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Champions for Children

A Guide for Parents of

Youth Soccer Players U6-U12

What is true of all soccer superstars I know is that these were their dreams, not their parents dreams.

In my experience, the best soccer parents more or less let their children do their own thing.

- Anson Dorrance

The Players

Characteristics of players U6-U12

Why do children play the game of soccer in the first place?

To learn new skills, have fun, learn sporting behavior, be with friends, and to simply run, jump and play.



The English Football Association (FA)

7-9 Year Olds

  • Try things on their own

  • Prefer developing and mastering things in their own way

  • Easily bored

  • No discipline for repetitive tasks

  • Will move on to something else if bored or frustrated

  • Tire quickly

  • Easily distracted

  • Cannot recognize the difference between effort and ability

9-11 Year Olds

  • Form friendships

  • Measure themselves with their peers

  • Like playing with similar people

  • Competitive spirit increases

  • Compete with peers

  • Concerned with being better

  • Begin to turn more and more to the coach for help

  • Realize the coach can help

  • Coach should match players in groups with similar abilities



U-6 Characteristics

  • Differences between boys and girls are minimal

  • Wide variety of coordination from player to player

  • Love to run and jump

  • Very little comprehension of time, space relations, and boundaries

  • Will naturally swarm around the ball in a human beehive

  • Self-centered and want to keep the ball to themselves (me, my, mine)

  • Attention span is very short

  • No sense of pace (go flat out)

  • Very simple and easily understood rules are required

  • Coach must keep things FUN and brief

U-8 Characteristics

  • Immature physical abilities remain obvious

  • Limited ability to handle more than one chore at a time

  • Concepts of time and spatial relationships are only starting to develop

  • Great yearning for approval from authority figures (parents, teachers, coaches, etc.)

  • Feelings are very easily bruised

  • Physical coordination begins developing (riding a bike)

  • Still love running, jumping, climbing, and rolling

  • Team identity develops in basic ways (wearing jersey to bed or even days at a time)

  • Still lack sense of pace (go flat out)

U-10 Characteristics

  • The Golden Age of Learning

  • Vital time in their lives

  • Boys and girls begin to develop separately

  • Grouping of players by physical maturity/ability level becomes more of a consideration

  • Athletically superior players will dominate play

  • Ability to concentrate increases and coordination emerges

  • Competitiveness emerges

  • Peer pressure begins to become a factor (not be embarrassed in front of friends)

  • Self-responsibility can be introduced (bringing a ball, water, etc.)

  • Players must start making decisions on their own

U-12 Characteristics

  • Puberty brings psychological and physical changes

  • Popularity correlates to self-esteem

  • Begin to recognize the opposite sex

  • Differences in skill level, size, speed, and strength are significant

  • Players must begin to think abstractly/tactically on the field (Socratic Method of Teaching)


  • Uncoordinated

  • Break down under pressure

  • Narrow focus

  • Reliant on conscious decisions

  • No body control

  • Jerky/jarring appearance


  • Coordinated

  • Perform under pressure

  • Broad focus on the game

  • Instinctive play

  • Smooth/fluid appearance

  • Use of the appropriate foot/ part of foot

  • Control of weight and direction of pass

  • Good timing of the pass

  • Excellent decision-making (tactical ability)

Sample Player Expectations for Soccer

  • Bring all equipment (inflated soccer ball, water, warm-up, etc.).

  • Flip the switch at training sessions and games (focus and concentrate on soccer).

  • Have a positive attitude and be willing try new things.

  • Work hard and have fun.

  • Do your soccer homework (practice skills on off days).

  • Keep a soccer journal (optional).

A Sample Club/Team Philosophy

  • A competitive environment at the youth level encourages decisions from player and coach alike that focus on player development rather than winning (favoring ball skill and creativity as the means to find success within the rules and spirit of the game). We will not have a win at all costs mentality. Our primary concerns are the development, welfare, enjoyment and safety of our players.

