Health and FitnessKids and Teens

Encouraging Childhood Development Through Soccer

Children can learn valuable life skills through soccer, including social networking, problem-solving, and decision-making, as well as boost their physical development. Children can play soccer virtually any age, but each age group needs to approach it appropriately. For example, toddlers can start honing their skills as early as 18 months old.

As kids progress through the soccer stages, they develop skills that prepare them to succeed at the next step. Soccer imparts life skills as well.

How Soccer Can Help Young Players Develop Life Skills

Kids can develop a wide range of life skills through soccer. Skills such as these include, but are not limited to:

  • Confidence
  • A sense of social confidence
  • Communication
  • Conflict resolution
  • Collaboration
  • Empathy
  • Relationship management
  • Work ethic
  • Time management
  • Goal setting
  • Emotional management
  • Health management;
  • Work-life balance.

This is why youth soccer is a valuable development tool that goes beyond sports strategy skills.

Major Skill Groups

Soccer develops four major skill groups:

Technique: 

A sports player’s technique refers to their fundamental movements and movement strategies. Drills are usually used to develop procedures so that the actions become second nature. Optimized steps are not only meant to improve performance but also to reduce fatigue and injury risk. 

Game intelligence: 

Alternatively called tactical awareness, game intelligence refers to a player’s understanding of the more significant dynamics of the game. The ability to analyze gameplay from a perspective outside one’s role is one of the benefits of having good game intelligence. A player can adjust their strategy based on this information. 

Physical fitness: 

Fitting your body to support the physical work you are doing is the definition of physical fitness. Having good physical fitness can not only improve your performance but also reduce your risk of injury. Therefore, it is ideal to approach physical fitness from a short-term and long-term perspective.

Mindset: 

A person’s mindset refers to their attitude and mental fortitude. To perform well in sports, you must develop a healthy mindset that supports your skills. To maintain confidence and remain calm under pressure, young soccer players should develop a determined and positive attitude.

In addition to these four categories, you will develop more specific skills.

Activities and Exercises for Young Players

As players in different age groups develop other skills, they will also need to engage in activities and exercises that are appropriate for their age groups. Although coaches commonly use many tried-and-true activities and exercises, other types can also be effective. 

 

Furthermore, advanced exercises can be modified to be appropriate for younger players or even supervised by parents at home. Some activities, such as scrimmages, are suitable for all ages. Coaches and parents should always review exercises and drills individually to ensure that they are safe and age-appropriate.

3 to 5 Years Old

The following activities and exercises are practical for this age group:

The Ouchie Game:

Players attempt to use their dribbling and kicking skills to target the coach with the ball while the coach runs around. Ball handling and directional skills can be improved by doing this.  

Red light, green light: 

In this activity, the players dribble the ball as they play, similar to the popular children’s game. As a result, players can improve their ball control, speed adjustments, balance, and dribbling techniques.

Freeze tag: 

The coaches mark a relatively small area (approximately 20 square yards) and ask most players to dribble around it. Two or three players will be designated as taggers who will not dribble. Taggers attempt to catch and tag dribblers. 

Tagged players freeze and hold the ball above their heads, yelling, “Help!” Other dribblers can unfreeze frozen players by kicking their balls through their legs. As a result, players can develop techniques related to ball control, speed adjustments, evasion, and cool kicks.

The purpose of drills at this stage is to encourage enthusiastic engagement and social development, so drills are more like games than drills. By playing these games, children in this age group can also passively get appropriate exercise, as it is crucial to avoid introducing too strenuous activities at this level. Additionally, all these games are fun, so they should help kids develop a positive mindset and healthy interpersonal relationships.

6 to 8 Years Old

The following activities and exercises are practical for this age group:

Controlled craziness: 

Players must dribble in a relatively small area; the players will kick their ball at someone else’s. When they hit someone else’s ball, they get the point. A point is lost if someone else hits their ball. 

As long as the coach ends the game, players should keep track of their points. Playing this game helps kids develop ball control, protection, and field awareness skills.

Sharks and Minnows:

Coaches divide an area into three sections. Zones 1 and 2 are safe, while zone 3 is dangerous. During the game, players dribble their balls from one safe spot to another without getting them stolen by “bulldogs.” Bulldogs are players without balls in the danger zone who attempt to kick the other player’s balls out of bounds. Players develop techniques related to stealing balls, protecting and controlling balls, and handling a ball at speed in this game. 

