This is the first in a three-part series on coaching children at this young age.
Children at these ages are being introduced to just how much FUN it is to play soccer. By providing a safe and fun environment you can ensure a positive experience for the children.
You are coaching because you care for children. You may not even know much about soccer (well, not yet anyway), and that is OK! What you bring to the soccer field as their coach is your personality! Your enthusiasm for them will show through any misgivings you might have about your soccer coaching abilities. Consider this: these children may not remember what you teach them about soccer, but they will always remember how you make them feel.
Preparing Your Team
Help your team (and their parents) come prepared for practices.
- Make sure everyone has a soccer ball. They should all be bringing a size 3 soccer ball to practice (size 4 is used for 8-12-year old’s, size 5 for 13 and up). You will notice that they may be very possessive about “their” ball. For that reason, we will play games where they get to play with their own ball a lot.
- Players MUST wear shin guards at every practice and in every game.
- Cleats are not necessary.
- Have children bring their own water bottle or drink to practice. No sharing of water bottles or team water bottles for health reasons.
- Your club or organization may provide you with some extra soccer balls, cones, and perhaps training vests (pinnies). You can use the cones for goals if needed.
- Once you hand out their uniforms you will find that they love to wear them to every practice! That is awesome. They all want to be a part of the team.
- Find a “Team Manager” to help you with communications throughout the season, providing refreshments during breaks (like fresh fruit), and helping the parents to get to know each other.
Let’s Talk Practices
The key to running a fun and successful practice is to make it FUN! Soccer is one of the easiest sports to make fun for children to play in. Here are a few helpful suggestions.
- Keep your practices to no more than 60 minutes. Even at that, you will be experiencing short attention spans.
- Start your season talking about your team name. Come up with a team cheer. Have some fun with these moments.
- When you talk with children, make sure you get down to their level so they can look you right in the eyes. If you are outside, you should face the sun. These tips help them concentrate on you.
- It is more fun for everyone to be playing at the same time. That is why we discourage contests and games where the children stand in lines and must wait to participate.
- Be positive in your approach to coaching these children. Give them lots of praise when you see them having a good touch or a good thought. Sometimes they have a good thought, but their execution is poor. Rather than criticize them for their poor execution, praise them for their good though and attempt.
- If you notice a specific child having a hard time with skill, at this age it is better to address the whole group rather than single out the individual child.
- Ask guiding questions rather than giving them specific answers. For example, help them to figure out why it is better to pass using the inside of their foot rather than their toe. You can even come up with catchy phrases like “say NO to the toe.”
- Children at this age do not need to warm up and stretch. They are born ready to play, so let them play! There is no need to make them run laps or do sprints unless you want them to run to their water bottle which they will gladly do!
- There is, however, research that suggests most injuries to children playing soccer at this age occur to their upper limbs. FIFA 11+ Kids has developed a warm-up procedure for this age group which improves dynamic balance and agility skills. You can download a poster with several easy to do exercises to help young children with their balance, agility and learning how to fall.
- Less talk and more play are always a good strategy. Get them moving. Try and wear them out with fun activities and games.
- Plan your practices ahead of time. Come prepared with more fun games for them to play than you think they can play in 60 minutes.
- If you find that a game you are playing is too difficult or the kids are just not into it, then skip it and move on to the next one. Find something that they will get engaged with and have fun doing.
Next month we will talk about what type of content to include in your practices. This will be FUN!
Brad has coached a variety of sports in the community, middle school, and high school for 40 years including coaching the MN 2021 Class A State High School Champion. He has coached soccer from U6 at the recreational level to U19 at the club level and all age groups at the high school level, including 11 years as a head coach. He holds a USSF “B” coaching license and USC diplomas.