The kids want to have fun: 1) They need to feel “valued”. 2) They need to feel as if they are improving. 3) They want to play [in games].
Each of us can hit google and find multiple studies on the percentage rates of kids falling out of sport. Not just soccer, but all sport. One study has found that 70% of youth are quitting sports by the time they are thirteen (13) years old. Yikes! The percentage is even higher for girls and kids of lower-income households. These numbers, when only looking at soccer, are comparable. With almost 50% of registered youth soccer players sitting between the ages of 6 and 12 years old, it makes me think we all need to continue to ask ourselves as youth coaches, “is my team having fun?”.
In our coaches meeting on the 9th (held via Zoom) we briefly discussed the above three (3) points. But during training this week I was reminded that the kids don’t just want to play in games, they simply want to play. SO, in addition to making sure kids get at least 50% playing time in a game, maybe we look at how much we are actually playing games in training.
After a Monday thunderstorm and having to cancel my U13 session, I wanted to get the most out of the next practice on Wednesday. So after warm up with the ball and the kids gathered (6 feet apart of course) for the next part of training on that next Wednesday, I told them that we were going to play small-sided games the entire time in a round robin tournament format. The reaction was instant smiles, fist pumps, and exclamations of “yes!”. The kids want to play. I did my best not to stop games once they started and I let them compete and strategize as they saw fit. Between games I would remind them of simple organizational concepts or throw “switch the point of attack” ideas their way. I loved hearing the communication between teammates and the intensity increase when I called “1 minute remaining in the round”.
After a practice, we as coaches we can tell when the kids had fun, and this was one of those days. I realize not every practice can simply be a round robin tourney. But we can try to manipulate the largest portions of training to be competitive, play-oriented where players are invited to take risks and learn from mistakes, and with an age appropriate theme (switching point of attack or breaking lines with dribbling / passing) we may find our teams having more "fun".
Enjoy the week coaches! Be in touch soon!