Answers to questions we may all learn from
(This page was created on Feb. 20, 2001)
We are looking for resources for an age appropriate soccer program for children ages 4 & 5. We are aware of resources for 6 and older but we have not found information regarding children under 6. Can you help us?
A quick answer would be that "A soccer program is inappropriate for children ages 4 & 5." Having said that let me elaborate.
Most kids would have a less frustrating experience if they started to play soccer as it is taught and organized in America between the ages of 7-9. Stiff competition, on the other hand, i.e., league championships and special teams is best when left alone until the child turns 12. Let me explain.
Imagine how unrealistic would a "play-date" for your four- or five-year old child be if you invited 5 or seven of her/his friends to share one toy! At four most kids can barely get along with one child! This is the reason we train physical education teachers that work with pre-K through first grade children to stay away from team sports and competition all together. Very young children benefit most from individual sport activities that are modified to fit their physical and mental development. Well educated teachers and coaches, however, rarely get involved in setting the standards and/or programs for youth sport leagues. Thus, on any given weekend, tens of thousands of four- and five-year old boys and girls chase a soccer ball in "beehive" style across the United States.
In case of a scenario where waiting a few years and first getting involved with swimming, gymnastics, movement education, dance etc. is not an option, here are some suggestions that may help alleviate the inevitable frustrating experiences of soccer for the very young.
My first suggestion is that you plan a league that involves only practices and informal lead-up games. That is, kids should play games that allow one child to manipulate the ball uninterrupted while the other kids watch and cheer or participate in a parallel format. Also, there is no need for uniforms (use ribbons or large numbers that may be attached via velcro) or referees (allow coaches and helpers on the field to facilitate action). I realize that this may be difficult for some "hard core" parents, but let us not forget who we are here to serve.
Controlling a soccer ball with one foot while balancing on the other is not an easy task. Trying to manage the ball with as many as 3 to 10 players in one’s way would be hard for a professional let alone a four or five year old. To add insult to injury, some coaches design their practices in ways that expect two or more five year olds to practice with an unskilled partner with a similar short attention span. During the past few years I have observed children spend most of their practice time either getting in line, in position or chasing wild balls. Little time is spent "on task" with proper skill development. Information regarding coaching soccer to this age group is practically nonexistent because those who are students of the game and write about it know that it make little sense to start any form of formal practice this early.
So why am I writing about a soccer for 4-5 year olds when I find it inappropriate? I do so because I realize that while it may be too late to reverse the current trend, there still is something to say about "damage control." If one must smoke, for example, I’d recommend that they do not inhale and use the best available filter. Smoking without inhaling may be the equivalent of joining a league and not competing. Competition is the ultimate test of one’s skills and effort. Team competition provides a strong sense of belonging and fulfillment. The previous analogy to and brief description of the effects of competition may make sense to an adult. If it makes sense to your four year old, he/she may be ready to compete. If the several hundred four- and five-year olds I have observed represent an average child, this child would be more comfortable in small cooperative as opposed to competitive groups. Thus, If we must get out there with our 4 and five year olds we might consider the following:
A. Organize very small groups (7 or less players per team–keep in mind that in school we have one trained professional for a group this age).
B. Have as many coaches and assistants as is possible (one adult with reasonable skills per child is ideal)
C. Forget about uniforms and referees and play 2X2 or 3X3 lead-up games with one skilled adult facilitator per team (adults are only allowed to pass and/or restart; no tackling or dribbling by facilitating adult are allowed)
D. Emphasize personal skills and fundamentals during practice and avoid competition (No relays or "who can do most...?" Instead, let the child explore, experience and try this or that...)
E. Allow use of hands and practice goalie skills. It is a lot of fun. Do not use goalie in mini games unless an adult is practicing with the child.
D. Use at least one ball per kid, cones, grids and signs (be sure not to allow stray balls on the practice field).
E. Prepare a few simple activities and try to maximize time on task (show-tell-show-practice). Avoid lengthy explanations. Whenever you think about game strategy, relax and let it go. If you can teach these young lads to play positions, be sure to publish your method so that we can all learn from it.
