It is the dream of every inexperienced coach to have a manual handed to him or her with all the answers to their problems. This coaching manual does have a section which includes simple drills and games for your practices, but it is intended to make you think, and understand exactly what you are getting into. We will therefore start with a list of characteristics of U8 football (soccer) players.
- Still self-focused and individualistic (me, mine, my) but many are willing to share.
- Able to pay attention a bit longer than U-6 players but still not the same as the “competitive” stage.
- Still very honest but most will tell a “white lie” on things that are embarrassing, they cannot do, or they haven’t done. For instance if you ask them at practice, kids did you practice at home this week? They will all scream back yeeeaaahhh. But if you ask them again and make eye contact to one in particular, they will tell you the truth.
- Easily bruised psychologically. They will remember negative comments for a long time! Praise often. Give “hints”, don’t criticize.
- Inclined towards small group activities.
- Always in motion: scratching; blinking; jerking; rocking. Hand-eye coordination is better, while most will still struggle with eye-foot coordination. Note that this is the exact opposite of children in Italy (for instance) where you will find few U-8 kids who can dribble a basketball yet most of them can begin to juggle a soccer ball.
- Starting to imitate older players or sports heroes. Want the same “gear” as them.
- Developing physical confidence. (Most are able to ride a two-wheeler.)
- Understand simple rules that are explained briefly and demonstrated.
- Better at recognizing when the ball is out of play, and remembering what goal they are going for… but, in the heat of battle, they will sometimes still forget. They still find it difficult to really be aware of more than one thing at a time.
- Lack sense of pace. They go flat out until they drop.
- Want everybody to like them.
- Respond well to positive reinforcement
- Have limited understanding of personal evaluations. “If they try hard, they performed well” regardless of the actual performance. Thus, they need to be encouraged constantly, and asked “Now, can you do this?”
- Will still want to wear a training bib, even when the colour is identical to their shirt.
- Skeletal system growing rapidly. Often results in apparent lack of coordination.
- Cardiovascular and temperature regulation system is not developed. Their heart rate peaks quickly and they overheat quickly. make sure that they get adequate water breaks
- If you are not energetic and fun you will easily bore them.
- Respond well to positive reinforcement.
It is imperative that coaches get the parents involved. Not only are they a major resource for your team, but the U-8 player still views their parents as the most significant people in their lives. A pre-season meeting should be held with the parents so that objectives and team policies can be addressed. Some topics that you may want to address at this meeting are:
- A means of contacting everyone without one person doing all of the calling. (Phone chains and e-mail lists are great).
- Choosing a team administrator-someone to handle all of the details. At the U8 level, the team administrator and fund-raiser should probably be the same person, since the administration job is very simple with so few players.
- Complete all paperwork required by your league or club.
- Discuss the laws of the game.
- Carpool needs and treat list.
- Training and game schedules. How you feel about starting and ending on time, what your attendance expectations are etc.
- What each player should bring to training: inflated ball, filled water bottle, soccer attire, shin guards (Cleats are not mandatory.) Also go over what they should bring to games and when they should arrive.
- Most importantly, your philosophy about coaching U-8 players. Let them know that everyone will have equal playing time; that the game does not look like the older player’s games; that you are there to ensure that their player is safe and has a good time, as well as learn about soccer, that we are hear to have fun, enjoy some fresh air, and make new friends.
- What your expectations for them is during game time. How do you want them to cheer? Do they know that they should not coach from the sidelines? It is hard for many parents to understand that it is best if they do not give specific instructions (e.g., Kick it hard, Johnny!) from the sidelines; now is the time to explain this to them.
- Try your best to get an assistant coach and parent referee lined up. At this level they can be the same person, though it is nice to have more than one parent referee. You can accomplish a lot with a 8:1 player to coach ratio, but you can accomplish a lot MORE with an assistant. Let the assistant know that all he or she has to do is show up and help you out, or let you know in advance he or she won’t be there.