shaking hands with another soccer player youth

Should My Child Play Soccer? Friends and Health

By the time some children are 3 or 4, they have the strength and balance to play certain sports. Thankfully, soccer is one of them. There are many benefits to playing the game from such a young age, both physically and mentally. Soccer can improve coordination, physical development, and discipline, amongst other things.

Should my child play soccer?

The key things to consider when thinking about signing-up your child to play soccer are;
The benefits of soccer
• Learning the rules
• Basics and fundamentals skills
Level of competitiveness
• What position should they play?
• Gear and equipment needed
• Involvement of the parents 

Sports for children bring about many positive experiences. However, it is important that your child is playing for the right reasons. Have a read through the points below and decide for yourself.

Children playing soccer - Should My Child Play Soccer?
Soccer is played by kids of all ages | Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Should My Child Play Soccer?

There are physical, mental and social benefits to playing soccer for children. So let’s have a look at the benefit of playing soccer and see if your child should play.

Physical

Physical fitness

Soccer involves lots and lots of running and jumping. Movement and running are fantastic for overall fitness and provide a great physical base for kids. It’s also a good way to burn up some of their never-ending energy stores!

Skill and Technique

Soccer is a highly technical sport. There are a number of key skills to be learned: kicking, control, dribbling, as well as defensive and off the ball techniques and movements. 

These skills and techniques are not only useful for the game of soccer but are also empowering to a player as they improve over time. This skill development becomes applicable to other scenarios that a child may encounter in school or social situations. 

Children running after a soccer ball
Soccer is great for a child’s physical fitness | Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Coordination

Balance and coordination are part and parcel of soccer. Players are constantly moving, jostling for possession of the ball, kicking, and jumping. This helps develop a stable core, improves one’s center of gravity, and greatly enhances coordination. 

It’s important for children to develop coordination and balance as it improves control over body movement and makes them more able for motor-based tasks. 

Mental and Social 

Development

Training and playing games might be fun, but they require dedication and discipline. When young girls and boys make the effort to show up every week, they will recognize the benefits and improvements in their game. Their work pays off.

Each player on the field has a responsibility. At such a young age, this can be an invaluable lesson for a child’s future.

Friendships and Comradery 

There’s nothing quite like the friends that you make playing sports. Teamwork and comradery are crucial aspects of the game. Players are striving for a common goal, and experience both highs and lows together. These friendships and memories can last a lifetime.

Soccer players celebrating after a game
Friends for life! Teamwork and comradery are huge in soccer | Image courtesy of Sarah Gastelum.

Healthy Competition 

Keeping score is not important for 3 and 4-year-olds. However, there is no getting away from the fact that two teams are competing against each other. Although the games may not be very competitive, an introduction to healthy competition helps prepare kids for the world that awaits them. They will learn that losing is a part of life and that it’s necessary to grow.

Teamwork 

Being a team player is not only crucial in soccer, but it’s also very important in life. One player’s individual talent cannot outdo a well-oiled team over the course of a game. Soccer teaches people how to operate in team scenarios. 

Life Opportunities

Soccer is the most popular sport in the world. There are hundreds of professional soccer leagues, spanning across every continent. Soccer pros are among the highest-paid athletes on this planet. Playing at a young age provides the perfect platform to progress from. Success in soccer as a youngster can also open up opportunities for college scholarships. 

Best age to start playing soccer

Children develop at different ages, some become very active on their feet from the age of 3 and upwards. If your child is full of energy and loves to run around at the ages of 3 to 5, this could be a great time for you to introduce them to soccer. A 2-year-old may not be fully stable on their feet when they need to coordinate their legs to run and kick the ball. 

Playing soccer at a young age is all about having fun. Young children just want to have fun and you’ll find a center near you that focuses on playing games with the soccer ball. It is excellent to take your kids to play soccer and watch them interact with other kids. They will run around and chase after a ball with a smile on their face. It gives you a chance to relax and let them exercise the muscles, which is essential for development. 

If your child is more technically minded and wants to play Lego, they may not be at the right stage to play – but it is more important to try it out. It is best for children to interact in different social parameters for all-round physical and mental growth. 

Best age to start competitive soccer

One of the best things about soccer is that it is a gradual progression to competitive soccer. From the ages of 3 to 5 children will be having fun chasing after a ball playing games with their friends. At the later age of this development, you will notice if your child is competitive whilst playing. 

Most clubs will have competitive soccer for age under 6’s, so this can be a great time to transition from a friendly playgroup to a proper team. Whilst u6’s and u8’s will be playing against other teams, the focus is still to have fun. 

When a child transitions to a team, they will develop further skills. These are life skills that help us throughout life. Working with a team with a ‘common goal’ helps build up unity amongst friends. Communication is a key factor when playing together, and when your child is playing competitive soccer, you will see them grow. 

soccer basic field infographic
Soccer Basics – field infographic

How to Play Soccer 

Learning the Rules 

It’s not vital for kids to know each and every rule of the game. It’s more important that they are enjoying themselves and are developing different skills and techniques. 

4 key positions

  1. Goalie: These players stand in the goalframe and their job is to stop the ball from hitting the back of their net. They can use their hands to do so, as long as they are inside their own penalty box.
  2. Defenders: Their core function is to prevent the opposition from scoring or creating chances.
  3. Midfielders: Combining attack and defense, these players do a little bit of everything. 
  4. Attackers: The most appealing but difficult position. Attackers are responsible for scoring the majority of their teams’ goals.

