How We Organize Soccer for U5, U7 and U9
This year, we’ve changed the name of our U5, U7 and U9 program to Grassroots from the previous term, Mini’s. You’ll see the title grassroots being used more and more across Canada and the world. This is us just trying to stay current and relevant!
Covid-19 forced all soccer organizations including our own to re-think and re-design how we safely deliver a program. However, there are still some things about what we’re doing at the grassroots level that you would have seen even if we hadn’t fallen into this pandemic.
Within the first few years that I started running soccer programs for grassroots age players, I realized very quickly that for some players even the basics of soccer were still too advanced for them.
But what do you teach kids if the basics aren’t basic enough?
In school, what do kids learn before they learn how to read? Or what do they learn before they learn how to add or subtract? That’s simple; they learn their letters and their numbers. We refer to those educational concepts as literacy and numeracy respectively. Sport really isn’t any different.
How can we expect a young child to control a soccer ball (or a hockey stick, or a tennis racket, etc.) before they first learn how to control their body?
Just like there are fundamental building blocks like letters and numbers in education, movements are the fundamental building blocks in sport and recreational activities. So besides developing a young child’s literacy and numeracy skills, we also need to develop the child’s physical literacy.
Physical literacy is having the ability to move confidently and competently in a variety of different settings. And it doesn’t have to be just sport-related. To navigate a PEI sidewalk in the wintertime I need plenty of physical literacy! Any kind of movement that I need to do with confidence and competence is physical literacy. And if we don’t practice those basic movements early on enough or in large enough amounts, then we often end up as older folks who are not good at sport and/or don’t enjoy doing that sort of thing. It’s not hard to imagine then that some kids could drop out of a sport or sports because of a perceived lack of ability. Certainly our club, like many other soccer (and sport) clubs, sees a significant decrease in participation as the players get older.
So a major focus of our programming with our grassroots players is physical literacy development. We want them to be good movers so that they can go on to learn how to be good soccer players. To teach them soccer skills before they have the basic movements would be like teaching them to add or write sentences before they could count or recite their ABC’s.
Folks if you want a good initial starting sport experience for your youngster, then it should focus on physical literacy development. What does physical literacy development look like? It’s basically physical education. It often looks like play and involves doing movements and activities that may make you say, “That doesn’t look like soccer” or whatever the sport is that you’ve registered your child in. But it doesn’t have to look sport specific. In fact, it probably shouldn’t look sport specific at the earliest ages. Most kids under the age of 6 aren’t ready for real soccer. They haven’t even learned how to tie their shoes yet. So when I first started offering this type of programming fifteen years ago to pre-school, kindergarten and primary aged children, I called it physical education with a soccer slant. It was mostly training children how to be coordinated and athletic but it also had some elements of the soccer basics (i.e., dribbling, passing, shooting, ball control) built in.
And so if you’re in our current Grassroots programming or you come out to see our grassroots programming, you’ll see kids working on their balance. You’ll see them working on their strength. You’ll see them working on their coordination. And you’ll see a little bit that actually looks like real soccer. But even what looks like real soccer you’ll see that most of those youngsters have a hard time doing. For that reason, we’ll start our programming with things that are even more basic than the basic soccer skills.
This is why the Club is putting physical literacy development ahead of soccer-specific development at the grassroots level. Here’s a great graphic from a Canadian Sport for Life resource on physical literacy I downloaded a few years ago.