When my son was born my first thought was when can he start playing football?
As an ex Sunday league football manager I wanted him kicking a ball from day one. Why?
Two big reasons:
- He'll learn new skills, social, communication etc.
- I want him to be better than me
What training did I have? Take out the equation having a ball booted at me full force in the back garden by my dad. Then I had none.
Living through my child
I guess I want him to succeed where I have failed. I don’t want to be that pushy parent but I hope one day he’ll appreciate it. You just want the best for your kids.
After a bit of research I saw a great video from a preschool football franchise called Little Kickers. They start from the age of 18 months.
I signed my son up just as he was approaching 3 years old for a 12 week session in the ‘Mighty Kickers’ group aged 3½ - 5 years old. He’s one of the youngest but due to his height he looks a lot older.
Learning through play
The classes are really clever. It really surprised me. It wasn’t all about kicking a ball around for an hour. It’s all about fun and games.
After signing him into class he’s given a tiny red sticker for his right foot and blue sticker for his left foot. This alone excites him. He then has 10 minutes to kick a ball around the room before class begins.
Rather than shoot for goal he sometimes likes to pick the ball up and aim for the basketball nets instead!
The warm up
A key part to playing a match is the preparation. The group begin by sitting in a big circle with the coaches and go round in a circle with everyone shouting their name. Each shout is met with a “good morning James…” from the group with a wave.
For the first 3-4 weeks my son put his fingers in his mouth and whispered his name. But week by week I watched his confidence slowly begin to grow. By week 10 he was shouting his name at the top of his voice with a great big smile.
Once introductions are done the warm up begins. With ‘wriggly fingers’ arms out, still sitting down. Swimming forwards and backwards, getting the arms going. Feet together waving their toes side to side they then begin to stamp their heels to ‘wake the parents’.
After their sit down drills they move on to sit up sit down games, leap frogs and star jumps including arms out and leaning side to side. Every week my son would shout out, “You look like Dusty from Disney Planes.”
Let the games begin
With warm ups out the way the kids run to their parent for a drink break and then race back to the mat to begin their first routine. The best thing about it is the routines and games are different every week with some similarities.
A few favourites of mine, not necessarily his;
Monkey in the cage
With cones in a massive circle the coach sits in the centre with two mini pop up nets like a cage. The kids have to jog, run, hop and skip around the circle while the monkey shakes the cage. Then the monkey screams and jumps out and all the kids have to lie down behind a cone each.
The first time, my son was petrified and would just lie on the floor for the remainder of the exercise while the other kids ran around him or leapt over him. The second time they played this game he made his own rules up by running round the circle while carrying a cone he’d pinched, under his arm. So instead of finding a cone to hide behind he’d simply drop to the floor and hide behind his stolen cone.
Unfreeze a friend
The group would have to run from one side of the room to the other and collect coloured cones and take them back to the side they came from. At the same time the coaches are trying to tag the kids. If they’re tagged they have to freeze and not move until one of the other kids tag them on the arm to unfreeze them. I watch my son cleverly come up with a way of avoiding being tagged altogether. Run right round the outside. Basically cheating. But was interesting to watch him develop a different tactic.
You’ll see from their YouTube video the kids running round holding the cones like a car steering wheel. The coaches set up a track and give the kids different coloured cones. Then they’ll call a colour and if a child has that colour they get off the mat and run round the track and return to the mat after crossing the finish line. You can see the joy on their faces pretending to drive. Making car noises as they zoom around the cone track.
After another drink break the footballs are brought back out and the coaches have the kids doing some basic ball work such as dropping the ball and putting their foot on it. Little kicks to work on control. My sons favourite, squeezing the ball between their feet and jumping in the air. I found when he does something he’s good at he like to tell everyone. “I can do that, I can do that.” He’s not alone. The little shouts of “look coach, look…” from the majority of the little ones.
From the spot
With time almost over and one last drink break the group sit down and await their turn to take a penalty. Like the variety of games there’s variance in the setup of scoring a goal each week. It may include a few cones on the goal line and they have to kick it into the roof of the net. Or kick a moving ball coming towards them. Two pens or Three pens. If they miss they get to retake until they score.
When any of the kids score they’re met with applause from all the parents. When my son scores I’m bursting with pride. I try to get a quick video of some of his goals. He loves a goal celebration.
You don’t get this from Sunday league football teams but these guys do a proper warm down going through a similar routine they went through to warm up.
The session finishes with everyone getting a high-five from the coaches and saying goodbye.
An hour well spent. Week by week I’ve seen his confidence grow and learn new skills with the ball. One exercise took him six weeks to nail which left me in shock when he actually did it.
He has his off days were he may seem tired and his attention goes out the door. Not listening to instructions and talking about The Avengers with the other kids. But he enjoys it. I have to restrain myself sometimes and not shout from the side-lines like an arm chair football supporter.
Seeing him in his Little Kickers football kit and tiny Adidas boots always brings a smile to my face. I’ve bought him a little size one ball for home and kept some cones, from when I managed a Sunday league team, for him to play with.
For any dad wanting their son or daughter to play football these sessions are brilliant. Check them out. Remember, it’s all fun and games.