Many of the world’s greatest soccer players started working on their skills soon after they learned to walk. Mia Hamm, for example, whose family spent time in Florence in Italy when she was a child, rushed in to interrupt a park practice between a man and his son when she was 2, stealing the ball from the boy. If you want to nurture or create a future star, you too can start early.
Start with a Beach Ball
Demonstrate to your toddler how to kick a beach ball, which is easier to handle than a soccer ball. Ask your toddler to mimic your kicking in a game of copycat as you use simple one-word instructions. Repeat, for example, “kick, kick, kick, kick, kick,” suggests Shereen Brewster, master instructor for Soccer Tots and author of the toddler curriculum for the franchised national soccer training program. Continue the game of copycat by throwing the ball forward or up repeatedly. Reward the child with exuberant praise such as “Good job!” or “Yay!” “All kids love to kick a ball, throw a ball or kick over cones -- anything that keeps them moving," Brewster says.
Graduate to Swimming Noodles
Set up kid-friendly props such as swimming noodles to play games such as “snakes in the forest,” which requires your toddler to jump over the noodle. Work on teaching your toddler elements of motor skills development and hand-eye coordination rather than the full game of soccer. Your goal is to begin to teach running, kicking and jumping, setting the stage for dribbling, punting and heading as your toddler gets older.
Add the element of performing a skill while dealing with an opponent, found in real games of soccer by the time the child joins a team for 5- or 6-year-olds. Pretend to be the “tickle gorilla” or “tickle dinosaur,” chasing the toddler while she kicks or throws the ball. Repeat games such as copycat, snakes in the forest and tickle dinosaur daily for six to 10 weeks, so that the toddler learns by repetition. Work in new games or ideas every two to three weeks.
Soccer Tots Classes
You also can have your child learn soccer at an indoor arena or soccer school that teaches preschoolers. Look for instructors that show familiarity with introducing toddlers to the physical skills for soccer and patience in teaching them to follow instructions. Classes typically last around 50 minutes and require the parent to be present or nearby, and accept toddlers as young as 20 months.