?
  5. What happens to kids who fall behind their team in development?
  6. Is your kid’s coach the only one responsible for helping them progress through the plan?
  7. Are there other resources for your coach to help your player in areas where they are struggling?
  8. Is it possible for a player to play with multiple groups of kids? Ex: the second team in their age group and also the top team in their age group?
  9. What is the club’s approach to playing time versus winning games?
  10. What is the club’s approach to choosing where on the field to play a kid?
  11. What happens if a player really excels and is developing far faster than their peers?
  12. Who performs player evaluations? How often are they done and how are the results used/shared?
  13. How do your coaches ensure that their team has quality levels of competition and games?
  14. What is the ratio of time spent training to playing in games?
  15. Does the club have teams in a range of divisions?
  16. Does the club have teams that are typically in the top few divisions?
  17. Does the club have teams to participate in the Development Academy or the ENCL?
  18. What is the reputation of the club among other coaches?
  19. Is the club constantly adding players or more frequently losing players?
  20. How are the resources divided among the club? How are the second and third level teams treated in terms of coaching and training?
  21. Does the club have a recreational soccer program where players can move from rec into competitive?

That last question is important because it provides the club with a good pool of players which is helpful for your child. You want your kid playing with a group of players around their same level. If the player pool is small then chances are your son or daughter will be playing with kids who are either more developed or less developed than them.

This makes it tricky for the coach to run a really quality training session because they either have to exclude the less developed players or build their session plans to accommodate the abilities of the lease develop players.

Have you heard parents talk about how the smart kids are bored in school because they’re not challenged? The same thing can happen to a good player who’s on a team with kids who aren’t as far along as they are.

They know they can get away with half effort and partial focus and still be the top player. What you really want is them to be surrounded by other players who are as good or better than them. This will challenge them and push them to improve and make them work their hardest.

Having a good base of rec players makes the overall player pool much bigger and gives your child a better chance of being on a team with similarly skilled kids.

Evaluating Players

Soccer clubs that have a process in place to evaluate players are more likely to help your kid find the right team for thier level of development. That’s not to say if there’s no formal process that coaches won’t place them on the right team but having an approach to letting players (and parents) understand the progress they’re making allows coaches to more easily track and communicate development to club families.

The clubs that have a player evaluation process typically do it once a season or once a year. They often use a standarard set of criteria to rate your player based on a range of abilities from technical/tactical/physical/mental. It’s pretty time consuming for the coach but the benefit is that it helps you and your player understand the areas where they’re doing well and also the things they should work on.

Many clubs have their own evaluation forms they use and some use systems like iSport360, Team Genius, or Zoom Reports

Below is an example of what an evaluation form for your player could include. Typically it would show an average rating for an age group to show where the expected level of development would be and also your child’s rating. You can see why it would take a coach a while to rate each of their players on all of these criteria but you can also see how it would be helpful to know as a parent what areas your player might need additional work in.

TACTICAL:

  • Defending (1v1)
  • Attacking (1v1)
  • Communication
  • Decision Making
  • Movement off the ball

Position Specific

  • High pressing & ball recovery
  • Penetration with and without the ball
  • Changing the rhythm of the game
  • Mark and control opposing holding midfield player
  • Ability to find space & lose a marker

TECHNICAL:

  • First Touch (receiving)
  • Passing
  • Dribbling
  • Shooting (finishing)
  • Heading
  • Tackling
    Ability to play with non dominate foot

Position Specific

  • Comfortable dealing with the ball
  • Skillful in tight space
  • Shielding skills
  • Final pass
  • Dribbling to create scoring chances for others
  • Dribbling to create scoring chances for self
  • 2v1 situations
  • Disguise

MENTAL SKILLS

  • Self Confidence
  • Concentration
  • Determination
  • Mental Toughness
  • Coachability

Position Specific

  • Creative mind and clear thinker
  • Imagination
  • Risk-taker
  • Aggressive intelligence
  • Instinctive

PHYSICAL

  • Speed
  • Agility/quickness
  • Strength
  • Aggressiveness
  • Endurance
  • Strength in duels
  • Mobility
  • Recovery power and capacity

 

Club Mission, Values, & Accountability

The quality of a soccer club has a lot to do with the leadership that’s guiding it. This isn’t something you’ll able to observe at tryouts so it’s a good idea to research it ahead of time.

All clubs should be governed by a board of directors.

  1. Who makes up the Board of Directors?
  2. What is their accountability for results?
  3. How are they elected?
  4. In the last few years have board members been added? Why were they added?
  5. Have board members left recently? Why did they leave?
  6. How does the board make decisions, what are the guiding principles when making decisions?

If you’ve never been part of a club with a dysfunctional board before then these questions may seem silly. We’ve seen what happens to the morale of the coaches, parents, and players when the board’s not up to the task of making decisions that are in the best interest of the club moving forward.

One thing that can help guide a board is the mission, vision, and strategic plans for the club. You want to be part of a club that has a picture in their mind of where your player should end up. They should know what that experience should look like and have policies and rules in place help make that happen.

Finding a club with a vision is important so that your kid can grow along with the club. Soccer clubs that don’t have a vision and a plan are more focused on operations. They worry about what they need to do to get through the season to the next season.

A club that has a vision for the future is making decisions not just for the short term but also for the long-term. This is important because player development takes years. If you have multiple kids you could be with the club for a long time. Soccer and the youth game is constantly changing in this country. You don’t want to be part of a club that thinks about things is the same way today they did 15 years ago. You want to be part of a club that keeps what’s working but adapts what isn’t working or what is changing.

So how can you measure this? Here are some questions you can ask.

  1. What new programs have they put in place in the last five years?
  2. What major changes have happened in the club?
  3. Has the club seen an increase in the number of teams that play at a higher level?
  4. Are there players from the club who go on to play with their high school teams?
  5. Are there kids that go on to play soccer in college?
  6. What new technologies have been implemented?
  7. What new injury prevention has been implemented?
  8. What new training has been added?
  9. What kind of mentorship programs have been implemented?

If you visit many clubs websites they’ll list a handful of guiding principles. What you want to know is whether they’re simply published on the website or if they actually influence how the club operates? Also, do you agree with those principles in their approach?

  1. If you asked a player could they name the principles?
  2. If you asked a parent could they name the principles?
  3. If you asked a coach could they name the principles?

One of the clubs we’re part of has five core values. During this season that coaches talked about those values at the end of practice. They discussed how they actually impact everyone in the soccer club – players, parents, coaches, referees, opponents.

  • Humility
  • Unity
  • Respect
  • Passion
  • Tradition

Talking about the values isn’t the end of it. Introducing them creates a reference point so if something happens in practice or during a game we can ask, is that a good example of showing respect? We can address challenges that come up in the course of the season through the frame of the core values.

The main thing you want to know is whether the club is just paying lip service or if they’re actually implementing those principles in the club.

That may not be important to you but we think it’s good to know because we think of soccer as a way to develop kids in more than just sports and the kids who are more well-rounded and developed over all go on to become better people and better athletes.

It’s nice to know when you get involved in a club what is expected of you as a soccer family. Publishing expectations is a good place to start.

  1. Does the club have a set of expectations for parents, for coaches, and for players?
  2. Do they publish those expectations on the website and distribute them to everyone in the club?
  3. Are those expectations explained and enforced?
  4. What expectations does the club have for the players who wear their uniform ?
  5. What expectations does the club have for the parents of their players and how they act?
  6. What is the parents expected role and what things does the club want the parents to avoid?
  7. What expectation does the club have for coaches to teach the players?

We ask our players to be accountable, it also makes sense to ask the club leadership to be accountable as well.

  1. How are coaches evaluated?
  2. How is the technical director evaluated?
  3. How is the director of coaching evaluated?
  4. Do teams and families reviews coaches?
  5. If you were to ask another coach from another team what they thought of your club what would they say?

Finances

The cost of playing competitive soccer is a barrier to many families, especially if you have more than one kid who wants to play.

The costs of playing varies from club to club and each one handles the fees a little differently so it’s not always the easiest to compare. Most clubs will break down the cost on their website so it’s a good idea to check it out before going to tryouts.

What you’re really interested in is the total annual estimated cost of playing with that club. Here are some of the fees they might list on the site or on the flyer at tryouts:

  • Coaching fees
  • Club fees
  • Uniforms
  • Training
  • Facility fees
  • Tournament fees

We’re part of a group of soccer families online called Scholarships for Soccer and one parent in the group recently asked about the costs of competitive soccer. There were families from around the country who shared the costs of playing in their soccer club in places like Detroit, Chesapeake Bay, Cincinnati, Chicago, Washington State, Illinois, Nevada, Jacksonville, Alaska, Syracuse, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. There are the numbers they shared:

  • Highest – $3600
  • Lowest – $1330
  • Average – $2100

That seemed to cover coaching fees, club fees, league fees, and uniforms in most cases. The lower end didn’t include the costs of soccer tournaments. Most of those estimates also didn’t the cost of travel or equipment like cleats or goalie gear. That’s a lot more than my parents paid to have us play YMCA soccer when I was a kid!

Of course that doesn’t mean you can’t play for less than those families pay. I’m sure if you look hard enough in your area you’ll be able to find clubs that have lower fees. This is just to give you an example of what some families pay in other parts of the country.

Saving Money

There are a few ways to save money for new soccer parents. Often times clubs will charge lower coaching fees for younger age groups so if you’re just getting started the cost might be lower. If you have multiple kids playing with a club be sure to ask if they offer a sibling discount. If you’re an organized person many clubs offer a discount on coaching or club fees for a player if the parent volunteers to be the team manager for the season. Another way to lower the cost may be to pay for everything up front. Many clubs offer a payment plan where you can make monthly payments throughout the year but they’re willing to give you a discount if you pay everything up front.

