By Tim Bradbury
Director of Coaching, Eastern New York Youth Soccer

So many cliched phrases are thrown around soccer and used so frequently that they often lose their meaning. “For the love of the game” is perhaps the most well-known.

Although I might be qualified to discuss “Love of the game” through many different lenses, due to amount of games and level I was lucky enough to play at, or even from a fan perspective as I travelled around the UK on trains created specifically for soccer fans (called Specials) for quite a number of years as a kid, I want to focus in this on a very specific “Love of the game.”

The “Love of the game” I want to discuss is the love that is created at a very early age when a well-educated and dedicated coach gets to work with a group of 5-, 6- or 7-year-olds. This is really the age group that should get the best coaches in any club. It is also the age group where most parent initiatives and soccer learning should take place.

The characteristics and knowledge needed to create the special environment where a “Love of the game” can be forged are noted below.

Key Knowledge

• Cognitive development

• Social development

• Physical development

• Cultural influences. Yes, a 7 year old in Barcelona will have different skill sets than one in New York

• Dr. Amanda Visek Fun Integration Theory

• Some soccer content: Dribbling, short passing and first touch is enough.

How kids learn

With the above knowledge and the key characteristics noted below, a coach can create a soccer environment that can cause a deep love for the game that ensures a players first step in the game are solid ones that go on and on.

Key characteristics

• Energetic

• Animated

• Caring

• Capable of being childlike, not childish

• Storyteller

• Body language guru

• Teacher attributes. Concise, short ideas presented in little time to get kids active all the time.

What is oddly American and tragically true in youth soccer is that there is a belief that the young ones do not need a real coach and anyone who can set up a game and can coach these young players. Nothing could be less true and for any club presidents or directors of coaching that read this, I urge you to consider how much energy and time you invest in this key age group. After all, whose job is it to ensure we can provide environments and coaches who inspire a “Love of the game?”