Get the entire family playing pickup soccer

There’s a reason why soccer is the most popular sport in the world. The rules are easy to understand, and all you need is a ball!

Millions of people play soccer around the world without ever being part of a team or a league. You don’t need real goal posts or a regular soccer field. All you need is a small patch of grass at home or at a park.

Here are some tips for getting the Beautiful Game going in your neighbourhood.

Players

  • If you have an even number of players, it’s logical to split into two even teams to play 3-against-3, 4-against-4, 5-against-5, etc.
  • If you have an odd number of players, then make sure you put the least-experienced player on the team that has the extra player.
  • Always spread the talent around so the teams are as balanced as possible for skill, size and experience.

Positions

In regular adult soccer, you play with two teams of 11 players each, one of whom is the goalkeeper. For your neighbourhood or picnic pickup game, it’s actually more fun to have far fewer players because everyone touches the ball more. And while you might want to play with positions, it’s more fun if everyone has the chance to get involved in the play.

  • Don’t bother having goalkeepers. Very few people like to play goal, and it’s the one position where someone is likely to get hurt if they don’t know how to play (by getting a ball in the face, for example).
  • If you have 3 or 4 players on your team, don’t even talk about having positions such as forward and defense. Just play. If you get scored against because everyone ran forward, just laugh. One of you might decide that they want to hang back and defend, but that’s entirely up to them.
  • If you have 5 or more players on each team, then you might reasonably ask if one or two players want to “hang back” to defend the goal a little bit. However, if they want to run forward and take a shot on goal, they should know they are allowed to do it. It’s up to the rest of the team to make sure someone drops back to defend when they run forward.

Rules for pickup soccer

The goals of pickup soccer are to have fun, build skills and give everyone a chance to score, dribble or make a successful pass. The two main concerns when playing with a mixed group of kids, teens and adults are:

  • Not getting hurt with a slide tackle or strong shoulder check.
  • Giving less-skilled players enough time to play the ball.

The solution? Follow these rules to ensure everyone has fun:

  • Make sure everyone understands clearly that slide tackles and “body checks” are not allowed. If someone slide tackles or body checks a player by accident, then let the player have an indirect free kick at that location.
  • Talk quietly with the skilled players in advance and tell them to give the less skilled players (who are often the smaller children) extra time when they get the ball. They should be given extra time to attempt a shot, make a pass or try to dribble the ball with their feet. They more than anyone will benefit from the extra time with the ball.
  • No hands. If players use their hands to play the ball, and they are not playing as goalkeepers, then the other team gets an indirect free kick from the place where they handled the ball.
  • No penalty shots. Again, very few people like to play goal, and you only increase the chance of someone getting a ball in the face if you have penalty shots and goalkeepers.
  • Goals have to be scored below the knee height of the tallest adult playing. This means that no one ever needs to use hands or try to be a “real” goalkeeper.

Note: An “indirect free kick” means that you cannot shoot straight at goal. For pickup soccer, simply make it a pass to a teammate.

Equipment

The beauty of soccer is its simplicity.

  • All you really need is a ball.
  • If you are playing on grass, simply play with running shoes. (Real soccer shoes are not required, nor are they recommended unless everyone is wearing them.)
  • Shin pads are not required, as long as you get general agreement and understanding from everyone in advance not to kick frantically at other players’ legs and ankles when they have the ball.
  • Use jackets, sweaters, backpacks and found objects as simple goal posts.
  • Make small goals small. Two metres is a good width.

Field

  • If you play with a group of 6-8 people, find an area about 20 metres wide by 35 metres long.
  • If you play with a group of 9-14 people, find an area about 25 metres wide by 50 metres long.
  • If you play with a group of 15-20 people, find an area about 50 metres wide by 70 metres long.

Practicing good technique

The most important technique in soccer is kicking with the side of your foot. Kicking with the toe is bad technique because it provides very little ball control. If you want to make sure that children are practicing good technique, make a simple rule like “Toe no go”.

This means if someone kicks with their toe, the other team gets the ball for an indirect free kick from the place where the person kicked with their toe.

Correct passing is done with the side of the foot, and even some of the top professional players use the sides of their feet to shoot!

The beautiful game

Soccer is so popular that lots of kids and adults in Africa, Asia and Latin America play on pavement or in rough patches of sand and gravel where we might never consider playing. These kids in Thailand built a floating dock to play soccer because they didn’t even have a beach to play on.

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