Striking a balance between under and over challenging players on the soccer field can mean the difference between a good experience and a bad experience. Too much of a challenge can lead to frustration. Too little of a challenge can lead to boredom and a lack of engagement. We call the sweet spot being "Age Appropriate."
Knowing what is age appropriate and what is not is something that changes over time as we get smarter about human anatomy and physiology. We now know, for example, that kids advance their skills more quickly when they play more small-sided games. We know that little craniums are not very good at taking repeated hits with a soccer ball until they mature (thus no heading in the younger ages).
Coaches credentialing courses from United Soccer Coaches (formerly known as NSCAA), US Youth Soccer, and others do a good job of helping coaches understand what is age appropriate and what is not. But how about coaches or parents without credentials?
Can parents and coaches inadvertently make things more difficult when they don't understand what is age appropriate vs what is not?
It makes sense that a coach who runs practice sessions designed for 9-year-olds might have trouble containing players who are 12 or 14, right? Of course... many will not be having fun because they are bored.
The same would be true for parents or coaches who want to push too much too fast. Putting 10-year-olds on a full-size field normally reserved for 11v11 play is kinda like putting kids in an ocean in a canoe. Everything is big and scary to them. Players can be frustrated that they can't run that far or kick the ball hard enough.
Rules in soccer exist to keep players safe during games: header rules, field size rules, ball size rule, etc - are all safety rules first. Staying within age-appropriate boundaries also makes the experience a lot more fun!
We touch on "play up" and "play down " situations here because it's relevant, but we'll cover this subject in more detail in a future episode.
You can learn more about keeping things age appropriate through US Youth Soccer and United Soccer Coaches (U.S.C).
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