Kids Sports & Recreation/young soccer player

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Question
I coach my 10 year old daughter's soccer team. My daughter has good skills and athletic ability. She excels at defense. However, when she plays offense, she has a mental block.

If she controls the ball in open field, with an opportunity to attack the goal, she will purposely slow down to allow the defender to catch her, or she will slow down and pass the ball, even if she has open space ahead.

She acknowledges the problem, but cannot explain why. It appears anxiety related to me.

She is a bit of a perfectionist, and can become frustrated if she does not get school work or other things just right. I suspect she is afraid of making a mistake when shooting or drawing attention to herself. My wife and I have intentionally not put pressure on her because of this. But I'd like to help her get over this hump. Ideas?

Answer
This is a tough question. I'm sure you're right that its anxiety related. Here's some thoughts and ideas...Hopefully, they may strike a chord and be something you didn't think of.

1. I doubt if she's slowing down to "let" the defender catch up (though it probably looks like it and as a coach/parent it would drive us crazy!). I'm thinking she's making decisions on what to do and isn't sure. Therefore she slows down.

2. Can you simplify it for her? For instance, in situation A, you attack the goal to shoot. Then you can set up drills and small sided games to reinforce the skill.

3. Take her through some visualizations at home and away from the pitch. Describe the situation with as much detail as possible and rehearse in her head. Make it fun and a game. I've done visualizations with 10 year olds and have been very pleased with the results. I think they are a great skill to develop and go beyond sports.

4. There are a ton of resources to help her (and you)learn how to do the visualizations. You could even incorporate them with the entire team.

5. Going back to the decision tree...There's two decisions (at least). What is her defender doing and what's the situation with her teammate(s)? Set up drills to cover both of these separate...and then combine them.

6. Here's a shooting drill progression on that theme. Make sure she's confident of her shooting. You could try some shooting progressions:
a. Shooting with no goalie/no defender
b. Shooting with goalie.
c. Shooting with a goalie and a defender behind her at 70% effort.
d. Progress up to 90% speed

6. Here's one for the passing decision and what the passing situation looks like. Create passing drills where she is not under pressure to shoot. She decides if it's a passing opportunity. Then increase the complexity and choice she (and the team) have to make.

7. If she's really afraid of drawing attention to herself and being the star, then visualizations might work where she's seeing herself be the hero. I used to have my team practice celebrating goals or victories. They would have to make up their "moves" for when they do it. It was fun and I think they got a lot out of it.

Hope this helps and best of luck!  

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Ron Usher

Expertise

If you have a question about sports, fitness, activities, and healthy living dealing with kids ages 3 to 18, I can help. I've been coaching and working with coaches, kids and sports for over thirty years. I can also help with questions about adapted PE for kids with disabilities.

Experience

Currently adapted physical education teacher for kids with disabilities ages 6 to 22. Swim and water polo coach for 30 years. Worked as a personal trainer to develop athletic skills for kids in a wide variety of sports. Very knowledgeable in strength, conditioning, balance and skill development. I believe sports are great for kids but they don't replace a healthy, active, family lifestyle.

Education/Credentials
BA physical education, minor in sports psychology. MA in kineseology. Single subject credential in physical education with an adapted PE certificate.

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