NMSA Guiding Principles for Developing Young Players
The primary focus for our coaches that work with players under the age of 12 is individual player development. Consciously or not we are all guided by certain principles of children’s development, here is a summary of our guiding principles.
Children Learn Through Play. Play is the child's work, perhaps the child's most important way of learning. This learning process occurs even when it may not be obvious when children actively explore their environment and act on their inborn curiosity. Adults can contribute to this natural process by encouraging children's interests and efforts, talking to them about what they are experiencing, and helping them elaborate and extend their play.
Children Benefit from Positive Models. In a natural, almost unconscious, process; children follow the examples set by others, modeling both behavior and the accompanying emotional tone. When children see their coaches being respectful to game officials and opposing coaches they are more likely to imitate that behavior. When they see adults questioning and berating game officials, they are just as likely to imitate those behaviors.
Children Are Good Observers. Children learn from actively investigating the world around them. The coach with the child should take time to stop, really look at what’s going on and direct the child’s attention to the details.
Children Respond Well to Open-Ended Questions. Open-ended questions encourage children to think and reflect. "What made the ball move in that way?" "What do you think is a good way to get the ball to your team mate?" "Did you hear the noise that was made when your foot struck the ball?" Giving children time to come up with their own answers, even misconceptions, starts them on the road to constructing explanations and building understanding of the game and the techniques used to play it.
Children Are Researchers. Assisted by adults, children have numerous ways to explore their interests. A child intrigued by soccer can watch soccer on the TV, find videos on the Internet and watch other players play. Having access to a ball and a space to play provides children with the opportunity to replay experiences and act out observed roles in order to construct his or her own knowledge.
Positive Suggestions Guide Children. Responding to children positively helps them interact effectively with others. Often an adult's first response to a child's undesirable behavior is negative, controlling, emphasizing what the child cannot do: "Don’t kick that ball here." But usually a more effective approach suggests what the child can do: "That’s a good place to kick the ball."
Children Learn from Their Peers. When children play with siblings and friends, they learn from each other. As questions, challenges, and conflicts arise, they learn how to solve problems. Mixed-age play in particular allows children to learn in two ways, both by modeling the behavior of older children and by "teaching" younger children.
Children Learn by Doing. The more hands-on experiences children have, the more curious and capable they become
and, best of all, the more joy they feel at learning "a number of things."