Why children want to play soccer

If you want to keep your children motivated, interested and wanting to learn you must first understand why they wanted to play soccer in the first place.

Some textbooks suggest that the main reason that children want to play soccer is to learn so-called ‘socialisation skills’ – how to work together in a group, achieve group goals, (e.g. to win as a soccer team), learn sportsmanship and how to deal with success and failure.

Certainly, learning to work together in a group and striving to achieve group goals are potentially important to our children. Learning about and practicing sportsmanship is also a worthwhile goal, as is understanding how to deal with success and failure – winning and losing.

But is this what our children expect to get out of our soccer practices and games?

Actually, NO!

Numerous research studies over the last 20 years have asked children why they decided to participate in organised sports. Although there is some variation in the ranked order of the reasons that children give, (depending on the particular sport they are playing), the top reasons are very consistent:

Children play soccer because they:
1. Expect to have FUN,
2. Learn SKILLS,
3. Develop FITNESS,
4. And because they enjoy COMPETITION

This last point is interesting because many ‘authorities’ suggest that competition in youth sports is a ‘bad thing’.

In NO CONTEST: The Case Against Competition, for example, author Alfie Kohn insists that competition in sports should be avoided at all costs. Kohn goes on to say that “children, especially, are motivated to see what’s enjoyable about an activity.” Nothing, he says, encourages excellence as much as finding a task fun. Artificial incentives such as trophies, gold stars, and (presumably) the results of assessments can kill what is known as “intrinsic motivation” or internal rewards.

Others, (myself included), believe that competition is good for children if appropriate feedback is provided and equal weight given to the importance of values such as sportsmanship and fair play. In fact, competition teaches young people not only to cope with sport, but also helps them to deal with the inevitable ups and downs of life itself.

The studies also reveal that socialisation related reasons are typically near the bottom of the list of reasons children give for playing soccer while sportsmanship comes somewhere in the middle.

It may be a surprise to learn that winning and receiving awards (medals, trophies, etc) do not appear at all among the main reasons.

It would appear that most children want to play soccer so that they can participate in competitive sport (but not necessarily win) and to develop the skills and fitness that will allow them to play and compete as effectively as possible.

We can be sure, however, that all children play soccer because they want to have fun.

Why children stop playing soccer

I stopped going to soccer because after a while it became like work, no fun…I used to like it…”

Eleven year-old, San Fernando Valley, California, USA

Why is it that some children keep coming to our practices, week in week out, in hot sunshine and in freezing blizzards while up to 25% of children (and they’re often the most talented ones) pack it in after a few weeks or months?A recent study asked almost 700 children who stopped playing organised sport (including football or soccer) what it is was that made them give up. The main reasons the kids gave for quitting were:

  • I lost interest,
  • The coach treated some children more favourably than others,
  • I was not having any fun or
  • I developed other non-sport interests.

Of these, only the development of non-sport interests was related to the age of the child. This means that as children get older they are more likely to drop out because they become interested in activities outside of sport.

No surprise there!

Because children rarely drop out for just one specific reason, the study also analysed the ‘reasons behind the reasons’ for dropping out. It found that the primary combination of factors contributing to dropping out was related to the team environment. Specifically, the children felt that:

  • Their coaches were not doing a good job,
  • There was too much pressure to win and
  • The members of the team did not get along well with each other.

The most encouraging finding of all, however, is that in the early age groups the principal reasons for stopping playing soccer are reasons that you can do something about!By understanding how your children think, not putting too much emphasis on competition, giving quality feedback and focusing on FUN your children won’t drop out and may well develop a life long interest in sport – thanks to you!

Now you know why children want to play soccer it might be useful to gain an understanding of how children develop both physically and mentally. That way you’ll be able to plan sessions that are pitched at the right level for your players.

It would also be a good idea to read how to be an effective soccer coach.


Of course, the reasons why children stop playing football vary according to their age when they stop. The most common in my experience are:

  • Parental disinterest (or active discouragement) that results in difficulty getting to practice, matches etc. (affects younger children most).
  • Not fitting in – this is more common in girls football where the importance of being in the the ‘gang’ becomes important as children get to about ten years old;
  • New interests that replace football (other sports usually – golf, tennis etc )
  • Joining a peer group that do not play football


Too much organization for young players?

