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U12 Training

"Strength On The Ball, Shoulder Tackle, Aggressive Play & Bravery Gameā„¢"


This Practice Game teaches bravery and aggressive play, that soccer is a physical game and to not be afraid of contact or being bumped or pushed, strength on the ball to maintain possession while dribbling, shielding the ball to maintain possession when challenged, a legal Shoulder Tackle, challenging for the ball to slow the attack and how to legally push a player off the ball. Soccer is a physical game and in real soccer games, it is critical for players to be able to challenge for the ball and also to be able to retain possession of the ball when they are dribbling. The opposing players will try to use a "Shoulder Tackle" to push your players off the ball when they are dribbling, so they can steal the ball or slow down your attack. Your players need to learn what is called "Strength on the Ball" so they aren't easily pushed off the ball when dribbling. Young players often aren't used to physical play, but the fact is that the more physical team will usually win, so you must teach your players how to be physical so they have a chance to be successful. At the very least, you don't want them to fall apart and give up when their opponents are physical and aggressive. This game teaches defenders how to legally use their shoulder to push an opponent off the ball, which is called a "Shoulder Tackle" (and also called a "Shoulder Charge") and it also teaches players how to avoid being pushed off the ball while dribbling (which is called "Strength on the Ball"). It will get your players used to contact, which is very important, and teach them to play more aggressively. Soccer is a physical game and by U8 the more physical teams will start to have an advantage. Most parents prefer the word "brave" to "aggressive", so it might be better to talk about teaching players to be "brave". If your players aren't prepared and get pushed off the ball, they will get frustrated. This game teaches players how to shield the ball and to have "strength on the ball" so they can retain possession, and how to legally try to steal the ball from the opposing player who has the ball. As you can see from the Testimonials, it really works. I get lots of letters from coaches about how valuable this game is.
"Shoulder Tackle", "Shielding", "Strength on the Ball".
  • Use cones to create a "Starting Line" and a "Finish Line" 10 steps away

  • Pair up players. Coach or parent plays if odd number.

  • Try to pair up players by size and ability.
The Game:
TIP: Tell the players without the ball that it is like "cutting line". (This tip from Coach Troy)


  • 1st, Before you Pair Up the players, have them stand in line, shoulder-to-shoulder, facing you. THEN, have them turn sideways so their shoulders are toward you (it doesn't matter which shoulder, but it is easier if your players are close together). THEN, tell them all to put their feet together and stand up straight. THEN, go down the row and put ONE FINGER on the shoulder of each player one at a time and push each one off balance (it will be easy to push them off balance because their feet are together and their knees are straight). POINT THIS OUT TO THEM: "The reason it is SO easy for me to push you over with one finger is because your feet are together AND your knees are straight. I'm going to show you a simple way NOT to get pushed over." THEN, tell them to move their feet apart (about shoulder width) AND bend their knees a little. NOW, go down the row again and put ONE FINGER on the shoulder of each player one at a time and show them that now you CANNOT push them off balance. When you put your finger on their shoulder, tell them to be STRONG and to PUSH BACK with their shoulder. (Tell them to try to stay "straight up" and NOT lean over, and that they MUST keep their arms straight down by their side, because in a game if they lean into an opponent by "dipping" their shoulder or if they lift their arm to push the opponent they can be called for a foul). This will teach them how to NOT get pushed off the ball AND teach them that when they try to push a player off the ball they can Push, but NOT Lean or "dip" their shoulder, and that they must keep their arms straight down by their side (they cannot raise their arm or push with it, just the shoulder).

  • 2nd, place the pairs on the Starting Line without a ball, facing the Finish Line, "shoulder-to-shoulder" and "hip-to-hip", with feet apart and knees bent for balance. See which players can make the other one move. Tell them to keep their arms straight down by their side (they cannot raise their arm or push with it, just the shoulder). Also, they must stay straight up and cannot "dip" their shoulder (if they do, they will often be called for a foul). They can move their feet, bend their legs and use their hip so long as their shoulder is in contact with the opponent's shoulder. (Read "Shoulder Charge" in the Dictionary for more rules). Tell your players "You can't let other players push you around".

  • 3rd, have the pairs walk toward the Finish Line (without a ball), pushing shoulder-to-shoulder, hip-to-hip. If some pairs don't push, switch up the pairs. Encourage players and praise improvement. For some players physical play is not natural, but with praise & encouragement they will improve. Tell them to keep their feet apart and knees bent so they are difficult to push.

  • 4th, do the same thing while running

  • 5th, give one player in each pair a ball, line up all pairs on the Starting Line and have the players with the ball try to dribble to the Finish Line while the other player tries to kick the ball away or steal it. If the "off-the-ball" player touches the ball he gets one point; if he steals it he gets 2 points. Then, give the other players the ball and let them try to dribble from the Finish Line to the Starting line. Do this several times and switch up the pairs for variety. See below for another version of how to play this game that your players might find more fun. My friend Coach Tony from Atlanta submitted the idea below that I really like.
  • Off-the-ball players (those without the ball) must stay shoulder-to-shoulder with the dribbler and try to win the ball by pushing with the shoulder and hip. (They cannot push the front, back or go around; only shoulder-to-shoulder).
Teaching Points:
  • Show dribblers how to "shield" the ball by dribbling with the foot farthest from the opponent.

  • "Strength on the Ball"

  • "Shoulder tackling" technique