Football or “Soccer” is having a moment. Ryan Reynolds and Rob Mcelhenney have recently purchased Wrexham: a Soccer club in a small Welsh city. The Lionesses recently “brought it home” to England when they won the Women’s European championship. More children than ever before are taking an interest in soccer and want to start playing the game, including preschoolers.
Preschoolers need lots of time and patience to learn basic ball skills before they are ready to dribble a ball or kick with any accuracy, so it’s important to have realistic expectations when our youngest little learners start to play.
Preschoolers are naturally a little clumsy. After all, they’ve not long learned to walk, so we need to give lots of repetition and activities that allow them to practice early soccer skills in many different ways.
The best way to get a child engaged in anything is to have plenty of fun and make a game of it. If parents, older brothers, sisters, and teachers all seem to be having fun doing something, preschoolers will naturally want to have a go, too, so make sure you don’t take it too seriously.
It’s worth bearing in mind that preschoolers’ hands and feet are not fully developed yet. The bones in their hands and feet are still soft, almost like a little paw, and the connecting bones in their digits have not completely fused yet.
They will need a lot of practice at fine and gross motor skills (large and small-scale physical activities) before their little hands will be strong, malleable, and ready to catch and kick a ball successfully.
Follow our step-by-step plan below to start your preschooler on their soccer adventure:
What size ball should I use?
Full-size soccer balls are too large and heavy for most preschoolers to manipulate or maneuver successfully. Encourage your child to take an interest in ball skills by providing a wide variety of balls in all shapes and sizes. Introduce them to:
Balls that flash or light up when they bounce
Balls with sensory textures
Balls with bells inside.
Encourage the preschoolers to enjoy free play with the different balls – throwing, catching, kicking, and rolling. All the above balls are easily available from Amazon so everyone can be included.
All we are doing here is introducing the concept of a ball and how much fun it can be, so join in and have as much fun as you like.
How much space will I need?
Preschoolers are not usually known for their accurate aim when kicking or throwing, so try to ensure you have secured plenty of space before starting any soccer activities. Indoors you will ideally need a large space like a hall or gymnasium.
If you are working outdoors, try to use a space with clear boundaries to keep the balls contained.
Now the basics are in place, and we can start learning skills:
Rolling is a skill that is sometimes overlooked, but it is the best place to start with preschoolers to encourage them to start to control a ball with any accuracy.
Rolling their favorite ball back and forth between themselves and an adult is a good place to start.
- Choose a medium-sized softball to start.
- Sit opposite each other with your legs apart and try to roll the ball back and forth, catching it as it rolls towards you.
- Encourage the preschoolers to sway their bodies and move in a rocking motion to capture the ball.
- Try to get them to aim directly for you.
- If the children find this easy, move away from each other, so the ball has to roll further.
Once this skill is mastered, move onto your knees. Again, encourage the children to move their bodies to dive for the ball as it rolls toward them.
From kneeling, you can progress to standing a few paces apart, rolling the ball back and forth. If the ball rolls away, that is fine. It’s all part of learning. Encourage your preschooler to run and retrieve the ball and have another go.
When they have mastered the skill of rolling back and forth with you, try with a partner.
Also, provide lots of free play to practice this skill.
Start with a softball that fits comfortably in the child’s hands when cupped together.
You can increase and decrease the size of the ball, depending on how confident the child is.
Little preschooler hands will almost certainly find it difficult to grip full-size soccer, which will also feel very heavy for small hands, so try using a smaller child-friendly soccer ball.
Once your children can roll a ball back and forth between them easily, try decreasing to a tennis ball to challenge them or even a golf ball. You can also increase to a beachball for children struggling to retrieve the ball.
Remind the children to look at their partner and try to send the ball straight to them.
Always be led by the children – If they have had enough, don’t force it.
Stopping the ball
It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But stopping a ball is a challenge for a preschooler, and they will need lots of practice to be able to stop a ball with confidence and skill. You can start to practice stopping the ball in the activity above as you are rolling the ball back and forth. Try to stop the ball with both hands, then with one hand. Then as you practice rolling back and forth standing up, try to stop it with your feet.
If you kneel, can you stop the ball with your tummy, chest, and nose?
Encourage the children to follow the ball with their eyes and then pounce on it to stop it.
Stop the ball Game:
- Ask the preschoolers to sit behind a line.
- Tip a large number of balls into a big space.
