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How To Coach Toddler Soccer

Clubs are dropping their entry age while English Academy set ups are starting to look at children younger & younger through fear on missing out on the next ‘big talent’.  For those working with toddlers, or if you prefer, under 6′s you need to remember the most important factor & that is fun.  This is children’s first introduction to football & the most important aspect is for them to fall in love with the game.  As a coach you need to adapt, lose your inhibition & become an entertainer!

3 years into kicking off my football development programme I was unique.  Not just as I welcomed children in from the age of 5 (most other clubs / organisations were 6-8 year old) but I then introduced a revolutionary way of introducing young children to football from the age of 2.  Call it vision or call it fluke but the programme simply came about from younger brothers & sisters being disappointed that they couldn’t play football when they dropped their older brother or sister off to our Mini Soccer sessions.

With this in mind I started to plan sessions for younger children & called it ‘Toddler Soccer’.  My first port of call was Google to see what advice was out there to work with such young children.  I didn’t find very much.  So I went about planning a programme using the first set of kids as guinea pigs to see what worked & what didn’t.

Ronaldo & Messi vs Toy Story & Finding Nemo!

One thing that was obvious to me with children aged 7 & above that they were motivated with pro players…Messi, Ronaldo, Rooney & co.  But children aged 2, 3 & 4…what would they be motivated in…who did they look up to?  Well, with having children of my own I only had to look at what they watched on TV, who they talked about.  I soon came to the conclusion that if I used familiar children’s television programmes we would be on to a winner.

We have children as young as 2 dribbling the ball close to them so Dr. Evil Porkchop doesn’t steal their ball.  We have them dressing up with crazy cones for ears & heading the ball as Mr & Mrs Potato head.  We have them checking their shoulders looking out for coach, mummy or daddy trying to steal their ball & the fun factor of them roaring like Rex the dinosaur!  We have fun passing exercise of them being Nemo & knocking down the mini traffic cones…or should I say rocks at the bottom of the sea bed before Bruce the Shark catches them!

Over the past number of years I have written a book on the topic as I have received requests from all over the world regarding my programme.  To date the book has sold in over 25 different countries!  Below I will share with you some of my hints, tips & games for you to try out with your young kids!

How do I start?

Toddler SoccerWhen working with a group, get the toddlers to sit in a circle.  Ensure that adults kneel down with toddlers so that you are speaking to them at their level.  Always start with introductions e.g. ‘I’m Coach Tim & this is Coach Ronnie’ as they may have forgotten your name or be a new member.

Relax & build a relationship with them.  Ask what kind of week they have had.  What did they do at nursery?  Comment on new shoes or T-shirts.  If they think that you are interested in their lives they will be more inclined to work with you.

Finally, do a simple listening game so that everyone gets ‘tuned in’.  Do silly things such as getting them to put their hand behind their ear & tuning in to Coach Tim FM!  Another idea is the ‘Stop, freeze’ game.  Toddlers run about & then freeze when the whistle is blown.

Now introduce the game you are going to do.  Keep instructions short & make sure everyone can hear & see you.  Always ask if everyone understands & repeat if necessary.

Coaching Style.

It is best to be vocal.  Tell the story so that each child can visualize what is happening.  Use different tones to tell the story.  Make each session an adventure!

To get the toddlers to interact, start a sentence but get them to finish it.  When you are kneeling down & they are sitting on their ball listening, then begin the story.  ‘Ok, we are in the jungle today & we are Diego & Dora.  Our ball is the little monkey from Dora the Explorer…what’s his name?’  They reply ‘BOOTS!’  It is great to have the toddlers join in & give feedback, then you know that they are fully engaged.  I once had nearly 50 passers-by stop to see what the heck was going on!

Always demonstrate.  Make your language child-friendly & break skills right down.  Don’t stand & demonstrate a skill such as a drag back to the toddlers as you would to ten year olds.  Paint the picture instead.  Ask them to imagine that the ball is a puppy & he wants to roll over & have his tummy tickled.  Can we put our foot on him & roll him backwards?

Get a more able toddler to demonstrate a skill as this will encourage his peers to have a go when they see that someone of their own age can do it.  Give lots of praise.  Be vocal & use the ‘high five’!

Lose your inhibitions!

