5 Ways to Help Your Child Improve at Soccer
Stop Trying to Find That 'Perfect' Club
If your child is playing on an Academy team (travel soccer team) they're going to get about the same exposure and training that all the others players get across the nation. Yes, some clubs might have a better coaching staff or focus more on development, but remember it's only about two or three hours a week for two short seasons a year. It is a small part of your child's development. Chances are that driving an extra hour each way to that "better club" will have little effect on your child's development.
Don't Think That Summer Soccer Camps are Training Grounds
Most short summer soccer camps (3-5 days) are a great growing experience for kids. They learn to be away from home, how to make new friends, and deal with an unknown environment. They do this and get to play some soccer as well.
However, three days at a soccer camp will not turn your child into a soccer great. Instead of canoeing, horseback riding and archery, your child will be playing the game they love and surrounded by other kids that love the game as well. They will return with the same skills they had before they left. Keep this in perspective and they'll have a great time.
Make Time at Home for Training and Practice
I've always said that the best coach I ever had was my dad. Not just for sports, but life in general. We are greatly shaped by our parents' involvement in what we do at the youth level. Parents must take the role of mentor and teacher. They must learn how to train their child and how to encourage their growth in the skills needed. I strongly believe that a parent and child should learn together.
Seeing dad bust his "behind" trying to do a new move is great for laughter and bonding. It lets the younger player know that learning happens all the way through life. Several times a week make the time to do touches, moves, shooting, trapping and touch on the skills that are not worked on during normal practices. You will cherish these sessions for the rest of your life as time well spent with your child.
Create a Local Weekend Pickup League
Most local, public parks and recreation facilities have no restrictions on local taxpayers using their fields, if they are not an organized league. You can email friends and teammates and have weekend games during the offseason. We started one locally and one Sunday afternoon had 50 kids show up. We coned off five small fields and played 5 v 5, round-robin. We kept the parents out of the picture and just let the kids play. It was probably the most fun I've seen the kids have in years.
Even if you only have 6-8 kids, let them play and they'll have a great time. Remember, these are not coaching and teaching sessions. Let them run the show.
Watch Top Level Soccer as Well as Other Soccer
A great exercise is to have a developing soccer player watch a premier league match, then watch a high school or college match. Watch for the little details. What makes the best in the world better than others? When the ball is passed on the upper game, every pass is perfect pace and on the ground. Lower game, lots of bouncing balls and air balls. Upper game, every air ball or bouncing ball is killed with the first touch. Lower game, players often move away from air balls or fail to control them. Upper game, finishing strikes are usually low and at the corners. Lower game, over the cross bar or right at the keeper.
It is a reflective exercise that really helps maturing players understand that the slightest improvement in skills makes a huge difference in the game.
Playing "travel" soccer is simply one part of a child's development. It is what happens AWAY from this structured environment that truly may have the greatest impact on your child's development. Accept the fact that times and schedules have changed and build around it. Keep it fun and cherish these times as bonding and memories, not just a soccer time.
Coach V is the founder and developer of the Blast The Ball soccer training system and the SoccerU training series. He currently works with all levels of players including youth, collegiate and professionals.