Clean the room:

Soccer balls are scattered throughout one section after coaches divide an area into two sections. The players occupy the section with soccer balls, while the coaches occupy the unit without soccer balls. As soon as the whistle blows, players pass soccer balls into the coaches’ half of the field while the coaches attempt to retrieve them. 

The players win when they simultaneously get all the balls onto the coaches’ side. This game helps kids develop techniques related to trapping and passing the ball and stopping and turning quickly. It also promotes endurance and aerobic conditioning.

At this stage, it is not advisable to introduce very strenuous exercise. However, in contrast to younger age groups, you can expand the area for gameplay and lead games that require more sustained movement. At this stage, activities should also be fun to encourage a positive attitude and promote social development.

9 to 11 Years Old

The following activities and exercises are practical for this age group:

Stop the striker 1v1: 

The coach has a series of soccer balls lined up outside the penalty area. First, an outside player will hold the balls while a goalkeeper stands on the goal line. Then, the external player dribbles the ball toward the goal when the whistle blows. Once the ball enters the penalty area, the goalkeeper moves forward to try to steal or stop it. 

If the ball is no longer in play (because it has been kicked out-of-bounds, intercepted by the goalkeeper, or scored), the goalkeeper runs back to touch the goal line while the other player retrieves another ball, and the process begins again. In addition to developing goalkeeping techniques, this is a good way for kids to develop shooting and ball control skills.

Pinpoint short passing: 

Players are positioned at each corner of a relatively small square area (approximately 10-by-10 square yards). A light object, such as a cone or water bottle, is placed in the center. Teams consist of players standing diagonally from each other. While knocking over the cone or water bottle, each team attempts to pass the ball to their teammate. 

The other team then collects the ball and takes its turn. Finally, the team that knocks over the cone or water bottle gets the point. A team wins if it reaches five points first. Through this activity, kids are encouraged to learn techniques related to power control, passing short distances, and accuracy.

Interval training: 

Exercise at varying intensities is part of this type of training. A coach could, for instance, ask the player to sprint back after jogging halfway. Alternatively, the coach could ask the players at the back of the line to sprint to the front of the line and then resume jogging once they get there. Stamina can be improved, and players can become more accustomed to sustaining and changing speed with this training.

Although higher-intensity exercise can be introduced at this stage, it is still a good idea to avoid highly strenuous exercise until the players reach their teen years.

12 to 15 Years Old

The following activities and exercises are practical for this age group:

Lose your shadow:

The coach for gameplay restricts an area of approximately 20 square yards. The “leader” plays with the ball, while the “shadow” plays without the ball. The leader dribbles around and tries to escape the shadow while the shadow stays close to the leader. 

When the coach blows their whistle, the players must freeze and see if the shadow can easily touch the leader. A shadow gets the point if it can, and a leader receives an issue if it can’t. They then switch roles. Aside from improving speed and endurance, this helps kids develop ball control, evasion, and guarding techniques.

Passing and shooting games:

Passing and shooting games can be played in a variety of ways. One common iteration involves setting up goals on opposite sides of a square. The goalkeepers guard each net while the rest

of the players line up in two teams in opposite corners of the field. The ball is passed from one side to the other by players on one side. Once the ball has been received, the player will try to score on the goal they are facing. 

Meanwhile, the player who passed them the ball runs forward and tries to steal it. Finally, the player attempts to score on the opposing goal if the ball is stolen successfully. After everyone has had a turn, the teams switch positions, and each group keeps track of its points. This encourages players to develop guarding, ball control, stealing, evasion, passing, and shooting techniques. Additionally, it helps players prepare for an everyday scenario they will likely encounter in a game.

Lateral jumps: 

During practice, coaches ask players to place short objects such as cones on the ground, giving themselves a lot of space. Then, according to the coach’s discretion, players stand six inches away from the object. Upon hearing the whistle, players jump roughly an equal distance from the other side of the main thing. Then, pushing off with their other foot, they copy the motion in the opposite direction. 

The players should only stop once the coach asks them to stop. Exercises like this promote stability, balance, and strength in the lower body. 

At this point, coaches can introduce more strenuous exercises. They must also guide players through the proper warm-ups, stretches, and cool-downs. Coaches should educate players about appropriate body care off the field to prevent and appropriately address strain and injury.

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