F. When engaging in informal lead up games allow the kids to restart in any way they want. Avoid teaching throw-in and penalty kick skills.
G. An example of proper kicking skills progressions is: (1) kick stationary ball from stationary position, (2) kick stationary ball while in slow movement, (3) kick moving ball while in stationary position, (4) kick moving ball while moving, (5) any of the above with added pace or slight pressure.
H. Allow water and putty breaks.
I. Allocate time for socialization before and after practice.
J. Be aware of the fact that this experience may not be much fun for the adults in charge. The relevant question here, however, is "whether the kids are learning and having fun?"
Good patience, you'll need lots of it...
Hi, My 10 yr old child (LK) started playing soccer this past season. My child did well on a team that never won, but they had fun. Following a scrimmage game with another team LK’s performance caught the opposing team’s coach’s attention and LK was invited to join the All-Star” team. LK never missed practice or a game and was always early for games and played as the team goalie through the entire all-stars tournament (played the goalie position every game and most of the time the entire game). Well, they came in close second in all-stars against a very competitive team. Then, all the parents started talking about PROGRESSIVE/Club team for AYSO. I decided against it as I knew LK was not experienced enough to play at this level. LK’s team members had several years of experience, and I knew LK needed more experience. My husband and child argued with me but I insisted. Finally, I made LK understand that it was for her/his own good to keep playing regular teams. All LK’s teammates made it to the Progressive/Club level. LK was the only child on the team that did not go to tryouts. One day at a game the Coach said my kid was being evaluated for the progressive/club level. I asked the coach for the reason and the reply was that the coach wanted to play LK. I did not know what to do, I thought this issue was already decided. I did not say anything until the coach called days later saying LK was given the green light to be on the team. NOW I kick myself, but I trusted the coach, and since I was new to soccer (which the coach knew) I gave in. My child was so happy! Before actual season started but after I paid the $210.00 fee, LK was asked to sub for a bronze team level that was playing gold teams. On Saturday LK’s team lost 1 to 0. LK blocked many goals played the whole game and the coach told the whole team LK played great but the rest of the team did not play to its potential. During the first half of Sunday’s game the other team scored 6 goals against us. Clearly, it was not LK’s day, but the opposing team was much better than ours. During the second half-time another player who had played goalie during 3 ˝ games for us, (her/his dad was a coach) replaced LK. This kid was good, but 3 half games??? I always thought and said the coach should have another goalie anyway. Well after that game the coach told me LK was not ready. TALK about fickle! I was in shock. Needless to say LK is heartbroken and so hurt, and I am worried about the effect this will have on my child. LK really had bonded with the coach and trusted her/him. Believe me I do not want my child on that team, I am just speaking up because I think that the coach went against the very principles AYSO IS BASED ON..... I would like to hear your opinion regarding this situation.
Dear Concerned Mom,
Based on your description, I think it would be fair to say that your child is well coordinated and athletic. LK is a quick learner and has a good grasp of the fundamentals of the goalie position. Still, LK lacks experience and may also lack a broader perspective of the game resulting from an early specialization emphasis on the goalie position (and that’s a part of the problem).
Assuming that the above is a fair estimate of your child’s ability, I would have to support your early belief that your child was not ready for the AYSO progressive/club team experience. Having said that, however, it seems that LK’s coach who is somewhat of an "expert" initially had a different view. The coach’s original analysis of your child's performance (and potential) led him/her to conclude that LK was ready. Also, my impression is that the coach has taken a very assertive position in recruiting your child to the club. By now saying that LK is not ready yet the coach is clearly admitting that he/she made a mistake. The coach over-estimated your child's ability and skills. The coach’s current position also implies that either he/she does not think he/she can coach and bring your child up to par or possibly that he/she is not willing to invest the time to do so. This scenario reminds me of a real story about a high school kid who didn't make his varsity basketball team because he wasn't good enough. We all know this guy very well today as the now retired Michael Jordan. I wonder how can the coach be so sure now that LK has no place on the team while he/she seems to have been so sure otherwise a few games ago? Fickle? That's possible, but more than that this coach is not a true professional, nor is this a child oriented coach. Unfortunately, there is a considerable amount of real or perceived pressure on the coach to act this way by other team parents who’s child is a solid starter on the team. This coach may not feel confident enough to deal with the situation, so the coach got rid of the situation. I concur with your view that this coach is not appropriate for your child.
