Often times when I tell people I lead the Reception program for my club they dismiss it as not actual coaching, as the kids are "only five year olds" and "can't actually play football". Yes, they can't play proper football, but if they are not guided appropriately at this age they will not be able to play football properly when they grow older. Coaching reception isn't about football. It's about basic motor skills, social competences, and getting themselves familiarised with a sporting environment. And to me that's dead important.
According to a research conducted by Ohio State University, 86% of disadvantaged urban children of preschool ages lack basic motor skills. They do not have age appropriate ability in throwing, catching, dribbling, or even simple motions without an object like jumping and gliding. How do we expect any kid to become fine footballers if they are not equipped with the very basic of motor skills at a young age, when their brains and bodies are rapidly learning new concepts and acquiring new abilities?
Coaching reception isn't about football. In a typical structured session there are tag games, progressing to having a football at their feet to get them used to the concept of controlling and dribbling a football, lots and lots of turning and basic physical activities. Throughout an extended period of time these skills will become muscle memories, tremendously important for any athlete in any sport. How many times have we seen a seven or eight year old who struggles in a sport simply because they are not used to rapid movements, rapid turning and change in direction, hand-eye-foot coordination, or rapid body reaction?
And it's not just motor skills that are at stake. These sessions also allow them to familiarise themselves with playing and interacting with other children of their age, where they can learn basic social skills and allow them to develop psychosocially. Not only are these important in team sports, they also prepare kids for years of schooling to come as well when they will be interacting with classmates, teachers and other individuals on a daily basis.
My job is to ensure the kids I coach don't struggle both physically and socially as they get older and more involved in sports and other daily activities, when they hopefully will be prepared adequately to ensure successful development as both an athlete and a person.
About the Author
Bao "Terry" Cao is currently a coach at Manchester United Foundation and the FA Development Centre for girls. Terry is licensed by both the FA and USSF. He shares his personal experience of being involved in youth soccer as both a coach and an outside viewer.