This is of prime importance.  Forget about parents & passers-by watching you.  Get down to the toddlers level.  Kneel down to speak to them, use funny voices & pull funny faces.  Bring these sessions to life!  Remember, the coach who leads the programme will determine how successful it is.

Try to get inside the toddler’s head & use as a starting point what they like to see, hear & do.  Those who have children should find easy as they will be up to date with the cartoons they like to watch.  But do not rule out young coaches.  I find that they can relate well to kids.

An example of a silly thing to do with the toddlers is to turn a small traffic cone upside down & place a ball on top of it.  Then tell the toddlers ‘Well done!  Now have a big ice cream.’  Add to the fun by making funny noises while squirting pretend strawberry sauce on the top of the ‘ice cream’!  We also put discs (small cones) on top of our ears to look silly & pretend to have supersonic hearing!

My session notes…

This is a great warm up game & so simple for young children to follow.

Body Parts

Body Parts

Emphasis

Session on ball familiarity.

Set-Up

Use cones to mark out a 25 x 25 yard area. All players have a ball & stay inside the area.

Objectives

Players start by dribbling the ball around the area. The coach will call out different body parts. The player must respond by stopping the ball with that body part, e.g. right foot, ear, chest, knee, etc.

Progressions

  1. Add extra fun by getting them do ‘disco dance’ like mum & dad by giving quick commands like, ‘right knee, left knee, right knee, left knee, right foot, left foot,’. They could also clap their hands at the same time.
  2. When they get their chest on the ball get them to put their right arm out & pretend to fly like Super Man!

Coaching

  • Keep the ball close to your feet, take light touches.
  • Keep the head up & look for space.

You can progress the session to a fun game featuring their favourite Disney movie or cartoon characters!

Roary The Racing Car

Roary the Racing Car

Emphasis

Dribbling, skills & turns.

Set-Up

Session takes place in a 20 x 20 yard grid.  All players have a ball each.

Objectives

All players are racing car drivers & the ball is Roary the Racing Car or another character from the show.

Encourage players to ‘drive’ (dribble) around the race track (grid).  They must keep their race car (ball) under control.  Encourage use of both feet.

Introduce different skills & turns.  Players perform toe taps to start their engines.  To drive around the ‘chicane’ they perform the scissors.  To reverse they perform the drag back.

Also add in fun extras that toddlers love.  If anyone is in their way get them to beep their horn.  Or ask them to put their lights on when it is getting dark, simply make a small twist with your hand & a funny noise to switch them on.  Or if it rains they must put their wind screen wipers on waving their arms.

Use your imagination & have some fun!

Progressions

  1. Introduce mini gates by using cones.  Players must dribble through all the different mini gates.
  2. Use cones for traffic lights.  Red = stop, orange = get ready / start engine, Green = GO!  Get players to get their heads up & watch the signals.
  3. Introduce different speeds like granny speed (slow), mummy & daddy speed (fast) & Roary the Racing Car speed (super fast).
  4. Add more traffic signals.

Coaching

  • Good dribbling skills.
  • Use of both feet.
  • Keep head up.
  • Skills.

You can order my Toddler Soccer The Essential Guide Book direct from The Soccer Store.  For a free taster just visit; www.ToddlerSoccer.Org/book

Fun Christmas Coaching Session

The kids are getting very excited at this time of year that attend my weekly football centres with Christmas & Santa!  So I developed some fun games that encourage dribbling, passing accuracy, shooting, vision, creativity & freedom!  These games are perfect for Toddler Soccer & even the younger children in Mini Soccer.  They keep to the Christmas theme but you can also easily change them to suit other holiday periods like Easter or Halloween!  Have fun & drop me an email to let us know how you get on with the games!

Holiday Season Games

Holiday Season Games

Emphasis

These games are great for holiday time & can easily be adapted to serve Christmas, Easter or Halloween.

I have based my games below on a Christmas theme but you can change them to the Easter Bunny or Casper the Friendly Ghost!

Set-Up

Every player has a ball inside a 20 x 20 yard grid.  Set up mini games as instructed below.

