It is essential that you understand your players and meet them where they are, rather than imposing a certain standard or “style of play” on them…you are working with 6 and 7 year olds! The information below should help you to understand what is appropriate and can be achieved with this age group. Please note, that this is a guide and does not hold true for every player or every team; however, if you follow what is written, your practices will be much more fun and the players will learn!
Still in motion – they will likely be twitching, jerking, scratching and blinking most of the time. Do not be insulted by this behavior; they are not necessarily being “disrespectful.” It is second nature to them at this age, as they cannot sit or stand still for more than a few seconds. Improvement in pace and coordination from U6. For example. They can now learn to kick a ball on the run, jump, skip, hop, chase, and dodge (with varying degrees of success!); however, the immaturity and physical limitations of the U8 player will be obvious. For example, do not expect them to be able to juggle the ball, but this is a good age group to introduce modified juggling (more on this later). They still lack a sense of “pace” and will go “flat out” until they need to stop completely and rest.
Jean Piaget was a psychologist and developmental theorist whose work centered on how children perceive the world differently than adults. Specifically, he detailed how a child’s development proceeds in determined stages which always follow the same sequence (play is a fundamental part of this process). In the U8 age group, children are now in Piaget’s concrete operational stage. This means that they will have limited ability to do more than one task at a time. For example, the simple task of “controlling the ball” demands most of their attention capacity, leaving little to no capacity for “tactical” decision making. They are only just starting to understand time and space relationships (it is not fair to expect them to play a ball into the space for someone to “run onto”). Kids at this age also believe that effort is synonymous with performance, i.e. if they tried hard, they performed well (this is not a bad thing).
At this age, kids are still very self-centered and cooperation will be difficult; nevertheless, they are starting to become inclined toward partner activities (but not really with groups of players). Self-concept and body image are beginning to develop and are extremely fragile. They do not understand sarcasm or “dry humor,” so coaches should avoid pointing out physical characteristics. They have a great need for approval from adults, so be positive at all times. They play on “Coach Ian’s team,” or on the “Sharks.” On the flip side, they are very easily bruised by any negative comments. There is a desire for social acceptance – they want everyone to like them. They like to play soccer because it is “fun.” Remember, soccer is a game, so most (if not all) of your activities should take the form of games!
Age-appropriate technical aspects to focus on during the course of the season:
- Still focus lots of time on dribbling technique and ball mastery.
- Encourage shooting as much as possible (even if it’s not on the “big goal”) – accuracy and repetition in lots of different contexts is most important here.
- They should be honing their ball control skills as much as possible.
- Introduce players to passing and receiving.
- 1v1 attacking (every single practice should have some kind of activity based on this)
- Introduce them to shielding the ball with their body when they are dribbling away from pressure.
- Introduce players to juggling – this is a good thing to work on before/after practice, whenever the return from water breaks, or when you need a couple of minutes to set up the next activity.
- With all of the research that is coming out on concussions, do not spend time on headers (heading the ball) and do not berate a child at this age for not heading a ball during practice or a game.
Age-appropriate tactical aspects to focus on during the course of the season:
Beyond “spreading out on offense” and “helping out on defense,” do not worry about tactical concepts at this age level. You should not be expecting your players to understand and execute “team concepts,” and/or things that involve anything more complex than the player and the ball. Introducing more variables, such as passing to multiple teammates, combining with teammates, etc. will result in breakdown (and a very frustrated coach!).