On Twitter, Tom Byer recently posted a message thanking all the people for the direct messages he has received about starting programs with their local soccer associations.
What program do you need?
If you are a parent of a young one, he says get some small balls in the house. Show your kids how to move the ball in every direction while keeping it close. Play some ‘take the ball’ 1v1 with them, so they learn how to shield it with their body. Discourage just kicking it. Discourage using hands. Keep the ball at their feet and move with it.
Just do that.
If you run a Bitty soccer program, stop doing shooting and passing stations. Start doing the above and teach parents to do it at home.
I’ll add, if your child is older than 6 or 8, it’s not too late! I’ve seen kids of all ages improve once they start practicing with the ball consistently. I’ve improved, myself, at a much more advanced age.
What to expect
Be patient. In my experience, it takes 3-5 years of consistent effort to become decent, no matter what age you are when you start.
That fits Tom’s experience with his own kids and fits with the acquisition time of similar motor skills needed in other sports.
You will see some noticeable improvements in as little as a few weeks and improvements along the way, but don’t lose sight of the 3-5 year time frame.
It’s too easy to get complacent after making some progress and let months or a year go by without touching the ball.
It’s also easy to get frustrated during long plateau periods where you are touching the ball, but the progress isn’t noticeable like during your ‘quickening’ periods. Keep at it.
After the first 3-6 months of improvement, progress gets choppier, but still happens.
What Tom describes above is a soccer equivalent to playing catch with baseballs and footballs or playing OUT and 1-on-1 in driveway basketball.
These basic and fun activities help people of all ages learn basic motor and coordination skills they need to compete in all these sports.
Players in these sports who don’t do these activities outside of team practice will not be playing these sports much past 10 years old, just as Tom says that many kids quit soccer when they realize they don’t have the technical competence to compete.
What is technical competence?
I’d like to put some concrete on that. I’ve seen Twitter posts attacking Tom along the lines of…”How do you measure technical competence??”
If it were baseball, I doubt many people would expect a 10-year-old who can’t catch a ball to make it onto a competitive team. That player’s technical deficiency is obvious to everyone. We all know the cure. Go play catch!
Yet, I’ve seen competitive DIVISIONS of soccer filled with players who can’t trap the ball and few seem to notice.
That’s the cultural problem Tom highlights.
We know baseball well enough to know that catching is a basic skill needed by all players.
We don’t know soccer well enough to know that trapping the ball is a basic skill needed by all players. People who don’t know soccer don’t know what a good trap looks like.