Soccer 101: How to Teach the Basics of Soccer to Young Kids
Crisp white chalk lining green, the smell of freshly cut grass and the sound of cleats thunking a leather ball...aside from my beach the soccer field is probably my happiest place. In a former, non-CF, non-one-lung-short, non-mama life, I played a lot of soccer. Saturdays in that life meant waking up early and stepping out onto a soccer field. They meant shinguards and striped socks and worn cleats. They meant sweat and speed and tackles and I loved it.
In another life, I also coached.
I coached the littlest guys. Three year olds to about age 7 (the 7 year olds catch on a lot more quickly, if you're curious) and I loved that too.
I've always loved sharing things that bring me joy with others, especially little guys who soak up new information like eager sponges.
If your little ones caught the soccer (or football!) bug during the Olympic games or you just think it sounds like fun then you might be wondering how to encourage this interest. Obviously you could sign them up for a league, but if you just want to have a little fun first and explore the sport - you can start at the park or your backyard.
So, how do you teach a little kid to play soccer? I could say a lot on the subject, but for now, let's start with the basics.
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One of the great things about soccer is that it doesn't require much. Truthfully, you could start with just a ball and some green space. People all around the world learn this sport with just a ball and a little open space.
To really have some fun with games and get a better idea of the sport, I recommend:
1. Soccer Ball. Make sure you have the appropriate size for your child's age.
2. Space. A park, the backyard, a nearby soccer field if you can find one. In a pinch, an indoor gym works too but the ball will roll much more quickly than it would on grass.
3. Shinguards and Cleats. If your child signs up for a youth league, these are a must. Shinguard protect those bones on the front of your legs from the inevitable kicking that will occur and cleats keep you from sliding around on the grass. Note: soccer socks are worn on the outside of shinguards (not underneath) to hold the shinguard in place. Simply fold over any additional length.
4. Cones. You can get by with using other things to mark the corners or designate areas for different games, but cones are easy and inexpensive.
5. Pop Up Goal. This is optional as well but I will say that the younger the kids the more difficulty they have with the abstract idea of cones representing a goal. These little pop up goals are portable and more reasonably priced. 2 is best, but even just one to practice shooting is great.
There are three basic skills in soccer. Dribbling, passing and shooting which could all be summarized as ball control. The stronger your control of the ball, the better you will be at all three. This is why you see people of all ages doing impressive juggling tricks with the ball. It's certainly fun, but it also increases their ability to control the soccer ball. This fun balloon game from The Inspired Treehouse uses the basic ideas of juggling a soccer ball with a balloon to give a child more response time.
In a game however, the three main things you will do are dribble, pass, and shoot. These are all done with your feet because, aside from the goalie and throw ins, players are not allowed to touch the ball with their hands in soccer.
Dribbling is the act of moving the ball down the field with your feet. There are a lot of fancy dribbling moves that you can eventually learn, but first you want to get used to moving the ball with your body.
There are two main kinds of dribbling:
1. Close and Quick
This type of dribbling is used in games when you are moving the ball in an area near other players.
Before you start learning fancy moves, start by getting used to moving the ball with different parts of your foot. Roll it with the bottom of your foot. Tap it to one side and the other with the insides and outsides of your feet. Keep your knees bent and your body balanced.
One way to practice this is to dribble through an obstacle course. Set up some cones or toys to dribble around. Pretend the cones are defenders and you don't want them to touch the ball but you want to go as quickly as you can.
Games such as Sharks and Minnows are also popular for practicing this type of dribbling.
2. Long and Fast
This type of dribbling is used when there are wide open spaces. If you are sprinting down the field with the ball and there is no one else near, you can kick it out further in front of you to move faster. Typically the laces of your cleat are used to kick the ball because they naturally fall in front of your body as you run and the toe of your shoe is far less accurate.
One way to practice this is to simple have races to different places. Race to cones, around a tree, or to a person and give them a high five. Be creative. The point is to work on kicking the ball ahead of you a ways and running after it to move quickly to a destination.
Games such as Red Light, Green Light also work on this skill.
Passing is using your feet to kick the ball to another person on your team.
Start by learning to pass the ball with the inside of your foot. It is common to see a lot of kids kicking the ball with the toe of their shoe when they are first learning. This feels more natural in some ways, but encourage your child to practice with the inside of their foot. In order to complete a pass you should:
*bend your knees for balance
*place your non-kicking foot next to the ball and pointed towards your teammate
*turn your kicking foot sideways so the big flat inner part of your cleat hits the ball
*swing your leg forward and kick the ball
*follow through with your leg towards your target
If you're wondering why, the answer is simply that the inside of your foot is larger and therefore far more accurate and easier to control than your toe.
These ideas from The Inspired Treehouse tackle the idea of kicking with some basic drills. Often people simply practice passing through repetition with a partner. One of our favorite ways to practice is setting up some bottles, tall cones or bowling pins like you would in a bowling alley and bowl with the soccer ball - using the inside of your foot to kick the ball and knock down the pins.
Shooting is quite similar to passing, the difference being that you are trying to avoid a person instead of give the ball to one.
Given that it is essential to get the soccer ball into the goal to win a game or score a point, this is an important skill to learn. The best way I had shooting explained to me was that you are passing the ball to the goal, but there is a defender in the way.
I think often we overthink shooting and goal scoring because we feel more pressure than when completely a pass, but the technique is quite similar.
Once again you will align one foot by the ball pointing to the target, you will use the other foot to kick the ball forward and follow through towards the goal. The difference in technique is that you want to put some additional power behind a shot that would be unhelpful to your teammate when completing a pass.
Shots are typical performed with either the inside of your foot, like described above, or with the laces of your cleat. The toe is still not a good choice.
You can practice on a big goal or a tiny pop up goal like they did on Play Learn Everyday. Either way make sure to celebrate a little after you score!
No skill is performed in isolation during a game, so make sure to work on putting them all together once you have learned the basics.
Dribble quickly to a goal and shoot. Pass back and forth between players until you get to a goal. Put a defender in the way that you have to dribble around to shoot on a goal.
Soccer is a fun sport. It encourages running and teamwork and creativity.
What more could you want? So, grab a soccer ball, find a spot of green and have fun!
PS. If you need a break, this soccer finger puppet craft from Red Ted Art would be a fun way to catch your breath.
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