“Reduce the Number of Players on the Field”

by Brett Thompson, Director of Coaching and Education, www.osysa.com

This article will tackle the often-debated subject of Organized and Select Soccer for our young players.  There has been much heated debate over small sided play / games for younger age children as well as the debate around the country about eliminating select soccer for younger players.  The debate over eliminating select soccer is brought up because too much pressure from parents, parental pressure on coaches who are paid to win and coaches who feel they must win to keep their paycheck coming in.

Many players today have been playing select soccer since they were 8 or 9 years old and play as many as 60 games a year.  This does not include indoor games, which could add another 20 games per year totaling 80 games per year.  The amount of games these young children play is unbelievable when you compare it to professional teams in Europe who play no more than 64 games a year.  The professionals also never play more than 2 games per week let alone 5 games in a weekend like some of our players do at tournaments.  Where does the player development come from if players are playing 3 games a week?  How can teams practice if all they are doing is playing to survive and stay in the division they are in or trying to move up.  It becomes human instinct of survival and as a result coaches play to win rather than develop.  Over the last 20-30 years the number of players and games those players play has increased dramatically.  Even with increasing the number of games in this country, we can still not compare with the rest of the world, especially on the men’s side.  On the women’s side we have done quite well over the past decade or so however, there have been many cultural issues that have allowed American women to dominate soccer in the world.  In women’s soccer today we can see that the rest of the world is catching up even though they may not have the pure athletes as we do in this country, but they may begin to surpass us technically as well as tactically in the very near future if we are not careful.  Our women’s game today is too reliant on athletes rather than soccer players who understand how to solve problems, who know how to bend a ball, who can spin a ball (Put English on it) and players who can not get out of tight spaces.

So why is it that soccer players in Latin America are so good considering they have little to no adult supervision when they are young soccer players playing in the street or park?  As one Argentinean professional player said “I think we are too unorganized to be organized”.  Players in South America play pick up games on a regular basis without adult intervention as a result, play a craftier style or as my father said to me growing up a “cheeky game”.  These players often are better in 1 vs 1 confrontations, able to create space better for themselves and others and most of all have an absolute joy and love for the game.  These players learned how to solve the problems presented to them as they came up in games without an adult “Telling” them how to solve it.

Let’s compare soccer to basketball in this country.  Today’s basketball player has a basketball hoop in their driveway or one located at the local playground.  These players hone their skills in “Pickup Games” without adult intervention and instruction.  Players in this environment are free to experiment, take chances, try new moves, fail without retribution form an adult and their role in the game may change many times based on who they are playing with.  Just imagine if Michael Jordan, Alan Iverson, Vince Carter and Kevin Garnett had played soccer.  These players learned to love and play the game by playing pick up games first before they were thrust into the adult world of athletics.

Soccer in this country has become too organized and structured more “Adult like environment” than a “Child like environment”.  Just look at the tournament schedules on the web today; there is a tournament every single weekend within driving distance of an Ohio South city.   Players today are being scouted and identified by age 6 and 7.  Look at how many parents are paying coaches to train their child who has “Potential”, who can identify a player who is 6 or 7, where do we live in the old East Germany?  Players at age 7 and 8 are being pigeon holed into positions and placed with other children of equal athletic ability so they can win.  Players may only be moved into different positions in some cases only if the team “”Has a good lead” because the coach does not want to lose and have to face the parent who will move their child to a “Winner”.

Many parents often worry that unless they get their child into select (Competitive) soccer early that they will not succeed.  Succeed at what and why do this?  Maybe it is because today many parents see the Brass Ring, that college scholarship? Maybe it is the fact that they played at a high level and they feel that their child should get an early start to ensure they will be a better soccer player or athlete than they were?

For our players to grow into soccer players today we must allow them to play different positions allow them to have successes and have failures (without retribution).  Player’s grow, mature and comprehend of the game grow at different rates.  Their understating of soccer and physical size can change in the span of 6 to 12 months.  In is inconceivable to me that a coach or parent would try to identify the player who has potential by the age of 10.