- Say ready…steady… Go! Ask the children to stop as many balls as possible before the sand timer runs out.
- They can stop the balls any way they like as long as they are perfectly still.
- Count how many balls they manage to stop and then repeat.
Dribbling the ball
The first step in the skill of dribbling a ball is to be able to follow a ball with your eyes.
Roll a few balls across the space and see if the children can follow them with their eyes until it stops or reaches the boundary.
Next, model to the children how to follow a ball as it rolls across the space by walking alongside it without touching it.
Ask the children to have a go at doing the same. Ask them to pretend they are taking the ball for a walk. Can they follow it until it stops without losing it?
Show the children how to move a ball with your feet. Do this very slowly and very carefully at first, and ask them to watch the ball as you gently tap it with your feet. Remind them not to take their eyes off it.
See if they can move a ball with their feet from one side of the space to the other.
Think of the ball as a sleeping dragon – if they move it too fast or too hard, they will wake it up, so be very careful and gentle.
Preschoolers will need a lot of practice and encouragement.
I recommend softballs for this activity as their aim will be wonky for a long time when they learn this skill.
Rolling, stopping, and dribbling are huge skills for preschoolers to learn, so in every soccer session, be sure to stop and recap those skills. Give lots of practice and reminders:
- Rolling skills – watch the ball as it rolls to you. Look at your partner as you aim for them.
- Stop the ball with different parts of our body, having lots of fun. Hold it still!
- Follow the ball by walking or running alongside it.
- Dribble the ball slowly and carefully like a sleeping dragon, from one side of the space to the other.
Regularly practicing these skills will mean the children are well at developing soccer skills.
All soccer players need to be able to throw with accuracy. Use the following activities to help develop this skill:
All budding goalkeepers need this skill, which is an important foundation skill for many other sports too. Show the children to:
- hold a small ball firmly in your hand by spreading your fingers as wide as they can
- roll their arm backward first and then upwards before releasing the ball.
- Try to aim for a point in front of them.
Avoid using an overarm throw at this stage until the children are developing a good underarm throw first.
Encourage lots of practice – let the preschoolers practice throwing up in the air, running to retrieve their ball, and repeating. Be prepared for balls to go everywhere at this stage.
Balls in the basket
Once the children have securely grasped the underarm throw movement, we can start to develop their aim.
Provide large baskets, such as laundry or large buckets, and let the children throw them in. If they miss, it’s not a problem – retrieve their ball and have another go. You can move the baskets nearer or further away to adapt to the child’s skills. This is a good opportunity to count how many they can get in if they work together.
Retrieve the ball
Collecting up all the balls before the sand timer runs out is great for developing agility, handling the balls, and encouraging moving at speed. It’s also a good way to start to encourage working as a team.
Use the large buckets or baskets as in the activity above and lots of different kinds of balls. Try to include lots of different sizes and different kinds, like airflow, softballs, tennis balls, and sensory balls.
How many balls can they get in the basket before the time runs out?
Always keep the focus on having fun. It really doesn’t matter if there are some left at the end.
Kicking the ball
Kicking is difficult for preschoolers as it takes a lot of balance and coordination, so be patient if they cannot do this at first. The only way to get better is to provide lots of practice and to keep it entertaining and fun.
I like to introduce the skill of kicking by demonstrating a great big giant kick. I show the children how to swing my whole body to kick the ball. As one leg moves forward, the opposite arm should swing backward.
Once you have modeled the skill, provide softballs and let them have a go to see how high they can kick. Provide lots of praise if they can coordinate their bodies to kick the ball upwards successfully – it’s not easy for little legs!
Talk about how high they can kick, then how far.
Can they kick like a giant too?
When the children are beginning to kick the ball with a little accuracy, they can start to try kicking the ball back and forth to one another in pairs.
Provide a child-sized goal and ask the children to take turns kicking the ball into the net. There is no need to have a goalkeeper at this stage. We want the children to feel successful, and we want them to keep playing, so let them aim for the goal and give lots of cheers and praise if they manage to kick the ball into the net.
These are the basic skills for any aspiring soccer player. The key to getting the children to practice is to make it fun, give lots and lots of praise and help them to feel successful by providing challenges at the right level for their age and stage.
Be sure to check out our online courses for wonderful resources for parents, teachers, preschool educators, and anyone else who works with children. These are fantastic aids to guide children’s learning, development, and wellness!