Higher Costs

One thing that can actually cost more is playing on an academy team. The difference in cost between the regular competitive teams and Academy level teams is usually due to:

  • More training sessions = higher facility costs
  • Additional travel
  • Higher level tournaments (often more expensive)
  • Additional uniform kit
  • Additional training like technical or speeding/agility

So if your child is trying out for the highest level team you can expect expenses to be higher. Hopefully if that’s the case you’ll be notified before tryouts. For example the Sporting Kansas City Academy program sends out the email below when you register for their tryouts:

Extensive travel is required on weekends to places such as: Colorado, Texas, Florida, Indiana, etc

Regional Travel is required on select weekends to places such as: Texas, St. Louis, Tulsa, etc

Players may miss 5 to 8 day sof school per semester due to travel and showcase tournaments

The SKC U14s are partially funded. Sporting KC takes care of the following: coaching fees, uniform fees, field rental cost, tournament entry fees, league fees, and player registration fees. The players are responsible for paying for the following: transportation, room & board while traveling plus a membership fee. The membership fee will pay for a SKC season ticket for the player.

If you signup for tryouts and you don’t know these types of details beforehand its a good idea to do some research before showing up to tryout. You don’t want your kid to get an offer to play for a team that’s way beyond your budget.

You can ask if the club offers fundraising options for the players because that can help offset your costs. Many clubs also hold their own fundraising events like poker tournaments for the parents or FIFA tournaments for the kids and some of the money raised goes towards player scholarships for kids who are really talented but can’t afford to cover all the required fees.

Is Competitive Soccer Worth The Cost?

In our opinion the coaching fee is where you get the most bang for your buck. The coach is the most important part of your kid’s soccer experience and a good coach is well worth the money. If you take the number of hours a good coach will dedicate to games, training, and planning practice for your player over a year the cost of their time is pretty low.

We know some parents don’t like paying those fees and would rather have a volunteer coach. However, like many things in life you get what you pay for. Coaches who are paid to coach often take their job more seriously and put a lot of time into it. One exception would be coach a who has a child on a team. They’re more likely to put in the effort without payment. The question then becomes are they qualified/experienced enough and can they be an objective coach with their own child on the team?

Another fee we feel is worth the cost is programming provided by the club in the form of additional training. We talk more about the value of this later in the guide.

The one area we feel is the biggest waste of money are the uniforms. When my 7 year old daughter started playing competitive soccer it was bad enough we had to spend about $150 on her uniform but when you added up the costs for both our kids we were looking at over $400.

That’s a tough check to write and you have to pay it all up front to get the jersey’s ordered and back in time before the first game the following season. Often times right after you commit to a team the club has you order the uniform which pretty much locks many family’s into the club for at least a year because many people wouldn’t want to switch after paying all that money for uniforms. The one cost saving tip we can offer for youth soccer uniforms is to order them large so your player can wear them 2 years in a row.

To answer the bigger question of whether competitive soccer is worth the cost that really comes down to your family and what you hope to get out of youth soccer. We have 3 kids playing soccer, the youngest in rec soccer and the older two in competitive soccer. For us the confidence they’re building and the lessons they’re learning with their teams is well worth the money. However, that’s a lifestyle choice that our family has made. In the Spring and the Fall (and often the Winter) our weekends are mostly centered around soccer games so we’re not out spending money on many other things. For us the experience is worth the money and at the end of this guide we’ll share some lessons learned.

Club Facilities

The indoor and outdoor fields that a club has available for training and games can make a big difference in your player’s experience.

Distance

As a parent one of the first things you’ll probably want to know about is how far you have to drive.  The distance to the practice fields from where you live is an important question because that’s where you’ll spend the most time during the season. Most clubs list their practice locations on their website so it’s a good idea to lookup where they train to see how much time you and your kids will have to spend in the car each week.

You’ll also want to know what league they play their games in and where those fields are located. Some teams choose to travel to other cities to compete to find higher levels of competition. Here in Kansas City we have teams that drive from 3-4 hours away to play in the Heartland league. If the team your daughter or son tries out for has to travel that far to play you’ll want to know ahead of time. Usually the league works with teams from other states to schedule multiple games on a weekend so they only have to make the trip a few times in the season but it still eats up several weekends in the Fall and Spring.

You may have read about how Clint Dempsey’s family drove the 6 hour round trip to Dallas and back 2 or 3 times a week when he was 11 years old. That might have worked for his family but most kids aren’t Clint Dempsey so make sure the location of training and games fits into your family before you signup for a whole season or year.

Quality

Our kids have practiced on some pretty sketchy fields in the past and it can impact the quality of the training session. It’s more difficult to work on a good first touch and playing the ball quickly when you’re training on a field that feels like a cow pasture and the ball is bouncing every which way. This is especially true with younger kids where disruptions due to the field can distract and interrupt them more easily and really mess up the flow of your training session. Be sure to ask about whether the fields the team practices on are grass or turf and what the condition of those fields are.

Indoor Facilities

Often the Spring season sees the most rainy weather and the most frequent practice rain outs due to soaked fields or inclement weather. On a really cold or rainy Spring you could see a big percentage of outdoor training sessions cancelled at the beginning of the season.

It’s nice to belong to a soccer club that has access to indoor facilities where your team can practice in the event of bad weather. Competitive soccer clubs typically practice and play over the winter months as well but not having enough indoor space available can really impact the amount of time your player gets to spend with their team.

Field Capacity

Clubs that don’t have sufficient access to practice fields can also impact your kid’s training schedule. In some cases limited field space can mean packing lots of teams into a crowded space and coaches don’t have the room they need to run their training session as they’d like.

Another problem it creates is the scheduling of practices. We’ve had some pretty young kids practicing pretty late at night in the past because it was the only time the team could reserve field space. A really late start means they’re more mentally fatigued and less capable of listening and focusing at practice when they’re younger. Of course it also means a later bedtime and can be the cause of grouchy kids the next morning.

We’ve also seen the case where limited field space has created really early afternoon practices that are difficult for parents to get their kids there on time. So be sure to ask about what kind of training facilities are available to your child’s team before you accept a position with a youth soccer club.

Club Programming

The more time your player spends on the ball the more confidence and ability they’ll build in the game. That’s why supplemental training the club offers in addition to their team training is an important thing to ask about. This includes things like speed and agility, technical training, and goalie training.

We’ve played for clubs that offer zero supplemental training and also for clubs that offer a range of additional training options. Just because a club doesn’t offer supplemental training doesn’t mean that your kid won’t be successful there. You can still find additional training if your player wants it but there can be a few disadvantages to that approach:

Location – From a convenience perspective you’re probably going to have to travel to other locations for that type of training. If you have multiple kids in training it’s more convenient to have them all going to the same club sessions, even if they’re at different times for younger/older age groups at least they’re still in the same spot.

Cost/Quality – If you do one on one training the level of attention your player gets should be great but the cost is also higher. You can lower the cost by doing group training but there’s no guarantee to the age and skill level of the other players in the group. If they’re all a lot older or more skilled than your child it’s harder for them to work on 1v1 drills and not great on their confidence if they do. If they’re not as technically skilled as your player then they don’t challenge your kid as much.

Something else that happens with a wide range of age groups and skill levels is that the top kids get somewhat ignored because the attention goes to the players that need it most. Or it can work the other way where the focus is on the highly skilled players and the less developed players get less out of it.

Benefits of Club Training

There are several reasons why clubs that offer supplemental training for their teams can be a good option.

Consistency
Imagine if you took your kid to a math tutor and they taught them to solve math problems a whole different way than their teacher did. This wouldn’t necessarily be a terrible thing because it’s good to learn different approaches but it could be confusing to younger kids.
The same confusion can come up when you have trainers calling move different names, teaching them different methods, or focus on different aspects of foot skills. The older they get the more this variety can be helpful because they can learn different ways of playing the game but at younger ages the inconsistency causes confusion.

Curriculum
If you’re attending club training chances are they’ll be organized by age range so your player will be more likely to be with kids that are about their same age and about the same skill level. This allows the trainer to follow the club curriculum and focus more specifically on where those players are developmentally.

For example, if a club has a certain sequence of escape or attack moves that the coaches teach at practice. The trainers can work on them at technical training so the players come to practice better prepared and the coach can focus using those moves in certain scenarios rather than working on the fundamentals of actually executing the move.

Another benefit of having club programming is that they can build the training to reach across multiple disciplines like technical, speed & agility, and soccer IQ. Not that outside training programs can’t achieve a similar thing but it does take resources in terms of skilled trainers, equipment, and facilities to do it well.

A good club will be well positioned to offer the same quality training with more consistency and likely more convenience and lower cost.

Player Safety

Injuries are bound to happen on the soccer field but what you’d like to know is how a soccer club works to prevent those injuries and what they do to assist kids that do get hurt.

Injury Prevention

For teenage players there’s a warmup routine called FIFA 11+ that’s been shown to reduce the occurrence of injuries for teams that go through it at least twice a week.

The main difference between FIFA 11+ and more traditional methods of warmups that coaches have used in the past is that research has shown dynamic stretching to be very useful in injury prevention. In contrast to static stretching, the dynamic stretches take your player’s muscles through a range of motions, getting them warmed up through activity.

Your team doesn’t have to use that specific warmup but coaches need to be aware of the latest developments in injury prevention and it helps if they’re trained by their clubs in those types of warmups. Ideally you’d find a club that has access to trained professionals who can show players how to do the workouts and run them through the exercises.

Another thing to ask about is whether the club offer any baseline testing for concussions. This can be helpful if your player does suffer a head injury so you can monitor their recovery and see how close, or far, they are from their state prior to getting hurt.

You should also ask about the policy for working players who might have a concussion? Are the coaches trained in recognizing concussions during a game/practice or does the club have appropriate personnel in place during games in the event of injury?

Injury Rehabilitation

If your player does get hurt what’s the club approach for bringing back injured players? What kind of facilities or relationships do they have with professionals to help them rehabilitate after injury?

How do they help monitor your kid’s progress and know when it’s ok to start working them back into training sessions?

