Last month, gsport launched ‘Sport for Starters’, a monthly serial feature aimed at getting you started in the sport that we feature, by focusing on a few introductory issues, and other articles which discuss the sport.
This October, gsport’s look at Soccer coincides with the African Women’s Championship, which takes place in Nigeria, starting October 28.
We thought there can be no-one better to approach about getting started in soccer than one of the world’s most qualified female soccer coaches, South Africa’s very own Fran Hilton-Smith.
Hilton-Smith has traveled the world as a FIFA coaching instructor, and has just recently returned from Russia, where she was part of a technical study group analysing play at the FIFA’s Under-20 Women’s World Cup.
She has a great passion for soccer, so its no surprise that she has been involved in the beautiful game for more than 20 years.
Here are her tips for soccer beginners.
Why play soccer?
It’s the world’s most popular sport; its exciting, competitive, and cheap. Being a team sport, it’s also a good way to make friends. Although its very challenging, it’s a good career choice; lots of money if you are good!
It can also improve self confidence; lots of practice can make you a good player, and most importantly it promotes a healthy lifestyle.
How to learn?
There are many ways; parents can teach children, they could join a junior club, play with a ball and learn as they go, watch others and imitate, and play with friends.
A ball is the basic requirement, but it’s important that the ball’s size must be appropriate for the child. For example, small kids can play with a tennis ball, a plastic ball, or size 2 ball.
For a seven-year-old, a size 3 ball is suitable, and kids between 8 and 12 years of age should play with a size 4 ball.
Playing barefoot is best at a young age, as kids get the “feel” of the ball. Importantly, you don’t need much space.
Age to start?
It varies. In some countries, children play from 5 years. I believe the earlier you start, the better. At a young age, its not about competition, but experimentation.
Children should play for fun, and it’s not necessary to worry about positional play before a child is at least 11 years old. Initially this is of no concern, and there should be no set positions.
It’s even possible to play without a goalkeeper. Big goals or many small goals, the more goals scored the better!
As a child grows to play in a team, it becomes easier to find the ones who have a talent for scoring, and those who are better suited to defence.
Taller children will generally make good defenders, and children who practice tricks may find their place in the midfield, or in attacking positions.
It’s important to allow children to discover their strengths on their own. A coach is merely a guide.
If someone hasn’t played sport before, would you recommend soccer?
Yes, because it’s easy to learn. It’s about self-discovery. Also, you don’t need a big area or lots of equipment.
Soccer is a great way to socialise, and you make friends easily in this sport, as you need friends to make up a team.
To find a club nearest to you, contact the South African Football Association on (011) 494 3522.
How fit do you have to be to play soccer?
That depends on age, as children are naturally fit. Fitness only becomes an issue in teen years and when you become a senior play.
Also, it depends on what type of football you are playing; social, or professional.
Advice for beginners?
Use both feet! Have fun! No pressure! No competition! Children must experiment and try and come up with different tricks.
Don’t give them too much coaching at a junior level. Only play 11-a-side when they’re 12 or 13 years old.
Encourage them to juggle the ball with both left and right foot.
Where should beginners go to find out about soccer?
A good place to learn about the basic elements of soccer is the ‘About.com’ website, which features a page on soccer terms and concepts, with links to lots of soccer-related content.