We must change the way we are teaching the game in this country today.  We talk a good game about developing players while we spend most of our time finding and identifying those players who may be bigger, stronger and faster so we can turn them into “Elite Athletes” at camps that parents are willing to pay up to $200 a month for 7 year olds.  It is my opinion that we need to slow down on putting players into competitive environments too early.  Since I arrived last October I have had several conversations with coaches who want me to help them develop a style of play or help with a formation because they are playing 11 vs 11 at aged 9 and they are giving up too many goals.  Maybe just maybe the answer is not what formation or style of play they have but maybe the field is too big and it becomes a game of territory or who has the strongest and fastest kids who can kick the ball hard.  Every year this country produces a “National Champion” and yet at least on the men’s side we have yet to win a World Cup.  Today’s soccer requires an athlete who has the ability to solve problems on their own quickly.  We do not need soccer players who play for coaches who treat them as if it is a Nintendo game.  We must allow our players to learn the game at the pace that is appropriate to their age and not rush things.

We as adults believe that if we provide a structured environment we can speed up the learning process and we have better soccer players on our hands.  We as adults try to put players in our Palm Pilot world while fitting them into what we believe they should do and play rather than understand the game each and every one of them plays and how they play it is nothing but an expression of their personality.

I will leave you with this thought from “Zorba the Greek by Kazantzakis” Readiness:

I remember one morning when I discovered a cocoon in the bark of a tree, just as a butterfly was making a hole in its case and preparing to come out.  I waited a while, but it was taking too long appearing and I was impatient.  I bent over and breathed on it to warm it.  I warmed it as quickly as I could and the miracle began to happen before my eyes faster than life.  The case opened, the butterfly started crawling out and I shall never forget my horror when I saw how its wings were folded and crumpled; the wretched butterfly tried with its entire whole trembling body to unfold them.  Bending over it, I tried to help with my breath in vain.  It needed to be hatched out patiently and unfolding of the wings should be a gradual process in the sun.  Now it was too late, my breath had forced the butterfly to appear all crumpled before it’s time.  It struggled desperately for few seconds but later died in the palm of my hand.  That little body is, I do believe, the greatest weight on my conscience.  For I realize today that it is a mortal sin to violate the great laws of nature.  We should not hurry, we should not be impatient, but we should confidently obey the eternal rhythm.

The mental development of 6-12 year olds in youth soccer

Mental Development for the 6 year olds and under

The key issue for children under six is positive self-esteem. Children will play the game longer, try harder and overcome obstacles if the environment is conducive to building self esteem.

The concept of “self” is learned, not by winning games, but by facing progressively difficult challenges. Earning success promotes higher levels of self-awareness, stronger self-image and self-confidence. The child up to the age of 6 is focused primary upon developing the self. At this stage all experiences should allow the child to fully engage the physical domain within the child. It would be destructive to make tactical demands on a six year old when they don’t have the cognitive ability to comprehend the concept.

“The make believe” ability of the child’s mind is dominant at this stage. Most interactions of the make believe world can be unitized successfully in the very small sided game. Every touch can be a resounding success. Youngsters have very short attention spans and can’t stand hearing verbal descriptions of observations from a coach.

Too much verbiage and the moment is lost. Players like to move and require constant opportunity to be successful. The under six player is developing a central nervous system that requires general movement with little refined skill. It’s OK if a six year old cannot bend a ball at 40 yards, it’s not in their abilities to master such a demand. If we try to teach this demand we waste time and destroy the child’s motivation. The world of a six year old revolves around the imaginary victories they create in their realities. This is a normal phase and should be encouraged with corrections and criticisms held to a minimum.

Given the correct environment the children will find a way to play. When levels of demand are to abstract in the full 11 v 11 game (tactics) or the physical demands to challenging the result is anger, helplessness and ultimately dropout.

Mental Development for the 7-12 year olds

The next phase in development is the cognitive period of operational thought. At this stage, age 7-12 the child is moving away from self-centeredness and becomes aware of others in the world. The larger sided games that require more complex variations and tactics can start to be introduced.

We have to be aware that there is a very small progression from the previous stage and that a sudden transition to a formal full game with 11 v 11 tactics will destroy confidence if introduced at this stage. Therefore, the progression should move gradually to a larger sided game. The simple progression from a 6 v 6 to a 7 v 7 game is warranted here.

A longer attention span and the ability to understand co-operation will contribute to playing small side tactics. The ability to understand rule formation is beginning in this stage and therefore the coach can begin to described simple logic.

Again, a word of caution that a full sided game is beyond the comprehension of a nine year old. I often hear of parents that indicate that a child at age nine is already competently playing full sided games with older children.

Playing and understanding the game are different ideas.

It is necessary to both understand and be successful to achieve higher levels of enjoyment. One of the quickest ways to lose a child joy is to make the demands of the game to difficult and to lose contact with their friends. At this stage the persons self-concept is forming along the lines of how they compare to other people.

While this comparison is inevitable within the context of society we must emphasize the needs of the child. Soccer by its nature can indicate a winner and loser very quickly and can initiate gross feelings of guilt and inferiority if the a constant focus on winning is stressed rather than development.

Sugar and spice…

coaching girls

coaching girlsOver the last fifteen years, I’ve coached all girls teams, all boys teams and mixed teams and I’ve learned – often the hard way! – that there are some key things to remember when coaching the ‘fairer sex’.

Girls, typically, are more analytical than boys and will not accept what a coach says at face value. They will want to know why they should do something a particular way more than boys will. If you try to be dictatorial, girls will simply switch off whereas boys may accept what you say because you’re ‘the boss’.

Team unity is more important to girls than boys. So if you coach girls you have to make sure that you give more or less equal playing time to everyone in the squad, regardless of their ability, even in the most important games. If you don’t, the girls won’t thank you if they win but they will remember that you were ‘unfair’ to their friends.

Also, a girls’ coach has to be constantly on the lookout for the emergence of little cliques. Small groups within teams are always damaging whether you coach boys or girls but they can permanently split a girls team in a matter of days. If you coach girls, listen carefully to their conversations and watch how they interact with each other

Girls usually place more emphasis on ‘fair play’ than boys who are more likely to bend the rules. So girls’ matches are often more pleasant, stress-free event…as long as you can keep their parents under control.

Boys are more likely than girls to blame outside factors (the referee, the weather, the coach) if they lose whereas individual female players will often blame themselves for a poor team performance, even if it is unjustified. So you need to spend a lot of time with girls reinforcing the notion that it’s effort that counts, not results.

As far as their capacity for physical work is concerned, there is no difference between boys and girls until they reach puberty.

From the age of about ten the anaerobic capacity of boys – their ability to work hard in short bursts – quickly outstrips girls and coaches who have both boys and girls in their team should be careful to plan their coaching activities accordingly.

To sum up.

If you coach a girls’ team you have to:

  • Be democratic, not a ‘P.E. teacher’ type of coach;
  • Be aware of the relationships between players;
  • Give lots of positive encouragement;
  • Get player input: ask for suggestions and never lecture;
  • Treat every player in your squad exactly the same;
  • Plan training sessions that include lots of games and several socialising breaks.

Of course, this is a good way to coach boys too. But you can often get away with telling boys what to do and not paying much attention to their relationships.

Try doing that with girls and you won’t last very long, I assure you!

Bottom line: It’s not sexist to consider if girls need to be coached differently to boys. All you’re doing is trying to coach them as effectively as you can.

Sports Training – How Much is Too Much?

By Lyle Micheli, M.D.

reproduced by permission of the Mass Youth Soccer Association

Kids are starting sports earlier and training harder. Incentives to win are growing, sometimes literally – I’ve seen trophies almost bigger than the little athletes who’ve won them! With higher stakes have come pressures to perform better by being fitter and more skilled. Usually, this is achieved through repetition, repetition, repetition – whether it is serving a tennis ball, pitching a baseball, or performing a figure-skating double axel.

In kids’ sports programs, fitness and skill development have to be balanced with the need to avoid overtraining. Overtraining is when the athlete is required to do too much – either physically or mentally, or both.

Parents need to be sensitive to changes in performance and attitude that suggest their kids are being pushed too hard. Such changes may be precursors of physical injury.