Do they offer ways for the player to remain involved with the team even if they can’t practice? Often a player’s connection with their teammates is an important part of their identity and suddenly losing that can be a big mental shock to go along with the physical injury.

In fact, Children’s Mercy Hospital actually discovered that some of the suicide attempts they dealt with were from injured athletes who felt cut off from their team after a major injury and weren’t coping with it in healthy ways.

Does the club help injured players work their way back to health and keep them involved in the team and the club during the process?
How do clubs accommodate for injured players during tryouts or other key times during the season?

Fortunately for younger players they typically don’t have to deal with the types of injuries that older kids do but if you can find a club that has already figured this out for their older age groups that shows they value the safety and well-being of their players. It’s also is something your kid will need as they grow with the club.

Let’s say you have a U-10 player and you join a new club. Five years from now you likely won’t switch clubs just because another club has a really good injury prevention and rehab program but it doesn’t hurt to consider it when you’re evaluating a club to join.

College Prep

If your player is only playing U9 why do you care about college prep? Of course you don’t right now but if you’ve found 2 great clubs and are trying to decide between them this is something that could set them apart for you someday.

The fact that a club invests time and resources into helping players after they’ve left the club reflects that they’re interested in the developing players as people and not just soccer players. Of course it does look good for the club to be able to say that they’ve trained kids who went on to play college soccer so there’s something in it for them as well. Regardless, if they have a good college prep program your player can benefit.

Our experience in this area is limited because our players have not reached that age yet so we’d suggest you check out the Scholarship for Soccer group to learn from other parents who are going through that stage.

Parent Education
What you’d like to see is a club that educates families on the process of evaluating colleges and how to prepare for the process of trying to play soccer at a college level.

Some clubs will have one or more college prep nights where they fill you in on the rules of college soccer recruiting and offer tips for the process. Sometimes they’ll invite coaches from around the area to come answer questions and meet the families.

We went to a really good college soccer panel put on by the Sporting Kansas City Academy that had a panel of college coaches from Division 1, Division 2, and NAIA schools answering questions.

The event was coordinated by the team at iSoccerPath and offered a lot of practical tips for parents and players on choosing the right schools to reach out to, contacting coaches, college visits, recruiting videos, and following up with coaches.

Clubs that can offer this kind of support and information for you as a soccer parent can really help prepare your player for life after youth soccer.

Club Organization

It’s hard for a club to get everything perfect but one thing that you’ll appreciate as a parent, especially if you have multiple kids playing, is a club that’s well organized. There are several areas you can ask about that

Club Registrar

How much experience does the club registrar have? The more they know about your state rules, local leagues, and which paperwork to fill out the fewer mistakes your team will run into. Having an experienced registrar is vital to a smoothly run club. It’s also good to know what the process is for interacting with the registrar. They’re very busy folks, hopefully the club has processes in place to both keep them from being overwhelmed with emails but also allow your questions to be answered in a timely manner.

Team Managers

Obviously this will vary from team to team but there are things a club can do to support their managers. For example some clubs have a manager training guide that helps the managers get setup and keep on track of their responsibilities.

Being a manager can be a lot of work so many clubs offer a discount on club fees for parents who volunteer to make it worth their while. This is a good sign because it shows they value the time and contribution of the parents. We’ve noticed that managers who get a discount also tend to do a better job because they feel they need to deliver in order to earn their discount.

Many coach like to focus on coaching and not have to deal with the managerial or organizational aspect. A good team manager will work with the coach to make sure there are an appropriate number of kids at each game so that there’s enough playing time to go around and also enough subs.

Clubs can also help out their managers by giving them the right tools, we’ll talk about those in a little bit.

Assistant Coaches

One thing to ask when trying out for a new team is the club’s policy on assistant coaches This may vary from team to team but it’s good to know:

Will the coach have an assistant coach?
An assistant can help with setting up training sessions, warming up players, covering practices or games a coach has to miss, disciplining kids, working 1 on 1 with kids who need help.

What training does the assistant coach have?
You want to make sure any assistant coach has gone through the same vetting and background checks that a head coach does. Ideally you also want assistant coaches that have gone through coaches training for the age group they’re assisting with.

The assistant coach can also be a good person to approach with questions about your player or about the game if the head coach is hard to get in touch with.

Do they have a kid on the team?
This is good to know for both coaches and assistant coaches. The upside is that coaches with players on the team are likely to be committed and dedicated to the team. The downside is that it can be harder for them to be objective and share playing time equally. Parent coaches sometimes give their kid preference or treat them differently than the other players.

If they do have a player on the team it’s a good idea to talk to other families that played for them before to see what the dynamic is between the coach and their kid.

Game/Practice Scheduling

Having a website and an app to keep track of when and where practices and games are held is a huge help as a parent. Especially when the coach or manager includes details like which uniform to wear and the address of the field. This software comes in really handy when there are schedule or location changes. Some of the ones we’ve had experience with are:

  • Sports Engine
  • SI Play
  • Team Snap
  • BenchApp
  • MaxOne

It’s fine if the whole club doesn’t use the same software but it’s really nice to be part of a team that does, especially if you have multiple children playing soccer. The ability to pull up game information on your phone and get email reminders is very helpful. It’s even more valuable if your child plays on multiple teams for the club because it can help you keep track of scheduling conflicts.

Uniforms

How does the club organize uniform ordering and delivery? Does it have a website where you can review all your options and order online to have the jerseys shipped to your home? Are you able to login later on and order extra socks or jerseys if your kid loses theirs?

Payments

Does the club have a system to automate the payment of your monthly fees? Some clubs will offer you a discount if you pay the full amount upfront but also offer a monthly payment option if you’re not in a position to drop all that money at the start of the season.

We’ve been a part of a club where we had to remember to send in money each month and it’s really nice to be able to have an automated system that handles it for you. What you also would like is a dashboard where you can login and see what you’ve paid and what you still owe. It’s convenient if you can also pay for supplemental training through the same dashboard.

The fact that the club has payment systems in place is also good for the health of the club. There was a club in our area that was pretty successful on the field but were doing a poor job of collecting their fees and they ended up having to shut down because they didn’t have enough money to operate. So you definitely want to avoid situations where lack of organization and structure creates problems for the club and teams.

Club Community

The successful soccer programs that we’ve observed or been a part of are supported by a great community of coaches, parents, alumni, and players. It’s good to know what the community is like within in the club and also how the club interacts with the local community.

Coach Community

Obviously, no organization is free from some form of politics but what you want to gauge is whether coaches, teams, and players support each other.
  • Do coaches from neighboring age groups go and watch each other’s games?
  • Do they have inter-squad scrimmage is at similar age groups?
  • If a club enters tournaments with a bunch of teams do they come watch each others games?
For example, every year at the national youth futsal championships in Kansas City the club FutsalRVA has several teams competing across age groups. They always show up to cheer and chant on the sidelines for the other teams in their club. It seems from watching the parents and players interact that they’re part of a pretty neat futsal community.
  • What is the relationship between the coaches in the club?
Some clubs have coaching retreats that are both a form of networking, team building, and coach development. Some clubs have coaches that play together in an adult soccer league. These things are necessary to have a good club but they are a sign there’s cohesion between the coaches and age groups.
The time those coaches spend together and the relationships they build can ultimately help your kid getting placed on the team that’s right for them. Coaches that trust each other and collaborate have an easier time doing what’s right for the player rather than what’s best for the team they’re in charge of.
  • Do coaches reach out to each other when they have questions about tactical or technical approaches?
  • Do coaches feel comfortable getting advice from the technical director of the director of coaching?

Player Community

  • Do teams typically hold end of the season parties or have events during the season outside of soccer practice/games?
  • How are players encouraged to get to know each other off the soccer field?
  • When teams play in tournaments do they have team meals or events in between games?
  • Do teams play in away tournaments?
Travelling as a team is a great way for players to bond. Giving players the opportunity to interact and bond is part of the experience of being on a team and shows that teams or clubs can focus on things in addition to soccer skills.

Local Community

You can also look at how the club and the teams in the club interact with the local community.
  • Does the club do fund raising for charitable causes?
  • Do teams volunteer in the community?
  • What’s the relationship of the club and the local high schools? What about local colleges? 
  • What’s the relationship of the club in any semi or professional soccer teams in the area? 
You want to know if the club is connected with the soccer scene in your city? Does it help influence the direction of soccer in your town?

Youth Soccer Tryouts

We have a whole additional article soon to be published on getting ready for soccer tryouts but one of the questions parents ask is how many clubs should we even tryout for?

We posed that question in a Soccer Parenting webinar to someone who’s been involved in youth soccer for over 20 years. Jay Howell has been a club, high school, and college soccer coach in addition to Club Director, Director of Coaching, and Executive Director for various soccer clubs. On top of that he’s a Scout for US Soccer so he’s run quite a few soccer tryouts over the last 2 decades.

We asked what the recommended maximum number of clubs a young player should tryout for in one season? For example a U-12 player looking for a place to play? His suggestion was to do the up front work and then look at 1 or 2 possibilities.

The point isn’t to limit your players options but rather to use the criteria we’ve covered here to narrow them down and then let them show off their skills at one or two tryouts.

He made it clear that at the younger ages the main focus should be on which coach your kid would be playing for. The right team isn’t necessarily the best team in the city. Instead you should focus on finding your kid a coach who’s a great teacher.

Soccer Tryout Research
Here are a few ways you can help narrow down which club tryouts might be best for your player in the weeks leading up to tryout season. We’re listing them in order of most generic to most specific in terms of finding specific teams/coaches.

Club Information Night

You likely won’t get a chance to ask coaches any questions at these events. However, they’re still good to attend in terms of getting a vibe for the direction and “personality” of the soccer club. If you like what you here you can do more digging and pursue the next step.

