JELLY BEAN SPORTS: How to Teach Young Children to Not Use Hands in Soccer
I am guessing you'd never tell your son or daughter to kick the groceries into the house. When virtually everything in life uses hands, except soccer, the concept of no hands in soccer seems silly to kids. However, it is just another learned concept like covering their mouth when they sneeze or saying please and thank you. Here are some quick and easy steps for making learning "no hands" fun.
Sports' Early Years Developmental Stages
Generally, the rules for soccer or any sport do not matter to young children. Therefore we must find new ways to make the rules matter on a level that is consistent with a child's maturity and understanding. This begins by understanding the different stages of sports development for young children. The following are what I use. They will tell you what you can and cannot expect from young children.
- Baby Dills (18 months - 29 months) Exploration Phase
The exploration stage might be the most challenging for us, as adults, to feel connected with. Children are, as it implies, exploring. They are seldom focused long enough to learn. They, instead find everything, but what they are supposed to be focused on, fascinating. This is normal and it is your job as a parent to allow them to explore but bring them back to center occasionally. If you are with me thus far, you should be able to understand why the exploration phase is not when we should be overly focused on reinforcing no hands. Just helping them to see the structure of a class or follow a coaches direction is most important. It is our jobs, as parents, to gentle guide and encourage and not demand at this stage. Let children have ample fun exploring and they will be ready to move to the next stage.
- Beanies (2.5 years - 3 years) Exploration Phase to Familiarization Stage Early familiarization stage does not look much different from the exploration stage. There are, as I have found, certain capacities young children gain around 2.5 years that allow them to more easily follow along. Again, this could represent itself as exploration but what you will find is, as they grow, they become increasingly more interested in following a coach or teacher. This is when you can start encouraging no hands but not demanding no hands. Again, patience with the developmental process is key and gentle encouragement will always win out over demands as we help young children make the transition to the familiarization stage of sports. Typically, this process is complete by the time a child turns four years.
- Sportsters (4 years - 5 years) Familiarization Stage to Collaboration Stage Soccer begins to get fun as your child begins to independently demonstrate a familiarization with the lessons and movements he or she is being taught and openness to being coached. Children, at this stage, are moving towards the more traditional sports environments that work on teamwork and collaboration. Their understanding of strategy and teamwork doesn't manifest itself until after age 6. I have found children that have been allowed to explore as younger children are naturally better students. Overly structured young children that have not been allowed to explore the world eventually get older and have difficulties performing simple tasks without the security of their parents in independent (vs. parent-tot) classes. This overly reliance is a habit that can be broken but it requires a commitment from the parent to relinquish power and not save their child. Generally, this is a time when stronger encouragement can be made to remind children not to use their hands. The familiarization and collaboration stages are perfect ages to begin focusing on this skill.
- Super Sportsters (6 years - 7 years) Collaboration Stage
Finally, the collaboration stage is when children begin to demonstrate higher level capacities and skills. Strategic thinking is introduced into their thinking and they begin to understand better what a coach expects. Again, it is possible that a child can be slightly behind in reaching the collaboration stage. If this is the case, it is not wise to launch them into a serious soccer program. Allow them the time in more developmental programs to grow and mature.
Hard Habit to Break
If you think about it, you are part of a developmental cycle that has been happening, I am sure, since the inception of the game of soccer. Remember, it is your responsibility to encourage not discourage, and be productive not destructive when supporting your child playing sports. You can get on track by breaking the "no hands" habit we as parents like to say. Learn what to say instead below.
The "No Hands" Lesson
Young children fight for your affection, your hugs, your kisses everyday. Why? Because they love you and they love to show you how much. They especially enjoy sports when you are participating and playing too. Playing off these two loves of children, we can promote the no hands concept with them.
- This begins by making simple changes in your language. We are apt to say kick the ball to get them to move it. Try, instead of saying kick, telling them to kiss the ball with their feet. This, along with a kissing sound from you, evokes an imaginary image in the child's head that is fun. They can kiss you and now they can kiss the soccer ball. Explore this concept a little bit by asking, "Do you kiss Mommy with your foot? Do you kiss the soccer ball with your lips? Practice kissing mommy and then practice kissing the soccer ball.
- Next, it is possible using the kiss concept to teach young children how to move with the soccer. There are different paces and these are simply distinguished by the terms little kisses and big kisses. You can simply say, "Lets practice different kisses. Our little kisses move the soccer ball slowly. Let's do little kisses." Reinforce slow. Repeat adjust the verbage for big kisses. Kids love to do big kisses but it is important that they learn little kisses so always work that in.
- And when your child uses his hand, and he inevitably will, you are now set to break the perpetual cycle that tells young children playing soccer "no hands." Instead, you simply say, "Kisses not hugs." You can even ask, "Do we hug the soccer ball like a teddy bear or kiss it with our feet?" When you allow children to infer their learning is more sustained and they are challenged to think.
It is just that easy. Tell me how it works for you. Enjoy and see you in class,