Soccer isn’t one of Canada’s two national sports — but it is played more than any other in the country, with nearly half of all children aged five to 14 taking part. And it’s one of the most affordable team sports out there, starting at about $50 for a season of recreational play (usually late May through August), plus another $50 or so for shin pads and basic shoes with plastic or rubber cleats. Want to get your kids fit? The running, turning, jumping, and even falling and getting up that happen on a soccer pitch help kids build on “every aspect of human movement,” says Dave Benning, technical programs manager of the Canadian Soccer Association. Turn the page for his advice on how to get your kids involved and what to look for in a soccer program.
Depending on where you live, recreational soccer programs are offered through municipal community centres or by local soccer clubs. To find out, ask other parents in your area or check the Internet for details.
Kids are coached by volunteers who should have at least some training in how to direct the play in appropriate ways. At ages four to six, Benning says, children aren’t yet able to understand team dynamics like passing; “they want the ball for themselves” and that’s normal. So watch to ensure the coach gives each child a ball during practices; in games there should be no more than four players per team on the field at a time, to allow each child plenty of opportunities to make contact with the ball. There shouldn’t be a goalkeeper, just an open net. After all, Benning points out, “who wants to stand there and get hit by a ball when you’re four, five or six years old?” At this stage, he advises, the only objective should be that your child is happy to be there. His own almost-four-year-old daughter started soccer this year, and “all
I expect is that she goes in with a smile, that she’s going to have fun, and she’s meeting other kids.”
Skills development becomes a more prominent part of practices at ages seven to 12. At this stage, children’s bodies are more stable, they are beginning to understand how to be part of a team, and they have a longer attention span. Now they’re ready to start learning the fundamentals of soccer: receiving and controlling the ball, dribbling, passing and shooting.
Variety is still key to keeping kids interested, so make sure your child is allowed to try different positions — forward, defence, midfield, keeper — without being permanently assigned to any one.
Busy is best
Four-year-olds have very little idle time during practices, which makes for happy, interested kids. During games, the Canadian Soccer Association’s Dave Benning recommends kids at this stage be rotated in three-minute shifts: not enough time to get exhausted on the field, and not enough time to get bored on the bench.
It’s their time to shine
For your children’s sake, Benning suggests parents stay on the sidelines and keep quiet. “Kids often say they’d like to put a bubble over the field,” to block out moms’ and dads’ well-intentioned — but distracting — cheers and instructions. “We are, as adults, interfering in their game. We used to tell children to go out in the backyard and play, but we don’t do that anymore. This is their chance.”
A recent University of North Carolina study found that warming up with 10 to 15 minutes of specific balance, flexibility and strength exercises can prevent serious knee injuries in kids age 10 and up. Want more info? Check out unc.edu/sportmedlab and click on Publications.