Anyone could have made the coach’s original mistake in addressing your child's preparedness for the Club level. But once the coach came to the realization that your child may not be as ready as he/she had thought earlier, the child oriented approach would have been to relieve your child from the duty as the starting goalie and to start working on LK’s skills and give LK opportunities to prove her/himself as the league progresses. This is not to say that Progressive/Club team is a welfare system. The original idea that LK join the club did not represent a "let’s help this poor clumsy child" approach. A number of individuals including the coach saw something in LK that compelled them to invite LK in. It is clear to me that LK is very talented and capable and I would strongly recommend that you try and pursue her/his soccer dream with a different coach in a less competitive environment. A true coach is first a teacher who’s foremost concern are the children he/she trains.
I find it quite disturbing that the "let’s send her/him back to the minor leagues" attitude is the one that has prevailed in your child’s case. This does not reflect the AYSO’s clearly stated position of the organization’s philosophy, nor does it serve the children’s needs. It is a cut dry approach with no compassion, and it clearly violated your child’s right to at least have a decent chance to prove herself.
What still remains is your child’s bruised ego and her deeply hurt feelings. Not only did she lose her position on the team but she also lost face and lost the many additional experiences of making friends and being able to share in the team effort, support, victories and disappointments. While it does not have to be this way, competitive sports come with a price tag that many unsuspecting parents and children find disturbingly high. I hope that by sharing your experiences and my thoughts with our readers we may help both coaches and parents understand that there’s more to club soccer than just winning games. I have no clear guidelines regarding the fine balance between potentially hurting a child versus hurting the team. An open discussion regarding this issue that includes all involved (coach, teammates and parents) may facilitate future decisions about similar situations. One child oriented approach would have been to invite LK for an evaluation period and then either accept her for the season, or allow her to join the team for practices with no promise of a starting position, and let LK decide whether she’d like to do it or quit.
When parents show compassion and respect toward all kids the coach’s role becomes less stressful and he/she is in a safer position to "do the right thing." When the pressure to win games gets in the way of child centered decision making let us remember that "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."
--- Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince
Dany (Entry added Aug. 07, 2001)
HI, I went to your website for soccer endurance, well, should I run long distance or sprints? I am already fast at sprints, but in my games, sometimes I have no endurance or energy. How could I fix that so I can play to my top potential?
Under game conditions a soccer player needs to (1) repeatedly sprint for short distances, (2) continuously run at mid-to low speeds to move up and down (sideways) the field. Since all running in soccer is interval like (broken-pace) running, a similar type of training would best prepare the player for the game. However, a game that lasts 90 minutes would require a solid aerobic foundation despite its overwhelming broken-pace running requirement. To both test and work on your aerobic capacity you may select any one of the following aerobic fitness tests: (1) Cooper's 12-minute run, (2) Balko's 15 minute run, (3) the One mile run or (4) the 3,000 meter run. Once you select one of the above for practice and for the purpose of testing and retesting your aerobic capacity I can direct you to references that contain the performance criteria for the specific test you chose.
The typical game condition fitness requirement is clearly anaerobic fitness. However, since it is a prolonged anaerobic effort it is referred to as "speed endurance." The training for speed endurance is specifically designed to enable the player to quickly recover from multiple sprints. The technical term to this form of stamina is "anaerobic recovery capacity." Since you do not think speed is a problem, you may consider a combination of Fartlek (continuous speed play) training, and tempo-pace (lactate threshold) training. Look up these terms on the Net if you're not familiar with these methods of training or drop a line should you need more help.
