Commentary

Let your kids play soccer in the house -- with small balls

When I went to China to coach 6-year-old kids in a pilot program at five elementary schools in Beijing, I wanted to see what they were doing before I started with my contribution.

All the kids had a big ball. Wrong! Have you ever seen what kids do when they are trying to control a big ball? They spend half their time bending over and stopping the ball with their hands. The kids had to take the ball along a path and then bring it back. Half the kids would give up using their feet and carry the ball back to the starting line in their hands.

So, I got rid of the big balls and gave them much smaller balls. What happened next? None of the kids picked their balls up.

Why? Because the balls were small like them. They could relate to the small balls. And when they were doing things right, they found they could control the ball instead of losing control. Then they had the confidence to master it. In short, they were not intimidated by the smaller ball. It totally transformed the way these kids approached the soccer ball and the exercises they were doing.

When your kids are young, you can put these small balls around the house like I did. Yes, I had to convince my wife it was a good idea but she was happy to go along with it. The balls weren’t big and they weren’t likely to do much damage to the house. And learning the basic skills doesn’t require a lot of space. The kids are not trying to score goals or bounce the ball off a wall. They are trying to control the ball in a small space.

How far does Lionel Messi let the ball get away from him? It’s right there at his feet all the time. As it was when he was a kid. At his feet. I don’t know if his mom yelled at him. I suspect not.

My wife accepts the value of my sons practicing in the house and doesn’t yell at them. I’m not just trying to convince the dads that a good soccer education is important, I’m also trying to convince the moms. If you allow your kids this little bit of freedom, the results can be remarkable.Parents can make such a big difference.

Michael A. Taylor, Chair of the United States Elite Coaches Association, put it this way:

"Research strongly suggests that parents play the largest role in influencing the development and healthy socialization of their children involved in sports. ... What is the difference between the children who reach the stage where their talent blooms forth and those who don’t? These children experienced something from their parents that seemed to make a huge difference.

"The research is very clear – what a parent says and does have a tremendous influence on their child. The more you as a parent support your children, the more your children will reach the highest level of talent development possible for them."

You look at almost any successful sportsperson and it’s nearly always a parent (or parent figure) who set that athlete on the path to success. Pele – father; Japan women’s team captain Aya Miyama – father; golfing great Tiger Woods – father; Japanese golf star Ryo Ishikawa – father; five-time tennis major winner Martina Hingis – mother; England soccer player Frank Lampard – father; former Italian captain Paolo Maldini – father; tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams – father; Japanese baseball legend Ichiro Suzuki – father.

Coaches are relevant at some stage, but the driving force behind all the above athletes and many, many more were parents.

Coaches invariably are not the driving force behind the acquisition of technical skills. So, outsourcing your kid’s desire to make it as a soccer player – or even just to get better as a soccer player – is not necessarily the best way to go.

(Excerpted from the book "Tom Byer's Soccer Starts at Home" by Tom Byer & Fred Varcoe. Byer, who has spent more than 20 years of running youth soccer programs in Japan, was appointed the Head Technical Advisor by the Chinese Football Association in 2012, is launching a U.S. Soccer-supported “Soccer Starts at Home” program in Seattle, and was recently featured in an episode of HBO's “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.” Read Soccer America's interview with Byer, "Look to parents, not coaches, to create skillful players," HERE.)

5 comments about "Let your kids play soccer in the house -- with small balls".
  1. Lance Eber, December 13, 2017 at 2:11 p.m.

    I have been coaching for 20+ years from u8s up to u23s.  When fellow employees at work want to talk soccer to me and how their 3 or 4 or 5 year old can get better, FOR YEARS, I've been telling them this same thing... go buy a size 1 or mini ball and let them dribble around the house with the one rule being "if it ever leaves the floor, mom and dad get to keep the ball for 1 week".  My own children will allowed to dribble around the house 24/7 with their skills/mini ball as long as it never left the floor.  15+ years even through their teen years and not a single broken item in the house.  I'm just glad that I'm not the only one with this idea on how to build confidence and mastery in ball control with our little soccer lovers.  One of my travel teams used to host a fundraiser soccer camp each year for u8 and u10 girls and we'd give out skills/mini balls.  It's a great idea!!

  2. Ernesto Diaz replied, December 13, 2017 at 10:55 p.m.

    The problem is that parents don't understand this, they want the quickest path with the least resistance, well here is the problem, soccer player development takes a long time and it's a process not an event. You can pay Pep Guardiola to do a summer camp for your kid, unless he's going to live with you 24/7 until your kid is 22 years old, it won't do much help. 
    The parents who understand behavior modification and nurturing and how the environment impacts development of any skills will get the farthest. 

    You see player development in other countries is organic. It happens without artificial camps, clinics, clubs, etc. the player is born with great DNA, then his environment nurtured his development, this is through playing at home with friends and family, on the streets, and anywhere else he gets a chance. By the time the kid is 10-11 years old, they've played so much soccer that they are almost experts at handling the ball, it is then that these great clubs bring them into their system to "develop" them, that's total BS because the environment had already Developed the player. This was all organic and totally random because of the environment the kid is in, which in South America and Europe it's all about soccer. 

    You ever wonder why Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Man U have to buy players?? Because they CANT produce them!!!! They would rather pay $150 million dollars for a developed player who grew up playing on the street! 

    So so I think what Tom is saying is to create that environment for your kids, give them a ball, different sizes, colors, give them friends, a space, let them play for fun, let them watch soccer games, create that environment. 

    Check out out my podcast on iTunes I talk a lot about this. Youth Soccer Evolution Podcast. 
    Good luck everyone 

  3. Kevin Sims, December 14, 2017 at 8:26 a.m.

    Throughout the 1960's & 1970's, my younger brother & I played 1 v 1 throughout the house. We did this as quite young boys. We did this as college players. We made up different games & different rules. We moved furniture. We broke stuff. We got in trouble often. We would not be stopped. If we could play while mom & dad were out & return the environment to look normal, that was a W. We played with tennis balls, miniature plastic balls we obtained, balled up socks, tied up t-shirts, ping pong balls ... anything. Goals were scored by hitting various targets ... shoes, chair legs, panels on the wall ... whatever. LOVED EVERY MINUTE OF IT. I once did this at a friend's house in 6th grade. We broke a vase ... into a bunch of pieces ... turns out it was a gift in that family received from FDR & was from China. I was never invited back to that house. Go figure. 

  4. Nick Daverese, December 15, 2017 at 11:32 p.m.

    When my kid was learning the game he would play with a number 4 ball in the house. His mother would get mad but after a while he could dribble at full speed without the ball hitting the furniture. He is 48 now. Out side my first house was a two family attached house. The garages for both houses was close to each other on the side walk level both had glass windows. My son must have broke those windows at least thirty times. Every time it happen I had the glass repairman over to fix them. My neighbor and I never got along so he would complain to me about it. I would say what are you worried about your getting new windows.

  5. mario ochoa, December 21, 2017 at 1:28 a.m.

    in the house is where you start to get the ablility and start to get you dream to make you soccer player

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