Sign Up for Pre-camps

Many clubs offer a 1-3 day camp before tryouts where your kid shows up for a few hours a day and goes through scrimmages or drills with other players either in the club or considering the club. These give you more insight into the “on the field” operations of the club because you can see how they’re organized and how the trainers interact with the players.

The club usually uses this as a way to get a preview look at players who will come to tryouts since it’s hard to evaluate kids after watching them just an hour or two at one tryout.

Play in Kick Arounds

These are somewhat similar to Pre-camps but often are more age group focused, so might just be for U-11 and U-12 kids for example. You’re also more likely to have actual age group coaches at these events who are there to watch the kids that come to play.

Due to state rules those coaches may not be running the event and aren’t supposed to approach you but if you go talk to them about the club and the teams they coach you might be able to glean some good insight.

Another valuable resource at these events are parents who’s kids are already in the club and might be there watching. They’re usually happy to dish on the club and the coaches and can give you some good food for thought, of course to be taken with a grain of salt because you don’t necessarily know what their intentions are and there always seem to be 2 sides to every story between a parent and coach who might not get along.

Attend Practices

Both my son and daughter had an extra kid at training the last 2 practices of the season. This can get trickier if you’re already playing competitive soccer because coaches aren’t allowed to recruit players from other teams/clubs during the season. In order to bring your kid to a practice you probably either need to have a waiver from their current coach or say you just moved into the city. (We know that’s probably breaking the rules but these are kids we’re talking about, not professional athletes, give them a break).

This is the best way to see how the coach operates and also how the current players on the team interact and how they treat a “newcomer” to the team. If there’s a club or team you’re considering having your kid practice with them is the best way to learn about what environment your player might be stepping into.

 

Youth Soccer Summary

We’ve covered a lot of information about youth soccer. The question you’re probably going to ask is whether you really need to consider all these things when choosing a club?

It definitely takes time to do all this research and of course since you’re a soccer parent you don’t have a lot of extra time on your hands.
We can answer with a question of our own. How important is soccer to your player and to your family? The more important it is the more time you should invest in researching and preparing.

Lessons Learned

For our first kid we didn’t do this research. Our rec coach said he was taking the team competitive and invited us to tryouts. There were 10 spots and 10 kids showed up so that began our adventure into competitive soccer. In hindsight we wish we would’ve read a guide like this. If we would have known these things at the time the first two years of his youth soccer career probably would’ve been more productive developmentally and less stressful for him and for us.

At the time we weren’t sold on the concept of paying money to a coach and a club to train our kid. In hindsight it would have been money well spent and we’ve done things differently with our second and third kid.

We said at the start that the more you become involved in youth soccer the more you’ll realize how useful this guide can be. If you could go back and ask parents of high school or college players what they would have done differently chances are they’ll cover at least a few things in this guide.

Your Soccer Adventure

Like many things in parenting, youth soccer is an adventure and if you’re just getting started it’s an uncharted one. Our hope is that this guide will give you the tools you need when faced with decisions that impact the development and happiness of your soccer kids.

We can see how it can be a little overwhelming if you’re new to youth soccer but one of the best ways to research the things we cover is to just talk to other soccer families and parents in your area. If you don’t have time for anything else at least spend time to evaluate the coach. Your players coach is the most important thing at a young age and the most important feature to look for in a coach someone who is a good teacher.

To help make this whole process easier on you we’ve put together a summary of all the questions from this guide ask organized by topic and also a Parent checklist that will help you easily compare multiple clubs. If that would save you time you can just enter your email below and will send it to you for free.

Posted on

Do Dribble Up Soccer Drills Help in a Game?

Last week we held our first Soccer Tech Expo where players and teams got the chance to try out various soccer technologies like the Dribble Up smart ball. One fun thing about the event was that we got to answer a lot of questions from parents and players about how we use soccer tech for skill development.

One family stopped by on the way to a tournament match and the dad was asking how the drills in the Dribble Up app would help his son in a game. I asked him what position his son played and he said mostly mid-field. We went through some of the drills and showed him how his kid could use certain moves in a game.

When you’re in the middle of the field you often have to turn with the ball quite a bit so we looked at some of the turns. It can get pretty congested in the middle of the field so you need to have a good first touch to keep the ball close – it also helps to be comfortable using the sole of your foot to navigate in tight spaces.

To help illustrate how players can use what they practice with the Dribble Up ball in a soccer game I pulled in some game footage from recent matches just to give an idea of how the drills can be helpful.

In the video, watch player #12, also playing in the middle of the field.

Left foot Half Spin

In the first clip in the video you can see him use the left foot to spin the ball away from the defender, keeping his body between the ball and his opponent.

The drill in the app gets you ready for this by practicing bouncing on the ball of your right foot and pulling the ball to the side with the sole of your left foot.

Right Foot Roll Tap

After he spins way from his opponent then you see him use the outside of his right foot to create some separation from the defender. He actually makes this touch a little too heavy, looks like he needs to work on this drill more! It gets you a lot of reps pushing that ball with the outside of your foot.

About 10 seconds later #12 gets the ball back and again uses the outside of the right foot to setup a shot on goal. The shot itself isn’t hard enough because his body position isn’t right when he strikes the ball.

The shooting feature of the Dribble Up app will be released in the coming months, looks like #12 could use that once it’s released.

Right Foot Inside Outside

The next clip shows the ball passed backwards from the striker and the #12 uses the inside of the foot to control the pass and then the outside of the foot to setup his next pass.

The next player to receive the ball does a similar thing, only difference is he has to receive the ball across his body. He handles the ball with the inside of his foot, uses the outside of his foot to setup his pass and keeps his head up which allows him to see the next pass.

These fast touches allow the team to quickly move the ball across the width of the field and play it into space into a dangerous scoring position.

One & Two Touch Passes

The next 2 clips don’t point out a specific drill but they do highlight something that’s important to note. If you watch the next 45 seconds of the video you’ll notice that every player only touches the ball once or twice before moving it onto the next person on their team.

Even though it’s called Dribble Up the smart ball can help with other parts of your game. The ball moves a lot faster when it’s being passed rather than dribbled and speed of play is really important to playing at a high level.

Rondos are great for first touch but you won’t practice any of them with Dribble Up. However touches you put in with DribbleUp make you more comfortable on the ball and will eventually make it easier to play those 1 and 2 touch passes.

V Taps

The last clip has a few more foot skills shown by #13. Starting out with a little V pull when he first gets the ball. The V taps drill gets you lots of reps for that move. The player doesn’t use it as a fake as much as to create space between himself and the defender so he can face him up.

Then he uses the outside of his foot to get the defenders moving and then the inside of his foot to explode away from them – again the outside/inside playlist is a good one for this move.

 

Soccer Drills vs Live Game

Of course working on your technique in a calm and controlled environment is different than when you’re in a game with your adrenaline pumping, wind or rain blowing, and defenders running at you. There’s no training substitute for actually playing the game. However, what training tools like the smart ball or other programs can help you with is getting in reps on those moves so you build up muscle memory. So when that defender is sprinting at you full speed you don’t have to think heavily about the technique of doing an evasive move. Instead your brain tells your feet and off you go and leave the defender in the dust.

Hopefully that helps explain a little bit how the drills in the smart ball app can help a player improve on the field. If this was helpful we can do more drill/game demos in the future.

Posted on

Dribble Up Goal Getter

Soccer is the best sport in the world for many reasons. One of the great things things about youth sports in general are all the lessons kids can learn from being part of a team, dealing with failure and success, & setting and chasing goals.

The end game of playing soccer is scoring a goal but there’s a lot for coaches, parents, & players that goes into making that goal happen. If you ask many championship teams about the start of the season it begins with the players and coaches setting team goals to set them up for success. Setting and chasing individual and team goals is a huge part of scoring goals on the field.

That’s why we were so pleased to hear the story behind the Dribble Up ball that we shipped to McKenna’s family not long ago. Turns out that McKenna saw videos of people using the smart ball and decided that she wanted one for herself. She’s 8 years old but plays with girls 2 and 3 years older than her so she really needs good foot skills to compete with the older players.

Well she started saving up and at the start of the Spring season she ordered her very own Dribble Up ball. When we heard about her great goal setting and determination we asked if she’d be willing to share some of her story with us. Here are the questions we sent and the answers they sent back.

 

What made McKenna decide she wanted the Dribble Up ball and that it was worth saving up for?

She saw a video of how you can practice with an app and get graded on your progress-she was psyched from the start!

Did she have an idea when she started how long it would take to save her money?

No she didn’t, but she was determined to save up for it. She told anyone who would listen that she was saving her money for a “smart” soccer ball!

How did McKenna earn money to save up for the ball?

She saved her gift money and did various chores around the house (ie. Cleaning the yard, taking out the trash/recycles, even making her brother’s bed!)

Did she ever consider calling it off, that it was too big a challenge to save up? Did she have any setbacks?

She never had any setbacks, and never considered giving up. She did get frustrated at times with how long it took, but never gave up!

What kept her motivated to keep saving?

She would watch another video of people using it, or come back from soccer practice and she was motivated again.

Does McKenna set goals in soccer as well? 

Yes, she sets goals such as number of goals per game, assists, etc. one game she wanted to score 3 goals and she scored 5! She wants to improve her juggling. She hasn’t gotten the hang of it yet and it frustrates her:-(

What would she say to friends or teammates that might say some goals are too big for 8 year olds to achieve?

That it’s ridiculous! Just because you’re young doesn’t mean you can’t do what others can.

Who in her life has inspired her to set goals?

My parents and coaches. Julie Ertz and Mallory Pugh from the USA Women’s Soccer Team.

What is she most excited about using the Dribble Up ball for?

To learn juggling and improve her footwork.

Do her coach and teammates know she’s been saving? Are they excited to try it out as well?

Yes and yes!

Does she think her ability to set and stick with goals will help her and her team on the soccer field?

Yes, by practicing her footwork!

