This manual details an age-appropriate, curricular approach to coaching under-6 (U6) soccer at the Urbana Soccer Association (USA). As far as we know, the USA is the first recreational soccer organization in the area to adopt and document such a curriculum. We hope that by adopting a standard curriculum across the entire U6 age group, a high and consistent level of coaching can be made available to all players in the age group. This should allow all of our players to progress at an exciting and rapid rate.
It should be noted that this curriculum is only a foundation to what each USA U6 group will be taught. The goal is not to stifle the individual creativity of our coaches, but, instead, to build a base from which coaches can use their own individuality and imagination to encourage the highest-level soccer possible. With that in mind, this manual must be a living and breathing document that employs the best and most successful training techniques of all coaches. This manual can not just be a stick used to draw a single line in the sand. It must be both stick and eraser. First, a stick used to draw a line. Then, an eraser used to erase the line so that we can redraw it further along, as better, more advanced coaching methodologies become evident.
What is a U6?
A U6 is a soccer player who will turn six after the age-group cutoff date of July 31. Remember that this July 31 cutoff pertains to the Fall and the following Spring season. USA requires all U6s to be four-years old by the date of the seasons first training session. In the past, we allowed some three-year olds into the U6 age group, but we found that they were just too young for organized soccer training.
The U6 age group is an incredibly mixed bag. Developmentally, players with the same chronological age may be as much as three years apart. Socially, some of the players have not even been introduced to the concept of school so being part of a group learning environment is something totally alien, and perhaps, even frightening. Soccer-wise, many of the players will have never kicked a soccer ball.
It is important to remember that very few players in this age group begged to be signed up for organized soccer almost all U6s are at the soccer field because they were signed up by their parents. Very few U6s are even remotely interested in mastering the complications of soccer. Because of this, getting a U6 to a training session can be a very fragile house of cards. Fun and activity are the trump cards in the deck. To a U6, life, and thus, soccer is a continuous loop of shampoo bottle instructions:
1. Play fun game at high speed
It is hoped that every coach will be able to implement this curriculum in such a child-focused manner so that training sessions are always played at U6 speed. This frenetic, herky-jerky pace will make coaching the fine points of the curriculum difficult. In the end, you may not have a soccer player who can do a Zico with 100% technical precision. Nevertheless, you may have a soccer player who runs with glee from the minivan to your training session with a smile on his/her face.
U6 Psychomotor (Movement) Development
Following are some important aspects of the psychomotor (movement) development level of a U6 player:
· Progress in motor development starts with the head and moves downward to the feet and from the center of the body outward.
· Players are easily fatigued, but recover rapidly.
· Body segments grow at different rates and center of gravity might be high. Both factors lead to a lack of balance.
· Players develop self-concept, body awareness and self-image through movement.
· Differences between boys and girls are marginal.
U6 Cognitive (Mental) Development
Following are some important aspects of the cognitive (mental memorization, creativity, problem solving, etc.) development level of a U6 player:
· Players are very literal.
· Play consists of a high degree of imagination-based and pretend activities.
· Players are only capable of understanding simple rules and instructions.
· Players can only focus on a single task at a time.
· Players have an undeveloped and immature understanding of space (e.g., understanding the concept of out-of-bounds) and time. For most U6s, space consists of only the immediate space in which they are currently residing.
U6 Psychosocial (Relationship) Development
Following are some important aspects of the psychosocial (relationship) development level of a U6 player:
· Players are egocentric me/my/mine. A 3v3 game is perceived as a game of 1v5. The player with the ball will try to keep the ball away from opponents and teammates alike. Most U6 players are unable to comprehend the concept of team.
· Players need generous amounts of praise. The need for positive reinforcement can not be overemphasized!
· Players will NOT respond well to pressure from coaches and parents.
· Effort equals ability. If a player tries hard and ends the session sweaty and dirty, he/she will think he/she played well (and they are right!).
· Groups play is, in reality, parallel play.
The curriculum depends on coaches and players having the correct equipment for every training session. Having the proper equipment ensures that each game can be played in an efficient, understandable, consistent and safe manner.
Players need the following equipment for every training session:
· Properly inflated size 3 soccer ball
· Shin guards
· Soccer socks (or any socks that completely cover the shin guards)
Players should not have any of the following:
· Chewing gum
· Jewelry of any kind including earrings, watches, etc.
· Metal hair pieces or any hair piece with sharp or exposed edges
· Other clothing accessories that could cause injury to the player or his/her teammates
Players should be properly attired to play soccer at every training session - jersey (or t-shirt) and shorts (sweatshirts and sweatpants when it is cold). Players shouldn't come to practice wearing school clothes, jeans, long pants, dresses, etc.
Since all U6 training sessions are group training sessions, individual coaches do not have to bring specific soccer training equipment to the session. However, the following equipment needs to be available to all coaches:
· Extra size 3 soccer balls (for players who forget their own ball)
· Disc cones
· Agility equipment hoops, hurdles, rings, etc.
· Corner flags
· First aid kit
· 3v3 goals
· Session plan for this session
A quick note on soccer balls - try to get the players to bring a ball to each training session. You can never have too many soccer balls at a training session. Plus, this makes certain that each player has a soccer ball to use to practice with at home.