After working in Youth Soccer for the past 15 years I have seen huge changes in the way coaches have improved their practice and delivery to young players.
The clear majority of these changes have been tremendously beneficial to the young players and I believe that coaches and parents are more educated now at what is best for their children than ever before.
However, there is a darker side to the youth soccer which is evident if you go to the side line of a game at the weekend! Coaches screaming instructions, parents screaming instruction, referees getting berated. In the mist of all this there are 10 children trying to enjoy a game of football.
Not only does this environment make the players nervous and confused but it also has a very negative impact on their development. Instead of making their own decisions and learning for themselves they are paralysed by trying to listen to instructions and worrying if they made the right decision.
Do I listen to my Coach or my Dad? What does he want me to do? How does he want me to do it? Did I do it correctly?
Put yourselves in the child shoes. Imagine processing all of that whilst at the same time trying to enjoy a game of Soccer and have a defender running at you. To put it simply you cannot.
Seventy percent of all children playing youth sports at the age of 10, which is the #1 age for participation in the country, quit by the time they are 13. People like to say they have other interests, but the data points to three main reasons:
- They are not having fun
- Too much pressure from coaches and parents to win
- Lack of playing time
I’ve heard statements from people like “we don’t want the sessions to be all fun stuff”. I’m of the opinion that I cannot make my sessions fun enough! Having fun and enjoying what you are doing does not have to interrupt with the learning process. In fact, all the research actually argues that it enhances it.
The pressure which is placed on some children whilst playing sport is insane! Let’s consider the fact that only about 1% of all children will go on to earn a living as an elite level athlete! So, why is that pressure necessary? Children should play for one reason and one reason only. FUN! Of course, there are a host of other benefits which come along with playing team sport but ultimately a child is only motivated to want to get better at something if they ENJOY it! It’s that simple.
Equal playing time is important, how is a player supposed to get better if they are sat on the bench or standing in a line all session waiting to kick a ball. Coaches need to get the players engaged and have a ball at their feet as much as possible. As they get older 12+ then they can start thinking more tactically and the need for the ball mastery is not as essential.
Children need to have fun and enjoy youth sports while they are young so they will continue to want to be active as adults.