Soccer is one of the most popular sports in the world. Statista reports almost 700 million people watched the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Your kids probably aren't going to star in a World Cup game, but learning the sport is still a great way to make friends, get exercise, and help develop good sportsmanship. Here are the main steps for teaching kids how to play soccer.
Step 1: Go To A Field And Introduce The Rules
Nobody expects a child to memorize the game's rulebook. However, if you want to teach soccer, it helps to have a field where you can point out different elements. Depending on the child's age and existing knowledge, start small and simple by pointing out things like what all the lines on the field mean and what the positions are.
The primary goal here is to help them visualize playing the game. Pay particularly close attention when describing the different positions that players can have. Being a goalkeeper is very different from being a striker or a sweeper, and many kids naturally gravitate towards a specific position.
You may find this guide a handy reference for explaining the positions. Don't forget to remind your child of the importance of teamwork. Scoring goals feels great, but it's the efforts of the whole team that lead to victory.
Step 2: Get Acquainted With The Soccer Ball
Don't dive immediately into drills. Instead, if your child is still interested in soccer, it's time to have a little fun with the ball. You can (and probably should) do this as soon as you're done introducing the game. However, don't give your child full run of the field. Instead, try to have a solid wall and a goal they can kick the ball into.
The goal here is to help young players understand the basic movements and how their ability to kick the ball impacts the game. Most kids won't be able to precisely pass a ball to a teammate just yet - instead, focus on having them regularly kick the ball into a goal-sized area.
Bouncing balls off of walls can also help them learn some of the chaos of the game. They'll need to start running back and forth to try and keep control when it comes their way, and that'll help too. This is also the stage where young players should begin learning passing and dribbling.
Don't make this a one-session thing. Instead, take young players out several times. With gentle coaching and guidance, they'll soon become much better at the basic movements of soccer. Don't forget to give them plenty of praise in this stage and note how much better they're getting. They're not to the fun part of the game yet, so keeping spirits high is essential.
Step 3: Play A Few Simple Games
Once kids have a little more understanding of the rules and how to play, it's time for their first game. These should consist of small teams, preferably with children who are already friends. There are two main goals with this part of teaching how to play soccer.
First, many kids want to play the game, and it's not a good idea to keep them off the field until they're experts. Even if they're getting better, that's a lot of work without much fun to balance it out.
Second, it's an excellent opportunity for them to start putting things into practice. The more they play, the more they'll be able to see how much better they're getting. When children feel successful, they're more motivated to continue playing.
If you're running a larger camp, you can have pickup games at the end of the first few sessions. Be sure to rotate players and teams on a frequent basis - we don't want to push the kids into an "us vs. them" mindset anywhere outside the game.
Step 4: Start The Soccer Drills
Soccer drills are a vital part of getting better - and it's not just passing the ball all the time! That's where you'll need to start (because accurately passing to other players is a vital skill), but many soccer drills are considerably more complicated.
The best soccer drills are essentially minigames - they teach one or more specific skills in a format separate from the way they play soccer. Most of these involve a considerable amount of teamwork (another of the most important skills).
The link above breaks the drills down by age group, and we strongly recommend following that. While older and more experienced children can handle more-complicated drills, young players should stick with the basics.
As before, make sure you give each child plenty of encouragement. We want them to feel like their hard work is paying off, and verbal support is a crucial part of that.
The three most important skills to master by this point are dribbling, passing, and shooting. Almost everything else is an extension of these three skills - and if a young player can master them, they're ready to play a real game.
Step 5: Join A League
Now that the child in question has the basic skills of a player, it's time to get serious about playing the game. There are a few ways you can do this, but all of them include a structured format. The two main options in most areas are a local youth sports league or an afterschool soccer team. As their initial teacher, this is the point where you'll need to step back and let a professional do most of the work.
As part of joining a league, your child will have the opportunity to start truly feeling like part of a team. They'll be able to make friends with the other players, visit different areas to play games, and significantly improve their skills.
Most leagues are willing to accept new kids any time they're running, but that's not guaranteed. Game seasons tend to occur in Spring and Autumn, with Summer reserved for training camps. You may be able to find a camp in the winter to help keep your child's skills sharp, and you should take advantage of that if you can.
At the very least, your child should try to regularly play with the soccer ball throughout the year. This will keep them fresh and competitive.
You won't be their chief coach anymore, but that doesn't mean you can't stay involved. Aside from continuing to practice one-on-one, there are two more ways to help them.
Step 6: Watch Professional Games
Whether you're going to a field to watch in person or putting the games on television, watching soccer games allows your child to get a broader view of what's happening and how good professional players are. Most kids love following the stars of the game, especially those who play in the same position they have.
Ideally, you'll be able to watch at least one game a week. Follow a specific team if you can (continuity always helps), but don't be afraid to show replays of famous games. Come prepared if you do this. The best way to explain the games is to have a list of the most impactful plays from that game, and you can point these out and explain how they impacted the result as the game goes on.
It's not always easy to play historical games on television. You may need to hook your computer up to the big screen, and you should definitely use the big screen.
Step 7: Play Video Games
Hold on, wasn't the idea to get kids off the couch? Yes, but there's a reason this is on the list. Up to this point, children have taken the role of player and spectator. They understand their position, and they understand watching a game.
What they haven't done is step into the strategic role. Video games typically put the player in the position of coach - and by doing that, your child will learn more about how coaches make decisions, how they choose strategies, and how things like team balance and where players are positioned impact the overall game.
Once they start playing games, chances are they'll have a much greater appreciation for every role on the field. It will also encourage them to be more of a team player by switching the focus from "I want to win" to "I want my team to win."
Soccer is a deeply teamwork-oriented game, and when teaching young players how to play soccer, it's never too early to start focusing their attention on the team instead of themselves.
This is why the most significant rewards should be saved for occasions where they demonstrate cooperation and thinking of the group. It's always easier to learn a good habit than break a bad one, so don't hesitate to start this early on.
Incidentally, you shouldn't start playing soccer video games until after your child has joined a league. Learning the game's strategic layer is important, but it goes better when they have a personal understanding of the game to work from.