Keep it entertaining even when you get older and start playing professionally. Trying to act “adult” and go through boring stages should not be in your program, just like it shouldn’t be on the plan for a kid’s practice.
How it started
We, coaches, were there one hour before practice, preparing and getting everything in order. The first thing I noticed as I was putting out the cones on the field was how each player came and said “Hi” and had a handshake with their head coach. I enjoyed seeing that, and it is something I would like to implement on every team as a coach.
As we were getting closer to four thirty, more kids were dropping in, and every player was ready for some fun. After they greeted their head coach and me, they grabbed a ball and took off running full sprint out on the field. It was like they hadn’t seen a soccer ball for weeks, while they had most likely played some soccer on their lunch break only a few hours earlier.
Coming to practice earlier, shooting and dribbling don’t come out of nowhere. Kids enjoy it; it is fun, and often it is not a forced activity, but if it is, you won’t see the kid run around before practice dripping in sweat with a smile on their face.
#1 Match Their Energy
Children usually have a lot of energy. By matching their energy, we recognize them, and it is a way to make them feel valued. Kids need attention, and on the team, there was a girl, one single girl. She made me think of when I was younger, and I used to practice with the girls and then with the boys. Every time I acknowledged her, I could see that she was hearing me because of a little smirk that would come forward on her face.
Some of the other younger boys would also carefully listen when I was speaking. That meant I had to do the same when they were asking questions or wondering about things. Indeed, we have to get the best out of every practice, but if we lose 10-15minutes on recognizing, inspiring, helping, or correcting the young players, we will save everyone time later on when they are older and don’t have to learn the basic simple facts. Putting in the time during the early stages will also make them want to stay in sports longer.
#2 bring guests
Bringing in professionals and having guest coaches (like I was) also helps the kids to stay inspired and eager to come to practice. It gives them something to look forward to because there might be a surprise again in the future, the question is just when. As long as kids stay motivated and believe going to practice is fun, they won’t mind doing physically and mentally challenging practices. They will remember the fun, and I will take you through how I did it.
So, let me take you through my training with these youngsters. Further, kids don’t need to go through long practices; 1-1.5 hours is enough for these little bodies, especially if they have more activities during the week.
Consequently, the first 10 minutes were fun warm-up drills to get the heart rate going and the legs used to “change of direction.” We didn’t need more since the kids were already moving for 10-20 minutes alone before practice started. The following 20 minutes consisted of conditioning in big and small groups, with the soccer ball and without. Like the cherry on top, I included some cognitive exercises. The practice finished with soccer drills and shots at the goal.
My secret is pretty simple: start and end practice with fun play.
Starting and finishing practice in a fun way will make the kids remember that instead of how exhausting it was to do those crab and bear walks into sprints in the middle section. Finally, the result was like I expected, nearly the whole group came up to me afterward voluntarily, high-fived me, told me that it was the most fun practice they had, and asked me if I was to come to more training.
#3 Keep it purely simple
As I said, there are a lot of factors that play into what kids find fun. Remark, I wasn’t smiling and cheering on everyone the whole practice. I made sure to open practice with positive energy and attitude and duplicate their playfulness. Then become more serious and
teach them to match my seriousness and determination
to then fall back into the fun/hard part and what they are here to do, to play soccer. That resulted in smiles, tired bodies, and happy parents who would feed their kids and gladly send them to bed when they got home.
There are different approaches to kids, and mine I just one of them. Find what fits your group of young, mature, or adult players and adapt that philosophy to get the best out of the group. A golden one-way strategy doesn’t exist in sports. Each team is distinct as it has different individuals and energy every year. Find a way that fits you and your team, don’t apply old plans, as they will rarely work.
To all the coaches, learn to understand your players, and to all the players, learn to understand your coach. It is a team sport, no matter what sport you play. Executing it might look individual, but it always takes a team for a champion to get to the top.
Until next week, see if you can make a guest appearance. Learn something from another team. It could be as simple as giving a high five before each practice.