Signs of overtraining
– Slower times in distance sports such as running, cycling, and swimming
– Deterioration in execution of sports plays or routines such as those performed in figure skating and gymnastics
– Decreased ability to achieve training goals
– Lack of motivation to practice
– Getting tired easily
– Irritability and unwillingness to cooperate with teammates

Unfortunately, the tendency when a parent or coach is confronted with signs of overtraining is to push the child harder. But if overtraining is the culprit, any increase in training will only worsen the situation.

And as I have suggested, training too much may eventually lead to overuse injuries in which actual damage to the bones and soft tissues occurs because the body can’t recover from the repetitive physical demands placed on it by sport activity.

This raises an important question: How much is too much? Not a great deal of hard data is available on this subject. That’s because to find out exactly how much training is safe, we’d have to take large groups of kids and put them through grueling sports drills and wait there with our clipboards for them to collapse in pain. I don’t think we could find too many parents who’d be willing to turn over their kids for such tests! In the absence of data obtained from clinical studies, we need to formulate our guidelines based on observations made over the years by coaches and sports scientists.

How long can kids train?
As a general rule, children shouldn’t train for more than 18-20 hours a week. If a child is engaged in elite competition there may be pressures to train for longer – especially in the lead-up to a major event. Anytime a child trains for longer than this recommended length of time she must be monitored by a qualified sports doctor with expertise in young athletes. This is to make sure abnormalities in growth or maturation do not occur. Any joint pain lasting more than two weeks is justification for a visit to the sports doctor.

It’s also important to ensure restrictions against excessive sports activity are not exceeded. For instance, young baseball pitchers in America are not allowed to pitch more than seven innings a week. While this restriction is mostly adhered to in the game setting, it is pointless if kids are pressured by their coaches to throw excessively during practices (parents, too, need to remember that going to the park with their kid to “throw a few” needs to be counted as part of the number of pitches he makes).

In general, young baseball players shouldn’t perform more than 300 “skilled throws” a week; any more than this and the risk of injury dramatically increases.

How much of an increase in training is safe?
Increasing the frequency, duration, or intensity of training too quickly is one of the main causes of injury. To prevent injuries caused by too-rapid increases in training, I am a strong believer in athletes following the “ten-percent rule.” The rule refers to the amount a young athlete’s training can be increased every week without risking injury. In other words, a child running 20 minutes at a time four times a week can probably safely run 22 minutes four times a week the week after, an increase of ten percent.

Most of the injuries I see in my clinic are the product of violations of the ten percent rule, when young athletes have their training regimen increased “too much, too soon.”

“Too much too soon” scenarios
The football player, who, after a summer of inactivity, goes straight into a fall pre-season training camp.
The swimmer who normally trains at 5000 yards per day but then is asked to swim 8000 yards a day for three consecutive days.
The dancer who does 12 hours of classes per week and then suddenly is training six hours per day, six days a week at a summer dance program.
The gymnast, who, in the weeks before a major event, doubles her training time.

How hard should kids train?
When young athletes are growing the emphasis should be on developing athletic technique. Although power or speed are important qualities in sports, stressing them to children at the expense of technique can lead to injuries. Once good technique is mastered, power and speed can be introduced.

It is important for you to safeguard your children against being overtrained. The danger of this happening is especially acute if your child is an elite athlete or one engaged in a very competitive sports environment. Perhaps the most effective measure any parent can take is to make sure his child’s coach is certified. Another is to look out for the signs of overtraining, as described above, as well as the early signs of injuries themselves. A strength training program is an important component of any injury prevention program for athletes – kids included.

In many cases, I believe, kids drop out of sports because of low-grade pain that is actually the early stage of an overuse injury. The pain is never diagnosed as an early-stage overuse injury because the child simply quits the program. What this may do is prejudice a child against physical activity and exercise for life. The same is true for mental stress in sports.

Given the state of fitness in this country, overtraining children has the opposite effect of what we want, which is to instill in our young people a love of exercise that will stay with them through life, and inspire them to stay fit and healthy long after their youth sports days are done.

Dr. Micheli co-founded and is director of the world’s first sports medicine clinic for children, located at Boston Children’s Hospital. He is also the chairperson of the Massachusetts Governor’s Committee on Physical Fitness and Sports, and a past president of the American College of Sports Medicine.