Objectives

At Christmas at Toddler Soccer we play loads of fun themed games…

  1. Warm up planting Christmas Trees. Get the toddlers to place a number of pop up orange cones around the coaching area.  They then run around them.  You can then ask them to decorate them by giving them small disc cones to place on the top.  Now introduce the ball for them to dribble around the trees.  You can add another fun game by having them try to knock down the trees why you fix them.
  2. Deliver the presents. All the balls (presents) are placed in the middle of the grid.  On the whistle the toddlers become ‘Santa’ & have to dribble (deliver) the presents to the children’s homes (the goals)
  3. Knock the head off the Snowman. Using the large dome cones (snowman’s body) balance a ball on top (the head).  Set up a number of them & then have the toddlers pass their footballs (snow balls) to try & knock the snowman’s head off!
  4. Find the snow. Hide 10 white cones (snow) under other colour cones, i.e. yellow snow (cones!) & red cones (chimney!)  Ask the toddlers to close their eyes while you hide 10 or so white cones.  Hide them under other coloured cones or maybe on someone’s head!  They simply have to find the snow.  When they find snow (a white cone) they bring it into you!
  5. Snow ball fight. For a bit of fun at the end you can have a snow ball fight.  Let the toddlers throw snow balls (the ball) at you.  Make sure you make funny noises, fall funny – simply increase the fun by acting like a clown!

Progressions

  1. Vary what part of the foot you use, i.e. outside of the foot, laces, etc.
  2. Have a competition between the toddlers, i.e. time them on the above games.
  3. Increase distance for accuracy games.

Coaching

  • Dribbling & skills.
  • Accuracy of pass.
  • Weight of pass.
  • Standing foot pointing at target.
  • Head up.
  • Use of both feet.

If you work with children under 6 or simply are a parent you’ll love my Toddler Soccer book!  I share my philosophy & games from my award winning programme in my book.  It has sold in over 20 different countries & has been bought by parents, nursery school assistants & teachers to coaches, teams & pro clubs to use in their community programmes!

Want more info?  You can buy my Toddler Soccer book by clicking here!  Follow me on Facebook, Twitter or You Tube.

Finding Nemo

For those that don’t know my team & I operate over 25 different Toddler Soccer Centres throughout Northern Ireland.  Last week & over the weekend we played a fun game using the popular Disney movie, ‘Finding Nemo’.  At this age using familiar movies or cartoon characters is perfect to motivate & relate to kids under the age of 5.  Imagination is key…let your inhibition go & have fun being a big kid yourself!  If you want to read more about my structure click here.  Below you will find my coaching notes…

Finding Nemo

Finding Nemo

Emphasis

A great game that toddlers can relate to as one of their favourite movies!

Movement, awareness, dribbling & co-ordination & passing.

Set-Up

In a 20 x 20 yard area set up a number of small traffic cones.

Ensure that you have enough cones for the size of your group.  Space the cones around the grid.

Objectives

The toddlers are ‘Nemo’ & they ‘swim’ (run!) around all the rocks (cones).

The coaches are the ‘sharks’.  When they shout, ‘shark attack!’  The toddlers (Nemo) must hide behind one of the rocks (cones) so the sharks can’t catch them.  If any of the sharks catch a ‘Nemo’ they then help the coaches & become a shark.

Progressions

  1. Introduce a ball (Baby Nemo) & all the toddlers must dribble baby nemo around the ocean with them.  Again you can continue the same concept as above in ‘shark attack.’
  2. To develop the session you can now encourage the toddlers to knock the rocks (cones) over with their ball.  This will help passing accuracy & is a lot of fun!  After knocking them all over they must fix the cones by balancing on one leg & fixing the cones up with their other foot – no hands!  You can maybe give the instructions, ‘Messy Nemo’ to knock the cones over & ‘Tidy Nemo’ to fix them back up.
  3. Finish with a little game called, ‘Finding Nemo!’  Have a number of small orange disc cones (these are Nemo!) & hide them under another coloured cone like blue or yellow.  Also place a number of blue & yellow cones out around the grid with no orange cones placed directly underneath.  The blue & yellow cones are shells or rocks & the toddlers are sent out to find Nemo!

Coaching

  • Listening skills.
  • Awareness.
  • Dribbling technique.
  • Passing accuracy.
  • Co-ordination & balance.

