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It’s not all that unusual to see kids who are afraid of the soccer ball. They recoil from it when it comes in their direction, some even flinch any time the ball is kicked anywhere on the field. Kids who are frightened of the ball watch it intently as it makes its way around the field, carefully avoiding it rather than running towards it during a game. During practice, they might stand in the back of the line, touching the ball as little as they possibly can. For some kids, the fear is only when the ball is moving, while for others it may be a constant fear that’s always bothering them.
When you stop to think about it, this actually makes a lot of sense. For an adult, a soccer ball is a relatively small thing in comparison to our own size – most of us can even hold it with one hand fairly easily. For a child, that same ball is massive in comparison to their bodies – there’s no way they could hold it with just one hand. The younger the child, the bigger the ball. It’s relatively hard, though of course it has some give to it. Did we mention that it’s barrelling towards them at what seems like a terrifically dangerous speed?! Kids can be afraid that the ball is to hit them and hurt them.
Don’t’ force it
A big key here is not to try to “force” a child that’s afraid of the ball to get over a fear of the ball. That’s not to say that we let them indulge the fear, which can also be disastrous because it teaches them unhealthy coping mechanisms, because as parents and coaches we do want them to learn to conquer irrational fears. Rather it does mean that we should structure the environment so that it allows them to get over their fear.
The best way to help a child get over their fear of the ball is to allow them time to see that nothing negative is going to happen to them while they’re playing with the ball and to talk to them about it. Acknowledge their fear without belitting it. Once they’re exposed to the ball, they’ll naturally start to ease up on their fear of it. Try letting a child watch practice and offer them the chance to join in of their own accord when they’re ready. You might also let younger kids sit on the ground and roll the ball back and forth with their hands to you or another player. Often the hands are a gateway to kicking because kids feel much more in control.
The most important thing is to keep at it. Eventually kids will get over that fear and be ready to score a goal! It’s our job as parents and coaches to let them get there.