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May, 2018

What actually are the best initial beginning steps for a young soccer player?

The simplest answer would be to move to another country with an actual soccer culture and just allow kids to be kids. Go out and play with others in the neighborhood and engage with a soccer ball and the culture that exists. Have fun, get touches, observe how others are doing things and enjoy the ball in a relaxed and enjoyable environment. This is a natural, organic approach that exists in many countries around the world.

It does not exist in America and an argument could be made that that which does exist is the exact opposite of the optimal scenario for long term soccer development.

"Join a group, get in line, do these silly drills and listen to the instructor because we are getting ready for the big game in a few days." Not much time to learn how to simply engage with a ball, actually gain comfort with a ball and gain a bit of confidence. And with these limited abilities we are still going to have that big game ... so the parents can start yelling in all the excitement and one group gets to celebrate the big win afterwards. This is the typical approach for 99% of the kids that start playing soccer and for many reasons its perhaps the most inorganic approach. This is the American soccer culture that we have created!

An interesting fact that an astute soccer coach or trainer observes, on occasion, is that oftentimes within a family the younger siblings turn out to be the better soccer players. The simple reason is that the younger child tags along to the older players sessions and is exposed to soccer activities at a younger age, all things being equal. So later, they are typically better when comparing abilities at the similar ages. This was true with my own children as my son tagged along to his older sisters practices. He spent time with the ball and was the goalie on several occasions. Simply put, many more touches at an earlier age.

While my daughter was participating in a "typical" practice (guided by an adult) ... her younger brother was being a kid and simply exploring his surroundings and participating as he chose. No one was telling him what to do. Suggestions were made but he chose for himself. Kids are curious naturally and this is understood. He had a natural "organic" experience' exploring the soccer world while my daughter had a instructed session. Later, he was a much better player!

Honestly, I wish I had a telescope that could peer into any area and simply watch children and how they engage, participate and simply spend time with a soccer ball in all those other countries around the world. Especially those countries where kids have nothing, make their balls out of whatever they have, play on really rough surfaces and develop into really talented soccer players. I have often times seen exchange players visiting and watched their abilities on the field and it was obvious they were from another country with a strong soccer culture. They usually had such a naturally more graceful ability with the ball and usually they were not such "serious" players back home ... but they were much more accomplished than their American peers. The one common statement made by several was that while on a team here in the states they mentioned how all the local players only go to practices, practices were full of "drills" which they found to be quite boring ... and no one ever played pick-up games anywhere.

The REVO approach for the first steps with the youngest players is to mimic the natural "organic" approach of any kids exploratory nature of any activity. There is guidance but in the most relaxed fashion that does allow kids to be kids. Successful beginning steps would be those that create individuals that actually want to start playing with the ball on their own. This is the beginning of  creating passion for the activity ... and this rarely happens and is usually completely overlooked by most claiming to be "experts" in developing young players. Coaching a group to battle in the upcoming game (short term focus) is quite different than creating well rounded players that are passionate about the game of soccer. (long term focus).

I remember when my son was a U8 player (7and 8 year old kids) at a local Club and I remember when one kid had to run hills because he wasn't following instructions. He actually visited the hospital the same evening for heat exhaustion issues that followed. This was a session run by an English coach and he's still coaching locally. Years later now, more than half of the players on that team have quit playing. 

A better start for soccer ... 

First, learn to dance with the ball, learn to move in a multi-directional fashion, to caress the ball with a natural mobility and ease when moving and to be creative.  This is not the usual approach of acquiring a 1v1 move to prepare for battle with an opponent. This is not being thrust into games right away where no one can really do anything but kick and chase a ball.

Second, enjoy activities with a group and the ball or balls. There are loads of activities that provide fun touches with the ball that allow skills to be naturally developed. These touches are of a variety that usually are not experienced in the typical game or typical practice session. They will create a player with a higher skill level a bit later when compared to traditional training sessions.

Third, before imprinting the model in young minds that soccer is a game where the ball is kicked forward always in order to score a goal create the understanding that it's actually a game of keep-away. This is fundamentally a totally different task being taught when compared to what most kids learn. Sadly, most players never truly learn this ever! Master keep-away and you will eventually get all the goals you want!

Forth, and the last one for now, the understanding that smaller games are better for learning and teaching. Smaller games with different layers of allowing pressure to be added when appropriate will allow a natural development of ones soccer IQ. This is a vastly different approach than introducing full sized games for the youngest players in the earliest stages. Imagine trying to do something well with your feet and a ball while running in a crowd and being surrounded by others that simply have to kick at the ball (and you) as you get near them. What an absurd way to start yet this is exactly how most kids begin.

The REVO method offers instruction of the highest caliber in the most patient, logical and methodical manner and also in the most enjoyable environment.


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