New twist on the Deer Hunter game when coaching youth soccer

As many of you know, I am a big proponent of using unique moves and plays to help me determine who should play which positions, as well as assist in the athletic development and conditioning of my players. One of the best games to do this is the Deer Hunter game. Last weekend at my Coaches Clinic in Boston, a youth coach who has used the “Winning Youth Soccer” system shared his version of this game with me.

why we do it

Remember that in soccer what we look for is the ability of the players to control their body, change direction and accelerate in very small spaces. The key component to doing well with this skill set is core strength, the power one has from below the ribcage to the top of the thighs. Your best FOOTBALL athletes always have a very strong core.

How do we do it

The way we do our Deer Hunter is to mark a 20 yard by 20 yard square with cones or shells. With a team of 24 players, place 4 “Hunters” in the middle of the square, put yellow shell shirts on them to let everyone know they are the Hunters. The remaining players are the deer, the deer scattered around the square, roaming freely. Each hunter has a soft nerf ball, any will do. At your count the game begins and the deer scatter. The hunters throw the nerf balls at the deer to take the deer out of the game. Once you hit the deer, have a quick drink and sit back until this quick game is over and we start a new one. In most cases, hunters chase the deer and get very close to knock it out with the ball. Only the hunters can throw the balls.

hidden conditioning

As you may have guessed, everyone gets out of breath very quickly doing what? Very short runs of stops and changes of direction. Is it similar to everything we do in football? In a very short time you will be able to determine which players can change direction and accelerate, which players have body control and which ones do not. By the end of the game, when you have all 4 hunters chasing down the remaining deer, you’ll see some of the most amazing soccer moves known to man. In addition to being able to see who their athletes are very quickly, kids get great conditioning AND have a lot of fun doing it. They will beg you breathlessly for more of this game. When was the last time your kids begged for more conditioning?

new twist

What my friend from Boston added to this game was that he put a bucket of cold water in the middle of the circle. Hunters were allowed to dunk the nerf balls in cold water for added fun effect. I asked this trainer to email me so I could attribute him in this post, but 10 days later and still no email. Thanks coach, great idea.

Additional benefits

We like to use this game at the end of the first practice. Not only does it help us determine positions, but it gets kids more excited about practice than a bunch of 30-yard dashes. But of course we’re getting as much conditioning as the guys who make gassers, it’s just that our kids love it. Don’t even get me started on how much parents love it too. When you coach youth soccer, you also want them on your side.

You can do this game without the nerf balls, just play as tag.

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