December 8, 2009
Getting Kids to Play Soccer on Their Own by Mike Woitalla
No one denies that children who want to excel at soccer should play the game in addition to their team's practices and games, but today's children have less unscheduled time than previous generations and more diversions. Getting them to choose soccer over other options — whether it is Guitar Hero or Webkinz - can require prodding from the parents.
Here are some methods that parents and coaches can use to encourage children to play on their own, and games they'll enjoy while improving their skills:
ALWAYS HAVE A BALL AROUND. Take a ball everywhere when you're with your child. It doesn't have to be a soccer ball; in fact, those red, bouncy ones used for schoolyard dodge ball are perfect. At the playground, kick around with your child whenever she feels like it. She may want to kick for a few minutes, and then hit the swings. Over time, you're likely to find her enjoying the ball more and more. And chances are other kids will migrate to the ball, and you'll have started a little soccer game.
BOUNCEY PASS BACK. Pass the ball back and forth with your child while keeping it bouncing. Count how many passes you can hit before it stops bouncing or you lose control, turning it into a contest.
KICK AND CATCH. Play kick and catch with your child. Kick it so he can catch it. Then he drops and kicks it back.
SOCCER TENNIS. Take your child to a tennis court with a bouncy ball. Try and kick it back and forth over the net. You can bring tennis rackets, too, and mix things up. A little tennis, a little soccer tennis.
'INDOOR SOCCER.' There are many balls on the market that are soft enough so they won't do too much damage to the house. If you have a den or a hallway, let your children kick around in the house.
BALL NET. Get your child a ball net. It's virtually guaranteed that a child holding a ball in a net on a string will kick it about, which means she's developing a feel for striking the ball.
INCENTIVES TO JUGGLE. To tap the ball in the air over and over means you're learning to hit the sweet spot. Juggling with feet and thighs trains players to be comfortable with the ball and develops striking and trapping skills. Besides helping with foot-eye coordination, juggling is a great way to work on balance. It also develops the weak foot.
Coaches and parents can motivate players to juggle on their own by offering small rewards when they reach certain levels, for example, soccer-ball stickers for 5; soccer-ball key chain for 10, etc.
It's difficult at first, so have them let the ball bounce in between. Ask them to drop it on their thigh or foot once, and then catch it. Then go for two, and so on. The more they advance, the more fun it gets, and the more they juggle. \
Check back next week for another great article about coaching youth soccer.