They may not know the difference between dribbling and shooting, but preschool kids are often eager and energetic soccer players. As the coach, channeling that energy into a productive soccer practice or game is key. Coaching preschoolers often requires a lot of kid wrangling along with the skills instruction. Youth coaches play a crucial role in developing a child's attitude toward the sport. Your tone and the activities affect the team experience. With the special considerations of the audience in mind, you can create a positive team environment that supports enjoyment of the sport.
Reach out to the parents before the soccer season begins to establish a partnership between home and the field. Call each parent when you get your team roster to give them info about the season. Parents are often excited for their preschoolers' first team experience, so they are anxious to hear from the coach.
Schedule a parent meeting if possible before the first soccer practice. Use the meeting to get to know the parents and share details about the season. You get a chance to shape the parents' expectations for the season and share your philosophy. You might say, "My goal this season is to make soccer as much fun as possible for your preschoolers. At this age, we focus on introductory soccer skills, but it may take the kids some time to really get the hang of the game. You can help by cheering on your player and not worrying about whether or not we win." Distribute an information sheet at the meeting with your contact information and a recap of the meeting information for reference.
Appoint an assistant coach or parent volunteer to handle certain administrative tasks so you can focus on the kids. This person can coordinate the snack schedule and send out reminders about team-related activities.
Plan the preschool soccer practices to focus on the basic soccer skills, including dribbling, passing and shooting. Choose activities that keep all players active and touching the ball as much as possible. Modify games to focus on soccer skills, such as Red Light, Green Light or tag while the kids are dribbling balls. Change activities frequently during practice to match the short attention spans of the kids.
Incorporate the rules of the game into the practice games. Pre-k kids often don't understand the mechanics of the game. Young kids often keep chasing the ball even after it goes out of bounds. Play games that require the kids to stay within the lines. Practice listening for the referee's whistle by playing a freeze game. Let the kids dribble, but have them freeze when the whistle sounds. Another major rule that is tough to understand is not using hands. Have the kids clasp their hands behind their backs while dribbling to remember this rule.
Talk to the kids in a positive manner. Yelling or getting upset at preschoolers teaches them to dislike soccer. Encourage the behaviors you want the kids to continue. Say, "I like the way you're using small kicks to keep the ball under control while you're dribbling." Help the kids get past mistakes. You might say, "You really hustled to get down to the goal. You were so close to scoring! Keep up the hard work."
Show a respect for the rules, officials, opponents and parents to be a role model for the young players. Ask the parents to show positive sportsmanship as spectators.
Sit down with your team after each practice or game to provide positive reinforcement. Talk about the things they did well. For individual motivation, point out a specific skill that each young player did well. Say, "John, I loved the way you hustled the entire game." Conclude the positive session with a group chant or cheer with everyone's hands in the middle.
Focus more on the experience for the kids than the winning aspect of soccer. At this age, your goal is to develop basic skills and get the kids excited about the sport.