That being said, basic knowledge is a must in order to participate. Here are the essential rules:

  • Soccer is a game with two opposing teams who are trying to outscore each other. It’s played on a rectangular field that’s split into two halves, with goalposts on either end. 
  • The main objective is to kick the ball into the opposition goal. There are different strategies for doing so, such as passing, dribbling your way, or shooting from distance. 
  • No hands! Handball is illegal in soccer for everyone other than the goalie, who can handle the ball inside his/her penalty box. 
  • The game starts via “kick-off” in the center circle of the field. The second half is started the same way. After a goal is scored, the conceding team “kick-off” to restart the match.
  • Throw-ins: When the ball goes out of play over the sideline, a throw-in is awarded to the opponent of the team that last touched the ball. Here’s how a throw-in is to be taken.
  • Corner Kicks are awarded when the defensive team touches (kicks, heads, knees, deflects, etc.) the ball over their end line. The kick is taken from the corner of the pitch, where the sideline meets the end line.
  • If the offensive team touches the ball over the opponent’s end line, a goal kick is awarded to the defensive team. This kick is taken from inside the penalty box.
  • Fouls occur when a player breaks the rules. Soccer is a contact sport but it does not allow heavy physical challenges. Shoulder to shoulder, light contact is permissible. The most common fouls are:
    • Kicking an opponent
    • Tripping
    • Striking an opponent
    • Pushing
    • Pulling the uniform
    • Handball 

The consequence of a foul is either a freekick or a penalty kick.

  • A freekick is awarded if a foul takes place outside the penalty box. This is an uncontested kick of the ball from which opposition players must stay a minimum of 10 yards.
  • A penalty kick is awarded if a player commits a foul inside their own penalty box. A penalty kick is a free shot on goal from 12 yards out, dead center of the goal. Only 1 player is permitted to take the kick. All other players, other than the opposing goalie, must stay outside of the penalty box until the kick is taken.

How to motivate your kid to play soccer

At such a young age, coaches and parents should be promoting soccer as a fun and enjoyable outlet for kids. Young players should look forward to playing and should relish every second. However, it is beneficial for them to learn the fundamental skills of the game. This helps them to improve quicker and provides a base for them down the line.

  • Each player should have the opportunity to try out every position. 
  • They should be taught the proper technique for striking a soccer ball: shooting, passing, crossing, knees, penalty kicks, free kicks, goal kicks, etc. 
  • They should learn techniques for controlling the ball in different scenarios: with either foot, with the knee, with the chest, from a height, at different speeds, etc.
  • Young players should be taught how to defend and tackle. They should also be made aware of how important defense is so that they learn to respect this side of the game.
  • Positional play should be introduced but it is not an important aspect of the game at this level.
youth boys soccer team with arms linking

How to tell if your child is good at soccer

A child can show many aspects to show that they are good at soccer. When you watch them play, you will notice if they are controlled in their manner when they have the ball and the opponent is rushing towards them. One of the key factors is retaining and regaining possession of the ball.

Some players stand out when they are playing the game because they can dribble the ball past others with their fast speed. They might show off their skills with a few flicks. This is a sign they are confident in what they are doing and that confidence shows they know the game.

Not all players stand-out in the team because of their skills. There are other players that play a simple game but don’t be fooled into thinking they are okay, in reality, a pro soccer player does the best things in a simple way when required. Some players can elaborate too much, and they may miss the chance to play the ball forward to create a chance.

A child is good at soccer when they enjoy it. As with anything in life, when we enjoy something we tend to excel. If your child is not a stand-out player at the moment, because they enjoy the game, they will develop into a good player because of their passion. 

List of Equipment Needed for Soccer

The great thing about introducing your child to soccer is that it requires very little equipment and clothing. At home, all a player needs is a ball and a small amount of room to practice. When playing a more organized game, more sports gear is needed. Here are the essentials:

  • Cleats / Astroturf sneakers: for grip, control, and protection.
  • Shin pads: these are usually made from plastic and are placed on the shin, underneath a player’s sock, in order to protect the shin from kicks.
  • Socks: these are knee-high to keep the shin pads in place.
  • Shorts. 
  • Soccer shirt or regular sports t-shirt.
  • Sweater/Hoodie for cold weather.
  • Rain jacket for rainy training days.
  • Water bottle: it’s important to stay hydrated during soccer. You’d be surprised how much running is done in a single match or training session.

Role of Parents

Parents should act supportively and encourage their kids when they are playing. They shouldn’t force them to participate unwillingly, but quite often a shy kid might need an extra push to immerse themselves in a team game. This is especially true when they are playing sports for the first time. It can be quite daunting.

It can help to have a soccer ball at home and for parents to practice or play with their kids for fun. 

What are the best sports for 3 and 4-year-olds?

The best sports for this age group are ones that enhance motor skills, balance, coordination, and involve basic movements. Some sports recommended by the Mayo Clinic are softball, soccer, gymnastics, swimming, tennis, martial arts, and dancing.

Should kids header the ball in soccer?

It is advised that kids avoid heading the ball at all in soccer. As their brains are still growing and developing, there is a chance that some damage could occur from the excessive heading of a ball.

How often should a 3 or 4-year-old play soccer?

There is no set amount of time. Once a week is appropriate for organized soccer. However, if your child enjoys chasing and kicking a ball around the garden every day, that is perfectly healthy.
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