Dany (Entry added Aug. 05, 2001)
I recently took on a coaching position for our youth soccer program. My daughter played two years of u10 soccer but now she is moving up to u12. They go from 8 players on a field to 11. After watching for two years, I now am going to coach. Could you please send me a layout of how I should position my players and what is the name of the position? I'm very excited about this opportunity and any assistance would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
The answer to your question is somewhat more complex than what you may have initially suspected. Assuming that you'll have a goalie and ten field players you may arrange your players using any one of the following configurations (numbers are always read from the backfield forward): 4 -- 2 -- 4, 4 -- 4 -- 2, or 4 -- 3 -- 3 (defenders, midfielders and forwards; when the number one is used e.g., the four-defender alignment with a sweeper system -- 1-3-3-3, the number 1 represents the sweeper).
Your selection of system of play will depend on the ability of your players and their tactical understanding of the game as well as the system used by the opposing team. Selecting a certain system as your opening set-up does not mean that your team cannot change formations as the game goes on. For example, you may play a 4-2-4 system while in possession of the ball and attacking the opponent's third of the field (opening the wings, your players must be able to move the ball from one wing to the other, however) and have your two attackers return to the defensive line (4-4-2) once you lose possession and the ball is rolling into the mid-field and then your third of the field...The above described scenario is known as the shifting offensive system.
Once you score a couple goals and are leading you may consider changing your system of play to a more defensive one to try and maintain your lead. When trailing you may take a chance and reinforce the offensive line at the risk of not being able to properly react to a fast counter attack.
Consider experimenting with several systems and find out which one works best for your team. Also, keep in mind that each player must have a broad and solid foundation of both offensive and defensive skills. Modern soccer is a fluid and dynamic game that is best served by well rounded specialists as opposed to narrowly focused specialists. Early emphasis on a specific position is counter indicated and unwarranted especially when applied before the end of puberty. One reason is that some kids are early bloomers and others are late bloomers. Thus, some kids adjust quickly to their new physical self and others take more time to adjust to their changing body. In addition, in youth leagues the child's needs and best interest as contrasted with immediate adult gratification (e.g., coach always plays her/his winning formation and kids have little or no exposure to a variety of position of play related experiences) should dictate the systems of play. This does not imply that for the sake of diversity the coach should place all eleven players out of position at any one time to assure that each child has a chance to play all positions. A compromise of rotating 1-3 players to different positions will provide players with opportunities to uncover their true strength at a relatively low cost to the team's competitive edge. A child centered approach to coaching may tax competition early on with possible later dividends. A competitive approach centered on winning is destined to overlook some of the participating children's full potential. On club teams where children play together for more than one season this may have long-term stagnation effects on the team's growth and maturation process. Knowledgeable coaches would avoid this trap by experimenting during practice games and by trying new ideas while clearly ahead during during competition (these parameters would limit such scenarios to a handfull of teams still leaving the majority of kids uderserved).
Following the life-cycle stages approach to team development, a typical adult team would evolve through the following stages: forming, storming, norming, performing and inevitably dissolving. Professional teams are so eager to reach the performing stage before the opening game of their regular season that little room is left for experimentation. Kids may need to spend more time in the storming and norming stages to reach their potential in the performing stage. I see the practice of early position assignments as a strategy that serves adults needs at the expense of proper preparation for kids. Too many coaches are prepared to sacrifice the child to save the game (e.g, pull a child out of the game not because he/she is clearly not doing what he/she is capable of doing. But, pulling the kid out because her/his best effort isn't enough to winning on that particular day).
I'll leave it to the readers to balance this equation since there is no one "best fit" solution to this dilemma.
Cheers and good luck,
Dany (This entry added Aug. 4, 2001)
Where may we find a sample daily menu to initiate a healthy diet for next Spring's soccer season?
To create a daily menu one would need to first know what is the current menu as well as what is the age group, size of player, level of play (length and number of games and practices) fitness level, and body composition (is the player at target weight, underweight, overweight, obese, severely obese?)... Also, since not all foods that one likes are necessarily bad, it would help to know what are the player's food preferences. It is easier to stick with a new diet that is not too different from one's regular diet.