Want more info?  You can buy my Toddler Soccer book by clicking here!  Follow me on Facebook, Twitter or You Tube

Toddler Soccer Session

I have been off all week as it is a national holiday in Northern Ireland.  My 1-on-1 students have also been away on holiday.  It is nice to have some time off & spend time with my own kids but you do miss the coaching.  With full days of playing catch up with paper work & planning for next weeks Fun Week on Monday & yesterday it was great to get out this morning & coach in a local nursery.

We coached in this nursery last year & have returned this summer.  What a great nursery it is!  Superb kids & staff.  Today the numbers were slightly lower due to the public holidays but we all had great fun!  Below you will see some pointers to working with young children, mainly from 2-5, & the games I played with them today.  Feel free to use but please credit back to my blog.

How do I start?

When working with a group, get the toddlers to sit in a circle.  Ensure that adults kneel down with toddlers so that you are speaking to them at their level.  Always start with introductions e.g. ‘I’m Coach Tim & this is Coach Ronnie’ as they may have forgotten your name or be a new member.

Relax & build a relationship with them.  Ask what kind of week they have had.  What did they do at nursery?  Comment on new shoes or T-shirts.  If they think that you are interested in their lives they will be more inclined to work with you.

Finally, do a simple listening game so that everyone gets ‘tuned in’.  Do silly things such as getting them to put their hand behind their ear & tuning in to Coach Tim FM!  Another idea is the ‘Stop, freeze’ game.  Toddlers run about & then freeze when the whistle is blown.

Now introduce the game you are going to do.  Keep instructions short & make sure everyone can hear & see you.  Always ask if everyone understands & repeat if necessary.

Coaching Style.

It is best to be vocal.  Tell the story so that each child can visualize what is happening.  Use different tones to tell the story.  Make each session an adventure!

To get the toddlers to interact, start a sentence but get them to finish it.  When you are kneeling down & they are sitting on their ball listening, then begin the story.  ‘Ok, we are in the jungle today & we are Diego & Dora.  Our ball is the little monkey from Dora the Explorer…what’s his name?’  They reply ‘BOOTS!’  It is great to have the toddlers join in & give feedback, then you know that they are fully engaged.  I once had nearly 50 passers-by stop to see what the heck was going on!

Always demonstrate.  Make your language child-friendly & break skills right down.  Don’t stand & demonstrate a skill such as a drag back to the toddlers as you would to ten year olds.  Paint the picture instead.  Ask them to imagine that the ball is a puppy & he wants to roll over & have his tummy tickled.  Can we put our foot on him & roll him backwards?

Get a more able toddler to demonstrate a skill as this will encourage his peers to have a go when they see that someone of their own age can do it.  Give lots of praise.  Be vocal & use the ‘high five’!

Lose your inhibitions!

This is of prime importance.  Forget about parents & passers-by watching you.  Get down to the toddlers level.  Kneel down to speak to them, use funny voices & pull funny faces.  Bring these sessions to life!  Remember, the coach who leads the programme will determine how successful it is.

Try to get inside the toddler’s head & use as a starting point what they like to see, hear & do.  Those who have children should find easy as they will be up to date with the cartoons they like to watch.  But do not rule out young coaches.  I find that they can relate well to kids.

An example of a silly thing to do with the toddlers is to turn a small traffic cone upside down & place a ball on top of it.  Then tell the toddlers ‘Well done!  Now have a big ice cream.’  Add to the fun by making funny noises while squirting pretend strawberry sauce on the top of the ‘ice cream’!  We also put discs (small cones) on top of our ears to look silly & pretend to have supersonic hearing!

My session notes…

This morning I used Toy Story as a fun warm up game.  It was my first time at the nursery so a few toddlers were a little shy at first but this game soon brought them round!

Toy Story

Toy Story

Emphasis

A great game that toddlers can relate to as one of their favourite movies!

Movement, awareness, dribbling & co-ordination & skills.

Set-Up

Every player has a ball inside a 20 x 20 yard grid.

Objectives

The Toy Story game offers loads of mini games insuring maximum participation along with fun for all toddlers!

Here is some ideas of how to use the characters to bring your mini games to life.  Use your imagination to create even more!

