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Introduction into the Game of Soccer; Soccer for Kindergarten Age Children

There is a tremendous amount of literature on the shelves of libraries in many countries regarding soccer instruction and the game of soccer, in general. However, next to nothing has addressed kindergarteners, the 3 to 6 age group. It is as if this age group does not exist and is incapable of a cultivated, organized introduction to the game of soccer.

Most general texts and books dealing with specialized soccer instruction begin by telling their readers that the game of soccer should be introduced to children between the ages of 6 to 8. This is assumed to be the optimal age group for beginners. After the age of 8, the learning curve for soccer becomes too steep, and the chances for strong success are said to narrow. While this belief is correct in so far as this is a good age to commence soccer instruction in an organized way, it is only a half-truth that does not address kindergarteners. In Europe and South America, for example, kids play in an un-organized way all day long and at every age. It is this un-organized play that I am trying to transplant and introduce to American players at a much younger age and make it an organized, purposeful endeavor. This will improve the success these players experience as they move on to the next or first level of organized soccer.

Because it was such a great surprise to me that I could not easily find any books on the methodology of teaching soccer to this age group, I find I am constantly searching for new books and information on how to teach kindergarteners and how to understand their sports psychology. As a coach, I try to integrate the best principles I can find into the basic teaching methods of the Laureano Ruiz Soccer Academy. And it is the reaction of our young players, the joy on their face, the bounce in their step and the improvement in their game in just a very short time that tells me that I am on the right path.

How, then, is it done? Before discussing my method for teaching the game of soccer to the kindergarten age group, we have to first become familiar with their biology, psychological capacity, and the appropriate pedagogy. Naturally, there are a myriad of such qualities, but here I will only highlight and discuss those which are absolutely necessary when teaching the kindergarten age group. The path to instructional success can only be found by paying attention to these vital qualities.

Biological Characteristics: - Rapid Growth in Height and Weight
(2-3 inches and 4-5 pounds per year)

- Brain size is practically the size of an adult’s

- Corneal surface is almost completely developed

To me, it is the first biological characteristic I mentioned that we need to concentrate on. The rapid process of growth in this age group leads to enhanced physical capabilities; for example, the quickness in and of movements accelerates. What does this mean to the soccer coach? It means simply that there is significant improvement in the motor skills, coordination and accuracy in the physical ability of the children, allowing them to vastly expand their soccer skills. It should be very clear to the soccer coach instructing kindergarteners that these children should concentrate on developing individual dexterity, technical ability, and quickness. However, emphasis only on physical fitness, making children uselessly run, or do push-ups, for example, is harmful to the physical and psychological load this age group can bear. Increases in speed and/or repetition of drills should only be done in small increments and after many breaks. Improving stamina or physical endurance should be done at a measured pace, without the players noticing the increase in physical load, and with the understanding that this, above all, puts a tremendous stress on both the muscular, skeletal, circulatory and respiratory systems of the children. At this age, our foremost task as a coach is to advance and improve technical ability with the ball, improve coordination, and develop in each child a love for the game, as it is only in this way that we can work with them in the next phase of development.

Pedagogical Characteristics:
- Playful instruction (lesson content should match the age group).
- Skills/lessons must be explained and demonstrated.
- Constant repetition must be applied.
- Correcting mistakes.
- Systematic praising, awarding and rewarding.

Since play has the greatest positive effect on the development of children in this age group, games become a principle activity for instructing them in soccer. And because there are so many different games to choose from, and because different games involve various levels of complexity to play, it is important that a soccer coach 1.) carefully plan a practice by selecting age/skill appropriate games, 2.) pay attention to how the children will be instructed to play the selected games, and 3.) decide how best to coach the children while they are playing the games. Youngsters in this age group learn more quickly and more easily when instruction is given in a playful situation, since it is easier for them to develop in a lighthearted atmosphere. When a coach follows these simple steps, the children’s skills and enthusiasm for soccer will grow and grow, creating a virtuous circle that will lead to the accelerated development of their skills.

Returning to our knowledge of children in this age group, it is not enough to understand their biological or psychological qualities, a soccer coach should be aware of the youngsters’ talents and developments and put this awareness into practice. We will only be successful as coaches if our practice sessions and drills are geared toward their current abilities and capabilities. Just as we should not try to teach them to run before they can walk, we should respect the developmental steps of kindergarteners and take things step-by-step.

How a coach demonstrates drills and models skills during practice is of the utmost importance for kindergarteners. Children learn visually at this age and are especially responsive to visual stimuli. But this does not mean that the coach should ignore the verbal aspects of instruction, since this is how the children will learn the terminology of soccer, such as “full instep,” “laces,” “step over,” “outside of the foot,” “heel,” etc. So, in order to demonstrate a drill or technique to this age group, the coach should be aware that the children will first and foremost react to the visual presentation of skill, the bodily movements of the coach as a skill is demonstrated, and, secondarily, they will be aware of the verbal instruction accompanying the physical demonstration.

Teaching must be methodical in nature. Movements (such as swinging the leg) and skills (such as kicking the ball) should be repeated over and over. Even when children begin to develop a mastery of more advanced abilities by putting together a sequence of movements or skills, it is important to go back and revisit the basics once again. A player can be said to have learned a soccer movement or skill when the player is able to perform the skill or sequence of skills in a game while under pressure from other players. It is through repetition that a movement or skill becomes automated, meaning it happens and is carried out automatically, without hesitation or thought. It becomes second nature. When this level of mastery has been achieved and can be applied in a game situation, we say that a specific movement or sequence of movements has been learned.

Mistakes must be immediately corrected! My rule is as follows: Do not look past a mistake as it is much more difficult and tiresome for the child to correct a movement that is learned and automated the wrong way. Improper movements, I should add, can also lead to injuries. Movements need to be taught and learned correctly from the first. For example, children at this age need to learn how to run without dragging their feet and how to shoot the ball with locked ankle.

Constant praise and awards are crucial for kindergarteners. Encouragement and praise should occupy a very important place in each and every practice session. Because of their mental and emotional needs and development, young children respond especially well to positive reinforcement. Encouragement and praise leads to increased enthusiasm and rapid skill development, while increasing a child’s confidence and self-esteem.

And lastly, a few thoughts on planning practices: 1.) At the beginning of a session, we can transition the children into the practice by assigning them some “work” at hand, such as having them place cones, set-up the goals, and distribute pinnes. 2.) If at all possible, parents should be away from the children, waiting in the club house, but not on the bleachers or standing around the playing field. Remember: parents are not allowed into their children’s kindergarten classroom during instruction. Similarly, it is best to keep them away from practice. In this way, outside pressures and anxieties will not affect the children as they play. 3.) At this age, there should not be more than 12-15 players to a practice group. With groups this size the work at hand is transparent and more effective.

By putting all these factors on paper, and paying attention to them, a coach can learn to be aware and understand the qualities of the kindergarten age group. If a soccer coach lacks this knowledge and if practices are not tailored to an awareness of this method, then the soccer instruction will not be geared to this age group and the children and the sport of soccer will suffer.

In conclusion, I wish to all of my colleagues dealing with this age group all the patience in the world, delight in rich experiences and success in producing many happy young players who will love them and remember them fondly for the rest of their lives.

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