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How can I be a good soccer coach for a team of first graders?
August 21, 2007 4:51 AM   Subscribe

How can I be a good soccer coach for a team of first graders?

The town soccer league was in desperate need of soccer coaches for the first grade set. They must have been desperate because my soccer experience is close to zero.

So I'm looking for ways to not suck, the league assures me that it's not so much about teaching skills at this age but more social. But any exercises, drills, advice for game time or just ways to keep it fun would be helpful. As an added element, my own 6 year old son will be playing, although I don't think I will be coaching him.
posted by jeremias to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I was in the same situation this summer. I highly recommend these books. They provide a lot of useful advice and fun drill/exercises for skill development. Remember, the important thing is to keep it fun!

Coaching soccer for dummies

Coaching youth soccer

Great soccer drills
posted by bluefrog at 5:30 AM on August 21, 2007


...and while there is certainly room for improvement, I didn't suck and managed to look like I knew what I was doing most of the time.

BTW, at that age you might want to emphasize drills that develop very basic things like balance, speed and agility. You don't always have to work with the ball. A game of tag (in one of its many variations) might serve very well, for example
posted by bluefrog at 5:35 AM on August 21, 2007


Be really patient. Offer corrections, but don't yell at them. Praise them for what they do right, don't constantly tear them down for what they do wrong.
posted by canine epigram at 5:40 AM on August 21, 2007


My wife got sucked into coaching 5-and-6-year-olds this spring when she signed our daughter up for soccer.

In our town, each team has a "real" coach along with a couple of parent coaches. The real coach teaches the drills and skills, while the parent coaches are responsible for general crowd control (it ain't easy herding first graders), motivation, and so on.

If you're lucky, you will have a similar situation, in which case you should just do what the "real" coach tells you to do and focus on keeping the kids interested in the activity. Otherwise, bluefrog's links seem like good ones.
posted by briank at 5:47 AM on August 21, 2007


Someone asked a similar question on SportsFilter a while back and received excellent advice. I couldn't find the thread, so I linked to this question over there in the hopes of drawing it to the attention of the people who helped.
posted by terrapin at 6:20 AM on August 21, 2007


I played soccer starting in first grade and the one thing our coach told us that I still remember was "Keep your fanny to the goal." This prevented us from going the wrong way down the field (i.e. towards our own goal with the ball) and from turning our backs to the action on the field. Six year olds need a lot of advice like that, I think.
posted by sneakin at 6:29 AM on August 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


• Don't take it too seriously
• Understand that, at that age, a game of soccer is "magnet ball", with every player on the field running after the ball. If you can get the kids to stay anywhere remotely near position, you will have accomplished a great deal.
• Have good snacks for after the game.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:35 AM on August 21, 2007


Against all odds a few years ago, my father, who, to say the least, is not well known for his enjoyment of/ability to deal with children took on the job of coaching my 8 year old brother's basketball team.

My then 16 year old brother, worried about my dad leading a bunch of kids, gently gave him this advice:

"Treat the kids with respect, being frustrated doesn't mean you have to be angry and mean, make sure they have at least a little bit of fun at practice, winning isn't everything, give everyone a chance to play."

I can't say much for the actual logistics of the sport, but that sounded good to me.
posted by nuclear_soup at 6:39 AM on August 21, 2007


make sure they have at least a little bit of fun at practice

The one bit of advice I have is to let them play/scrimmage more than drills. Drills are good, but the more time they have actually playing the game the more *they* will enjoy it, and they will get better.
posted by terrapin at 6:45 AM on August 21, 2007


Child development experts actually say that team sports aren't really the best thing for kids younger than second grade because kids at that age are egocentric and don't fully understand the concept of working together as a team. They only care about themselves and individual, non-competitive activities are ideal for them. At that age, they are supposed to be learning the locomotor, non-locomotor, and manipulative skills that can later be applied to sports and other activities.
However, this is a soccer team, so you have to teach soccer. I would suggest not keeping score, giving a lot of positive feedback, focus on skills and movements rather than on strategy. Let them have fun and goof around. Ultimately, you want them to enjoy it, so let them goof around sometimes and let them make lots of mistakes.
posted by HotPatatta at 6:56 AM on August 21, 2007


Some kids will be unskilled and shy. Others will be relatively skilled and self-assured. You should work to build the basic skills and confidence of the unskilled kids as much as possible -- some of it is bred in the bone, but try to get them up to speed -- and assume that the already skilled and confident kids will do well without as much direct attention.

