Coaching U6 Soccer Players

Posted on Aug 30, 2011 in Coaching Youth Soccer

What is the number one reason kids play soccer? (or any sport for that matter)

FUN!

So what is the best way to get and keep kids motivated at any age?

Make sure they have fun.

There are many other developmental principals we need to consider, but first and foremost we must realize kids play to have fun.

There is no “but also…”, however, there is an “AND also…”

We also need to realize that youth sports is about finding fun ways to develop “people” from young children and young adults into adults who will enjoy learning, enjoy being challenged, be confident, successful and have solid interpersonal relationship skills.

How do we do this fun ways to develop “people” from young children and young adults into adults who will enjoy learning, enjoy being challenged, be confident, successful and have solid interpersonal relationship skills.?

We first need to understand children and their stages of development.

From a psychological development perspective, this article by Dr. Freigang provides some excellent guidance in the the mental development of 6 year olds (and younger) Dr. Freigang is a sport scientist working with the U.S. National Team in Sport Psychology.

“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”

Goal #1: Develop Self-esteem:

“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.”

So how does this apply to practice sessions?

First of all; meeting each child at their mental & physical level and abilities. Creating an environment where they can learn in a fun and positive manner. This does not mean “coddling kids” but challenging them & teaching them by putting them in an environment where they can become aware of their own abilities, discover new ways of moving their bodies, interact with the ball, and others players. It means encouraging them and challenging them to grow and learn new things. Then encouraging them and challenging them again and again.

Tell them they are awesome a hundred times and ask them “can you do this?” another hundred more.

This is easily done with soccer if as a coach you take away the emphasis of winning the upcoming game, and focus on…

  1. Games that involve each child with their own ball for an entire hour long practice session.
  2. Encouraging, teaching and challenging with fun games focused on dribbling and shooting.
  3. Stay away from pressuring them and expecting them to “spread out” and “pass the ball”.
  4. Teach with games that allow them to play and discover new skills.
  5. Ask them questions to help them discover the answers as often as possible rather than telling them what to do.

And guess what? The players will have more fun. It is a win-win-win for everyone-even if you “lose” the game in the coming weekend because the opposing coach spent his or her time teaching his players how to pass, or because they had a better team.

Forcing players to stand in line, stay in position, “spread out”, “stop doing this” or “stop doing that” will NOT help them develop the self-esteem, creativity or the skills they need to enjoy the game or life to its’ fullest.

Goal #2 Develop “Self”- To NOT do this is actually destructive to the child.

This key point Dr. Freigang made cannot be overstated: “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.”

That’s right: destructive.

Would it be destructive to a child’s development to focus on making certain your child could walk at 6 or even 8 months, even if with hours of pressure training and work they would be able to do so? Many would say “yes”. Why? Because the hours you would spend pushing a child to do something they are not or should not be ready to do would be:

  1. Potentially emotionally traumatic for the child.
  2. Potentially physically traumatic for the child.
  3. Take away from the other things they should be learning and discovering that were age appropriate and developmentally appropriate for the child.
  4. Would not give the child any advantage later in life, and may in fact cause some sort of physical or emotional disadvantage.

When you force passing and team tactics onto children as old as 6 years of age you are being destructive to the child’s development as a soccer player and as an individual, because you are:

 

  1. Taking away the opportunity for them to develop the skills they will need to be successful later.
  2. Likely stifling or damaging their self esteem.
  3. Giving them a false sense of security by enabling them to win games when they are young without developing the skills, self-esteem and creativity they will need later to enjoy exponentially more success at the game.
  4. Teaching them that winning in the short run is more important than being the best you can be in the long run.

Bottom line is that if you spend time teaching 6 and under kids how to “pass” the soccer ball with the appearance of proficiency, you are doing more harm than good for the kids. At worst it is destructive, at best it is opportunity lost.

What should you be working on with children 6 years of age and younger exclusively?

 

  1. Individual skills:
  2. Dribbling
  3. Shooting/instep drive passing the ball.
  4. Challenging
  5. Aggressiveness or Assertiveness
  • Don’t teach them the inside of the foot pass until they have mastered the instep drive shot/pass, and you need to wait until 8 or older to teach the inside of the foot pass.
  • Don’t work with them on “spreading out”, 2 v 1 or 2 v 2.
  • Don’t work with them on team passing concepts.

I cannot overstate this: Every minute you focus on passing and teamwork with 6 year olds is a waste of time. You might say “but they get better at passing”. They might get better at passing, and with enough time spent on passing they will get better at passing, but at what cost? You are wasting precious time they could have been working on their self-esteem, creativity, dribbling & shooting skills.
At 6, psychologically and physically 6 year olds benefit the most from learning how to dribble and shoot. Every second you spend teaching them how to do something else (in soccer) deprives them of the opportunity to learn what they can learn the quickest, and from learning what will benefit them greatly as they get older and need the dribbling and shooting skills needed to successfully play the game, and enjoy the game.
This is why we have them play 3 v 3 with no goalies at the younger age. So they can enjoy playing and touch the ball as often as possible. So they can gain confidence with the ball. So they can learn to be aggressive and challenge for the ball.

Children 6 and under (and even players 4-6 years older) need to have the ball at their feet for nearly the entire practice session.

Obviously when you have competitive games like 1 v 1 or a 3 v 3 scrimmage you will have 2 or 6 to a ball, but before you do these games, spending literally 80-99% of the practice with each child having their own ball to train with is what you should be doing if what you want is to do the best for your children.

Anything else is potentially detrimental to their development.
You can do this through loads of fun games that get progressively more challenging and competitive while remaining fun for the kiddos for a solid hour.
What games you should you play?
Come back for the next post on great soccer drills for 4-10 year olds.