Photo: Ryan Wood
Young players often want a break from the repetitive drills that make them better soccer players. Why not play a game that's unique, fun and helpful to their technical skills?
One such game that's gaining popularity is "soccer tennis" which is a favorite among young players looking for a change of pace to a normal practice. While you shouldn't devote an entire session to soccer tennis, it is a nice reward for the last half of a practice if they have been working hard recently.
Soccer tennis--a soccer-specific game that also combines aspects of tennis and volleyball--can improve instincts and technical skills among players of all ages. It is best played on a tennis court (but not in soccer cleats!). If there are no courts around, you can set up a makeshift one using a bench or chairs--something to simulate a low net. Cones can simulate the out-of-bounds lines that are painted on a tennis court.
There can be many different variations to soccer tennis. Here's one example:
- Put two players on each side, much like a doubles tennis match.
- One player from Team A "serves" the soccer ball to the other side. Once it goes over the net, Team B has, at most, three touches and one bounce to return the ball back to Team A's side of the court. Team A, then, has three touches and one bounce to keep the rally going.
- The bounce can come at any point during the return. So if Team B chooses to let the ball bounce before touching it, they will then have three touches to get it over the net without letting it bounce again. Or, Team B can volley Team A's serve before it bounces, which means they will then have two more touches and a bounce to get it back to the other side.
There is no need to alternate touches between teammates, as they're required to do in volleyball. If one player from Team B lets the serve bounce, then touches it three times without a teammate's help and gets it back over the net, it is a legal play. However, participation by everyone is encouraged and helpful toward winning a match.
Beginners (and those getting used to the concept of the game) should play more defensively, basically making sure they can collect the ball within the rules and get it back to the other side.
Once players become more skilled and comfortable, however, they can start playing strategically. For example, Team B can try to return a serve by dropping it behind the Team A players, so long as it stays within the boundaries. A skilled player on Team B can try to kick it (or head it) at a player on Team A, which would put the Team A player in an uncomfortable position of needing to both avoid the ball and return it.
Scoring can be structured depending on how much time you have, but the new method of volleyball rally scoring is usually the most exciting--that is, each rally results in a point by one of the teams. As with tennis and volleyball rules, the team that fails to place the ball in the other team's in-bounds area loses the point.
The first time you introduce soccer tennis, it will be fun but awkward, as you and your players take time to understand the rules and the concept of the game. But it will grow on your team, to the point where they will work hard to make sure it's a regular staple of soccer practice.