 

I think it’s great that McKenna saved up for the ball for a lot of reasons.  How many times does a kid run out of practice and forget their ball or leave their soccer ball at a game. What are the odds are that McKenna’s going to leave her Dribble Up ball behind? Pretty slim I’d say.

Not only that but when you invest your time and energy into something you’re more likely to make use of it.

It’s also cool for anyone to be so passionate about something that they sacrifice in order to achieve it. Even cooler when you see that level of determination and drive in an 8 year old.

Good luck to McKenna in the rest of her season!

Posted on

Dribble Up 1000 Touches Soccer Drills

1000 Touches, again!!?? Sound familiar? How can you get your youth soccer team excited to get their 1000 touches at the start of each practice? Even better, how can you help your youth soccer players want to work on their foot skills when they’re not at practice?

Let’s be honest, most kids aren’t jumping up and down to work on their technique. They just want to get on the field and play- not work on toe touches, step overs, pull backs, scissors, sole roles, chops, inside/outside, roll overs or whatever other technical training you’re asking them to do.

After you’ve been around coaching for a while you realize how important that technical development is at a young age. Back when I started coaching kids there was one youth team who always ran circles around us on the field. After a game we started chatting about how good their players were and the other coach mentioned their heavy emphasis on foot skills training.

After starting to incorporate more foot work at training I sent this email to some college coaches I was friends with:

Hey guys, need your coaching expertise.

My son is on a U8 soccer team and we do 2 practices a week. We’re looking for some good foot skills drills. We’ve been doing the same few each week and the boys are starting to get bored of them so we’re looking to add more into the mix.

Can you recommend some good foot skills drills? And maybe a book/website/video/etc that’s a good resource for drills?

These are guys who I played soccer with in college who went on to become college coaches and assistant coaches themselves.  So they were coaching older players but had a lot of coaching experience and had been students of the game their whole lives. Can you guess what they answered? Here’s what one of them said:

Are they doing the 1000 touches drill to start practice?

It’s also crucial that they find games where they start applying those skills in small sided games. Settings where competition is presented and lots of positive feedback as the skill is new to them.

The best way to teach all those things is to play lots of 3v3 or 4v4. At younger ages skills are super important and as they grow older they can learn about other aspects of the game.

After that email we started doing some version of the 1000 touches drill at the beginning of every practice. Starting out with 1000 touches not only got them more comfortable with the ball, it also got them warmed up for the training session.

 

1000 Touches Benefits

As the season went on we started to see the kid’s ball control improve. It wasn’t like they started busting out Maradonas and dribbling through entire defenses (although one or two kids liked to try). Here is what we noticed:

1) Better First Touch

Their first touch got a little better so they were able to get control the of the ball sooner and have more time to make decisions.

2) Better Ball Control

When they got into tight spaces they got a little better at keeping possession of the ball. Since they could keep the ball closer to them they were able to either weave through defenders to beat a line or change direction and escape pressure.

3) Improved Confidence

Their confidence in their ability to hold the ball under pressure went up so they were less likely to panic and just kick the ball away.

4) More Versatility

They had more luck with 50/50 balls. After either going in for a tackle, or getting tackled, who knows where the ball would end up. Since they were better able to use all parts of their feet, it was easier for them to recover the ball after the tackle no matter where it ended up. Being comfortable with the sole of the foot, the inside, laces, or outside of the foot gave them more options to coral the ball after the tackle.

5) Better Weak Foot Control

The ability to use both feet improved. It wasn’t like they were taking shots with their weak foot all of a sudden but the 1000 touches drill puts an emphasis on using both feet so players starting getting more comfortable handling the ball no matter what foot it ended up on.

Foot Skill Motivation

With all these benefits why wouldn’t you do the 1000 touches drill as a coach? Well you probably won’t be surprised to hear that starting out every practice with 1000 touches of ball work wasn’t very exciting to 8 year olds. Although we saw all the benefits of the technical ball work the kids weren’t very excited about it. We persisted through the season and even though there was grumbling from the players the player development gains that came with it were worth it.

Of course just going through the motions of the 1000 touches doesn’t really have the same impact as working hard through the soccer drills. As a coach its our job to get every player putting in their best effort at training. As players get older and more interested in improving they naturally tend to work harder in the foot skill drills but the younger ages can be a challenge.

When you have a group of 8 year olds going through the drill you’ll see that some of them have faster toe taps, harder sole roles, quicker pull backs, and bigger chops than others. The way we did the 1000 touches drill was by time. We’d tell them and show them the next move to work on and then start a timer. Depending on how hard the kid worked, some of them would get in 50 touches for that specific skill move during the time and some wouldn’t.

So how can you get each player working their hardest and getting in as many touches as possible? Here are a few things that have worked:

Touch Contest

Have players count in their head how many touches they get for that drill. Then run it again and see if they can beat their previous number. At younger ages its good to give them less time the first round and more time the second round so most kids will have success in “improving” and be motivated to continue.

If you have a team where the players are all around the same skill level you can also have them compete against each other. See who can get the most touches out of the team. That doesn’t work well for teams with a big disparity in skills because the more developed kids always win and the less developed kids get discouraged.

Drill Leaders

One thing that’s worked really well with the younger ages is to have players lead each foot skill. For example, with a group of 6 year old girls I coach we pick a different girl to lead each foot skill. To be chosen as a leader you have to be working hard. All the girls want to be a leader so they work hard in a drill hoping to be chosen to lead the next drill.

 

Dribble Up 1000 Touches

After going through the 1000 touches with several different ages of kids and now being introduced to the Dribble Up smart soccer ball we finally landed on the perfect way to implement the drills for youth soccer players that not only gets them the touches but also gets them excited to do it.

Practice MVP

After each training session we choose the player who worked the hardest and award them “Practice MVP”. With that honor, they get to take home one of the team Dribble Up balls and through the coaches dashboard we assign them 2 new foot skills to learn. This is great for motivation because it gives kids a reason to work hard at training.

You can also do something similar with games and give away the game ball to the player who worked the hardest or who used things in the game that you’ve been working on at practice.

Skills Leader

As you probably know as a parent, young players are really motivated by technology so they’re excited to be the one to use the smart ball for the week. The honor doesn’t end with taking the smart soccer ball home though. We assign two new foot skills and that player uses the Dribble Up app that week to learn and practice the moves.

At the next training session that player brings back the Dribble Up ball and leads the team during the 1000 touches drill and demonstrates the new moves. We like this because it gets that player working on foot skills at home outside of practice and it gives them ownership of the moves, having to demonstrate them to the team at training.

That player then uses the Dribble Up ball all training session so it’s a reminder to the rest of the kids that whoever trains the hardest gets to take the ball home next. I’m sure if you’re a coach you’ve done similar things with the captains armband or awarding player pins, player patches, MVP stickers, etc. Whatever motivates your players the most is great but we like this for a few reasons:

  • Motivates players to work their hardest during technical training rather than going through the motions.
  • Give players a visual reminder during training. The Dribble Up ball is brightly colored and patterned. A constant reminder that who works the hardest gets rewarded.
  • Reward ties directly into further development. The players that are rewarded for working hard get additional touches at home with the smart ball.
  • Adds new moves each week into teams technical training.
  • Gives coaches a progressive way to work on playlists.

Dribble Up Playlist

Rather than have the kids try to learn all the moves in the 1000 Touches drill at once we’ve created a playlist that introduces the skills to them several at a time each week.

One thing we discovered when trying to run youth soccer players through the 1000 Touches drill is that it can be discouraging the first time they’re introduced to the drill if they try and learn every move all at once.

Imagine you’re a kid and your brain is telling your feet to try a new foot skill but your feet just won’t do what you’re asking them. As you keep trying the skill you start to improve but are still pretty frustrated. Then your coach says to move onto another skill you don’t know and you go through the same experience. Then again, your coach has you move on…. you can see how the level of frustration and discouragement could grow as a coach continues to introduce new skills that a player struggles with.

As an alternative, if we introduce just two new skills each training session the player can spend more time on them and improve their ability and confidence.

1000 Touches Playlist

The Dribble Up app and coaches dashboard is setup perfectly for building something like the 1000 touches drill. Here are a few things we’ve learned from creating the training sessions:

1) Pay Attention to Duration

Make sure your drill duration is long enough for your target age group. U-8 players players are going to be able to get in a lot fewer touches in 30 seconds than U-12 players. If you’re in doubt it’s better to make it longer than shorter so the players have time to settle into each foot skill and get in enough touches. Test out the duration separately for each age group.

2) Start Simple

It works best if you begin the playlist with the simplest skills. This lets the players get into a rhythm and have success before introducing new skills. This means the first few sessions you’ll spend the bulk of the time just on a few skills.

3) Add Skills Incrementally

Only introduce a few news skills each session. As you progress from practice to practice the durations of the skills you’ve already learned shrinks and you’ll cover a lot more skills each time. The largest amount of time will be on the new skills you introduce.

4) Lead with Strong Foot

Since we want them to be able to use the left and right foot we use both “Left Foot…” and “Right Foot…” drills. It’s better to lead with the strong foot first in the playlist so they learn the move with the foot they’re most comfortable with.

5) Plan for Skill Ranges

Of course most teams have a range of skill levels across players so it’s good to have an extra skill or two handy each week in case you have some kids are ready to move on before others.

6) Remember that Kids Forget

Chances are a kid will eventually forget to bring the Dribble Up ball back to practice so it’s good to have at 2-3 balls so you have at least one as backup for the “Practice MVP” for when next player when the previous kid forgets to bring it back.

Dribble Up 1000 Touch Package

After spending a lot of time crafting the playlist we decided it would make sense to offer it as an option to other coaches who are looking for ways to incorporate more technical training into their practice and also to motivate their players to spend more time on the ball.

If you’re interested in trying it out shoot us an email to touches@soccerstripes.com . Here are some pics of the 1000 Touches playlist in action.

