You just signed up your child for his first season of soccer! Congratulations, your little guy (or girl) is going to have a blast. And you are too. There’s nothing quite as entertaining as watching a four year-old go bananas after scoring his first goal, especially when that goal was kicked through the wrong set of goalposts.
Now that you’re channeling your inner soccer mom, I’ll bet you’re wondering, “What does my child need for soccer?” I base this assumption on the extensive parenting research I’ve conducted, by which I mean I typed “What does my child need” into Google and found that the second most popular autocomplete option was “for soccer.”
When I discovered that apparently quite a few moms are wondering what they need for their child’s soccer season, I knew I needed to provide answers to this critical question. After all, I did just coach my son’s soccer team, “The Grey Sharks,” to an undefeated season in our city league’s highly competitive ages 4 and 5 division. Now, before you marvel too much at my pristine coaching résumé, I should tell you that we also didn’t win a game all season. See, we don’t really keep score in the ages 4 and 5 division. Sometimes, I wouldn’t even call what we were doing “soccer.”
Whether you choose to call it soccer or “semi-controlled chaos,” I did learn a lot coaching the Sharks this season. For example, while running a passing drill in practice, I learned that my son is less than impressed with his dad’s soccer skills. After several players in a row failed to corral my passes, my son pulled one of his friends aside and explained, “My dad’s not very good at soccer, so you’ll have to run after the ball if you want to get it.”
Amidst the plethora of educational experiences I had as a coach, I picked up a thing or two about what a kid needs to play soccer. But before I share the list of things they need, I first want to touch on a few things they won’t need and some things they’ll sometimes need.
What Your Kid Definitely Does Not Need For Soccer
1 – Specific Soccer Talent
For most of the Sharks, the ability to play soccer was not exactly a strong suit. Even relatively simple concepts like, “Don’t steal the ball from your teammates” and “Don’t kick the ball out of bounds every time it comes your way” were often beyond their grasp. But that didn’t matter. We still had a blast together.
2 – General Athletic Ability
Don’t worry if your little guy is not the fastest or most coordinated kid out there. My kid runs into doorways, tables, shoe racks, chairs, desks, etc. all the time. And he did fine this year. Yours will too, no matter his athletic abilities.
3 – Awareness of Which Goal to Score On
A major weakness in the Shark’s offensive attack this season was that about a third of our team couldn’t remember which goal they were supposed to kick the ball into. But that was okay, we celebrated every goal with vigor and vim, no matter which team our players scored for.
4 – Awareness That He’s Playing Soccer
Another significant flaw in our team’s attack was that some of our players weren’t the best at remembering that we were there to play soccer. Every game, at least one or two of them would suddenly stop playing and start wandering aimlessly around the field.
At first, I tried verbally nudging them back into the game. Eventually I abandoned this pursuit because it never worked anyway. Once they checked out, they were gone, and nothing I could think of was going to bring them back.
What Your Kid Sometimes Needs for Soccer
1 – A Soccer Ball
I decided to label this seemingly critical item as “sometimes needs” because the most common question I got from our players after running a drill was, “Can we do that again, but without a soccer ball this time?” As a result, approximately half of each practice was spent running around without a soccer ball. So, yes, buy your kid a soccer ball. Just be aware that he may only use it about half the time.
2 – Cleats
The welcome letter we received when we signed Junior up for soccer insisted that he needed cleats. I guess when you compete at the highest levels of your sport, you need the right equipment, even if you are only four. So, we got cleats. But he only wore them to half his games. The other half, he couldn’t find them and he wore tennis shoes instead (shoes have a tendency to magically disappear in our house). Thus, cleats end up on my “sometimes need” list.
3 – Shin Guards
Same story as the cleats.
4 – Soccer Socks
Ditto the cleats and shin guards.
What Your Kid Does Need for Soccer
1 – The Ability to Come Up With a Devastating Team Name
Deciding on a team name is a fundamental team building activity for kids in the ages 4 and 5 division. Last year, it took a long, drawn-out, heated team debate (which mainly involved a lot of giggling and poking fun at Coach Will) before we settled on “The Grey Sharks.” Other candidates were “The Grey Dolphins,” “The Grey Octopus,” and “The Grey Airplanes.” In case you couldn’t guess, our jerseys were grey.
2 – A Water Bottle
The Sharks LOVED water breaks. During a typical practice, players asked for water breaks about once every two minutes. While I never did discover what powerful, mystical force was pulling them toward their sidelined water bottles, it was clear that the Sharks strongly preferred water breaks over actually playing soccer.
3 – An Ice Chest
At some point in the season, you will be providing post-game treats and nothing beats an ice-cold Capri Sun after a long afternoon in the heat.
4 – The Desire to Have Fun
In all seriousness, soccer at this age should be all about having fun. That’s why the Sharks and I did a cheer every game where I’d yell out, “What’s the most important part of soccer?” They’d scream back, “Having fun!”
And we did have fun this season. Lots and lots of fun. We didn’t always play soccer and I’m sure they could have learned more about soccer from another coach. But I also know that when they look back on their time as a Shark, they’ll remember having fun. And to me, that qualifies as a job well done.