How coaching soccer to 3-4 year olds helped me become a better parent!

I took on the wonderful and very difficult task of coaching soccer to a team of 3-4 year olds – some who have just turned 3 and some who are 4 or 4+ and a few in between.  This is a difficult task for a million reasons but a few obvious ones are the developmental differences between a child who just turned 3 and one who is 4 and also the ability to focus.  

The first few practices were a mixture of fun, chaos and a few goals…. we played fun games to teach them fundamentals – dribbling, NO HANDS :), shooting, defense, etc.  We played “Sharks and Minnows”, Pirates Treasure, Keep away, get the coach, etc.  The favorites are Pirate Treasure and Get the Coach… so we stick to those most practices.  As the coach, the most difficult task during practice is keeping all 9 of them on the field.  The first practice we had some wandering into the bushes, walking into the building adjacent the field (the local YMCA), hanging with their parents on the sidelines, picking grass, etc.  The second practice was better, the third was much better and I introduced the concept of goal side and many of them picked up on it quickly.  It is amazing how you can see the defensive and offensive minded players developing already!  

After practices I am exhausted, from carrying little ones to and from and jumping around and running to keep their attention and get them to first and foremost LOVE the game or just sport in general and have fun and second to learn a few fundamentals.  

In coaching, you have to learn the players as each responds to a different manner of coaching (or parenting).  This is where the lesson has come into play.  I had read and read about ways to interact with my own kids and tried to put it into action and then through working different angles with the team I began to work harder on them at home.  

I always get down on their level to explain anything and to talk to them.  I make time to chat with them individually and I try to make time to chat with their parents and ensure I give them praise in front of their parents (so important because they light up and look at their parents like – did you hear that – and are so proud of themselves – which is so important for self esteem).  I also learned to give it time and truly be patient because as you continue to try and work with them at their pace instead of rushing it.. they enjoy it much more and really do make steps (baby steps) toward playing and having fun on the field or in life.  A few of the players were hesitant at first and sometimes at practice are very distracted but I get them involved as much as I can and in the 2nd game – they wanted to play the entire hour!  It is on their terms or a perception of being on ‘their terms’ and they will get there – patience is the key.  You cannot force it but lead by example, encourage and be positive, point out all of the positive – even if it is something that to you may seem so minor (ex: getting on the field even if they don’t touch the ball but being on the field with the team), try to empathize and truly feel what they are feeling and NEVER focus on a negative aspect (Don’t say – why didn’t you xxx).  


1) Lead by example – look at yourself and how you interact with others.  Truly take a look and be aware of your “attitude” and reactions.  Your child is learning from you by watching your actions not just hearing your words when you speak to him/her.  So make sure you are a positive example.  Interactions with your spouse, family, friends, strangers should be positive and even during arguments it should be fair, communicative and using good listening skills.  Your example in terms of nutrition and exercise are also important.  If you eat well, your child will eat well – also what you have in your home is what the child will eat – if you stock up on whole foods and make them accessible – your child will eat them!  Be respectful and teach them how to be respectful.  If they show disrespect – explain to them what and why it was disrespectful (in a calm tone at their level) and let them know that if they do that again there will be a consequence (time out, reward taken away, etc) without warning.

2) Give them opportunities to be independent, to be a leader

3) Show and teach good sportsmanship

4) Foster a positive environment that feels safe

5) Talk with them at eye level and explain why they should/shouldn’t do something – they often understand more than we think they do

6) Empathize – try to understand what it feels like in their shoes and talk about it out loud – example: A child who is afraid to go on the field – instead of saying come on the field – it will be ok – Try:  It is scary out there with all of those kids you don’t know so well, huh.  Sometimes I feel nervous when I meet new people too.  Would you like to come out with me and meet a few first?  or Your mom/dad can come with you and dribble and pass with you.  Then when you feel comfortable, maybe you can come show how great your shot is!  Kids feel things differently than adults do and sometimes we have to remember what it is like to experience things for the first time – it can be scary!  Instead of saying – it’ll be ok- validate their feeling and let them experience that it is ok.

7) Have patience – don’t rush it and don’t compare one child to another…. kids develop at different rates

So we have had 2 games and the first was all about getting used to being in a game situation.  Some tears, some bumps and bruises and a few ‘own’ goals :).  The second game was a masterpiece – they played well together – most of them were comfortable on the field, they were cheering each other on.  The older ones became leaders, helping the younger ones feel comfortable… we won, had fun and scored 6 goals – 5 goals and only one ‘own’ goal (an own goal is one that is scored in your net (counts for the other team)). 🙂  I look forward to the rest of the season and hopefully having everyone on the field playing together and enjoying it!  SO MUCH FUN!

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