This essay is taken from the UC Premier Level 1 curriculum course.
There is a wide range of abilities within the U6 age group – physical, athletic, emotional, maturity, intellectual. Combined with the relative age effect (RAE), this can create a challenge for the coach when trying to determine whether a practice is “successful”. This topic provides some thoughts on what success might look like for U6.
Players should be having fun when learning.
In many cases, the learning can be soccer-specific. For U6, this will involve developing the player’s relationship with the ball – “ball mastery”. Being able to control the ball with different foot surfaces, run with the ball, change direction, pass the ball, receive, and shoot the ball are all desirable outcomes during the U6 experience. Some players may develop mastery across all of the tasks and some will have mastery of some tasks. Some players may still be getting comfortable in their relationship with their body and the environment – for example being able to run, turn, jump, and so on. These basic motor skills (and others) will undergo development and refinement for several years and will be a strong influence on how successful the player is with the ball.
The ability of players to stay task-focused – following directions, demonstrating proper social skills, being able to chain tasks and actions together – is an important learning experience that will support the players’ development in soccer, sports, and life. As coaches, we should not underestimate or put lesser importance on developing these skills.
Finally, the use and development of imagination is a key part of the U6 experience. Our players bring a sense of wonderment and newness – as coaches, we can take advantage of this in the development of practice activities (for example, a haunted house game with ghosts chasing a ball). We also want to encourage imagination in our players within the game (for example, if a ghost is in front of me, where can I go to get away).
U6 practices can feel like controlled chaos – trying to overdirect or treat the players as mini-adults will probably not work. Keeping the players active and on a common theme, recognizing each will stay on track to their ability, is a positive strategy. Providing age- and ability-appropriate challenges is an objective.
For the U6 age group, the player-to ball ratio should be low – ideally 1-1 for most activities.
If your players learned something, and had fun doing it, then you should feel that the practice was a success – even if not everything went strictly according to plan.