Try to get the skilled kids to work with and teach the unskilled kids and to treat them as important teammates rather than as detriments to their athletic careers. Teaching teaches; the skilled kids will learn from being your assistant coaches. Something like "John, I notice you're pretty good at [skill x]. Go out and work with Bob on [skill x]. I need you both to be good at [skill x]. Can you do this for me?" And show them both exactly how you want them to practice together as a pair.

Because kids this young hate to give up the ball, work hard on passing skills. Try to get everyone to think of passing before doing anything else. Praise the good passes highly.

And make sure you control or boot the disruptive kids. Anyone purposely making anyone else's practice unpleasant has to change or go home.
posted by pracowity at 7:19 AM on August 21, 2007


Someone asked a similar question on SportsFilter a while back and received excellent advice. I couldn't find the thread, so I linked to this question over there in the hopes of drawing it to the attention of the people who helped.
posted by terrapin at 6:20 AM PST on August 21


Here it is.
posted by NoMich at 7:20 AM on August 21, 2007


I was thrown into the same situation as you at the start of the summer (suddenly teaching grade one girls' soccer with no experience actually playing it). I was really nervous at first but it has actually been a really fun three months. I emphasise fun - my girls rarely ask who won, and I shout encouragement when I see them doing something right, I never criticise, I offer positive corrections. At half-time I make sure to praise individual girls in front of the whole group, specificing WHY what they did was smart. E.g. Mariah, that was really smart of you to get between the other team's girl and the net so she couldn't score, or Kendra, I was impressed when you were in net and had a goal kick and you looked for one of your team mates on the side who was alone and could run up the field with the ball. When there is a throw-in by the other side, I always remind the girls to "find a friend" on the other team and stick with them until the ball is in play. I rotate the players through all positions and have a game sheet where I record who is on the field/net so that everyone gets a good chance with the ball - this has helped me with parents that say their girls aren't getting as much time on the field. I rotate a LOT, probably 8-10x a game; my girls stay close to me so I can call them on and off field quickly. After the first couple of games I could see who were stronger players and rated the girls (privately) ABCD and I try to keep one girl from each category on the field to keep the team balanced. At the start of the year I emphasized to parents both verbally and in a a newsletter that the game was FUN, parents being too agressive would be banned from the field (not that I have had any problems at all). My parents have been great in spontainously practising with the team as the girls arrive so that I can talk to girls/parents/ref/commissioner. One thing my club does that I really appreciate is they have hired a professional coach to offer skills sessions to several teams at once on a different night to game night about four times so the players could get better training than I can offer (I'm still learning the terminology). Be sure to make up a refreshment list and rotate it among the parents! I think you are going to enjoy this a lot more than you expect ~ have fun!
posted by saucysault at 7:35 AM on August 21, 2007


Coaching young kids is simple. It's the parents that can be the hassle.

Find a good assistant coach.

There are really only three things you can accomplish coaching at this grade level: having fun and getting some exercise, along with skill development.

Don't ever yell at them.

Don't allow bullying. I speak from personal experience. A bully can totally ruin a child's experience. I was once a bully in 2nd grade, and then in a later year I was bullied. It is just destructive and shouldn't be put up with.

Make sure everyone gets fair playing time. A good way to ensure a child never plays sports again is to bench them for the majority of the time.

As for drills, one good way to encourage positional play (which will be about as difficult as herding cats) - is during practices to split the field into 3 lanes using cones and have kids run up and down the field passing the ball back and forth between the lanes. Keep it simple, but this is a good way to reinforce positions, but don't worry about it too much.
posted by chlorus at 7:56 AM on August 21, 2007


Watch Home Movies for a solid soccer coach role model.