  • Warm up using Buzz Lightyear. Each toddler has a ball (Buzz) at their feet.  They grab the Buzz with their hands & stretch to hold Buzz above their head while shouting, ‘to infinity & beyond!’  Carry this is out a couple of times & encourage toddlers to shout even louder & get on their tip toes!
  • Coordination using Bullseye. Toddlers stand with their legs open & use their hands to guide the ball (Bullseye) around their toes & through their legs to create the figure 8.
  • Skills & dribbling using Woody (for boys) or Jessie (for girls). Offer all toddlers a cone so they can place it on their head like a cowboy / girl hat.  Get them to lift it off their head & shout, ‘YEE HAW’!  To get on Bullseye the toddlers perform toe taps.  Once they have got on Bullseye encourage them to, ‘GIDDY UP’!  Simply start dribbling.
  • To stop the ball place foot on top of Bullseye & shout, ‘YEE HAW’!  Along with doing an imaginary lasso!
  • Heading with Mr & Mrs Potato Head. This time add a cone to either ear so you look silly!  Then encourage toddlers to head the ball from a simple throw to head using their fore head.  To get some laughs have one of your ‘ears’ fall off!

Progressions

Add a series of other fun mini games during the session…

  1. The Rex Game! Using a selection of green cones introduce them to the toddlers as Rex.  Ask them what noise Rex makes?!  They should reply, ‘ROARRR!!!!’  Ask the toddlers to close their eyes while you hide 10 or so Rex cones.  Hide them under other coloured cones or maybe on someones head!  They simply have to find Rex.  When they find a Rex they roar & bring him into you!
  2. Dr. Evil Porkchop (Ham) Game! As the toddlers dribble their footballs Dr. Evil Porkchop (the coach!) trys to steal their balls & place in the net!  You can either allow each toddler to reclaim their ball or join the Dr. Evil Porkchop gang!
  3. The Zurg, Buzz & Slinky game! Split the grid in half by using a series of pop up cones (they represent Slinky!)  Half the group on one side is Buzz while the other side is Zurg.  There is a supply of balls in either half.  You can play the game 2 ways.  (1) Use the balls to knock over Slinky (the cones!) or (2) Try to get all the balls in the other half by kicking them over Slinky.

Coaching

  • Close ball control.
  • Turns & skills.
  • Listening skills.
With it being a smaller group I was happy to add in a few additional games.  A strong favourite is my ‘Puppy Dog’ game!  It was great fun asking the toddlers do they have a dog only to get replies saying no to I have a stuffed one to a little girl telling me she had a purple dog & a pink cat!  Love it!

Take Puppy For A Walk

Take Puppy For A Walk

Emphasis

Dribbling & skills. Toddler Soccer favourite!

Set-Up

Set up a grid to suit the size of your group. All players have a ball & dribble around the park (grid). Encourage them to look for space to play with puppy.

Objectives

Each player (master) dribbles with a ball (puppy). The coach calls out various commands. Also say to the players that their foot is the collar & their leg is the lead. Make sure that puppy doesn’t stray off the lead or the park warden (coach) will get puppy!

Progressions

  1. Keep puppy on a short leash (dribble keeping the ball close to the foot).
  2. Puppy runs away – is caught by his master.
  3. Master strokes puppy with his foot – toe taps.
  4. Jog with puppy.
  5. Walkers swap their puppy’s.
  6. Puppy to dog toilet (marked area).
  7. Teach puppy tricks, i.e. get puppy to roll over (roll bottom of foot over ball).

Coaching

  • Close ball control.
  • Keep head up.
  • Use of both feet.
  • Look for space.
With playing the 2 games above I had all toddlers performing drag backs, step overs along with them working their colours & counting!  To finish I played a game of hide & seek with the cones.  Really simple…

Find Woody & Rex. Hide 10 yellow cones (woody) & 1 green cone (Rex) under other colour cones, i.e. white cones (Zurg!) & red cones (Dr Evil Porkchop!)  Ask the toddlers to close their eyes while you hide 10 or so yellow cones & 1 green cone for Rex!  Hide them under other coloured cones or maybe on someones head!  They simply have to find Woody & Rex.  When they find Woody (a yellow cone) they bring it into you.  The toddler who finds Rex can give a bog ‘ROOOOOAAAARRRRR!’

Once you have all the cones in have the toddlers sit down while you make ‘Woody’ fly & they have to count from 1 to 10!

Want more info?  You can buy my Toddler Soccer book by clicking here!  Follow me on Facebook, Twitter or You Tube : )

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