With the above information at hand a sample menu may be created. The emphasis would generally be on carbohydrates (55-65%) of diet and plenty of fluids. The total number of daily calories will depend on the amount of exercise performed and whether the player needs to maintain, gain or lose weight.
For additional readings you may look up nutrition sites using key words such as, "nutrition for exercise," "nutrition for endurance," "nutrition for fitness," "nutrition for sports," etc...I am not aware of a "nutrition for soccer site" apart from the information currently available at this site ("Tips for Soccer Moms and Dads") at the "Nutritional Principles" link.
Cheers, and make sure to provide me with a proper return address if you'd like more information...
Dany (June 18, 2001)
I am a new soccer parent, we have not even gone to first practice yet. The first practice starts next Wednesday....OK, so here is the deal with me... I was never ever in sports. I don't want to discourage my child. How do I keep her/him up when I know there maybe times he/she wants to quit because he/she got hurt or something? I want to only encourage her/him. If you can please help me, please do.
Hi A. M.,
Yours is the story of many other moms and dads. You may learn a little more about sport parenting by reading some of the articles I have posted on the "Tips for Soccer Moms and Dads" web site. Start with "Coaching Philosophy" and then read the "Setting Goals" entry. Do not hesitate to write should you have questions.
Making the effort to look up information about coaching was a very important first step in helping your child. Keep educating yourself about the sport and be as supportive as possible. Still, make your child understand that this is a commitment and that it's a team effort, so on some days he/she's got to be there for the team.
When encouraging, be careful to point out her/his present performance relative to her/his past performance and avoid comparisons to other kids (he/she'll do enough of that on her/his own). Remember that he/she can control how hard he/she tries but he/she may not be able to control the ball. Provide lots of positive reinforcement for effort.
Good luck A. M., you're on the right track.
My child plays travel soccer for a U12 team. I am concerned that next year he/she may not make her/his travel team because he/she is not aggressive enough when compared to her/his teammates when it comes to stealing the ball. Is there any thing he/she can do during the off season to get ready for next year in developing stealing skills that are so critical in travel soccer?
Dear J. P.
Before addressing my response to your question you may consider establishing whether your U12 team child shares the same concerns you have (unless you already know the answer to this question). It is important to make this issue very clear from the start because your child may have to be motivated to transform or reinvent her/his "on the field soccer personality," and this is no easy task.
The relatively easy steps to a more assertive (positively aggressive) field conduct are:
(1) Work hard on general cardiovascular fitness: He/She who can't keep running can't hustle!
(2) Develop strength, especially explosive or dynamic strength. "Stealing" is facilitated by quickness, thus, a combination of agility, flexibility, and dynamic power are a necessary recipe for successful stealing.
(3) Develop a keen eye for your opponent's movement patterns and style. The art of stealing isn't all raw power and aggression. Effective stealing has a cunning component that is based on the defender's ability to predict her/his opponent's next move and beat her/him to it.
(4) Develop tackling and "herding" skills: Work on balance, restarts, and quick changes of direction and recoveries from sliding tackles (provided that sliding tackles are legal in your conference).
(5) Last, but not least, self-confidence and mental toughness will evolve along with improvements in fitness and tackling skills. Set incremental goals to facilitate a pattern of success and minimize the threat of failure. Provide positive feedback first for trying, then for partial success, and finally for successful stealing.
Remember that patience is worth its price in gold since even some of the most skillful predators in the animal kingdom cannot boast a better than 20-30% rate of success when hunting for prey (...and that's ALL they do for "a living!").
Good luck, and let me know how it goes.
I'm breaking into the ranks of coaching soccer for 5 & 6 year olds. I'm no stranger to coaching youth sports and Certified with the NYSCA, but a novice in coaching soccer. Any suggestions for drills at this age level?
Hi D. V.,
When coaching the very young in soccer make sure that:
To be able to cover strategy and team work in soccer you first need to develop a very solid foundation.
You will find numerous sites ("Tips for Soccer..." included) with appropriate drills for "soccer fundamentals" or "skills and drills" (your key words for a search on the web).
I hope this is helpful. Good luck!
What is the ideal size for a U-18 high school team?