 

DribbleUp Smart Soccer Ball

Posted on

Dribble Up Soccer Extras for Your Smart Ball

All you need to use the Dribble Up ball is the app on your phone or tablet and the smart ball but after using it for six months we’ve come up with a list of a few accessories that might be nice to have depending on how you’re using the smart ball.

As a player, coach, or parent it’s interesting to see the role that technology is playing in sports during games, at practices, and also off the field in planning, training, and analysis. The founders of Dribble Up felt like there were a lot of technology options being created for coaches but not many for players. We think they’ve created something exciting for youth players but like any “main course” it can always be made better with the right “side dishes”. Here are 8 things that we’ve used along with the smart ball, some as a player and some as a coach, that we can recommend.

1) iPad Stand

Each DribbleUp ball ships with a stand for your phone that has a detachable base. You can take off the phone stand and screw in a tablet stand for your iPad or Android tablet.

If you’re connecting your smart ball app to your television you don’t really need an iPad stand. But if you’re going to be using Dribble Up away from home and you have a tablet it would be nice to have a stand. Players that have used Dribble Up before are fine using it on a smaller screen on a phone but the first time you use the app it’s nice to see it on a bigger screen.

So, if you’re a coach and introducing the app and drills to players for the first time it’s nice to have a tablet stand to let them use it on a bigger screen when they’re getting used to it. One thing to keep in mind is that the better the camera and the faster the processor on your tablet the better the app will work. So, if you have an older tablet and a newer phone you’d probably have a better experience using it on your phone. You can always connect your phone to your TV when you first start using the app while you get used to it.

The first generation of stands that came with the smart ball from Kickstarter weren’t as sturdy and we broke a few testing out the ball. Since then Dribble Up has switched to phone stands with metal joints and we haven’t had a problem but if you’re looking for a good replacement phone stand we’d had good luck with this telescoping iPhone tripod. You can also find the iPad attachments on Amazon as well.

2) Portable Power Bank
If you’re a soccer family that spends days or weekends out at the soccer complex then chances are you might already have a power bank for extra juice.

If you don’t then it’s not a bad idea to pick up a power bank or two to keep in the soccer bag or the car. As I mentioned earlier the app is processor intensive so it will eat into your phone power if you use it a lot in one day. That being said we were out at Scheels Soccer Complex last weekend having a juggle battle with the smart ball and we got in quite a few rounds with our iPhone battery on its last legs.

If you’re running team training with an iPad then we’d definitely recommend bringing along a backup or two power banks. We have several free portable power banks we picked up from various United Soccer Coaches events but you can get one on Amazon for between $10-15 like this portable power supply.

3) HDMI Mirroring Cable

We actually ordered our HDMI mirroring cable the same day we ordered our first Dribble Up ball because we were excited to use it on the big screen. Unfortunately, the first cable that came in didn’t work for us so we had to order a different one.

On newer smart TVs you don’t even need a cord but our TV is older so we needed a cable to show the app on the television. This is a definite must have Dribble Up accessory because putting it on the big screen makes it a more interactive experience. When we do Dribble Up in our living room all the kids get involved and sometimes tag team the playlists. It’s perfect for a rainy or snowy day when training is cancelled and you can easily spend an hour with the family going through playlists.

This is the HDMI Mirroring Cable that works for us.

You can see in the photo we also bought this Lightning to HDMI adapter which did the trick as well. But that adapter cost about three times as much and doesn’t come with an HDMI cable so the HDMI mirroring cable is a better buy for your money in our experience.

4) Google Chromecast

We’re into gadgets so we bought the very first Chromecast that came out 5 years ago. It’s pretty old and doesn’t work as well as the newer generation ones but we’ve gotten some good use out it. A new Chromecast isn’t super expensive, about $35, so we’re due for a new one.

We haven’t tried it but if you have an Android device you can cast the app onto your TV with Chromecast. Some of the newer TVs actually have Chromecast built in but if yours is older like ours then you can display the Dribble Up app with a Chromecast dongle .

5) Movement Tracker

Dribble Up is good at tracking your foot skills but it’s also interesting to see how much physical activity you get out of the drills. You’ll definitely be out of breath after going through a playlist but wearing a tracker will tell you how much movement you get when going through the drills.

If you don’t already have one of these I wouldn’t go out and buy one just for using with Dribble Up. But if you already have a Fitbit or a Zepp Soccer tracker it’s interesting to wear it while you’re going through a skills playlist to see how much activity you get from it. Comparing one session to the next after it’s over would give you an idea of how much work you put it based on past workouts.

6) Padded Bag

This is a non-tech accessory but meant to protect your tech. We’re all used to carrying a soccer bag with all our gear but once you add technology into a bag full of soccer stuff you worry about potential damage.

If you’re a coach and carrying around an iPad or two and iPad stands it’s not a bad idea to have a separate protective case or sleeve to store them. There’s a pretty wide range of iPad bags based on your preference of cost/features but it’s not a bad idea to pick up one of them.

If you already have a laptop bag they work pretty well for sliding in power bank, iPads, stands and all the other accessories but of course then you have to carry that bag and your coaching gear as well.

7) iPhone Projector

Projecting the app onto a screen or a wall is a neat thing to do if you have a big group at an event. Using an iPad is fun for an individual player but if you want a group to be able to see the drill as they’re going through it that doesn’t work as well.

Obviously, the downside of a projector compared to putting it on a TV screen is that you have to worry about the lighting in the room and being able to see the projection.

The projector that we use is a Brookstone HDMI Pocket Projector that was originally $200 but we found on sale for $100 since they were ending that line. This mini projector is portable and works really well but it’s also pretty pricey – Miror Mini Projector.

This is an alternative portable projector that doesn’t give the same quality in terms of the picture or sound but it is much cheaper –COOQI Mini Portable Pocket Projector

8) Cloud Storage
This isn’t a physical accessory but it is nice to have a place to store the videos you make while doing Dribble Up drills. The Dribble Up app keeps a history of your drills so you can keep track of how you’ve scored over time.

It’s also neat to store videos of your dribble up sessions that you can go back and look at. For example, you could capture the video of a playlist at the start of a season and also at the end of the season and see the difference.

We have a variety of ways that we store the videos from Dribble Up. You can store videos for free in Google Drive, we also use Google Drive to store game videos so we’ve uploaded some of our juggle off videos from the smart ball app into Google Drive as well. We use enough storage space with our game videos that we have to pay for the service but it’s been the cheapest option we’ve found. Dropbox is another option since it makes it easy to move the videos from your phone into the cloud for storage.

If you’re interested in sharing your videos the free way to do it is to upload them to YouTube. If you want a little more control over who can see them you can also use Vimeo, it gives you more control but it’s not a free service.

Hopefully some of these suggestions will work out for you. If we had to suggest one we’d say go for the tech that lets you hook the smart ball app up to your television, whether that’s an HDMI Mirroring Cable or a Chromecast. We’ve had a lot of fun putting Dribble Up on the TV and getting everyone involved.

Happy Dribbling!

DribbleUp Smart Soccer Ball

Posted on

Dribble Up Soccer Ball Coaches Guide

What’s the best way to use the Dribble Up smart soccer ball as a coach? It depends on factors such as the age of your players, what you hope the smart ball can help them achieve in terms of development, and how many Dribble Up balls you think you’ll have as a team.

At a high level some of the main benefits of the smart soccer ball to a coach are:

  • Motivation to Train
  • Confidence Booster
  • Technical Training Supplement
  • Accountability Tool

We’ll go into more detail for how each of these benefits can help your players and team but here’s a quick Dribble Up review of how we’ve seen the ball influence youth players.

Motivation to Train
The gamification of training through the Dribble Up app can really give more players that drive to train more on their own. They can unlock levels and compete against their friends and teammates via the leaderboards. This has really seemed to make a difference with the younger ages who tend to have shorter attention spans and less intrinsic motivation to work on foot skills or juggling.

Confidence Booster
One of the great things about the smart ball is that it lets players measure their success based on their own improvement rather than comparing themselves to the current development level of their teammates. For players who want to get better the ability to spend time with “directed training” in their own environment gives them a chance to get more comfortable on the ball without judging themselves against more developed teammates as they tend to do at team training.

Technical Supplemental
Using the smart ball to get additional touches during the week in addition to team training and also the chance to get in footwork when practice is canceled due to bad weather.

Accountability
You can assign homework through the coaches dashboard to give your players specific areas to work on and then see who’s been putting in the work.

Members of your team can benefit from the first three of those even if just a few players on the team buy a smart ball or if you as a coach can set the team up with one or two. The Accountability aspect is trickier to accomplish across the whole team if you don’t have a larger set of the Dribble Up balls to work with.

Let’s look at a few different approaches you can explore as a coach.

Shared Team Dribble Up Ball

There are several ways you can use one or two smart soccer balls for your team. One way to approach is to use the Dribble Up ball as a reward for players that work hard in training or games. My kid’s baseball team used to give out a game ball for each game but obviously soccer coaches can’t afford the cost of handing out game balls after each match.

You could however pick a kid who played hard or who used the skills you’ve been teaching in a practice or a game and let them take home the smart ball as recognition. Depending on their age either them or their parents would have to download the app on their Android or Apple device. They can use this Dribble Up user guide for setting up the smart ball app.

If you only have 1 ball something like this might be your best option. If you don’t want to use it as a reward you could simply rotate the ball through the players and have a contest between them. Competing based on score gives an edge to the more developed players so one good way to do it is have the winner be based on most improved. Prior to a tool like Dribble Up this would have been a lot more work to keep track of but it’s certainly easier with the app.

Another option is to bring one or two Dribble Up balls to team training and setup a station where players can measure their scores on footwork or juggling by going through some of the playlists. To vary it you could change the station up, one time do footwork, the next time do juggling, and when it’s ready add in shooting.

This is the way that most coaches are starting off incorporating the smart ball into the team. It gives both the coach and players some exposure to how the ball works, lets you see if it’s something that fits into your coaching plans, and is a good test for how your players will react to incorporating some technology into training.

