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How to Help Your Son Play Soccer

Your son might want to participate in a competitive sport, join a team or just have fun. Regardless of his goal, soccer is a popular choice. Player registrations in U.S. Youth Soccer rose from 103,432 in 1974 to 3,025,551 in 2011. The sport has clearly gained momentum.

Even a toddler can learn basic soccer moves. With your guidance, your child will improve his coordination, balance, flexibility and fitness level while enjoying soccer. You are the biggest influence on his attitude toward the sport. Your son won’t want to play if it ceases to be fun or there’s too much emphasis on winning. He might not be the next David Beckham, but with your guidance, he’ll look forward to soccer practice and games.

Show Positive Support

“The first and most important role for any parent is to be your child’s number one supporter,” says Erik Stadler, former professional soccer player and founder and CEO of Blue Sombrero, a leading provider of online registration and web design for youth sports. Encourage your son at all times. He looks forward to you cheering at his games, so go to them and root him on. “Make sure you have a smile on your face when you are vocal from the sidelines,” advises Stadler. Whether his team wins or loses, be the first person to hug or high-five your son after a game.

Focus on whether or not he had fun playing or learned anything new. Did he improve in a particular area? If he talks about mistakes he made, listen and offer suggestions, and then move on.

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Find the Right Team

Your son should play soccer with kids his age so he can experience and learn from being part of a team. However, don’t push him into competitive play. When you choose a club or a team for your son, the most important factor in the decision should be the coach, according to Christian Lavers, executive vice-president at U.S. Club Soccer. Look for a coach who doesn’t over-emphasize winning and competition. The kids on his team should be actually thinking, not just running and kicking. Make sure there’s adequate training before games. Your son should be excited about the team and should learn new skills.

Reinforce Basic Techniques

A coach has several children to train, so kids don’t always get a lot of one-on-one attention on soccer teams. Observe the coach when he teaches basic skills to your son. Learn to perform them correctly and then practice with your child in the back yard or at a park a few times a week. If you want to offer him tips, do it during these practices instead of when he’s playing in a game.

It takes patience to teach a child to dribble rather than just kick a soccer ball. But even a toddler can learn to kick and dribble, if you have a ball suited to his size and age. He’s too young to shoot the ball though. Shooting involves power and accuracy, and it takes a lot of practice. Teach your child to gain control of the ball so he can eventually make better passes and shots. If he’s older and has developed a preference for a certain position, take him to a high school, college or professional soccer game so he can watch players in that position.

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Play Soccer Tennis

The best way for kids to develop as players and acquire technical proficiency is in game situations, notes Stadler. Skill development is important, but even more important is a player’s ability to apply those skills in a game. “Stay away from things like dribbling through cones at home. Instead, create a controlled, game environment that emphasizes one or two specific areas,” advises Stadler.

“Soccer tennis is the perfect at-home game,” adds Stadler. If you don’t have a net, just draw a line in the grass, play over a crack in the driveway or lay down two garbage cans as a makeshift net. Use your imagination. The rules are simple and adaptable. If your son is a beginner, rally the ball back and forth, using as many touches as you need to get the ball back across the net.

If your son is advanced, consider these rules, suggests Stadler. Serves: kick “gentlemen” serves that bounce in the opponent’s court before the ball can be played. Ground ball contact: inside the playing field, a ball can bounce one time before a player touches the ball. Scoring: rally scoring, the first person to score 15 is the winner, but you have to win by two points. As your son gets better, restrict the number of touches each player can have before rallying the ball back over the net. It is more difficult when you allow fewer touches. If you have more than two people, you can play on teams (think “soccer volleyball,” says Stadler).

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