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How to help your young player become friends with the ball.

A soccer ball begs to be kicked. It sits in front of a kid, all plump and round, and the child just knows that if he or she can give it a good whack it will fly! But a 6-year-old foot hits the ball and it doesn’t fly — it rolls a few feet and stops. It refuses to do what the child wants it to do and, after a few attempts, the ball seems a stubborn, alien creature. That’s when we start to hear the disappointed cries of “I can’t kick!” or “The ball won’t go!” The child is right. They can’t kick… yet. But, if they really like to play — enough to spend time with a ball and a patient parent — by the time they are 7 or 8 they will amaze themselves with what they can do. So here are a few hints on how you can help turn the ball into a friend for your child.

Make sure they have a ball! The surest way for a child to develop soccer skills is for them to spend time with a ball and have fun doing it. If it isn’t fun, a youngster will quickly lose interest, and the best way to turn a young player off is to pressure them with parental hopes and expectations. So the first tip is: Resist the urge to “coach”. Be a participant, a playmate. If dad becomes frustrated because his first-year player can’t make accurate 10-yard passes, the child will soon start to associate soccer with failure rather than fun. But when mom or dad or big brother sets aside a few minutes a few times a week and simply plays with them, soon the ball is no longer a stranger. Let them chase you and get the ball away from you. Fill some plastic bleach bottles with sand or water, line them up and play soccer skittles. Put two of the bottles a couple of yards apart and try to kick the ball between them. Make a simple obstacle course for them to take the ball through. “Around the flower bed, through those bottles, and back to me!” And, if they say “I can’t”, remember that all-important word “…yet”. If you reassure them that the main thing is to have fun and the skills will come with time, they’ll be rewarded by every small success. The first time they kick a ball and it actually goes where they meant it to go — for a 6-year-old, that’s like scoring the winning goal in the World Cup Final!

Dr. Wall … the world’s #1 coach! As your young soccer player gets a little older (at some point between age 7 and 9) the very best coach they can have is “Doctor Wall”. With a ball and a wall, a child can get literally 100’s of “touches” in just a few minutes of practice. Now they can begin to practice the things their coaches are telling them. Alone or with a parent or soccer buddy, they can hit the ball against the wall repeatedly… practicing their passing, kicking and ball control… and making up small games or competitions: e.g. the ball can only bounce once before you kick it again. It’s fun, there is no “pressure” and (as long as the wall has no windows!) it’s a safe and a very productive way to practice. Just 15 minutes with Dr. Wall every day will produce real improvement very quickly.

Learning by seeing. In most countries of the world, children learn soccer by playing, playing, playing in “street” and “sand-lot” games — not the organized leagues we provide for them in North America. They also learn by watching the pros on TV. Ours is not a “soccer culture” (yet), but our young soccer players can still see the world’s best on television. At about age 9 or 10, youngsters who are developing a real love for the game can benefit greatly from watching the top-class teams from Italy’s Serie A or England’s Premier Division. Several channels carry big games on the weekends, and if you have a satellite dish you can probably watch soccer 24 hours day. Only the keenest kids will sit still for the whole show, but don’t be surprised if they’re in the back yard later, trying to do a new trick with the ball!

Bryan L. Pinn
Head Coach, Spartacus SC,
Team Coach, Spartacus 89s
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