Coaching youth soccer can be challenging, especially when players fall into the 10- to 12-year-old age bracket. Young adolescents often exude energy, and that's a good thing when they take all their energy out onto the soccer field. However, coaches may find that controlling and guiding children with vastly different personalities and dispositions is harder than it might seem when it comes time to manage practices and games. Coaches working with youth can benefit from remembering some key facets relating to kids and soccer.
Sportsmanship and Positive Atmosphere
Coaches must instill values of sportsmanship and mutual respect in their players from the very first practice to the last game of the season. Kids should understand that as teammates they have to be supportive of one another, no matter the skill level that each individual possesses. Creating a positive atmosphere in which children are given praise as well as constructive criticism ranks as one of the most important elements of coaching youth soccer. The U.S. Youth Soccer Association reminds parents and coaches that having fun and developing a passion for the sport are just as important as winning and developing skills at this level.
Favoritism and Setting Expectations
Avoid displays of favoritism. Some players will undoubtedly be more talented than others, and coaches should certainly encourage such players to excel. However, coaches must also be mindful of the feelings of other kids on the team. Children in the 10-12 age bracket often have a very fragile sense of self esteem. The U.S. Youth Soccer Association suggests that coaches of young players make sure that everyone gets equal treatment in terms of praise, discipline and playing time. This will limit strife among players and their parents.
As for setting expectations, coaches need to realize that winning isn't everything when dealing with kids. Coaches should let their players know that it is OK to lose as long as you do your best, and that the ultimate goals are to get better and have fun. To achieve these goals it will be important for players to accept the concept of mutual respect among teammates and authority figures.
Keeping it Basic
Keep things simple in practices and in games. Focus on teaching kids the fundamental skills of soccer rather than confusing them with complex tactics and fancy moves. Youth players need to learn how to pass, dribble, shoot, head and trap before they can move on to advanced schemes and ball skills. As a reference, the Kansas Youth Soccer Association specifically recommends focusing on skill areas such as tackling, receiving balls, heading, combination passes and the concept of possession when working within the 10- to 12-year-old age bracket. Develop fun drills that will reinforce these core skills while still allowing kids to have a good time. For games, encourage the team to work together as a unit instead of relying on a single star player or resorting to kick-ball tactics. This basic approach to coaching will help players understand the concept of teamwork and prepare them for higher levels of soccer in the future.
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