Soccer team rules

The following are some suggested rules for young soccer players, taken from the footy4kids soccer coaching philosophy and codes of conduct.

Any such rules should be discussed and agreed before the season starts, preferably at a pre-season meeting.

  • Play according to the laws and spirit of the game.
  • Be on time and be prepared for matches and training sessions.
  • Display self-control in all situations. Never use foul or abusive language – before, during or after a game or training session.
  • Train and play to the best of your ability, have a positive attitude, and encourage others to do the same.
  • Respect the opposition. Treat them as you would like them to treat you.
  • Respect the referee. Never dispute his or her decisions. They are only human and they make mistakes, just like you.
  • Turn up for training and matches in appropriate and clean clothing.
  • Wear the right sort of footwear (studded boots). Note: we recommend against the use of blades on health and safety grounds.
  • Always wear shinpads.
  • Clean your own boots/trainers!

Setting goals

Courtesy of Kids First Soccer

Information presented here is based on the discussion by Gould, D. (1998). Goal setting for peak performance. In J.M. Williams (Ed.) Applied sport psychology: Personal growth to peak performance (3rd ed.)


a pre-determined level of proficiency on a specific motor skill or fitness component(s)
specific time frame or deadline to reach goal
plan of action to achieve goal
baseline and deadline performance measurement procedures

McClements (1982) provides the following specific distinction between types of goals:

SUBJECTIVE GOALS : perform better or improve, try very hard, create and run interesting practices (goal for coach), be liked and appreciated, be happy…have fun…(note that the subjective goals listed here are very hard if not impossible to quantify and thus measure)

GENERAL OBJECTIVE GOALS: making friends, becoming popular among peers, making the team, improving win/loss record, making it to the finals, winning a tournament…etc. (note that the general objective goals listed here are very hard to control since its main concerns are outcomes rather than processes)

increasing the percentage of first possessions, decrease the number of throw-in foot errors (this is the negative version of “increase the percentage on correct throw-ins”), increase the number of times a player simply makes contact with the ball in soccer… (note that specific objective goals are simpler to evaluate and allow better control by the individual)

Similarly, Martens, Christina, Harvey and Sharkey (1981) contrasted outcome and performance goals.

OUTCOME GOALS: highlight the final result as it is contrasted with another person’s achievement

PERFORMANCE GOALS: The focus is on the process by which a result was achieved. Each most recent performance is contrasted with earlier efforts by same individual.

The distinction between the different types of goals is very crucial since the available empirical evidence has consistently demonstrated that specific objective goals, combined with performance goals, are the most efficient facilitators of behaviour modification and/or change.


The use of goals clearly outperforms a “play as you go” no goals approach. Still, bare in mind that not all goal-setting approaches are equally effective. Following is a summary of successful goal-setting procedures:

  • identify and record team and personal goals; outline a strategy for reaching the agreed upon set of goals
  • state goals using easy to measure motor skills or fitness components (i.e., state your goals in performance rather than outcome terms)
  • maintain the delicate balance between challenging yet attainable goals; be prepared to modify team and/or individual athlete goals to keep the balance
  • break long-term goals into several short-and intermediate term goals and apply a corresponding time frame and target dates to each goal
  • have specific goals for soccer practices, practice games, and regular season games (the goal in pre-season games may be to experiment with a variety of offensive and defensive formations, during a regular game the goal may shift to implementation and proper execution of a specific game plan…
  • use positive language when stating your goals (emphasis is on “what to do” as opposed to “what not to do.” For example, “Listen to and follow the referee’s instructions” versus “Do not argue with the referee.”
  • set special times for the development and evaluation of your goals
  • provide continuous performance feedback and positive reinforcement

Based on Botterill’s (1983) discussion, Gould (1986) proposed the following three- phase goal-setting system: (The following would be a lot to ask or expect of the coach to be achieved in a typical 10 week little league soccer season. The child’s parents can help by interviewing their child and submitting to the coach their and their child’s goals for the season. The head coach may now have something to work with. He/she may “collapse” all similar goals by team members and assign specific areas of practice to her/his assistants or parent volunteers).