I was an assistant coach for a 7 year-old soccer team when I was in high school, and I think that my presence as a younger person was as helpful as any soccer knowledge I might have to impart.

The coach tried really hard to teach skills and positions for the first two or three practices, but eventually we just ended up scrimmaging or playing games like soccer freeze-tag (once you touch the ball, you can't move anymore until a goal is scored).
posted by solipsophistocracy at 8:34 AM on August 21, 2007


If you're really worried about not knowing anything, see if you can find a high school student who does play soccer who would be willing to help with the more technical end of things.

Oh, and I can't emphasize this one enough: BE EQUITABLE WITH PLAYING TIME. It's probably best that you're not coaching your son. Even if you are, it'll probably be okay, as long as you treat him (and his friends) the same way you treat everyone else. When I was about that age (maybe a little older), I played in a neighborhood league. The team I was on was through my church, and most of the kids knew each other from attending the parochial school. The coach, the father of one of the better kids on the team, obviously favored both his son and his son's friends in terms of playing time and starting games, and it was incredibly frustrating for a six-year-old dismas. It may seem silly, but little kids do notice that kind of stuff (as do their parents - mine thankfully switched me to another team in the next season and that was the end of it, but others might try to give you a hard time).

Also: oranges at halftime, soda afterwards, and make sure everyone drinks plenty of water during the game.
posted by dismas at 10:00 AM on August 21, 2007


I have coached youth soccer for 10 years from 5-year-olds to 17-year-olds. I just moved and my daughter is in HS and won't be playing anymore, so my coaching career is probably over. I will miss it. It's a lot of fun (except for some of the parents)


For that age the most important thing is to make it fun. These kids are mostly there to run around and chase/kick a ball and see their friends. If they have fun, they are more likely to keep playing year after year.

For practices (which should last no more than an hour at this age) make sure every kid has a ball. If you aren't given enough, have the kids bring one to practice (size 3 for that age). If they do bring their own, check to make sure it is the right size, has the right amount of air, and doesn't have any stitching or anything sticking out that can injure a player. Also, have the kids put their names on their balls.

You should not concentrate on "drills". Most kids that age just don't get it and don't need to yet. Play games where each kid gets to kick a ball most of the time.

One of the warm-ups I used for all ages was marking out an area with cones and start by having all players with a ball start dribbling around the area. Tell them to keep the ball close to themselves, try not to bump into others, etc.. Then you change things by stopping them, explaining what you want them to do next and telling them to GO. By stopping them to give directions, you will actually have their attention (sort of for this age). Have them dribble with rt foot only, left foot only, hands, heels, etc. Then have them dribble and stop the ball with the body part you call out (rt. knee, left knee, foot, elbow, ear, head, bum, etc.) then they should immediately start dribbling again. The younger kids like this. There are many ways to keep the kids moving and getting warmed up with this activity.

There are so many games that teach the kids ball control (which is important) that I could go on. By playing different games, the players learn without really knowing it. If you want more ideas, please email me.

Something that is stated at all of the different clinics and courses that I took is "Let the game be the teacher".
On game day, please don't set the kids up like chess pieces and make them have "set in stone" positions. Head them in the right direction, maybe give them a "side" of the field to start on and let them go. You should only be yelling encouragement from the sidelines, not directions. They won't listen anyway and it just confuses them. Have a meeting with your parents and tell them that they should also only be shouting encouragement (for both teams), not "coaching".

You should go over some of the obvious things at practice: no hands/arms, no pushing, proper throw-ins, free kicks (just how to take them, not the reasons), etc., so you or the referee don't have to be teaching these things during the game.

It is so rewarding when the kids are around 9 or 10 years old and all of a sudden they realize that running around in a "herd" isn't the best way for their team to keep in possession of the ball. If they learn this on their own, they understand it so much better than if they had been placed like chess pieces before this.

I could go on, but I will make myself stop! As I said, please email me if you want anymore ideas for practice activities, how to use your assistants, best ways to get info to the parents, etc.
posted by i_like_camels at 3:46 PM on August 21, 2007 [2 favorites]


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