The Reason Kids Quit
Read any youth coaching manual or information packet on youth sports. Right away they will tell you the number one reason kids quit soccer is that it "wasn't fun anymore." I believe this to be true, but I believe that the basic cause of this reason is misunderstood and often misstated.
I have seen many youth players play the game of soccer for years. They play spring and fall and go the normal route most do. They are coached by good coaches but often their bag of tools (technical skills) is not filled properly. Many players will only learn one to three new skills per season--simply not enough. Many will never revisit older skills and work repetitively to improve them. As they get older the skills are put aside and tactical training is the primary focus.
What happens to many of these kids is that the game, which was once easy and fun, now becomes more difficult. They are often criticized by fellow players, coaches and parents when they can't perform the skills needed to help the team win. I have watched player after player, especially in recreational leagues, win game after game, championship after championship, only to end up being a poor to moderate player. The game has become too difficult, their skills were not refined, and their "bag of tools" was very limited.
On the other hand, I have seen young players that don't have a single trophy in their room, but have the most incredible touch and skill for their age. They are the product of good foundation training.
What Should Be Our Focus?
The "tool bag" will go everywhere that the player goes for the rest of their life. Add as many tools as you can. They will play for many different coaches and learn many different and ever-changing "tactical" aspects. They will at some point take a few months off and get "out of shape." Both of these things can be fixed or changed quickly. However the technical skills that are now instinctive to them take years and years to develop. They are long term and must be developed early.
We must help players grow and provide a path that leads to improvement, creativity and learning.
Playing the game is very important and whenever possible, kids should participate in semi-organized pickup matches. They have a tendency not to focus on "I can't make a mistake or fail" but rather "can I try this and make it work?" Often they fail, everyone laughs and the game goes on. In a real match they would be criticized for trying and failing.
Watching the game is also important. In Europe many kids will watch 3-5 professional matches a week. In the U.S., many kids might watch one per year. I think watching the game at its highest level is critical for learning. It's amazing when a 10-year old shouts "good idea!" at the TV, even though the pass was not received well by the striker.
The Tool Bag is Portable
Make sure you don't focus on the "here and now." Don't worry about results but rather the strengths and weaknesses. The "tool bag" of raw technical skills can be taken anywhere the child goes. Through their soccer career they will play on many teams and with many coaches. They will change positions and be required to perform all the skills a soccer player must have.
Keep filling the bag, enjoy the game and let time take its natural course.
Coach V is the founder and developer of the Blast The Ball soccer training system and the SoccerU training series. He currently works with all levels of players including youth, collegiate and professionals.