For many, soccer is simply a ‘kick in the grass’. However, the grassroots rule for Alberta Soccer is ‘NEVER’ kick the ball!
So how do you play then? Soccer is a game to be played with purpose. The purpose is for one team to keep possession of the ball and score in their opponent’s goal. So the components of maintaining possession are to shoot, pass and dribble the ball.
For many years soccer fields have been enclosed with parents and spectators screaming and encouraging players to simply ‘kick’ the ball – to get it either away from one goal or into another. In this crude vision – the ball ping-pongs from one part of the field to another and the game is usually left to chance – the team who kicks it successfully goalbound wins.
If coaches, parents and players could change the vocabulary of soccer, to omit the word ‘kick’ from one of intent, it could make a dramatic shift in how we perceive and play the game. Watch the professional game, very rarely is the ball seen to be merely ‘kicked’ down field! Passes are often stroked with care to allow the receiver to continue the play, instead of wrestling for control. So at your next game, bite your lip and encourage good play as opposed to kicking – see the difference it makes for all in our game.
So remember it is “good pass”, “great shot” and let’s “play soccer”…
Being a soccer parent is tough, it includes many tasks; taxi, nutritionist, counsellor, equipment manager, and cheerleader. However, what is the most important role that children wish from their parents?
Experiential research amongst 1,000, 7-year old children in Alberta soccer programs, found that 80% of children would love to see their parents simply PLAY soccer with them.
Within an age of increasing inactivity amongst younger children, one colleague suggested a drastic measure to reverse this trend – stop parents from watching! How is this possible as it is often a requirement that parents attend soccer practices with their children? Well, this proposal suggests that more parents could and should get involved and play with or coach their children, not sit and watch.
Soccer must be fun to keep us playing, whether as an adult or child. So parents are encouraged to share, nurture and develop a passion for playing. Can you shoot as many goals as your young soccer star? How about trying a simple soccer slalom or being the goalkeeper who saves the penalty?
If you enjoy playing, then why not coach and make your child’s development more engaging and fun. Coaching can be as fun as play, and we can all coach since many activities have their origins in childhood activities, such as ‘tag’ and ‘what’s the time Mr. Wolf’.
So, the first role of any parent is to encourage their children to play, and the most effective method of this, is for the parents to also play.
For many years, coaches have coached soccer – this is a logical expectation. However, Long Term Player Development (LTPD) advocates the need to encourage physical literacy before
game techniques. This confounds many parents who register their young children in soccer for the team and social components, forgetting that many children are too immature to grasp the concept of sharing and team play at an early age.
The first stepping stone for children playing is to develop the key physical movement patterns. Physical movement provides the basis of self-worth in developing children. To stand, walk, run, and fall comes long before spelling one’s name and academic scores. This is not to say that young children should not be encouraged to develop soccer techniques with a ball. Lionel Messi was a supreme athlete before soccer player and this was established in his early play of un-organized games as a child.
Physical Health Canada describes the importance of Physical Literacy as “individuals who are physically literate move with competence and confidence in a wide variety of physical activities in multiple environments that benefit the healthy development of the whole person.”
Once this foundation has been established through play, the learning and performance of more sport specific skills becomes more attainable. Then as the player develops a broader range of technical skills in small fun-based activities, they will be more able to develop a game related and tactical understanding of soccer.
The expectation that a player can develop movement, technical and tactical understanding all at an early entry level of sport is unrealistic. It takes many years of development to become a professional in any area of life. Sport should be viewed in the same context: starting with a sound foundation, adding individual technical skills, a passion for playing the game, and then team based foundations that will allow for success in the open and dynamic environment of team play.
In essence, parents and coaches need to recognize that we all need to walk before we can run…young children should be encouraged to run, hop, skip, jump, and fall, long before any team components of soccer are considered.