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.