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The Parent-Trainer’s Five Keys to Ball Mastery

As a parent, I have come a long way in my soccer journey. I never played or watched the game growing up – only to fall in love with it as an adult.  My previous lack of knowledge is the inspiration behind this post.  I want to provide information that helps fellow parent-trainers raise the best players possible while preserving a positive parent-trainer relationship. Regardless of where you start, I believe,

With a little discipline, every parent can help their child become a great soccer player.

To that end, I will continue to share many of the best ideas that I gathered through a lot of research and even more trial and error.  In this post, I summarize five key tips that have taken my sons’ game to the next level.  But first, what do I mean by the next level? There are so many factors that make a great soccer player.  However, during the foundation phase (U7 to U12), all coaches agree that technical ability is by far the most important.  That is why I have decided to focus almost exclusively on improving the ball mastery skills of my sons.  My goal is to help my sons reach their full potential on and off the pitch. Here are my top five:

Do a 15 to a 20-minute training session before practice.

Assuming a ten-month season, a 15 to 20-minute individual session before practice equates to 30 to 40 hours a year of extra training. With relatively little effort, your child will become much stronger on the ball.  This is also the perfect chance to work on juggling, aerial control, and other skills that are rarely covered during team training.  Mentally, your child is already prepared to practice – so an extra 15 minutes shouldn’t be a problem.  If it is, it may be better to learn that now than later.

Sounds great, but I don’t know anything about soccer? With modern technology, this is no longer an excuse.  For many years, I simply played a video, like the one below for my son to follow along.  In less than ten minutes, he received more touches than he would likely get the entire practice.  Additionally, he arrived ready to roll. Best of all, your child can do the entire session without you having to speak.

Now, I do one or two of the Triangle Soccer homework blocks, because they offer more variety and are even faster to complete than the average video.

Do a 15 to a 20-minute training session after most practices.

During the warmer months, we add another 15 to 20 minutes after practice.  This bumps the extra training time to nearly 100 hours per season. The cumulative effect of the extra ball mastery hours means that my sons’ technical ability grows exponentially compared to other players their age.  Their rapid growth in skill level is so visible from season to season that the parents of their teammates are left in shock and often ask what I have been doing. Mind you, we are able to finish the extra work before they even make it to the car.

Do a 15 to a 20-minute training session before each game.

By now, you should see the pattern. Bolt-on a mini technical session before each team activity which ensures your child seamlessly gets hours and hours more touches than the rest of the team. Besides being fun, games obviously have developmental benefits.  In terms of ball mastery, however, games are extremely inefficient.

During the typical game, your child is lucky to touch the ball a combined two minutes. Even with the most liberal estimate – your child will see the ball maybe five minutes. During our short training sessions, my sons will get more touches than the rest of the players combined. Long-term the cumulative effect is insurmountable.  It doesn’t matter how long my sons play, where they play on the pitch or how much they touch the ball – no one can take away the 1,000 touches they got before they arrived.

Do a 15 to a 20-minute training session before school.

Two days per week, my sons do a little bit of ball work before school. I learned this tip while listening to academy directors of European youth academies.  Top academies have relationships with the schools which allow their players to receive extra training on certain days in the mornings.  I hear all the excuses as to why this can’t happen for your child.  Those excuses are likely in the same category as to why you can’t go to the gym in the morning as well. Some are legitimate; most are not.  I can attest to the fact that the additional nearly 100 hours of individual ball work has translated to dramatic improvement for my sons.  The key is being consistent, keeping the routines simple and eliminating the need for verbal instructions.  I accomplish this by following a Triangle Soccer homework block and/or utilizing a YouTube video like the one above.

Do an individual training session with your child once per week.

Deliberate individual practice is essential in order to achieve ball mastery. Sessions don’t need to be long, but they do need to be consistent.  If organized properly, 25 to 45 minutes is more than enough time to cover multiple areas.  I encourage you to check out the Triangle Soccer Facebook group and homework blocks to learn how to structure an effective training session in a short period of time.

What about rest days? My sons typically train four to five days per week with two days of absolute rest. I also incorporate planned rest periods and of course, there is the offseason.  But let’s be absolutely clear; no child enjoys practicing basic soccer moves thousands of times – no more than they would enjoy practicing their scales in music or any other skill that requires a lot of practice.  This is a fact, and you are not a bad parent for ensuring that they remain consistent.

The number system. But how do you know when they are truly tired on a particular day? I took a page from the pain numbering scale used by pediatricians.

  1. 1. Means Dad I am ready to go.
  2. 2. Means Dad, I don’t feel like it – but I know I have to work hard to get better.
  3. 3. Means Not today, but some other time this week.
  4. 4. Means No.

The number system gives us a vernacular of communication free from any misinterpretation.  It also empowers my [older] son to take ownership of his own training and body – not feeling pressured or guilty when he is truly tired.  Finally, it lets me know that he is not just saying no out of pure instinct. Every parent in the world knows that if they always accepted no without question – every day would be spent eating ice cream and in front of the latest electronics.

It all sounds like a lot? Is it easy? No, but it’s well accepted that if you want to be elite at something you must work hard.  The challenge for the parent-trainer is ensuring their child receives the extra thousands and thousands of touches without burning them out.  My best advice is to established clear routines, keep the sessions short and use idle time wisely.  Bolting on short individual training sessions to team activities has allowed my sons to get thousands and thousands of extra touches without even thinking about it.  Finally, don’t talk about it too much. Children are not motivated in the same way as adults.  Talking about the benefits of their hard work can eventually cause mental fatigue which can be greater than physical fatigue.  The results are self-evident on the pitch.

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