I’m going to say something that may make some folks a bit upset. Kids don’t move as well as they used to. I’m sure some of you might agree completely with that statement. After all, the way kids spend their time today is very different than how kids spent their time when I was growing up. Things have changed drastically even over the last decade. Activities now seem to involve more sitting and less moving. Less time is spent in unstructured or low structured play environments and more time is spent in very structured sport-specific programs. And for any type of play to happen — formal or informal — adults need to be present. If an adult can’t be present then play doesn’t seem to happen any more. It’s not like it used to be. You won’t find too many kids out on their own playing together without an adult near by.
Whatever the reasons, I see limitations in how well kids can move their bodies today when I work with them on the soccer field or in the gyms. And it’s not just our youngest kids. I worry a great deal when provincial level soccer players can’t do a somersault nearly as well as their almost 50-year-old coach can. While these players have made it to that level because of their soccer skills — a very specific set of physical skills — they still show an overall lack of athleticism. Sure, they are more athletic than most but they aren’t as athletic as they could or should be. And that will impact them as they go forward. They’ll reach a ceiling in their soccer abilities because of their limited athleticism.
Who cares how good we move? Most kids aren’t going to go on to play provincial level sport. While that is a fair point, I do hope we expect as many kids as possible to stay active for as long into their lives as possible. Whether that is playing sports or engaging in other recreational activities. If I can move better, I can play better. If I can play better, I can enjoy myself more. If I enjoy myself more, I most likely will play longer.
You can call this ability to move well athleticism or coordination. Today, it most commonly gets referred to as physical literacy. Just like there are building blocks like learning your numbers (numeracy) or your letters (literacy) in order to be able to do more higher order math or reading/writing tasks, there are physical building blocks that we all need to develop in order to do more complicated things like learn the skills of a sport. And we need to develop these building blocks for more than just sport and recreation. Physical literacy is all encompassing. You need to be physically literate to step off the curb or leap over a puddle in the street. You need to be physically literate to successfully navigate an Island sidewalk in the wintertime (if you even dare go out on one). Young or old, sporty or not, we all need to be physically literate.
I’ll give you an example of why physical literacy is so important. Here’s a video of a basic soccer move to beat an opponent on the dribble called the fake-take. A friend and former colleague of mine from Ottawa, Sanjeev Parmar, is performing/coaching it.
But if you take the ball away then what you have is what you see in this video, what those of us in the physical education world call ‘the dodge’.
You see, this is something I was actually taught as a pre-service physical education teacher. That is, that there are technical coaching points to learn in order to maximize your ability to dodge or evade someone else. I’m sure you’re saying, “Who knew!”
The fake-take works because of the player’s ability to dodge while keeping close control of the soccer ball. The fake (or dodge) sends the opponent in the wrong direction, unbalancing them and making it difficult for them to tackle the ball. If the player on the ball can’t even do a basic dodge well then they can’t do a fake-take. And how do we get good at dodging? Very simple. Play tag. Tag games are full of dodging opportunities. But while tag is fun, some people may not see the value in doing tag in a soccer program because tag doesn’t look like soccer. It’s just a fun distraction that coaches do before getting on to the serious soccer stuff.
And that’s my point. The exercises it takes to help make kids physically literate don’t necessarily look like soccer, or basketball or hockey or tennis or whatever. This is what I really want to help folks with young children understand — it isn’t just about developing soccer skills when you sign up to play soccer.
So what exactly does that mean for soccer programming at Eliot River? All age levels should be working on physical literacy. At the older age levels physical literacy programming is not only functional, it’s also a lot of fun. It’s a nice change of pace from typical soccer training. However, it’s most important and most prominent at the grassroots level (players 9 and younger). That’s where it makes the most sense because in school these kids are getting their educational building blocks too (i.e., literacy, numeracy).
What it means is that a soccer program for kids that age might not always look or feel like regular soccer. They will involve a lot of fundamental movement skills some of which will be soccer related but many that aren’t.
I’m a parent of two grassroots aged players and both my wife and I expect to see the sports programs we put our kids into focusing on generic movement abilities along side some sport specific content. We don’t expect to only see them doing hockey or golf in their hockey or golf programs. We understand that part of their development is to work on many generic movements first. There are so many movements to work on that we cannot expect to put our kids in all the various programs necessary to train those movements. There aren’t enough days in the week or hours in the day. So what we need to see is that the programs we register our kids for provide a variety of movements. Ideally, their programs train them in specific movements but they also do many that are actually part of other sports. This way we know our kids are developing the foundational skills necessary to learn, and master, the specific skills of whatever sports they play as they get older.
Soccer is a sport that relies heavily on teamwork. Learning how to share the ball with teammates is key. However, it’s hard to share the ball with teammates if you can’t control the ball yourself. More importantly, it’s hard to control the ball if you can’t even properly control your body.
Body control. Ball Control. Team control. That’s the way development works and as the Technical Director for the Club, it’s my job to make sure our players (through our coaches) are getting the body control they need to do the other two successfully on the soccer field.