You don’t even need access to the coaches dashboard for this approach – just a ball and the Dribble Up app. If you’re sending the ball home with players then having them install the smart ball app on their phones is fine but if you’re going to have a station at practice it is nice to have the app on a tablet for a bigger viewing area.

We all know players can sometimes forget their own soccer ball so chances are one will eventually forget to bring the Dribble Up ball back from home. For cases like those it might be nice to have at least one backup ball so you can keep the rotation going until they return it.

Needed
1-2 Smart Balls
1-2 Devices & Stands
App on Each Player’s Phone if sending home

Benefits
From the four main benefits I mentioned earlier this method helps increase the motivation to do extra training. The player response to using the ball has been really positive – the younger generation loves using technology and the features such as beating your score, the leaderboard, and unlocking levels keep them wanting to use it.

Dribble Up Team Set

As I mentioned earlier, using the smart soccer ball and the app as an accountability tool is a really enticing option as a coach. It would be really nice to be able to assign players homework and then see who was actually doing it and being able to see them improve over time.

You don’t need a smart ball to be able to tell who the players are that put in the work outside of practice. It’s obvious at training and in games who’s making gains and progressing in their technical ability. But it would be nice to have a team set of smart balls to help motivate and direct the players on your team who aren’t as motivated or determined to get better on their own.

The obvious issue is the cost of equipping your whole team with the smart ball. Many coaches know that parents already spend money on uniforms, coaching fees, field rental, league fees, tournament costs, pairs of cleats, etc and don’t want to add another cost on top of all that. Particularly if they don’t know how the ball will turn out, they hate to ask parents to pony up more money for something they’re not even sure will help.

That’s why starting out with getting just one or two balls and giving it a test is a great way to see if the tool is a good fit for the team. If it does make sense, the Dribble Up coaches dashboard is a great way to assign homework to help get in those additional touches each week.

Needed
1 Smart Ball/Stand Per Player
App Installed on Each Player’s Phone
Coaches Dashboard Access

Benefits
The biggest benefit to having a team set is the ability to assign homework to everyone on your squad through the coaches dashboard. Not only is it a benefit from an accountability perspective so you can ask them to get in touches on the ball during the week but it’s also nice to give them something to do when no training is scheduled. For example, if practice is canceled due to bad weather or if you’re on a training break you can still push them drills to work on.

Suggestions
We’ll go over how to use the coaches dashboard below but I have two suggestions to make the Dribble Up app better. The first is the ability to mark some drills as required and other drills as optional when assigning homework to account for players who want an additional challenge. The other suggestion is to be able to indicate the player’s strong and weak foot in their player profile so the app can automatically adjust the drill you assign based on the player.

 

Dribble Up Trainer

Funny story, one of the families that we worked with used a trainer for their son to get some extra touches on the ball. Turns out that his trainer is also the virtual trainer that you see in the smart ball app. Some of his son’s friends had the ball but no one believed him that his coach was the one they heard every day saying “Needs to be better” and “Not good enough”. They tried a Dribble Up soccer amazon search but came up empty so ended up calling us and we got his son a ball. So now he has a picture of him holding the ball standing next to the trainer to show all his doubting friends.

I bring this up because many coaches have parents coming to them and asking what their player could do to get better. In fact, Tom Mura of Soccer Coaching Weekly shared on his podcast that he’s had hundreds of players over his coaching career ask him how they could improve and get more playing time. He can count on one hand the number of players that actually implemented his suggestions. How cool would it be as a player or parent to be able to come back at the end of the summer and show a coach in the app the progress they made on their weak foot after hearing they needed to improve? How cool would it be as a coach to give that feedback and then have a player do the work and then show you the results?

Needed
Simply suggest the player’s family look into buying a ball and point them to the Dribble Up Users Manual for how to use it. Obviously another option is to refer them to individual or group training but this is a cheaper option that doesn’t require the travel and scheduling.

Benefits
For players that need to work on their technical skills the smart ball is one way coaches can suggest to improve them. Since the app scores the player on performance and keeps track of their progress over time it’s pretty easy to see if the kid is actually putting in the time and that will eventually show up on the field. Being challenged to work outside of practice and get more comfortable on the ball can be a confidence booster that gives them more time on the ball to make better decisions.

 

How to Use the Coaches Dashboard

The Dribble Up team has been very quick to fix issues we’ve found in the dashboard and fast to respond to feedback we’ve given in terms of improvements so the coaches site has already changed quite a bit since it first launched.  Since they’re so responsive some of the images you see here could be a little out of date as they continue to make improvements to the site.

The coaches dashboard is broken down into a few main areas and we’ll go over each of them:

  • Teams
  • Players
  • Playlists
  • Homework

You don’t actually need to have any players added in order to create your playlists and assign homework so you could jump into these right off the bat. The reason we cover the Teams and Players first is that it can take a while to get everyone to join so it makes sense to setup the team and invite players to start.  Then while you’re waiting to get everyone on board you can work on the Playlists and Homework

Dribble Up Teams

Everything you do in the dashboard is in the context of a certain team. When you first start you won’t have any teams and you’ll need to create one. Creating a team is really simple you just click the “Create New Team” button and give your team a name.

If you’re going to have more than one team make sure the name you give it it is descriptive enough. There are no real rules around what constitutes a team. If you wanted to setup something for just a few players you could create a team and only invite 4 players and they’d have their own leaderboard.

For example, we have the “Dribble Off” team that we use for contests and it has a few users like DribbleOff_RealMadrid and DribbleOff_Barcelona that we use for team events. But then we also have another team where we’ve added all the players from our boys team that have a smart ball.

So you can have different teams for different purposes depending on how you’re using the ball. One thing to keep in mind is that teams don’t share playlists so when you create a playlist for a team, it won’t be available for other teams. At least not now, that may be something that could change in the future.

Update: Looks like now you can also create a team from within the Dribble Up soccer app itself and invite other users to your team.

Dribble Up Players

Adding players to your team is pretty simple. On the “My Players” page your enter their Dribble Up handle and click the “Add Player to a Team” button. If the player is added successfully they show up on the Weekly Leaderboard for the team, if the Player id that you enter isn’t found it’ll give you an error message. One thing to note is that you can add a player to multiple teams. So they could be part of their primary soccer team but also be on a “team” with their friends from their school or their neighborhood that also had a smart ball.

Update: Dribble Up has added an Invitation link on the Players page which makes it easier to add kids to a team. Instead of having to add them each individually you can share that link in your team management app like TeamSnap, SportsEngine, SIPlay, Blue Sombrero, or whatever you use. You may still have to add a few manually but this way most can join on their own.

Once a player is added, if you click on their User Name in the leaderboard it takes you to a screen that shows 2 things:

1) Assignment Completion for the Week
This shows you which drills they have and haven’t completed over the current week.

2) Drill History
This shows you all the drills they’ve done over the last 2 weeks and their score for each. It’s not just a list of the drills, it currently organizes them into 6 different categories of types of drills:

  • Left Foot
  • Right Foot
  • Alternating
  • Juggling
  • Consistency
  • Endurance

Suggestions

One thing that would be helpful for Dribble Up to add would be a Homework report. Now to see who’s working on their footskills a coach has to click into each player’s history. A summary of all the players on one page would be nice. Even better would be a weekly email summary that highlighted which players were using it most and which ones were using it not at all or very little.

Dribble Up Playlists

These next two sections, Playlists and Homework, are where the coach gets to “work their magic”.

On the Coaches dashboard the link in the left navigation calls these “Custom Workouts” but what it allows you to do is to create your own Playlists. This is probably the most requested feature that I’ve heard from coaches and parents.

It is a great feature for coaches because it allows you to build workouts based on what you’d like your team to work on. Although if you want to get started with your team right away you can actually assign homework without creating any custom playlists, we’ll cover that more in the Homework section.

When you first come to the Custom Workout page you won’t see any listed and you’ll see a button that says “Create Workout”. After you click that button you’ll be asked to name your workout and then taken to a page where you can start to build your custom playlist from the library of drills that Dribble Up has provided.

Dribble Up Drills

The screenshot below shows you what it looks like after you click “Add Drill” and select one from the Drill Name dropdown menu

You can configure the duration of the drill and then click “Add Drill” again to continue selecting additional drills. Of course a common question here is, “what drills are available”? I know it was the first thing I asked before we bought our first smart ball. As of this writing there are 44 drills in the library. As I mentioned earlier, the team at Dribble Up has been very responsive to feedback so if you have a drill that’s not in the library that you’d like to add you can let them know. Those 44 drills can be combined together in any combination so that gives a good list of options for building a custom playlist.

We won’t list all the drills here because I’m sure over time they’ll change and have new ones added but if you’d like to know the current list of full drills just enter your email address below and I can send it to you.

Playlist Tips

One of the first things we did when we got the first smart ball was to go through the drills library and try out the drills. That’s what I’d recommend for any coach because as we know the same move can be referred to by multiple names. For example, what you might call Toe Taps is named “Ball Steps” in the Dribble Up library.

We went through the drills in the app itself but the Custom Playlist page makes this much easier because as you change drills it shows the video description and preview of each one.

The main things you set when creating a playlist are which drills to include, what order to put them in, and what duration to have each drill last for. The drills now autosave as you add them to the playlist which is an improvement over the initial design where you had to save each drill after adding it. You can also now easily change the order of the drills which used to be a chore. We put together a list of Dribble Up drill playlist tips that share some of the things we learned when putting together our first playlists.

Suggestions

One thing we’d love to see and have already shared with Dribble Up is the ability to copy an existing playlist and save it under a different name. That would make it a lot easier to create different variations on a playlist, to create a progression of simple to more difficult playlists.

Something else that would be helpful for coaches would be the ability to filter the drills based on certain criteria. For example, show me only the drills that work on Turns or only drills that use the Sole of the Foot.

Sample Playlists

Here’s an idea of some of the playlists that we’ve created so far.

