You might have to tap into your inner Disney character
| 4 min read
When father-of-two Darin Dick from Newport Beach, Calif., coached the soccer team his 6-year-old daughter played for, he made sure to lead with fun.
In practice, he used tag to help them learn team concepts of working together on the field, and Red Light, Green Light for running. But even with the emphasis on games kids know and love, Dick says one or two players would sometimes lose focus on the game and pick daisies instead.
His response: Join in.
“I would sit down next to them and pick away with them until they were done, and that’s part of gaining their trust,” Dick says. After a minute or two of collecting flowers side by side, he’d ask if they were ready to return to play. Usually, they’d jump right back in the game.
It works because it’s simple. And because they’re 6. And it’s important because, as one of a child’s first coaches, it’s on you to help develop their appreciation for the sport — so they can enjoy the benefits of teamwork and competition for years to come. (No pressure, though.)
If picking flowers isn’t your thing, try one of these seven other tactics.
When Mike Singleton got into coaching, he never imagined he’d pretend to be the Little Mermaid in practice. But putting his own ego aside, in favor of a little Disney-inspired imagination, resonated with his young players and made them happier to play the game of soccer.
“Their imagination is really the key to unlock everything about them,” Singleton says. “Be playful and realize that it’s not about your professionalism as a coach. It’s about the experience for the kid.”
Singleton — who now coaches Division 3 soccer at Washington and Lee University and has a masters degree in child clinical psychology — has found that keeping the instruction short maintains the kids’ attention. “If you’re talking for more than 15 seconds at a time, you’re aiding their flower picking,” he says. “So limit your communication and let the games be the teacher.”
Singleton also recommends peer activities, where kids are encouraged to play through interactions with their teammates. By pairing the socially-skilled, friendly kids with the players who are shy or reluctant or disconnected, a form of peer support is formed and can increase motivation.
Giving players an opportunity for input in certain drills helps them feel part of the process. For example, in Red Light, Green Light, Singleton will ask players which color and move they want to play. Whether it’s hopping over the ball or running with the ball, giving the players a say gets them involved and keeps them engaged for a longer period of time.
For Dick, motivating his team came down to getting to know each player and learning what element of the game they love.
“Try to identify something at school,” Dick says. For example, one of his players loved kicking the ball hard during kickball, to see how far it would go. “Try to translate that over to what we are trying to accomplish in soccer.”
Working with younger kids, Dick would introduce the game of soccer in phases — chase drills without the ball, small bounce drills to let them kick the ball as hard as they could, and eventually 3 vs. 3 with the ball, for example. Throughout the process, he offered as much encouragement, positivity and patience as possible.
If a player scored a goal, Dick cheered wildly. If they started to pick daisies in the middle of a match, he’d remind them about the game of tag they practiced. Ultimately, Dick wanted to build them up so they’d look forward to playing with their teammates.
“I think it’s just getting the inner confidence in these kids and just having fun,” he says. “Finding out what makes them tick is really the key at such young ages to get them off that daisy and into a ball.”