Soccer Basics for Children
What would your first move be if you were teaching young children how to play soccer? In our post today, read about the key concepts to impact children positively at such a crucial time of their lives.
Soccer basics are those fundamental aspects that you need to train young, new soccer players. Many children start playing soccer as early as four or six years of age. Considering their young ages, these basics are essentially the first steps that they’ll take in their soccer journey.
Some people think that teaching young children is only a matter of giving them a ball and making them run. But thankfully, official soccer clubs or teams take it much more seriously.
Teaching children the soccer basics requires sharp focus, especially on the emotional and developmental aspects of young players. It also demands solid teaching of the soccer basics themselves, which will later serve as fundamental pillars for youngsters when they’re older.
For starters, ball contact and teamwork are fundamental skills to develop when working with young children. When you can help a 5-year-old look up and pass the ball to a teammate, you know the lessons are going on the right track.
Moving on, the following basics are crucial for this age group as well:
- Initiative: initiative is essential and serves as the base for the other basic skills. It’s the player’s will to go after the ball and to participate in the game.
- Contact: the first moments of contact with the ball are usually accidental. But, coaches should teach their players how to control the ball correctly.
- Passes: passes are a fundamental part of soccer. With small children, coaches should highlight the importance of passing to share the ball.
- Position: more often than not, young children run after the ball because they want it; they’re not willing to wait for it to reach a certain position.
- Game: coaches must teach their young players the playful nature of the game. Kids should enjoy playing soccer.
- Safety: children’s sports need safe conditions. Safety must always come first so that the players can correctly perform techniques or movements.
Teaching young children the soccer basics requires a lot of patience. Coaches need to understand that many of their players have only just started school and learning social norms.
It’s normal for the first practices to be chaotic and even a struggle to ensure everyone is focused on the tasks. First things first, coaches should understand that their purpose isn’t to transform their children into soccer players; instead, they must teach, discipline and walk alongside them as they learn.
The most popular teaching strategies are the following:
- Establishing clear rules: coaches have to be role models that children respect and follow. Screaming or punishing constantly doesn’t earn respect. Instead, establishing clear rules and positive reinforcement will.
- Fun exercises: if you want to teach passes, dribbles or shooting, you have to create an exercise to keep your team interested.
- Avoid long, repetitive exercises: excessive and monotonous dribbling or passing exercises won’t motivate a 5-year-old. Remember, the goal isn’t to polish technique; it’s to teach them.
- Planning: exercise should be planned out. This means that coaches have to take the time to plan the weeks of practice ahead of time.
Soccer basics: biological, psychological and social development
Teaching the soccer basics requires an understanding of children’s motor and psychological capacities. Soccer is a popular sport and many children already know how to play, but that doesn’t mean that they have the cognitive, visuospatial or motor skills to play.
For example, five- and six-year-olds still are still developing their coordination skills, which is why it’s so important to design exercises that use both the arms and legs. In addition, at this age, children are very flexible in learning new things. Consequently, progressively developing their skills with each exercise is key.
What is progressive learning?
It would be ridiculous to expect a 5-year-old to kick a ball with the correct form if they’d never learned how to do this before. Thus, coaching has to start with the smallest details first:
- Position and form: where to place your feet, which part of the foot to kick the ball with and why it works better than other parts.
- Movements: where to place the supporting leg, the follow-through of the kicking leg, and which part of the ball to kick.
- Automation: this step consists of repeating the previous steps to turn them into automatic actions. Once players automatically assume the right positions and movements, they can move to the next level. Or in other words, once a player learns how to kick, they can move on to learning how to look up and direct the ball.
- Instruments: just as we mentioned earlier in our post, players need to feel safe when making contact with the ball. Here’s a situation to think about: children won’t feel safe when using a ball that’s too big or heavy for them. The progressive approach starts with a very light ball and gradually changes to adapt to the player’s skills.
- Supervision: coaches must always be role models and also pay close attention to these details. At the beginning of their training, walking through the movements and making sure that the players are following correctly is crucial.
Emotions and teamwork
Learning and building techniques is important, but it’s not the only aspect that matters. The main objective of training children is to teach them how to enjoy teamwork, competition and group experiences. Exercises should have a strong group component to them as they’re the start to cultivating a good understanding of teamwork.
Coaching means actively participating in the lives of the players and their first experiences with soccer; it’ll have a big impact. In light of that, coaches must strive to keep their kids healthy, honest, joyful and motivated.
But the competitive aspects aren’t shoved aside. While the goal of soccer is to enjoy the sport and not necessarily to win, victories should be joyful and defeats should always be a lesson.