Youth soccer coaches need to bear in mind the physical and mental age of their players when planning their training sessions.
This might seem like stating the obvious but many coaches experience discipline problems simply because their plans are too ambitious or too easy for their players.
Also, some coaches expect their players to master skills or techniques that they are simply not capable of at their age. For example, children up to the age of about ten may lack the physical ability to lock their ankle; a skill that is necessary to accurately strike a ball. There’s not much point, then, to get frustrated with an eight year old who can’t hoof the ball from one end of the pitch to the other!
Coaches whose players are aged up to six or seven years old should also bear in mind that young children are very egocentric; they see the world only from their perspective. As a result, they are not going to want to pass the ball to their team-mates. They’re worried they might never get it back! So don’t be surprised that it’s difficult to get six year olds to stop swarming round the ball. Also, young children lack the ability to “look ahead” and see what is about to happen. This is a limiting factor that coaches need to bear in mind when teaching how to attack the ball at corner kicks, for example.
So….when designing practices coaches need to take into consideration the age characteristics of their players. Activities should be picked that fit the developmental needs of the children, rather than trying to make the children participate in activities that are developmentally inappropriate for them.
What are developmentally appropriate exercises?
When picking activities always remember what the game of soccer is like – players are moving around constantly. Because everyone is moving the environment is constantly changing which requires players to be constantly making decisions. It is because of this that practice games are more effective than ‘drills’ at teaching kids how to play soccer, even when dealing with techniques like how to pass the ball.
Many coaches choose to do drills that involve players standing in lines waiting to have a turn. This type of drill is not ‘soccer-like’. No child should be encouraged to stand in a line and wait a turn. There are plenty of ‘soccer-like’ practice games that can be used to teach any technique or tactical concept.
Enjoyment is the unifying motive. Some children don’t want to learn. Some don’t care about winning. A few have no interest in hard work and one or two can’t remember which goal they’re attacking. In spite of all of their different agendas they all want to have fun and play a game, that is what brings them there.
They also want to be children. Too often the coach sees them as an extension of his vision and they become puppets to it. The time spent at practice and at the games is a part of their childhood. It should not reflect the adult world. Some adults forget this and their expectations take the fun out of the experience. Take time to consider your coaching style and understand that your expectations and hopes may not be shared by the children you’re coaching.