Locker Soccer Blog

New Year, New Blog

In years past, Locker Soccer has created blogs that highlight Coach Steve’s valuable experience in hopes of passing along impactful messaging to families. We want to share our knowledge in order to help grow youth sports – the right way. This year, we would like to bring Locker Soccer Blogs back!! It gives a good preview on why we care so much about child development, especially through the sport of soccer.

BLOG #1: Coaching Is Overrated (Why 3 versus 3 is so Valuable)

Off season training needn’t be all that formal. Give the kids a ball & let them figure it out on their own. Pick up soccer doesn’t seem to get the credit that it deserves. All top level players around the world have benefited tremendously from the opportunities they had as a child to simply play without adult influences. One of our challenges in today’s culture is finding the right environment that allows kids to play in a “pick-up” fashion. Years ago, we created our 3v3 program to help replicate the type of pick-up soccer that we got to enjoy as kids. In our version of pick-up soccer (3v3), there is no pressure from adult presence to perform in a certain manner. Kids take ownership of the games & they have the wonderful opportunity to figure out all aspects of the activity. They pick teams, they make the rules & set the expectations, & they police themselves. If things don’t work out, they learn to resolve the issues on their own. By allowing this kind of environment to unfold, we are permitting our children to develop a love (passion) for playing that is unrivaled in any other format.

Years ago, we took nearly 200 children to the University of Notre Dame for a weekend visit & clinic. At dinner the night before the clinic, head coach Bobby Clark told me that he likes to start each clinic by setting up a bunch of 3v3 games & just getting the kids to play. He lamented that in most cases, kids today didn’t really know what to do when presented with this option of playing pick-up soccer. He said that usually the kids will stand around until someone actually shows them what to do. I told him that I didn’t think our kids would have an issue with playing 3v3 right out of the gates.

The next day at the clinic, Coach Bobby & his players set up about 24 fields for 3v3 play. Each field had two goals. The fields were not marked off with lines or cones, & there were no bibs to separate teams. It was an exercise to see how the children would react. As our players began to arrive for the clinic, they were instructed to find a field & start playing 3v3. The kids just jumped on any field that was open, & began playing with anyone who was free. We had little boys playing against older girls, older boys playing younger boys: it was like a free-for-all. The beautiful thing was, all of our kids just started playing as if this was something that they did everyday. In a matter of a few minutes, Coach Bobby came up to me & exclaimed how impressed he was with our kids & their unabashed love to just play. He said he had never seen a group of young kids who were capable of figuring this out on their own before. It was the perfect compliment!

BLOG #2: Decision Making (Let Them Play!)

One of the beauties of soccer is that it is truly a “players” game, with coaching from the sidelines forbidden. Unfortunately at the youth level, this rule is never enforced. Unlike most of our sports though, soccer has very few stoppages, and this allows for players to make their own decisions during the flow of the game. Because of the environment that exists in soccer, it really is a wonderful avenue through which to develop children. 

In a typical game, there is lots of running (fitness), change of direction and change of pace (agility and athleticism), decision making, risk taking, ball skill development, vision and spatial awareness, fakes and scheming, teamwork, and most importantly – fun!  Kids can experience the ups and downs of sports in so many ways, and this is an excellent environment to learn how to deal with these challenges in a positive manner. 

One of the best methods for developing good soccer players is to play “pick-up” soccer with friends. In this environment kids often play with children of varying ages, they play uninhibited because parents are usually not around to yell instructions and set demands, and they get to “own” the game on their terms.  

At a past soccer tournament, I heard countless coaches directing their players non-stop. It was truly annoying. As I sat and quietly watched my team play on their own, I was complimented by many referees, field marshals, and opposing parents for my quiet demeanor. It didn’t hurt that our girls were able to relax and play some really beautiful soccer….on their terms. They were the champions of the weekend in every category! 

All of us as parents would love for our children to grow up and be good decision  makers. If we can have the patience and the fortitude to allow the process to work in youth sports, stop all of the screaming and yelling, our kids now have a better chance of learning these very important decision making skills. 

Enjoy the games!

BLOG #3: Bee Hive Soccer (We Believe in Purposeful Fun)

A recurring theme I often hear parents lament is the blob of children running around chasing a soccer ball; the Bee Hive. This is most common for four & five year old’s, but can continue for a few years until children begin to learn the value of spacing in relationship to other players around them. 

If we take a group of children in this age range (4-5 year old’s) & introduce them to the  “real” game of soccer, that is, a game with only one ball, we’re likely to see the Bee Hive  begin to take form. Alarms should sound, signaling that these young athletes are too  young for a “one-ball” game, but rarely does that change anything. Here’s the problem:  most parent coaches of these young stars have not received enough preparation to help  them fully understand more age appropriate activities. Further, most parents also  believe that this is a perfectly acceptable process for children to go through. It’s not. 

Upon closer examination, you will see the biggest & fastest kids kicking the ball. Most of the other children are simply chasing the pack with the hope of a lucky strike at some  point. Before too long, the children who were on the periphery start to walk & then leave the field in search of a drink or some other excuse that allows them to forego the “real” game. They are not having as much fun as we would like ourselves to believe. 

After seven or eight weeks of chasing the ball with relatively few touches, don’t be  surprised if your child asks to try a different sport next season. There are alternatives to  Bee Hive soccer, & there are activities that actually will facilitate a higher degree of  development & fun. We need to seek out programs that offer age appropriate activities that will keep kids coming back. At these beginning ages, let’s do all we can to ensure that every child has a ball at his or her feet as much as possible. This is what Locker Soccer Academy believes in.

BLOG #4: Confident Kids (Results Truly Do Not Matter)

Watching a five year old realize success on an athletic field is a thing of beauty,  especially if the five year old is not accustomed to achieving a lot of success. I have witnessed this on many occasions and it’s really quite special. The “light goes on”, the smile gets bigger, and they even get a little swagger in their step. Pretty cool. 

Over time, the continued realization of these moments of glory, and we begin to truly understand the value of sports and the tremendous impact they can have on the development of children. In soccer, scoring a goal is the ultimate achievement. But, what if most kids cannot score a goal? I have tried to break the game down into tiny  segments and create opportunities where every child can experience some kind of success, and thereby start to benefit from these tiny moments of glory. 

Dribbling is one of the basic skills of soccer; like passing, receiving and shooting, except that successfully dribbling past an opponent requires far more than just touch of the ball. This skill requires confidence, an ability to take risks, and an ability to overcome fear of  failure. These attributes cannot be developed in the same manner as one learns how to pass a ball. They must be practiced over and over in game situations and there is going to be both success and failure.  

Successfully beating an opponent is more of a mentality than a skill. When it occurs, it can have a similar impact as scoring a goal, and the beauty of this is, you can beat an opponent far more often than you can score goals. Hearing most coaches and parents yell during the games to “pass”, “kick it”, etc., it becomes clear that most of us don’t  appreciate the value of dribbling past an opponent. I am often heard yelling, “dribble”,  “take her on”, or “beat him”, urging my players to try things that I know will make them more exciting athletes. 

In order for us to succeed in developing creative and expressive players, we must put aside our drive for results, and support the experimentation of risky play. We absolutely cannot admonish a player for trying to dribble when they are unsuccessful. We must always be positive and supportive. Results truly do not matter at these younger age groups. If we can develop confident kids through sports, you will see some pretty amazing things from your children both on and off the playing field.