The Parents

What we can do to guide our children toward enjoyment in the game

Sample Parent Expectations

  • Make every effort to arrive on time for all events (early is always better).

  • Be positive and supportive of your athlete, teammates, coaches and parents (the soccer family).

  • Do not measure your athletes development against others on the team. All athletes will develop in different ways; some will develop quicker than others.

  • Show respect for all involved in the game of soccer including: players, coaches, opponents, opposing fans and especially referees.

  • Do not confuse your athlete by trying to coach them on or off the field.

  • During games, limit comments to encouraging all players on the field.

Parent Expectations

  • In order to properly reach developmental goals, there must be a serious level of commitment from parents.

  • Please approach the coach after training sessions if you would like to speak about your athlete or anything having to do with the team or club.

Before the match/training

  • Tell your child three things prior to the match or training session: Play Hard Have Fun I Love You.

  • Make a few positive support comments such as: I cant wait to watch your game today, or Have some fun out there!

  • Allow the child to do their own thing before the match or training during the ride (within reason). Examples: listening to music, playing videogames, initiating conversations with others, simply being quiet and focused.

  • Promote and support proper nutrition before and after athletic contests. This is something you CAN control!

Pre-Match/Training Nutrition

Fueling the Young Athlete

Carbohydrates: carbs provide the primary fuel for exercising muscles. It is essential that young athletes consume lots of complex carbohydrates (i.e. whole grains, fruits, and vegetables) on a daily basis. In addition, it is important to ensure that young athletes get the proper amount of carbohydrates before, during, and after exercise to support optimal health and performance.

Pre-Match/Training Nutrition

  • Make sure young athlete arrives to matches/training well-fed. They should eat a well-balanced meal that contains 75-200 grams of carbs, 2-4 hours before the training session or match. This can be very difficult, especially before training. So

  • A snack 30 minutes prior to exercise may also be beneficial, particularly if an athlete was unable to consume an appropriate meal 2-4 hours prior.

  • The snack should contain approx. 20-50 grams of easily digested carbs.

During the Match (sideline behavior)

During the Match (sideline behavior)

  • Understand that players are over-stimulated during matches. The coach may be giving instructions, opponents and teammates are talking, the crowd is cheering, and the referee is blowing the whistle and speaking to the players. To a youth soccer player, the atmosphere is much like that of a fighter pilot with enemy bogies zipping around.

    *Adapted from the AYSO Tools for Parents*

During the Match (sideline behavior)

  • #1 Priority=

    Set a Good Example of Sportsmanship at all times

  • Do not yell instructions to your child (or their teammates) during the match- it only adds to the confusion. In addition, this oftentimes contradicts what the coach has been training the players to do.

  • Sometimes the best thing parents can do is to be quiet or have a chat with another parent while watching.

  • Cheer and acknowledge good plays by both teams.

  • Sit a reasonable distance away from the field, players and coaches.


  • When watching a youth soccer game, if you can't carry on a normal conversation with the person next to you, then you're probably paying too much attention to the game.

After the match/training

  • Three things to say to your athlete after match or training: You Played HardAre You Hungry?...I Love You.

  • Congratulate your child and their teammates regardless of the outcome.

  • Do not analyze the game or your childs performance.

  • No backyard training following matches/training.

  • Make sure your child eats properly following the activity.

Recovery Foods (following activity)

A sample of healthy foods to help athletes

recover from exercise:

  • Sports drinks (Gatorade)

  • Granola, energy, or breakfast bars

  • Bagels with peanut butter

  • Sub sandwichs

  • Crackers and cheese

  • Burritos

  • Fresh fruit like apples, bananas, oranges, and grapes

  • Vegetables such as carrots and celery

  • Fruit smoothies

  • Rice cakes or trail mix

  • Chocolate milk

  • Animal crackers

Recovery Nutrition Quick Tips

  • Athletes who fail to refuel and/or rehydrate during and after activities will not have the optimal level of energy to play at the same intensity the next day.

  • To help in the recovery process, athletes should eat a high-carbohydrate snack within 30 minutes after practice or competition, and a healthy meal two hours later.

