If you are looking to introduce your preschooler to the world of kids sports, soccer is a great game to start with. Through youth soccer, little ones can acquire firsthand, practical knowledge about teamwork, sportsmanship, taking turns and cooperation, all while engaging in physical fitness and learning the basic rules of the game.
Typically, preschool soccer leagues start accepting children around age three or four, but check with your local group to find out how they operate. Some leagues play in the spring or the fall, while many do both. Depending on the league, you'll need to get a uniform (shirt, shorts and socks), a soccer ball (preschooler usually play with a lighter, smaller ball), shin guards and cleats (although many leagues allow children to play wearing sneakers).
Coaching a Preschool Soccer Team
The majority of kids sporting leagues, soccer included, are run by volunteers. So when you sign your child up, you may be asked to give your time either in the form of being a helper, a team parent, fundraising or some other committee that helps work towards the success of the league. The most obvious volunteer job is coach -- a position some parents can't wait to hold and one that other parents dread. Whatever camp you find yourself in, know that coaching preschoolers soccer can be a a fun, rewarding time that will be a learning experience for you as much as it will be for the children.
Here's the thing about coaching preschool soccer. You need to know the rules of the game for sure, but you also need to know little kids. Expect kids on all ends of the spectrum -- some who are thrilled to be there and others who are a bit less enthusiastic. You will get kids who will not want to leave the side of their mom or dad and others who you can't get off the field. And even if a child seems to understand what is going on thanks to years of being on the sidelines, understand that all of these kids are true beginners.
Its also important to manage expectations -- both yours, the children's and their parents. While teaching your preschool team technique is important, it is also equally important to teach them about teamwork in general -- principles like cooperation, taking turns, how to be a good winner and loser and how to get along with each other (on their team and the opposing team) in general.
Preschool Soccer Coaching Techniques
On the first day of practice or at your team's first game (in some leagues, the little kids meet just once a week for a hybrid practice/game), introduce yourself and explain what your job is and what you are going to be doing together as a team ("Playing and learning about soccer and having fun!"). If applicable, vote on a team name. Certainly you can take suggestions from your young players or, have some names already handy so the process doesn't get out of hand -- you can also get the parents to help with this part (more on dealing with parents below).
Blow a whistle (moderately, no need to scare anyone) and explain to the kids that it is important they stop whatever it is they are doing when they hear that sound. Then start with some warm ups. While it is a good idea to always have kids stretch before they start any form of physical activity, anything you do also sets the tone for the future -- the season, but the child's athletic experience as well. By setting the tone now, they'll maintain these good lessons as they get older.
Line the kids up or put them in a circle and play some basic icebreaker games to help them get to know you and each other. A great game is for you to stand in the center of the circle and kick the ball to a child. As they kick it back to you, they have to shout out their name. Another is to put the children into two lines and have them kick the ball back and forth to one another. After the pairs have kicked the ball back and forth three times, each time shouting their name, advance the lines (or one of the lines) so the partners change.
As your practice time progresses, it's important to teach kids the most basic elements of the game, like kicking towards the goal and not touching the ball with their hands (something you'll have to repeat more than once!). Show the children how to stop the ball with their foot and the proper ways to kick it. These lessons won't necessarily stick right away, but with constant reinforcement, the children will learn and establish a good starting point.
During practice, hold mock games. Break the kids up into two teams (giving one set pinnies to wear to differentiate them) and let them work on getting the ball to the (correct) goal using their feet. (Generally there is no goalie in this age group, but check with your league for specific rules.) Encourage them to pass to one another and keep hammering home the concept of being on the same team.
Also talk about defense. When it comes to soccer, the obvious action is to get the ball into the goal, but defense also plays a critical role in the game, if not now, but when the children get older. When your children are on defense, talk about how their job is to get between the opposing team and the goal to try to get the ball back in the possession of their team.
During game play, be encouraging but understand if everything you've taught the kids goes out the window! At soccer games at this level, coaches are usually permitted to stay on the field to help the game move along. Expect a lot of swarming around the ball, the use of hands and the ball going out of bounds often.
Tips for Dealing with Preschoolers and Their Parents
- At the first meeting, introduce yourself and give the parents a way to contact you -- phone, email, etc.
- Get contact information for each parent (if you don't already have it).
- Set a snack schedule (if applicable) and find out if any of the children have any allergies or health issues.
- Explain your policies. It's likely parents are not permitted to "drop off" their children at practices and games. If this is or isn't the case, be sure to specify. Will you be holding practice? If a game is at 9 a.m., what time ahead of time would you like the children to be there? Should they bring a ball?
- If you need parent helpers, this is the time to ask for them. If you have more volunteers than you need, consider implementing a rotating schedule so everyone gets a chance.
- Suggest items parents bring along to keep them comfortable on the sidelines -- chairs (if there are no bleachers), water, sunscreen, etc. If water and snacks will not be provided to the children, let parents know so they know what to bring.
- If parents are not permitted on the field, let them know. Show how the field boundaries are set up and explain where they are permitted to sit or stand. This isn't you being mean -- parents on the field during a game or practice can be a safety hazard and can cause the players to be confused.
- Come up with a way to inform parents if a game or practice is cancelled due to weather or an unforeseen circumstance, whether it is a phone chain or mass email.
- Remind everyone to have fun!