Most children at that age begins school. Each day becomes an adventure and time for experimenting with learning. Same apply to start playing football. Significant number of kids at that age will kick the ball for the first time. What is that mean to us coaches? What do we do with 15 plus kids running everywhere and barley listen to anyone? We all have been there- Don’t we? I had that privilege too. Now I’d like to share with you my experiences and skills you do need to be more effective coach when working with very young children.
1. Simplicity-less is more! Playing the game may be your best friend!
If you ever set up a lot of cones for whatever reason that is recipe for a disaster. Bearing in mind these kids just start to learn how to read and write. You may ask them to do a lot of things at your session, but how much they really understand? Set up few pitches with 2 goals and one ball to play with maximum numbers playing 3v3. Then let them discovery and experimenting with learning the smaller version of football game. This will help keep kids engaging as they are enjoying scoring and dribbling the ball. Small sided game will provide an opportunity to do both.
2. Cartoons-it will be your right hand to engage with children imagination!
I used to relate my football activities to famous cartoons when working with youngest pupils. Tom & Jerry, Postman Pat, Shrek, all prove to be a great tool to engage with kids and keep them engaging throughout the session. Adding competitive edge to it was my top priority so children collect points and play to win the game.
3. Communication with kids is an art!
When I was younger, I’ve tried to explain too much too soon and often it takes a lot of time. The only outcome of it was that kids became bored and quickly deaf as to what I got to say. Moreover, boringness lead to poor behaviours and complete chaos. Reflection come quickly. I’ve learned the lesson and from that moment I stop using lectures. In the end I was dealing with 5-year-old not university students (although most lectures are boring anyway, even at universities level). So, what I had change then? Well, I used short, simple to understand core message. I repeat that message during practices without stopping the entire group consistently. In consequences kids have been exposed to same learning messages in which over the time became good habits. Next big benefit was maximizing kids time playing football rather than listening my boring instructions!
4. Set up clear boundaries or you will sink!
Setting boundaries usually takes time, only because adults want to set up far too many. Is worth to know that learning brain really remember only 3 things at one time, so trying to do more is waste of your precious time and it won’t work. Therefore, set up 3 and be very consistent to act if they will be crossed. Believe me, kids will test them to simply see what are you going to do.
5. You will see and experience chaos-don’t panic it is great for learning !
Children are very creative and their learning brain is set up for chaos. Let them play freely and experimenting with their learning. Having said that I used to use simple group or individual challenges related to child psychological development and personality as well as game of football. So, for example for a kid who is good on the ball under pressure I may say: try to beat two players with your dribbling skills and your goal count double. Remember kids don’t think the way adults do. Therefore, you will gain more if you stay away from logic and need of control everything that happen at your session.
6. Overpraising-the trap you do want to avoid!
Adults these days are determined to make every kid special no matter what they done! Make sure is not you! Kids must earn to be praised, and need to do so for effort they put in to achieved something. So, if you say well done only because kid just kick the ball out of the pitch, you create false image that this is actually good thing to do, but in reality, it is not. However, if you say: good dribbling Harry-you recognize the space a front of you-you praise child ability to see free space and assure the child this is good thing to do!
7. Make sure you support them but don’t take care of problems for them!
What happen if the child struggle to put the bib on? Nearly everyone starting with parents, coaches rush to rescue the kid. Right! No, wrong! If you do so, when and where does he/she ever learn to wear the bib? This is a first attempt of independent thinking and solving problems -important life skills that helps this kid in future. Make sure you there to help them to learn that life skills and not rescue them to early. They will be grateful for what you have done when they grow!
8. Set up environment when kids can make mistakes, experience failure and are out of their comfort zone!
The life is not easy and definitely is not risk free. So yes, let the kids experimenting calculated risks on the pitch. They will be enjoyed it and have enormous pleasure to achieve the task. By doing so you building child confidence, raise self-esteem, made them motivate to play, confident to play and in few years to come competent to play.