  • Carbohydrates are the most efficient source of energy for muscles, and they should make up approximately 60% of an athletes diet.

Recovery Nutrition Quick Tips

  • Sports drinks are an ideal way for athletes to rehydrate during and after exercise.

  • Having parents provide snacks and sports drinks after the game is an excellent way to help athletes recover from exercise.

  • Stay away from soft packaged, boxed juice drinks and snackie cakes.

Keep in mind thevarious Pressures for Players

  • Society

  • Parents

  • Other Clubs

  • Environment

  • Coachs Ego

  • Human Nature

  • Own Club

    ***Most all of these pressures focus on winning instead of learning and development!

Relieving those Pressures

  • Praise effort instead of results.

  • Always be positive no matter what the outcome.

  • Following a match, ask the player how they think they did. Allow them to reflect, if they choose to do so.

  • Look for positives in any situation and focus on them.

Pre-season Preparation for Parents

Sample Parent Agreement

Sample Parent Agreement

  • I agree to be on time or early when dropping off my child for a training session or game. I understand that I am putting my child at physical risk by not providing proper time for warm-up. I also understand the importance of picking up my child on time for all training sessions and games. This ultimately shows respect for the coaches and entire team.

  • I understand the main reasons students participate in athletics are to have fun, make new friends, and learn new skills. I understand the game is for the students, and that I will encourage my child to have fun and keep the game in the proper perspective. I understand that athletes do their best when they are emotionally healthy, so I will be positive and supportive at all times.

  • I understand the teams philosophy on player development versus results (winning). I also understand that athletes develop in many different ways and that the true measure is not how my child compares to others but how he/she is developing as a person, student, and athlete.

  • I understand the importance of setting a good example of sportsmanship to my child. I will continually show respect for all involved in the game including: coaches, players, opponents, opposing fans, and especially referees.

  • I understand games can be exciting experiences for my child who is trying to deal with the action of the game, respond to opponents, referees, teammates, and coaches. I will not add confusion by yelling out instructions. During the game, I will limit my comments to encouraging my child and other players for both teams.

  • I will not make negative comments about the game, coaches, referees, or teammates in my childs presence. I understand this can negatively influence my childs motivation and overall experience.

  • I agree to honor the Parent Agreement in my words and actions.

    *Adapted from the AYSO Kids Zone Parent Pledge*

Parental Influence

Negative Influence

  • Too much emphasis on winning

  • Shouting instructions during matches

  • Marching up and down the field during matches

  • Using abusive language

  • Inappropriate behavior (standing on touchline, spitting, smoking, drinking)

  • Making negative comments about opponents, teammates, coaches, and others in the presence of the player(s).

Kids Drop Out When

  • They are forced to take part

  • Pressured from coaches/parents

  • Made to feel incompetent

  • Bullied by peers and coaches

  • Not enough playing time

  • They have other interests

Parents Should Focus on

  • Enjoyment

  • Development

  • Feedback (positive, not critical)

  • Respect (for teammates, opponents, coaches, officials, etc.)

  • Realistic targets/goals

  • Nutrition

A Parents Most Important Job is to


Recommended Reading

  • Will You Still Love Me If I Dont Win? A Guide for Parents of Young Athletes by Christopher and Barbara Andersonn

  • The Vision of a Champion by Anson Dorrance

  • Just Let the Kids Play by Bob Bigelow

  • Laws of the Game*

Additional Resources

  • United States Youth Soccer Association-

  • Positive Coaching Alliance-

  • The English Football Association- Psychology for Football/Soccer Level I (online course)

  • American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO)-

  • Gatorade (heat, hydration, and nutrition)


  • Indiana Youth Soccer Association

  • Kentucky Youth Soccer Association

Special Thanks

  • Fran Kulas- Kentucky Youth Soccer Association

  • Vince Ganzberg- Indiana Youth Soccer Association

Questions? Please contact

Rob Herringer

State Director of Coaching


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