How to get your child started in soccer

If your kids watched the World Cup and suddenly want to play soccer, you may be thinking to get them started in the game. Great idea—because apart from being fun to play, soccer is one of the best games for developing kids’ physical literacy.

But where should you start? It really depends on the age of your child.

1. Preschoolers ages 3-5 years

If your child is only 3-5 years old, it’s actually best to just play at home as parent and child. Preschoolers really don’t need to have uniforms and club affiliations, and in fact, they are generally best avoided at this age as they introduce far more structure than may be healthy for natural exploration and learning (and fun).

You will likely discover that your child is plenty happy just to kick the ball around alone with you. Apart from being developmentally appropriate, it can be great bonding time for you and your child. And you don’t need to be an accomplished player—just a willing participant!

By playing one-on-one with your child, they get to touch the ball more, and that’s what they want. It isn’t bad or wrong or selfish of them—it is a natural feature of normal child development to be “selfish” at this age. And there are good reasons why nature makes kids that way. Early motor learning requires lots of repetitive action, and this doesn’t happen when your child plays on a team and only touches the ball once every 5 minutes.

How can you play at home? Simply create a couple of small goals using plastic buckets or other found objects as goal posts, and encourage your child to dribble around you and shoot. Give them minimal resistance as a “defender” and let them have fun scoring. You can also try out our simple activities for indoor balloon soccer, kicking side foot, and soccer dribbling.

2. Children ages 5-7 years

This is a delicate age where you really need to know your own child. If they have already been playing at school, or they have developed some basic familiarity with soccer at home, and they are asking to play soccer, then they are more than likely ready to register with your local youth soccer association. However, if they have little or no experience in soccer, and if they seem especially shy or tentative in a group setting, it might be best to sign up for an introductory soccer program at a local community recreation centre.

Recreation programs tend to place far less emphasis on competition and more emphasis on fun and basic learning for novices. And after your child has explored soccer through a recreation program, they will give you a clear idea of whether or not they want to register at a youth soccer club and continue in the game.

 

3. Kids ages 7-12 years

By this age, if your child is expressing interest in soccer, you should look at registering them with your local youth soccer association. In all likelihood, they have played a bit during recess at school, or with friends in the neighbourhood, and they have a good idea of what they are getting into. A formal club setting should provide them with quality skills training and a good experience in the sport.

Before you register, check out our overview of quality soccer programs, and investigate how your local youth club compares. Also watch the excellent video from the Ontario Soccer Association that outlines the correct aims and coaching philosophy for Long Term Player Development (LTPD) in children’s soccer. At these early ages, the emphasis should be mostly on learning soccer skills, and not so much on formal league competition and trophies.

Soccer is a great game for kids, even if they simply want to play at a recreational level. It is one of the best sports for developing all-round physical literacy, and it develops friendships, teamwork, and lifelong love of play.

17 responses to “How to get your child started in soccer

  1. My grandson has asthma, but loves to play soccer so much, he forgets to rest, keep hydrated, or go to the rest room
    He”s only seven. And I’m afraid he might be putting too,much stress on his tiny body

  2. Hi Jim,
    Thanks for posting your thought-provoking article. I think your advice for kids in the 3-5 age group is a bit misleading:
    “If your child is only 3-5 years old, it’s actually best to just play at home as parent and child. Preschoolers really don’t need to have uniforms and club affiliations, and in fact, they are generally best avoided at this age as they introduce far more structure than may be healthy for natural exploration and learning (and fun).”

    There are a lot of benefits to structured play within a group that you’re forgetting. The social development that kids under 5 years old gain in playing soccer shouldn’t be forgotten. I owned a kids soccer business for 12 years that specialized in programs for 2-6 year olds. Social skills will benefit kids for the rest of their lives.

    I can’t count the number of thank you notes I received from parents how thrilled they were about their child’s improved confidence and self-esteem. The parents didn’t have to buy uniforms or shoes and there were no “real” games. The basic skills of dribbling and scoring goals were learned through fun imaginative games.

    We had one 30-minute session each week, which leaves 167 hours per week for the kids to experience “natural exploration and learning.” The vast majority of time we used to play innovative games that had the kids laughing and being creative. These are the kind of fun activities that childhood should be full of. In our program, the concept of an actual soccer scrimmage was only introduced to them through a simple 5-minute game-like activity.

    Thanks again for your article,
    Coach Bruce

    1. How can I find places like the one you owned in the state of Georgia? I want to look into one that I could put my child in, so he can build a strong foundation in soccer.

    2. Thank you for this. My 3 year old loves playing “soccer” while she kicks the ball around the yard and I came to google for information on how to get her on a team and this article swayed me to wait. Your comment changed my mind! I’m sure she wants to play with kids not just her mom (even though I’m her favorite).

  3. I started playing soccer with my 3 year old boy today. He love playing football and I want him start gaining soccer skills early enough. Hope he takes it seriously

  4. Sorry Jim, Youre so far off its not funny. This might sound crass but by age 14 if you dont have the skills you dont have a chance of anything but recreational soccer.

    Start you 3 year olds in an early learning development academy. That fas special programs to develop your childs balance and skill. These programs are design for the kids to have fun. By age 7 the should have strong ball handling skills. By 10 the must be in club ball. No child has gotten a College Schoolarship without playing club soccer. By 14 if they are not playing in a top league then its almost immpossible.

    Soccer is such a technical sport and not anything like any other American sport that you cant compare it to anything we play. It takes a long time to develop the skills needed to be successful.

    Sorry Jim all you will get from your advice is a decent REC player

    1. Not everyone is interested in forcing their children to become soccer stars, some of us just want our kids to enjoy the great benefits of this sport 🤷‍♀️

  5. When my son was learning how to walk I would always put a lil soccer ball infront of him . I wanted his ball control to come as natural as walking does . He’s almost 2 and now he uses regular size soccer balls , he can run with the ball, he tries stepping on it , he never attempts to pick it up with his hands he simply amazes me. I honestly really think I have a special talent I’m excited to see how far he can go

  6. My son just turned 5 this year he plays in a soccer team for under 6 he only had 2 games and had 2 wins he has scored 5 goals all up, he is a bit smaller then the rest of his team but he has a good go and has a lot of fun, don’t be scared to fast them early #littlechamp

    1. Soccer is one of the sports that being shorter can be beneficial 🙂 keep him going don’t let him be scared of playing against bigger people it will only help him. At 14 I was playing in adult league with my older brother.

  7. My boy is only 2 but has always loved foootball. I will love to guide him through the correct procedure so he could get it right from the start.

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