When kids are 4-6 years old, soccer leagues are mostly about fun and silly games while learning the basics. Coaches run around with the players, get parents involved, and make sure that kids are laughing and having a great time.
However, when children reach about seven, it’s time for coaches to establish a more distanced role and start using sports to help teach the kids a proper respect for authority. Some coaches (like some parents) try too hard to be their kids’ best friend. This may make it so the kids love coming to practice, but it wastes a golden opportunity to teach our kids positive character qualities. If a coach is not requiring respect and compliance, kids naturally spend half their time doing cartwheels, talking to each other, or just playing tag. Your sports practice becomes “play time” and this can set kids up with improper behavioral patterns that can cross over to school, church, and home.
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1. Require Respect Through Posture
Players need to learn attentive listening. When it is time for the coach to teach something, he or she should blow the whistle and have the kids immediately gather around, kneeling on one knee in the shape of a half-circle. This can be easily done at mid-field around the middle circle. The coach faces them, standing. The natural submissive posture and the structure of creating a specific shape helps kids recognize that what the coach is saying is not optional advice… but important information.
2. Establish Consequences for Disrespect or Disobedience
Here’s a typical scenario: You blow the whistle and call everyone over. However, two kids are ignoring you, goofing around. Don’t just keep yelling until they come and join you, or worse… ignore them and work with everyone else. Establish from the beginning of the season that there will be consequences to not listening to the coach. Consequences could be physical activities like push-ups or a lap around the field. Alternately, you can take something away that the player enjoys (like making them sit out of the next game/drill). Kids need boundaries and consequences to understand authority.
3. Start Severing the Ties to Mom and Dad
While parent involvement is great, by about seven years old, coaches should require the kids to start acting like part of a team. This means kids are no longer allowed to run over and sit on mom and dad's lap or play with a sibling when they are not in the game. Your team should be together on the opposite side of the field from the parents. Require your players to sit with the team at all times, cheer for their teammates, and pay attention to what is going on.
4. Be Decisive with Position Assignments
Kids at this age need to understand that they play when and where the coach says and they sit when the coach says. They are not the ones in charge of the team. If the coach is not decisive in assigning positions, what will happen is that each period will dissolve into a swarm of kids around the coach begging to play center forward or some certain favorite position. Then kids mope and complain if they don’t get their position and develop a me-first attitude. As the coach, prepare beforehand and determine a playing structure. Then stick to it so that the kids know who is in charge.
Lazy coaches can cause more damage to our kids' character than they help. By intentionally setting expectations and teaching proper respect for authority… coaches can not only develop great sports teams… but great kids. Isn’t that the goal after all?
About the Author:
Dan Rutledge has been coaching youth soccer for several years and has had the privilege of learning alongside some close friends that play professional soccer for the Charlotte Eagles.