Soccer. It’s the most popular game in the world played on every continent and in every season of the year. In Canada, it’s ranked as the number one team sport played by kids aged 5 to 14 with 42% of kids participating. And why not? It’s a fantastic game. It keeps kids active, requires little in terms of equipment, leads to fewer injuries amongst players than in other sports, it’s easy to learn, and most importantly, it’s fun!
While many kids play indoor soccer during the winter, once the spring sun hits local fields, soccer balls appear in droves like raccoons out of their nests. (Wait. Do they actually hibernate?) Kids play in parks with their friends and family, they practice scoring goals and dribbling by themselves in school yards, and leagues spring back into action.
As with any sport, skill and fun levels increase with the more opportunity kids have to play and practice. There are so many creative ways to introduce children to the game and to continue lifelong learning of it through activities which focus on the most fundamental skills in soccer: passing, receiving and controlling the ball, shooting, and dribbling.
With all activities, the focus should be on encouragement, enthusiasm, team work, and enjoyment. The more a child grows in their knowledge and love of the game, the greater the chances that they will become lifelong enthusiasts of wellness and physical activity.
So lace up those cleats and prepare to join AfL in some great games to get your kids learning and loving the most popular game in the world. The following activities can be played with friends in the park, with parents, or with teammates under the leadership of a coach.
3- to 6-year-olds
At this age level, the goal is to get kids moving while teaching them basic movements. For children three to six, encouraging the sharing of the ball may be a hard strategy to teach. Kids have tons of energy, love to run with the ball themselves, and don’t always want to let go once they have the ball in their possession. The idea of passing being important will come as they mature. If the focus of soccer activities is on fun at this stage, kids will likely fall in love with the game and will want to continue playing for years to come.
Be sure that each child understands the activity before you begin.
Stop and What?
- Give each player a ball and have them stand at the end of the field.
- Have the players run while kicking the ball up the field.
- Call out a command as the players are dribbling with the ball. It could be to roar like lions, drop to the ground and slither like snakes, skip around a tree close by, or it could be the choice of one of the players. After a short time of executing their command (say 30 seconds or so), have the players return to dribbling the ball until the next command is called out.
One Pin Bowling
- Give each player a ball and have them line up at the side of the field.
- Place a cone with a ball on it about 10 feet from each player.
- Have the players kick their ball one at a time at the cone to try to knock the ball off the cone directly in front of them.
- For a variation on this game, line up several cones with soccer balls on them like actual bowling pins and see how many “pins” the players can knock down.
What Time is it, Mr. Wolf?
- Line up all the children but one at one end of the field, each with a soccer ball.
- The remaining child, Mr. Wolf, stands at the other end of the field with their back to the rest of the players.
- The players call out, “What Time is it Mr. Wolf” and Mr. Wolf must respond with a time (ie. it’s one o’clock, it’s nine o’clock, etc.). The players count to the number called out while dribbling their ball towards Mr. Wolf.
- The question is repeated over and over until Mr. Wolf responds to the players’ question with “It’s lunch time!” At that point, all the players must change direction and dribble their ball as quickly as possible to the start line before Mr. Wolf tags one of them. Whichever child is tagged then becomes Mr. Wolf.
7- to 9-year-olds
Players seven to 10 have started to learn that success will come from moving the ball effectively. At this stage, activities should focus on fundamental skills, movement, and fun. Keeping players engaged with stimulating activities remains important as most attention spans are still not long at this age. Coaches should also keep in mind that many kids may be coming to the game for the first time and remember to give individual attention to all players, recognizing their level of proficiency.
Passing Through the Gates
- Split the players into groups of two.
- Place cones about three to four feet apart to form gates.
- Have players pass the balls back and forth between the gates.
- As the activity continues, move the cones closer together to make the game more challenging.
The focus for this game is on having players control the ball and working on the accuracy of their passing. Another variation on this game is to have each player attempt to dribble through as many gates as possible in a designated time frame.
Tag the Flag
- Divide the players into multiple groups of three to four.
- Place flags about 30 feet (or 10 meters) apart from each other on the field.
- One to two players from each team stands at their first flag with a ball while the rest of their team stand at the other flag waiting to be tagged in.
- When the game starts, one player runs from their first flag to the second flag while dribbling the ball. As soon as the player arrives at the second flag, the second player tags in and runs the ball back to the other flag. The game can continue until all players have gone two to three times.
The emphasis for this game should be on having the players use both feet to move the ball and having them keep their head up while dribbling the ball.
- Make a grid 15m x 30m.
- Each child has a ball at their feet and must protect their ball from going outside the area.
- When the instructor says, “Knockout!” the players try to kick each other’s ball out while protecting their own.
- The game ends when one player remains with their ball.
The emphasis for this game is on ball control and shielding the ball from opponents.
10- to 13-year-olds
Players at this age are ready to learn the more technical and tactical parts of soccer while still having fun. Activities can be focused on balance, agility, speed, and creativity. Kids love to be challenged and there are great activities coaches and players can use to develop skills while still keeping players engaged.
Practice keeping the ball in the air with any “playable” part of the body—feet, legs, shoulders, head, etc. For an extra challenge: Around The World. Keep the ball up in this order: right foot > right thigh > right shoulder > head > left shoulder > left thigh > left foot.
In general: The more a child plays with the ball, the more comfortable and creative they’ll be!
Give and Get
- Spread all players out across the field and give half the players balls.
- At the coach’s “go” call, all players start to jog around the field (those with the balls must dribble the balls as they jog).
- Players without a ball must start to call for passes from those with balls and those with balls must pass to open players while continuing to jog.
- Coaches can require players to use different passing techniques for a certain number of minutes and then change the technique. (Passes can be with the inside of the foot, the outside of the foot, or kids can do a one touch pass (when the player receives the ball and passes it immediately without stopping it).
A variation of this game is passing one ball amongst a team of 5 or 6 players, all numbered, and passing the ball in order (ie. #1 passes to #2, #2 passes to #3, and so on). The next player in succession must move in front of the passer to appear “open.”
At all levels of play, coaches or parents can work on activities that will help kids feel comfortable with the ball such as:
- Starting at a slow pace, have a player place one foot on top of the soccer ball, then place that foot back on the ground.
- The player should then place their other foot on the ball and then place that back on the ground. (The player may be a little off balance but this will improve as they get used to the activity).
- Slowly start to increase the speed at which the player moves their feet and see how long and how fast the player can go.
- Give each player a ball.
- Players pass the ball from the inside of their right foot to the inside of their left foot while maintaining control of the ball and their body. Have them pass the ball back and forth between their feet a number of times in order to increase their level of control with the ball. For younger players, saying “ding dong” while passing the ball from one foot to the other is fun.
Pull Back or Drag Back Turn
This move enables players to quickly change direction to avoid a defender.
- Each player dribbles a ball in the forward direction.
- The player then steps on the ball with the sole of their foot and drags or pulls it backwards or sideways and turns their body to then face the ball.
- The player can then continue to dribble the ball in the new direction.
Soccer truly is a fun, accessible, and popular sport. As with all sports, the more the focus is kept on age-appropriate, fun, skill-developing games, the more engaged your child will be with the sport and the more they will want to get out and play.