Coaching very young children is great fun.
Four, five and six-year-olds are so enthusiastic it’s hard not to give them a good time at training sessions. All you have to do is put a ball on the ground and off they go!
But if you want to help them get the most out of your training sessions and set a firm foundation for the “serious” years to come, you should follow a few simple guidelines.
Set the rules
While older football players need to be involved in rule-setting (“what do you think the team rules should be?”), four to six-year-olds need to be told what you want them to do.
You don’t need a long list of rules. One or two is enough. But if you don’t have any rules, you will waste a lot of time trying to get their attention and you will end up feeling a bit frazzled!
Tell your players – in the first session – that if you shout “team talk!”, they should stop whatever they are doing and run to you. If they have a ball, they should bring it with them and sit on it.
Remind your players of this rule at the beginning of every session and give lots of praise to them when they do it.
When I’m talking…
Team talks are your opportunity to explain to your players what they are going to do next.
Verbal instructions should be very brief – no more than 10 seconds or so – and followed by a quick demonstration.
But you need to make sure that your players are listening. So tell them that they can’t listen and talk at the same time!
If a child persists in talking while you’re explaining something, gently ask them to be quiet… or they won’t know what is going to happen next.
You should never try to coach big groups of children on your own, however old they are.
If you’re coaching children aged 11 or older, there should always be at least one coach for every 16 children but if you’re coaching four to six-year-olds, the ratio is much lower: One coach for every six or seven players.
Get parents to help out if you don’t have the luxury of assistant coaches. It’s a good way to engage them and when your players are a bit older, you will need engaged parents!
Play very small-sided games
When playing team games, play 2v2, 3v3 or 4v4.
If you allow the size of the teams to get bigger than that, the children won’t get enough touches on the ball and the games will be too complex and confusing for them.
Never say “never”
Allow your players to move the ball with whatever part of the body they want to.
If they want to kick the ball with their toe, let them. But, at the same time, show them that they can move the ball with the inside, outside, sole, heel and instep too.
Forget all about positions
If you play matches against other teams, don’t try to put players in positions. Very young children all want to be where the action is – within two feet of the ball – so let them.
When you see players beginning to move away from the “swarm” of their own accord, you can introduce the concept of team shape.
Rather than tell your players that they are “defenders” or “attackers”. These labels make no sense to four to six-year-olds but they will, eventually, begin to space themselves out and a recognisable team shape will develop. But don’t rush it.
Keep activities short and familiar
Games should be short, no more than five or 10 minutes, and don’t be afraid to repeat activities that they enjoy.
Young children like to play games that they know and enjoy. If your players want to play Sharks and Minnows, Freeze Tag, Red Light, Green Light and simple games of tag every time they step on to the practice field, let them.
You don’t have to teach them a new game very week!
Following these guidelines should help make coaching sessions with four to six-year-olds fun and enjoyable for everyone concerned – including you!