Soccer is one of the most popular sports in the world and is played in most countries. Soccer is a team sport, involving 11 players on each side who use their legs, head, and torso to pass a soccer ball and score goals.
Children who play sports don’t just benefit physically. Research shows that they also do better in school, develop personal disciplines and learn how to get along with others. According to the CDC, children should get up to 60 minutes of physical activity daily.
Soccer is the perfect game for developing young bodies. The first stages of athletic advancement entail creating body awareness, strength, and fitness. Then comes advanced skills and muscle coordination.
Therapeutic Benefits of Soccer:
Builds strength, flexibility, endurance, speed, and stamina: Soccer improves fitness by requiring children to sprint after the ball and jog up and down the field, which builds endurance and speed. Children develop a relatively high aerobic-anaerobic threshold as their bodies must learn to run with or without the ball over prolonged periods of time.
Increases muscle and bone strength: Children learn that strength and the ability to kick the ball hard and fast, is crucial in soccer.
Teaches eye-foot coordination and balance: The repetitive training of stopping and shooting the ball, cause the feet to learn muscle movements and gain abilities that would not be achieved otherwise.
Promotes teamwork: Teamwork plays an important role on the child’s physical and social development. Playing with a soccer team develops a child’s ability to cooperate and interact with other children.
Increases skills in concentration and persistence: By focusing on the ball, the child will improve their concentration and focus.
Increases self-esteem and confidence: Soccer emphasizes on the success of the team as a whole, rather than the success of individual players. It is a sport that less athletically inclined children will enjoy. Compared to baseball, which requires players to bat or field a ball alone, soccer puts less pressure on children. Soccer encourages teamwork and communication rather than feel a need to outperform teammates to gain recognition.
Courtesy of US Youth Soccer
Fundamental Movement Patterns of Soccer:
Locomotor: Body moving through space, such as walking, running, jumping, hopping
Non-locomotor: Specific parts of the body are moved, such as pushing, pulling, stretching
Manipulative: Patterns in which objects are moved, such as catching, passing, throwing; and other activities involving propelling or receiving the ball
Foundational Skills of Soccer:
It is of vital importance for children to acquire a base of general balance, coordination, and agility before soccer skills. It’s important for the child to be able to control their bodies before being able to control the ball. Children should be exposed to movement activities/exercises prior to learning the skills of soccer.
Kicking Skills of Soccer:
This is imperitive for coordination. Many children will miss a ball because it came to their weak side. The best way to teach this skill is to start by kicking the ball back and forth to your child. Each time you kick it to him/her, alternate which side of his/her body you kick it to and then call out which foot he/she uses as you kick (“Right Foot” “Left Foot”). You should alternate which foot you use each time you kick it to him/her as well to help give them a visual reference of the concept.
Gear Guidelines For Soccer:
Soccer cleats: Choose a pair of shoes with molded cleats or ribbed soles. Shoes with screw-in cleats may carry a higher risk of injury, so only use them when you need extra traction, such as on a wet field or a field with tall grass. Make sure your cleats fit properly and are laced up tightly each time you play.
Shin guards: A good shin guard will mold to the shin, end just below the knee, and fit snugly around the ankle bone. Bring your soccer socks and cleats with you when you buy shin guards to be sure that they'll fit properly. Shin guards will help prevent lower leg injuries.
Soccer socks: These are meant to hold shin guards securely in place and should be worn anytime you practice or play.
Other gear: Mouthguards help protect your teeth, lips, cheeks, and tongue and are recommended for all soccer players. Goalies will want to wear long-sleeved shirts, pants or shorts with padding.
Who Can Benefit From Soccer?
Soccer is a great activity/sport for children that need to improve their balance, upper body/lower body strength, coordination, motor planning and social skills. Soccer is also great for children with low muscle tone to get them moving as much as possible while helping to build tone in their muscles, improve balance, and muscle control. Your child with low muscle tone may be a bit slower or tire easier but the earlier they start soccer, the better they will be.
Soccer may be challenging if your child has poor balance/coordination. Here are some home exercises to help your child with poor balance/coordination to better participate in soccer:
Alternate Cone Taps: Place 6 cones in a row on the floor and have your child tap the top of each cone with their foot or place a tennis ball/bean bag on top of each cone and have your child try and knock down the tennis ball/bean bag using one foot at a time.
Balance on one leg: Have your child practice a tree pose or have them imitate you balancing on one foot for as long as possible. This is a great activity to improve balance. Repeat 3 times on each foot for up to 10 seconds.
Hover ball: With a slight kick on the hover ball, it glides across the room making it fun and safe to practice kicking in the comfort of your own home. The hover ball can be bought at Bed, bath and beyond or Amazon for only $10.
Bean bag toss: Place a bean bag on top of your child’s foot, have them lift that leg up without dropping the bean bag and then toss the bean bag into the game. If you don't have this game, you can also toss the bean bag into a bucket or a hoop placed in front of your child. This is a great exercise to improve a child’s balance, motor planning, concentration, and coordination; which are all needed for soccer. Repeat for 10 repetitions on each foot. You can buy this Melissa & Doug sunny patch beanbag toss game from Amazon for $20.
From my own professional experience, enrolling your child for soccer at the age of five or above has many health benefits, improves motor skills, and gives your child a fun experience at the same time!
1) Health Benefits of Soccer. November 2014. http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov
2) Safety Tips for Soccer. March 2014. http://kidshealth.org/teen/food_fitness/sports/safety_soccer.html#
3) University of Copenhagen. "Soccer improves health, fitness and social abilities." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 April 2010
4) How much physical activity do children need? June 4, 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/children/index.htm
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