Get in touch with your personal coaching philosophy (sincere goals are easier to stick to and thus you may avoid confusion on the team)

Identify individual and team needs (separate the kids that distract each other, allow the kids to be kids, allow for socialization time, provide “custom made” emotional support to team members, provide active fitness and on task skills opportunities, create environments in which team members would have a good chance to succeed [e.g., score goals during practice games,] in areas that otherwise would be an almost impossible task in a regular season match…)

Based on identified team and individual needs facilitate a goals discussion with players and parents (consider the feasibility of your planned goals)

Identify and implement strategies to achieve team and individual player goals


Present your ideas to parents and kids in a team meeting (provide parents with a “work sheet” with some leading questions that they could hand back to you with their and their child’s ideas and comments, e.g., “What do you like most about soccer practices? Games? What do you like ).

Plan a follow-up meeting in which parent and child are asked to reflect upon their personal and team expectations and goals (make sure you clarify with your parents and children their priorities, specific needs, and realistic expectations)

Discuss team and individual goals throughout the season with parents and individual players (You may consider developing goals of practice between official practice days.

On our 9-10 year-old boys’ soccer team we assign ball control (e.g., kicking against wall, throw-ins to wall, juggling, wall kicking, dribbling, etc…) drills to the kids. The less experienced and skilled child would greatly benefit from adult supervision and specific feedback since “Practice alone does not necessarily result in proper learning. Well planned and executed practice does.”


Collect an accurate “snape shot” of pre-and early season initial motor skills (Some of the available soccer skills tests include but are not limited to the Shuttle Run Test, the Dribbling Test, The Wall Kick Skills Test, the Punting Test the Passing/Trapping Test, the Target Shooting Test, the Juggling Test and more…). Diagrams and test procedures are now available at the above links.

Create methodical systems of providing feedback. Avoid using phrases such as “You missed…” or “Kick the ball to the corner of the goal…” or “When passing to a team-mate send a ground ball…” and stop at that. Instead tell and demonstrate to the child how to more effectively place her/his balancing foot, where should the balancing foot’s toe point to. Show the child how to properly drive the ball using the the kicking foot by pointing out where to contact the ball…Most kids see better than adults, and they know the ball went out, over, or too much to the left. That was quite obvious. They need us to tell them why it happened and what can they do to correct their actions.

Create team and individual evaluation charts. You may assign a motivated team parent to chart their child’s (or any child’s) field movements and contacts with the ball (prepare several field charts with the child’s name and the five minute observation interval (e.g., 00-5:00; 5:00-10:00; etc.). Chart movement without ball using a broken line, for contact with ball put down a number, e.g., #1, 2, 3, etc.,) where contact took place, draw uninterrupted line to describe passes and shots.


  • Setting too many goals too soon. You may jolt down as many goals as you wish. Just be sure to prioretise goals and work plans.
  • Stating most goals in general subjective terms. Be as specific and as precise as you can be when stating your goals.
  • Not appreciating individual differences. Some kids just can’t apply themselves as others to the team’s goals. What may seem as their 70% may in fact represent their 100% at this point in time. Kids grow and mature at a different pace. Some are where you’d like them to be at when you first meet them, and some will perform for the coach two seasons away. Kids may experience different learning curves, and may have a variety of preferences for lead-up games, drills, and feedback remarks. What may seem challenging to the coach and some kids on the team may appear as boring to others. So do not take it personally, for example, when a seven-year-old does not like your hard labored, wonderfully crafted practice plan…
  • Holding on too long to unrealistic goals. Let go and move on.
  • Omitting “performance Goals.” (e.g., “Team will execute three [or as many as you think is appropriate given your current level of team play] sets of three or more consecutive passes during a match by the fifth regular season game.”
  • Putting exessive emphasis on technique-related goals. (Behaviors that relate to sportsmanship, punctuality, hard work/effort, help with setting equipment, being supportive of teammates when they commit a mistake…etc…are just as important as proper trapping or passing to the child’s overall learning experience.
  • Not appreciating the time commitment needed to implement a proper goal-setting program. (Take the time to measure and discuss baseline performance, and set time aside for reevaluation and charting of progress.)
  • Not fostering a supportive goal-setting environment. (Create charts with baseline and consecutive evaluation interval results)