How many players do you recommend a coach should carry on the roster?
One notion of "ideal" team size range would be no less than 25 and no more than 31 (travel with 15-17). Another would be as many as you can accommodate without hurting the core team (25).
I hope this helps.
Hi,Do you have information about global sport participation in the US?
I am not clear as to what exactly you mean by "global sport participation." Kids? Adults? Both? What type of activities (do recreational and corporate fitness activities count)? Following are some general facts:
The average American spends $193.00 annually on sports apparel (teenagers 13-17 spend $311.00).
Less than 10% of Americans exercise sufficiently to satisfy the American College of Sports Medicines' exercise guidelines.
Also check out the "Statistical Abstract of the United States (Washington, DC: U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1995), p. 260. Here are some exerts:
I hope this helps.
I am the parent of an elementary school age soccer player. I cannot believe the stress put on the children at such a young age, either to be a champion, or to be part of the "in" team, in order to be considered a "winner." I have seen our local soccer league practically "ducking it out" on the soccer field, because the children were placed in a game situation before knowing the rules, positions, etc., of the game. Last year our youngest team was actually accused of tripping, hurting, etc., the other team on purpose, simply because they did not know the rules of the game. Why is there such a focus on "team" and "ratings" at such an early age? I think the clinics should be taught, following up with breaking into groups and further teaching the children, without so much pressure, to learn what a "corner kick, throw in, etc." are without so much emphasis on competition among teams. The competition is fierce, basically because some parents are driving their children toward "champion" status. I believe my child may not be chosen for the "in-team" or "travel-team" simply because this "in-group" represents a social monster. My child has not yet learned the art of "schmoozing" the "in crowd" in his school and based on that I suspect he/she will simply be overlooked.
There is, however, some hope too. I do know one parent coach who understands that little league soccer is about the kids and not her/his ego. This coach is allowing every child who would've been otherwise "written off" a chance on the team. Her/his team may not win a lot of games, but I felt proud today to congratulate one child on the team on her/his very first game, even though they lost 6-2. Isn't that what it is all about?! I think there needs to be some re-thinking on the part of some league administrators and parent coaches.
Concerned Parent, Youth Soccer somewhere in the USA
Dear Concerned Parent
Despite a few minor modifications the above is a true and unfortunately represents a typical story I hear all too often. Experiences similar to those expressed above prompted me to create the "Tips for Soccer Moms and Dads" web site in 1996. I felt that by sharing accurate information and the frustrations of adults that understand their role in youth sports we may be able to do "the right thing" for all the kids.
I have no reason to believe that parents engage in some very questionable conduct around soccer practices and games because they do not love their child or care about her or him. This is the very reason we should not give up, since ultimately we all are on the same side we all love and want the best for our children. What some of us may fail to realize, however, is that our most prized possession, our exceptional child, our "center of the universe" may be considered as "somebody else's child" by somebody else. Thus, once we all start treating "somebody else's child" with at least the same respect and care as we would like others to treat our own child, little league will become a much nicer place to visit. We can, and for the love of our kids should do better for all children!
Thank you for sharing
I'm doing a science fair project for my sixth grade class. Where could I find more details about whether boys are more flexible than girls?
Three related studies about school children's health related fitness published in the mid-to late 80s concluded among other findings that girls score significantly better than boys in flexibility tests.
(1) First National Children and Youth Fitness Study (NCYFS I) (1984)
(2) Second National Children and Youth Fitness Study (NCYFS II) (1987)
(3) The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports School Population Fitness Survey (1985)
Here's the President's Coucil home page, but it does not provide much information: www.surgeongeneral.gov
Another source may be the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness, Health & Sports Michigan Fitness Foundation (The State of Michigan has great resources for phys. ed. and youth sports): www.michiganfitness.org/
Also see "Fitness for Youth:" at -- www.fitnessforyouth.umich.edu/
and...American Council on Exercise: at -- www.acefitness.org/
Still, you'll find info about flexibility right here at "Tips for Soccer Moms & Dads" site at: FLEXIBILITY
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Last Modified: Aug. 12, 2001