Characteristics of a 4-6 Year Old Soccer Player
CHARACTERISTICS OF U - 6 PLAYERS*
- Short attention span.
- Can attend to only one problem at a time.
- May understand simple rules that are explained briefly and demonstrated.
- May or may not understand or remember: what lines mean on the field; what team they are on; what goal they are going for. We need to be patient and laugh with them as they get 'lost' on the field.
- Easily bruised psychologically. Shout praise often. Give "hints", don't criticize.
- Need generous praise and to play without pressure. No extrinsic rewards (trophies, medals, etc.) should be given for winning.
- Prefer "parallel play" (Will play on a team, but will not really engage with their teammates. Thus, a 3 against 3 game is, in reality, a 1 against 5 game because they all want the ball at the same time.
- Very individually oriented (me, mine, my).
- Constantly in motion, but, with no sense of pace. They will chase something until they drop. They are easily fatigued but recover rapidly.
- Development for boys and girls are quite similar.
- Physical coordination limited. Eye - hand and eye - foot coordination is not developed. Need to explore qualities of a rolling ball.
- Love to run, jump, roll, hop, etc..
- Prefer large, soft balls.
- Catching or throwing skills not developed.
- Can balance on their "good" foot.
THINGS YOU CAN EXPECT
As coaches of these younger players there are things that we know that we can expect during training and games. If we know what to expect, we will be more effective in dealing with the hundreds of situations that come up. This will help us relax, and, in turn, allow us to enjoy the unpredictable nature of working with these children even more. Here are some of the things that we can expect.
- Most players cry immediately when something is hurt. Some cry even when something is not hurt. So parents please do not come on the field, let the coach and the referee attend to them first. 95% of the time it is nothing serious, If it is they will call for your presence immediately.
- No matter how loud we shout, or how much we "practice" it, they can not or will not pass the ball. That is normal and developmentally appropriate
- Don't even consider teaching positional play.
- Twenty seconds after the start of a game, every player will be within 5 yards of the ball.
- Several players will slap at the ball with their hands, or pick it up. Several parents will yell at them not to do that.
- They will do something that is absolutely hysterical. Make sure that you laugh!
It is important to understand at the outset that players coming to any sport prior to the age of 6 years old, in general, do not do so by their own choice. As a result, their coaches need to give them something about which to get excited. Further, at this age, learning to play soccer is secondary to most other things in their lives.
With the above assumptions, let’s look at some things that we can do to energize the U-6 players, and, hopefully, get them to the point where they will enthusiastically initiate the sign up for next year!
- Each session should be geared around touching the ball as many times as possible. Majority of the session should be a 1 to 1 ratio with ball. Basic movements such as running, skipping, hopping, etc. need to be emphasized. If these can be done while kicking, catching, rolling, or dribbling a ball... all the better!
- Training should not last for more than one hour. This is primarily due to physical fatigue and attention span considerations. Train once or twice a week. Any more than this may lead to their and your burnout.
- Have as many different kinds of activities ready as you can get into one hour. Emphasis needs to be placed on what is FUN!.
- Every player should bring his or her own size #3 or #4 ball.
- Remember, although they may have very similar in birth-dates, their physical and / or mental maturity my vary as much as 36 months. Activities need to accommodate these individual differences whenever possible.
- Team play and passing is an alien concept to these players. They know that if they pass the ball, they may never get it back. In fact, they often will steal it from their own teammates. Do not get uptight if they do not pass, let them dribble to their heart's content.
What to Expect
So you have decided to allow your child to try soccer, but since you never played or haven’t played in years you do not know what you should expect. Based on the recommendations of the US Soccer Federation, you should expect a few simple things at age 6 and under.
The most important thing is that the children should be having fun with the ball. At this age children love to play and use their imaginations, so activities should allow children to use a soccer ball for play. For example, using the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, players are asked to dribble their soccer balls up through the sky and retrieve “beanstalks” (cones) so the giants cannot come down and eat the town’s food. Adults/parents help as “giants” (taggers) and the “town mayor” where players take their balls. This fun game allows young children to use their imagination while dribbling a soccer ball.
At these young ages, children work hard and tire quickly. Coaches should have segments of the practice that are “active rests,” where they are not running but are trying to do something specific with the ball. A great example would be playing Simon Says with the soccer ball. This allows the player to use the soccer ball, but still have some time to re energize.
Many parents want to see their child play in a “game” at this age. However, most young children just want to kick the ball, so a game with positions and responsibilities is neither fun nor realistic for a 4-6 year old. Instead all practices should end with some small sided games. The number of players on the field should range from 1v1 to 3v3, with constant movement on the field. Players should go to small goals with no goalkeepers. When possible, a size 3 soccer ball should be used. Boundaries should be acknowledged but not worried about too much as the children are not developmentally able to understand cones and lines as a boundary. If the balls goes out of bounds have them try to bring it back and if it goes too far, have them bring the ball back and the next group gets a turn.
The most important thing for 4-6 year olds is that the child’s experience with soccer is so enjoyable that when he or she has a choice of activities, he or she choose to play soccer on his or her own.