Introduction to soccer
When introducing children to a specific sport it is necessary to take into account their basic, innate abilities and skills, to better guide them to sports where they will be able to use these abilities and skills, helping them to properly advance in the chosen sport and ensuring they will enjoy playing. This is why it is important to introduce children to soccer when they have already acquired, at an even earlier stage, a certain amount of motor skills learnt in other general athletic activities. Once they have mastered certain psychomotor skills they will be ready to begin practicing a team sport, for example, soccer, and to learn the specific skills and contents of the game. We believe that starting to play soccer before the age of 5 is premature: we recommend children begin as of the age of 6, when children have already experimented other psychomotor activities.
Learning stages for a coherent athletic process
Although children might begin to play soccer early on, they will not be able to comprehend the internal logic of the game at an early age. Actually, years will pass before they reach the needed maturity and cognitive abilities to understand soccer and to learn to play as well as their abilities will permit. This said, the process of teaching-learning soccer is divided into stages corresponding to the players’ characteristics. Often we come across coaches that treat children as if they were adults, placing their young players in situations far too complicated for them. These coaches do not take into account that children need to go through a long process before they can fully understand the internal logic of a complex sport. We therefore need to establish learning stages adapted to the players’ maturity: this will allow us to teach the children and know how much we can expect from them in accordance to their real abilities at a given time.
Stage 1: Egocentric game
6 to 9 year-olds are in the egocentric stage (Lasierra and Lavega, 1994): their attention is mainly focused on the ball and on themselves. They play as individuals, which is why players tend to crowd round the ball as each player vies for the possession. Therefore, taking this into account, we must work on improving the skills of our players as individuals, without trying to attain success as a team.
Stage 2: Collective game as a sum of individuals
Children between the ages of 10 and 13 begin to interact with their teammates. They are in the summative stage (Lasierra and Lavega, 1994): the game can now be seen as a sum of the individual components of the team. In this stage we must continue to work on the individual skills of our players, but we must also teach contents where players learn to interact and where they are not always the possessor of the ball.
Stage 3: Collective game
This is the third and final stage. This is the moment in which players reach maturity and are therefore ready to learn all the contents needed to play soccer. Players understand the game as a collective sport and perceive the different elements of the game according to their role in the game and their relationship to the team as a whole.
To decide which contents we wish our players to work on, we need to have a system which allows us to visualize different abilities in a structured manner. In this way, the coach will be able to plan and organize how to efficiently work these contents.
We propose organizing contents in three blocks: the perceptive contents block, the coordinative contents block and the individual fundamentals block.
PERCEPTIVE CONTENTS BLOCK
COORDINATIVE CONTENTS BLOCK
INDIVIDUAL FUNDAMENTALS BLOCK
Each block contains the contents which will allow each child to optimize his or her performance when the said contents are programmed and worked on according to a coherent and progressive methodology.