Making the Season Memorable
A child’s experience in organized soccer can be a defining moment in her young life. Years from now, she isn’t going to remember her team’s record or how many goals she scored during the season, but she’ll easily recall whether the time the team spent with you was a positive or negative experience. This article provides some methods you can use to ensure that your players have a memorable season that brings a smile to their faces for years to come and has them begging to play for you again next season.
Challenge the coach day
What do youngsters like most about playing soccer? Well, besides scoring goals and wearing the cool shin guards, they love opportunities to play — and beat — you, the coach, in any type of skill challenge. Reflect for a moment on your own sports experiences growing up and the first time you beat your mom, dad, or coach in a game. The feeling becomes entrenched in your memory forever. Kids genuinely love this type of challenge, so set aside one practice day at some point during the season in which each player on the team gets the chance to challenge you in some aspect of soccer.
With younger kids, give them plenty of options to choose among, because they probably haven’t had this chance before with other coaches. Here are some fun options:
- Let them race against you the length of the field, dribbling a soccer ball.
- Dribble through a series of cones to see who can do it the fastest.
- See who can control the ball longest in a designated area, with the other person serving as the defender.
- Play a game of 1-on-1 in a scaled-down area with a cone serving as the goal that you must hit with the ball.
If you have players who are struggling to learn skills, letting them beat you may be the confidence boost they need. With some of the other kids, beating them by a goal or a couple of seconds can provide that extra motivation for them to work even harder in practice so they can win next time.
Nothing sabotages fun and learning quicker than subjecting youngsters to the same boring practices week after week. Taking the time to introduce a new drill during every practice infuses your sessions with excitement and ensures that the kids never get in a mind-numbing rut. To give them something to look forward to at each practice, introduce the new drill at the same point in your sessions. You may find that unveiling the new drill at the start of practice, when youngsters are often the most focused and attentive, works best. Or you may discover that building the anticipation and saving the new drill for the last few minutes of the practice is a great way to conclude the session. After you establish a routine, you’ll find that the kids eagerly anticipate the chance to participate in a fun new drill every time they step on the field.
One of the most effective ways to promote team camaraderie is to devote a practice session to a series of special contests. But instead of having the players compete among themselves, which only gives your better-skilled youngsters the chance to further showcase their talents while alienating the less-skilled kids, pair up the players ahead of time. By putting a talented child with a youngster who isn’t quite as skilled, you force the kids to work together, which not only improves their skills, but also allows them the chance to get to know each other better.
As you know, the more familiar kids are with each other, the more they care about each other, and that translates into more inspired play on the field. The familiarity also leads to more supportive teammates who pull for one another to succeed and who step forward to offer encouraging words when things don’t work out as planned. You can plant the seeds for long-term friendships, which are among the special benefits that come from participating in organized soccer. If you played soccer, or any sport, growing up, you probably can easily recall some of the friendships you forged with teammates.
Some samples of mini-contests you can do include
- Timing the pairs while they pass the ball back and forth a set number of times and run the length of the field
- Attempting headers where the players toss the ball to their partners, who must head it back to them (forcing the players to work together because the better the toss, the easier it is to head the ball)
Encourage the kids to support their partners, and you can even let them know before the contests begin that you award bonus points to those twosomes who demonstrate the most support for each other.
Bringing in new faces
You’re doing a great job of coaching, but every once in a while kids may enjoy a break from you, particularly if they’re with you for several months. Bringing in a new face to talk to the kids about some aspect of soccer provides a new perspective that can be refreshing and reenergizing for them. You have plenty of possibilities within your community. A local high school soccer coach, a well-known high school soccer player, coaches or players from a nearby college soccer team, or sports nutritionists (for older kids) are all excellent resources.
Just giving the players on your team the chance to hear from someone who offers different tips on performing a specific skill, or some words of encouragement on what it takes to reach the next level, can be enormously beneficial in your youngsters’ growth and development.
With young children, a practice centered on a holiday can be a fun way to mix up the routine. If your soccer season runs during the fall, Halloween is a natural for encouraging kids to come to practice in their costumes. Adjust the exercises accordingly so you don’t have youngsters running all over the field risking injury or damaging their costumes in a scrimmage.