How to help your son improve at soccer – A handy guide

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We all want our children to perform well while they are playing team sports. These games are taking place during their formative years, and developing self esteem and character through sports is key to their development. 

As a parent or relative you can invest small amounts of time for maximum reward. Kids are great at learning new things. Even the smallest lessons will remembered and hopefully applied to their lives for years to follow.

In order to improve as players, your child will need to focus on a few different areas to see improvements to their all round game. Try to work on each factor separately moving on to the next when you feel an area has been picked up to a good degree.

Work ethic and attitude

File:The value-attitude-behaviour hierarchy.png - Wikimedia Commons

In all things sport, attitude is the key to success. How a player approaches the game and the different situations that arise will decide between loss and victory. If a player approaches a challenge and relishes the difficulty, they will give it their all and enjoy it during the process.

Giving a child encouragement for showing a ‘can do’ attitude to even the most difficult scenarios, helps build up a hard working and diligent attitude. You can build an effective foundation for attitudes by instilling values that makes a player stand out. Speaking about this during recreational time and showing examples of players you admire for their work ethic and values on Youtube, will help your son or daughter to fall in love with this side of the game. Adopting these values and attitudes yourself during your daily life will help as you are the ultimate example they can draw from. Even if you aren’t playing sports. Many players are talented, skilled and equipped for professional football. But they can be surpassed by players with less talent, who work hard in matches and during the week in training.

Learning the game

A player who has built up the core skills of football can improve further by learning more about the mechanics of the beautiful game. While they may be proficient in kicking, passing, tackling etc. They can become masters of controlling games by learning things such as positioning, transitions, counter attacks and offsides.

Football books and tactic study videos available online will help your child to better grasp how the game works. You can often find videos online that are position-specific e.g, “How to Play Defensive Midfielder”, or videos studying the genius of greats over the years.

PES 2021 Option File by Nicoultras For PS5/PS4 - PES Patch
PES 2021 on PS5 – A great way for young players to learn the game quickly in a safe and controlled environment.

To the joy of your child, football games like FIFA and PES can also be a sandboxed way to further learn about the workings of the game. During game setup players can pick and customise formations, set defensive and attacking tactics, and get familiar with choosing different player attributes for various positions. Encourage your child to try using the formation screens and watching advice videos online. We talk more about how effective video games are in helping players to improve here.

The Ultimate 4-3-3 Guide | Elite 1 | Div 1 | FIFA 21: FIFA
Formation and tactics selection screen on FIFA 21

And of course the most common way of improving knowledge of the game is to actually watch football! You can watch together and discuss tactics and techniques with your child. The commentary, and pre/post match punditry all provide gold in the form of information, for any player of any level. Watching different leagues and different styles of football will open up a world of new players to model.

Athleticism

Regardless of technical level, football is an athletic sport. Putting together a personal home training regimen, outside of regular training is where players can leap above other players in their team in terms of fitness, power and technique. Many professional players admit to using the ball in the house to train. If you are liberal enough then making this exception can catapult your child to greatness.

You can also find a great article here on improving a players speed, power and explosiveness.

Teamwork

Former Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, has the record for the most domestic titles won in England, boasting a decorated career of multiple Premier League titles, Domestic cups and European titles. When choosing players for his academy and team, he tends to sign who he calls “nice boys”. Players with a good heart and who are considerate. He looks for players who can integrate with the group of players with a good attitude towards team building, looking out for teammates and players who are ready to forge partnerships in the team. A player can be super talented but if he can’t form key relationships with coaching staff and other players, his career can suffer. 

Raising your child to respect others, not to gossip and to treat others with kindness and humility will put he or she in good stead for joining teams in the future.

A video showing great examples of what teamwork can do – Barcelona FC

Developing relationships off the field also helps to improve synergy on the pitch. The greatest teams of the last 50 years have featured players who have an almost telepathic connection with their teammates while playing. This is developed from training, eating and having fun together. Ensure your child is involved in any team building activities on their team.

Aggression 

Although most of us teach our children how to be kind, gentle through acts of humility, through sport you can teach them another great life lesson. That sometimes in life, you have to be aggressive and competitive. As long as it is in a safe and controlled way, they can feel free to be as tough as they need to be on the pitch. Within the rules of the game of course. When we speak of aggression we wish to focus on upper body aggression rather than hard and dangerous tackles, which can injure other young players. With that said, learning how to slide tackle is key for any young player wishing to get stuck in. 

In order to help bring out the aggression in your player, you need to get them to channel their inner anger. To get them to enjoy the hustle bustle nature of football and compete physically. Sometimes with players much larger than them in size. They will relish the challenge and you will teach them that showing heart even with odds stacked against them are signs of strength and valliance.

A great way to introduce them into being more aggressive is to find out which ways they are channeling aggression. They may have a fighting game they love to play, or may be fans of WWE wrestling. They may enjoy watching ice hockey videos, memes or boxing. It is through these avenues you can connect with them to help them become more aggressive. The aim is to get them to recreate that fighting attitude and spirit and get them to feel comfortable enough to channel that energy without feeling guilt or negative feelings. Its part of the game and can even make matches more fun!

A good practical way is to challenge your child to a “barging” game. Where they need to move you or another young player (preferably someone who is taller and stronger) off the ball while both stationary. It’s important that it is fun and done in jest so the child can feel comfortable having a physical battle. Another great game is challenging the child to shield the ball with their strength from an opposing player while stationary. Things like arm wrestling, jostling and play fighting are all good ways to cultivate a fighting spirit. You can find some more in depth information in helping to teach a player how to shield the ball.

To help young players physically prepare, try doing a lot of core work. It’s gruelling and requires determination helping to develop tenacity. In football they refer to it as “putting your head down” and going to work, or in boxing it is known as “biting down on the gumshield”. It is when a player has to physically dig deep to keep going or to exert high amounts of effort. In most cases, during these moments, a player will be drawing strength from their core muscles. So training this area and being able to handle aching from this area will be the basis of determination during physical battles.

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