BY JEAN JACQUES BOSCO, PROFESSIONAL COACH
Many parents hesitate to volunteer as coaches as they believe planning and running a practice requires too much time, ability and energy. While it does take some commitment, it does not have to be a difficult or draining experience. Conducting an effective soccer session for young children does not require impressive soccer skills, but rather great enthusiasm and some knowledge of the skills required. The basic concept of a practice is that it breaks down the techniques, skills and strategies needed in the game into small sequences that are repeated so that players can fully understand and develop them. Here I will give an overview of a basic practice for novice players, which includes a warm up, skill development section and a game. Remember the goal is to build not only the children’s skills but also their confidence. Some of the most effective practices are the simplest, you can easily do it!
The warm up is meant to heat the body and prepare it both mentally and physically for the rest of the practice. It should include aerobic, anaerobic, and body coordination exercises as wel l as stretching. Aerobic energy is necessary for endurance and warms the body up for anaerobic energy. A couple of laps around the soccer pitch are sufficient in generating anaerobic energy for a sixty minute soccer practice.
Once the body is warmed up, it is time for the anaerobic exercises. Short sprints and jumping exercises are ideal for this and prepare the body for the type of movements needed for wielding the ball and beating other players to it. After anaerobic exercise it is time to work on body coordination. Some of my favourite coordination exercises include catching and throwing the balls, weaving in and out of cones while running, sit-ups and acrobatics (cart wheels, summersaults). End the warm up with either stretching or a game of light tag to avoid injuries. Stretching is best for older children while a light tag game is all that is needed for young children (5 and under) as their muscles are already very limber.
After the warm up is a great time to work on ball control. This section is the most essential for the technique of the game. A great coach will first demonstrate how to dribble the ball with both the inside and the outside of his or her foot and then have the players do the same. Recognize that each player will have a preferred foot, but make them use both. Knowing the basics of dribbling the ball enables a novice player to move confidently and feel as though they are doing something meaningful with the ball.
New players also need to learn the basics of receiving and passing the ball. This needs to be done from a “ready position” where the players are on their toes and quickly transferring weight from one foot to the next, as if dancing. From this state, show them how to pass and receive the ball with the inside of the foot. Remind them constantly that only one of their feet is their “kicking foot”.
The third major element of ball control is shooting (which should be referred to as “scoring” with young players) Set up a net or two cones as a net and have each child dribble and score. Make sure every child scores the first time, either by redirecting the ball or moving the net. It is my experience that after a first success, a person will continue to feel successful, confident and joyful, which is the goal of an effective practice.
The last and most important step involved in conducting a fun and effective soccer practice to end the practice with a soccer game. Children always ask, “When will we play the real game?”, because it is usually their favourite part of practice. In order to allow maximal ball contact and opportunity for each child, it is a good idea to make small-sided games for young players (ie. One vs. one up to four vs. four). Playing multiple games with varying numbers of players will keep the games exciting and engaging for the players. As a long time player and a coach my advice would be to not encourage competition in the early stages as some children will have a hard time losing which will affect their self-esteem. Enthusiastically encourage the fun of the game and you will find that the players will do the same.
If you are able to either demonstrate or effectively explain how to run, jump, pass, dribble, stretch and play games, then you have the ability to coach young children. If you are able to be energetic, encouraging, and enthusiastic while doing these then you have the ability to be an outstanding coach. I’m sure you’ve got what it takes! Please consider volunteering as a coach for community soccer. The kids will thank you for it and I assure you it will be a fun and fulfilling experience!