Futsal King

After moderating a panel on Futsal during the Youth National Championships some of the discussion made me realize we could use a playlist that focused only on using the sole of the foot.  So I created a playlist called “Futsal King”, the video below shows you a preview of all the different drills in the playlist as shown in the Dribble Up app.

Turns

After reading an interesting analysis on the importance of teaching turns in soccer a while back I had my son’s trainer working with him on turning under pressure. Over time the results in training and games were pretty significant so I also created a Turns playlist in Dribble Up. Obviously that’s not teaching a player to turn under pressure but it helps players on the mechanics of the turns.

Dribble Up Homework

Once you’ve created a custom playlist you can make it available to your players by assigning it to them as Homework. In the coaches dashboard this page is actually called Assignments in the left navigation.

As you can see in the image below the homework page let you assign playlists to certain days of the week. Over the winter I assigned the “Left Foot Advanced” for every day of the week because the off season is a perfect time for a player to work on their weak foot. We actually started with the “Left Foot” playlist, moved to “Left Foot Advanced”, and then ended the winter with the “Left Foot Expert”.

These seems a perfect way to use a tool like this smart ball, as supplemental training on something that almost every player needs to work on.

Assigning Homework

For each day there’s an “Add Workout” button you can use to assign as many workouts to that day as you need. When you click the button you get a “Select a Workout” dialog (shown here) that lists existing playlists that are available to assign.  Scroll down to the bottom of the dialog to find any custom playlists that you created, in the picture you can see the Turns and “Lucky Left Foot” playlists that we built for that team.

Any homework you add to a day is assigned to every player on the team and will show up in the players Dribble Up app in the Homework tile. Right now there’s no way to assign certain playlists to certain players, they all get the same assignment.

The homework in not based on Calendar days but rather on a recurring week so once you assign a playlist on Monday – that workout will show up every Monday in their homework until it’s removed from the coaches dashboard.

Suggestions

Even if you could assign homework per player in the dashboard it would definitely be time consuming for a coach to assign specific homework per player, not sure how many would. However, it might be nice to be able to assign homework based on player attributes. For example assign certain playlist to offensive vs defensive players or something of that nature.

How to Get Started With Dribble Up

Hopefully this has been a good introduction into one way your team can use technology to help develop players. Last year we hosted a coaching education session and the Director of Youth Soccer for our local MLS team came and presented to the coaches. His topic “Best Practices for Player Development” covered 4 areas – Player Development, Coaching Education, Player ID & Team Formation, and Parent Engagement. In two of those areas he touched on keeping up with technology that can help coaches and players on their development path.

It just so happened that it was around the holidays and we had brought him a Dribble Up ball as a gift to say thanks for taking time to share his expertise so it fit nicely into the technology topic. Player development is why we use the smart ball and why we write about it here for other coaches to learn from.

It might not be the right fit or timing for your team or club but at least now you know more about the ball and how it helps some players. If you’re interested in trying it out you have a few options:

1) Run your team through a Dribble Off Challenge. We bring the smart balls, iPads, and other equipment to you and run a session so you can see how they work in person and how your team reacts.

2) Test out a single ball – Dribble Up Smart Ball

3) Inquire about a team set. Send us an email to clubs@soccerstripes.com with what your team needs are. Team orders also include copies of the book “Soccer IQ: Things That Smart Players Do” by Dan Blank.

 

 

Posted on

Dribble Up Soccer Ball Playlist Tips

How can you use the Dribble Up soccer ball for your team? There are a few ways a team can use the smart ball for training that don’t require every player to buy a smart ball. One of the ways is to have a Dribble Up station at team training that players can use to work on their foot skills.

How many times have you told players who are sitting out of a scrimmage to juggle on the sideline to get more touches? How many of them actually juggle and for how long? With Dribble Up you can get those kids wanting to work on their foot skills or their juggling and even keep track of it if you’d like.

Last week we had a 3v3 tournament for our team and ran Dribble Up soccer stations for the kids who weren’t on the field. Here are some lessons we learned when putting together the DribbleUp playlists that will make your session more effective.

1) Create Multiple Progressive Sets of Drills
We got a little carried away with the first playlist we created. It had 10 drills we thought were pretty fun but we figured out pretty quick on our first test that was a mistake.

When you’re introducing players to a new training tool it’s a good idea to ease them into it. The principles of coaching youth still apply – set them up for success and then build on that success as the session goes on.

So we changed our approach and created multiple playlists:

  • Mini Messi
  • Messi
  • Super Messi

The Mini Messi only had 3 simple drills that pretty much all players have done and introduced them to using the ball. The Messi added another 2 drills which were a little more complicated and the Super Messi added an additional 3 drills that also increased complexity.

One thing we’re used to about coaching is that you can adjust your drills as you go depending on how the kids react. When you’re using technology like Dribble Up it’s harder to make those changes in the middle of the session so it’s best to prepare more options ahead of time.Along those lines we created another set of drills

  • Mini Ronaldo
  • Ronaldo
  • Super Ronaldo

We followed the same progressive approach where each playlist built on the previous one increasing the length and complexity but used different skills than the Messi playlists.

Turned out it was a good thing that we had a few variations because some of the players were struggling with the last drill in the Messi playlist so we switched over to the Ronaldo instead and they both scored better and enjoyed the playlist more.

 

2) Lead With the Strong Foot
In the Dribble Up drill library you have some drills that use both the left and right foot in the same drill and others that have 2 variations. For example the “Left Foot Roll Tap” and the “Right Foot Roll Tap”.

Since most of our players have their right foot as their strongest foot we always led with the “Right Foot….” drill first. That way they got comfortable with the skill using the foot they’re most comfortable with and made it easier when they moved onto the “Left Foot…” drill.

Obviously not every player is right footed so how do you handle that? Right now DribbleUp has no way to indicate which foot is a player’s strong foot. I think it would be helpful if a player could indicate their strong foot in their player profile. That way in the playlist you could lead with “Strong Foot…” and follow it with “Weak Foot…” and the app would adjust based on the player.

3) Save After Adding Drills
As you’re building the playlist in the coaches dashboard be sure to save each drill after you add it. There were times when I went in and added a few drills and forgot to save them. If you go back and try to save after adding several drills you can run into issues in the dashboard.

Suggestions – Add the ability to easily re-order the drills in the playlist.

4) Do a Trial Run
When you introduce a new drill at practice you don’t always know how it’s going to work out. You can diagram it and plan how you’ll introduce/demonstrate it to the team but until you actually get out on the practice pitch you’re not sure how it’ll go over.

The nice thing about the Dribble Up playlist is that it’s not as complex as team training so you don’t need the whole team there to test it out. You can run one player through the drills to see how they handle them.

As I mentioned earlier we initially created just one longer playlist but after running my son through it I realized several mistakes I had made setting them up. Definitely do a trial run of your playlist when it’s easy to tweak it. Don’t wait until you’re at training to discover you need to change it.

Even if you’re not running the playlist at team training and you’re just assigning it for homework it’s good to do a trial run before pushing it out the team.

5) Don’t Rely on Wi-Fi
The DribbleUp app doesn’t need to be connected to the internet to use it but there are a few features that require connectivity to work.

For example, if you create a custom playlist and assign it to the team for homework the device needs to be connected to be able to access the homework.

A good test is to set your device to Airplane mode before you do your Trial run and make sure everything works as expected. If it doesn’t then you can

6) Disable Updates
After you do your trial run and get everything worked out it’s not a bad idea to turn off your updates until after you use Dribble Up at practice. For an iPhone you do this in Settings:

  • Swipe up to iTunes & App Store
  • Find Automatic Downloads
  • Toggle Updates off

Our team session went great but then 2 days later I brought the Dribble Up stations to a coaches event to demo how we use them. In between there was a Dribble Up app update and the interface and a few other things changed. It was definitely an improvement but I wasn’t used to the new version of the app so it was trickier to show other folks how to use it.

7) Create Dribbling Zones
When players are working hard on these skills and doing changes of direction the ball eventually will get away from them and roll away. We had multiple stations setup so the players could compete and if you do this you’ll want to create zones so the ball isn’t rolling into the other players area and messing up their score.

One way to do it is to space them out or if you don’t have enough space you can separate them with bumpers. At first the players will ask what they’re for and why they need them but then once they get into the playlist and eventually lose control of the ball they see why it’s nice for their score to have their ball not rolling away and not have other balls rolling into their area.

8) Dribble Up is not Rest
When you take your US soccer coaching courses and plan out practices you allow for enough rest periods in between activities. Don’t treat a DribbleUp station as rest. After a player finishes a DribbleUp playlist they’re out of breath. Don’t make the playlist too long, 3 minutes maybe.

We’ve found that 20 seconds per drill has worked out pretty well. Allows them enough time to settle in and get a rhythm going but doesn’t wear them out.

By the end of our 3v3 tournament the kids who were sitting out opted out of the Dribble Up stations because they were worn out from the 3v3 and needed the break.

9) Have Enough Stations
The right number of stations will vary depending on how many kids you have at training and how you’re using it. We had 2 and it went pretty well, I’d say 2 – 4 would be a good number.

Having 3 stations would haven’t worked out with the way were running the competition but 4 would have worked since we could have let twice as many kids go at once. If you weren’t doing a contest and just having players go through the playlist then 3 would be great, or if you had 3 teams that wanted to go at once that would work as well.

10) Teach Players How to Use the App

There’s not a whole lot to using the app. Simply tap the playlist you want and scan the ball to start so it doesn’t take a long time to show them how.

If they’re waiting on you to scan the ball and start the playlist it slows down the flow so definitely make them self-sufficient on getting started once the player before them finished.

Next time we’ll do a write-up on the coaches dashboard and how you can create custom playlists and assign them to your players as homework. If you’re interested in having us come run a dribble up skills session we’d be happy to chat with you about a Dribble Off Challenge or a Dribble Off Soccer Party.

Happy Dribbling!