Developmentally Appropriate Soccer Activities for Elementary School Children: Youth Soccer Offers Insights for Teaching Elementary School Children

Article excerpt

The sport of soccer has seen significant growth across multiple levels for the past two decades. Nowhere has this growth been more dramatic than at the youth level. It is estimated that well over 20 million children have some involvement with the game each year. As a result of this growth in community youth soccer, elementary school students are bringing more soccer-related experiences to physical education classes. This article examines a series of youth sport perspectives and how they can be applied to physical education programs in elementary schools.


The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) Coaching Schools have been in existence since the early 1970s. These schools brought a structure and progression to teaching and coaching soccer. The terms "fundamental," "match related," and "match conditions"--as well as individual, group, and team tactics--are firmly embedded in our soccer culture. This was a good start, and the approach continues to serve our country very well. However, according to J. Lennox, former USSF director of coaching (personal communication, February 21, 2004), the Coaching School curriculum was never intended to be applied to children under the age of 13. Children at ages 13 and younger go through various developmental stages and learn much differently than those age 14 and older. For example, elementary school children, particularly in the primary grades, are still developing fundamental motor skills, and much of their capacity to attend to a task is centered on controlling the ball. Thus, the introduction of tactical concepts such as wall-passing or three-player combinations goes beyond a child's current knowledge base.

Traditionally, physical educators and coaches used what Werner, Thorpe, and Bunker (1996) termed the "technical model," in which they taught an isolated skill, such as various passing techniques, followed by some type of game. This approach for a team sport lacks application and transference to the actual game. Young players spent years on juggling, and their technique improved, but they did not necessarily play the game better. Teachers and coaches often overlooked the fact that cognitive development, particularly decision making and problem solving, were skills that needed to be developed as well (Hubball & Robertson, 2004; Quinn, 1997). The technical model has given way to the tactical model or teaching games for understanding (TGFU), where tactics are gradually learned through an understanding of time and space (Bunker & Thorp, 1982; Werner et al.). As Werner et al. noted:

  ... the technical model of teaching games consistently revealed: (a) a
  large percentage of children achieving little success due to the
  emphasis on performance, (b) skillful players who possess inflexible
  techniques and poor decision-making capacities, (c) performers who are
  dependent on the teacher/coach to make their decisions, and (d) a
  majority of youngsters who leave school knowing little about games.
  (pp. 28-29)

Rink (1998) encouraged competitive situations that employ the execution of tactics


  that must occur very quickly in relatively crowded situations. The
  emphasis in competitive games is on when and how to use the skills, no
  longer on simply how to do the skills. (p. 24)

Players get to see the relationship between skill development and game play when the focus is on tactics rather than on learning the skill (Belka, 2004). Interestingly enough, the TGFU approach coincided with the introduction of a child-centered approach to soccer, presented in the US Youth Soccer National Youth License (Quinn & Carr, 1998) developed by Fleck, Quinn, Carr, Stringfield, and Buren (2002). Thus the motto, "Game in the Child versus Child in the Game" (Quinn, 1988; Quinn & Carr, 1998), was adopted and is now part of the mission statement of the US Youth Soccer's National Youth Coaching License. …