“As we begin a New Year, I will use the ‘International Soccer Science & Performance Federation’s’ article to Reflect My Beliefs!” Koach Karl
It‘s about the kids
Ultimately, it‘s all about the kids, not the coaches, parents, or any other adult working with kids. So, consider these points, go out, have fun, and play.
We all fell in love with this beautiful game at some point. Most of us, at a young age, when playing around was fun and chasing and possessing the ball was the greatest thing in the world. When it comes to preserving the love for the game for the very youngest and avoiding losing kids from stopping to play football, some points are crucial:
Think children, not small adults
Far too often, we consider children as small adults. Everything of the 11vs11 is adjusted to youth football. Pitch size is smaller, goals are smaller, playing time is shortened, and the number of players is reduced; everything is small for adults, right?
So, let’s adapt the training methods, exercises, and playing styles we use for adults and apply them in youth training with little of the above-mentioned adaptations; everything is small for adults, Right?
As coaches, we need to take a step back and deliver our training sessions from a child’s view. A good way is to remember what we felt like as a child. It’s ok not to know the answer, get the perfect drill done, or play a perfect match. That doesn’t even hold for adults, so let the kids be kids and use appropriate training forms with lots of variations, storytelling, and the freedom to try new things in a safe environment without any fear of failure where the kids (and the coaches) can learn and to grow.
Play–Play – Play
The best way to learn is to play around and try new things. Avoid boring exercises with lots of repetitions and make it fun for the kids by hiding these repetitive technique exercises in gameplay, for example. Therefore, the first two stages of the Long-Term Development Framework (LTD) are essential. Until age 6, this means an active start for stage 1, where the kids are engaged in active daily play and then progressing to the next stage, the FUNdamentals, where the kids develop fundamental movement skills both in a structured AND an unstructured environment. Providing fun in an inclusive and multisport way is key, with some instructions where needed.
Focus on movement and fun
Children should have lots of experience in all planes of motion at a very young age to enhance their movement competencies. Let the children crawl, balance, hop, turn, twist, roll, and so on. The more different movement patterns they learn and own, the better. Football is a sport with lots of one-sided loads. Sooner or later, the kids will experience that when they grow up and play football on a serious level. So, focus on movement to lay a wide foundation and let them have fun while playing around.
Every child with a ball
Allow the children lots of ball contact and let them play around with tricks and twists and turns during practice time. Use all kinds of balls, from different sizes to different ball types from other sports. Kids should always feel included; this works best if everyone uses their own ball during practice.
Don‘t care about positions
Early specialization is more often a pitfall than a helper. This holds for a single sport in general and for playing only one special position in particular. Every child should even play as a goalie once in a while or let the teams play without a goalie to ensure lots of different learning experiences for the kids. Mix in other (team) sports variations or elements from other sports.
Encourage autonomy and let the kids decide – Modify Rules
Let the kids choose their favorite movements, tricks, or exercise, choosing from previous sessions, or encourage independence and creativity in finding new solutions to a given task. You will be surprised by all the creativity occurring, and maybe you will learn some new things yourself.
Another point is to let the kids play after their own modified rules every once in a while. Enjoy the creativity and see how the kids handle emerging problems in the group. However, this point strongly depends on the age and maturity of the players and the general group setting. It works best if the group members already know each other. Some guidance from the coach is still needed to control possible occurring chaos.
Ultimately, the most important thing is that the kids have a great time and learn new skills in their long-term development. Unfortunately, the first question about a game is the result or “how many goals did you score” rather than “Did you have fun and a good time?”, “What did you learn today?” or “Which new experience did you have?” Learning to be a good loser and a humble winner is teachable in every little situation on and off the pitch, so there is no need for an 18-0 win or loss in the youngest kids.
No testing and keep comparison to a minimum
There is no need for testing speed or power or metabolic output whatsoever in the youngest players except for testing for the sake of testing. As mentioned above, the focus is on movement and fun rather than on (test) results. Suppose there are some data gathered in a fun way. In that case, the only way to use these testing results is to compare intra-personal, using them to accompany the players in their long-term athletic development.