Coaching children through U6 can provide some of the most joyous experiences for coaches. Coaches are surrogate parents, teachers, mentors, or heroes to very young children and this experience can provide some of the most personally rewarding moments in a coaches’ career and memorable experiences in the child’s life. However, coaching young children can also provide some of most challenging moments and can be nerve-wracking at first. Children up to age six present some additional challenges due to their immaturity, short attention span, and less developed muscles. You will also need to deal with a great variation between personalities, physical size, and abilities. Your coaching will be challenging, but rewarding.
One important thing to remember is that to 3, 4, 5, and 6 year olds, you are a giant! You look enormous to our littlest players. Some may actually be somewhat intimidated or frightened of this new, tall person talking to them on this strange soccer field. It’s important with kids to get down on eye level or even sit or crouch below eye level. This helps them feel more in control and less intimidated.
Integrate your favorite or common kids’ activities into your practices. Ever play duck-duck-goose? This is actually a great activity for soccer practices. It enhances running abilities and the concept of "catching" an opponent. If you make the kids say the "goose’s" (their team mate’s) name, it helps reinforce the names of new team mates. You can also use this traditional game as the foundation for a soccer practice progression. Start with the traditional game. Then at some point during that practice or a future practice, play the game with two team mates working together to catch a goose. Or progress to duck-duck-goose with a soccer ball at their feet. Or require that the goose run to a nearby cone, shoot a goal, and then return to their spot in the circle to win. The familiarity with the game will make the kids more relaxed and make it easier to pick up these types of progressions. The same concept applies to games like red light, green light, tag, or hide-and-go-seek. Hide-and-go-seek is a great activitiy to begin teaching the concept of shielding the ball with your body. As long as the child’s body is obstructing view of the ball, their ball is "safe" from attack. Red light, green light is a great activity to teach listening and observation skills. It also works on muscle control and reaction speed. Red light, green light with a ball teaches gentle dribbling control and trapping skills. This is a great progression activity.
Be silly! This is a chance for you to be a kid again. Incorporate fun into your practices. No standing in lines and passing or kicking allowed! Keep their bodies moving and offer lots of mini breaks. Bring in modern-day references from cartoons, movies, books, and everyday life. Ask your kids to pick their favorite superhero or character and practice their superhero dribbling moves. Or roleplay that you (the coach) are the villain trying to steal their soccer balls away. They need to be the superheroes and keep their soccer ball safe. Have them dribble through "Shrek’s swamp" of cones while the ogre (coach, being silly and never scary) tries to steal their soccer balls. Have fun with it and enjoy yourself.
Here are a few links that provide suggestions on other fun activities and practice suggestions: