A. Description and Principles
Rituals have great meaning for soccer – also for adults. Before a game, certain procedures must always be repeated in order to ensure the expected performance. Thus, soccer players put on their right shoe first, and then the left one. It definitely does not work the other way around because the correct sequence gets stuck in their heads as a guarantee for success.
For children, rituals have an even greater meaning, and this by far exceeds soccer. Acts which are constantly repeated provide a sense of security and safety as well as the necessary feeling of belonging together. A familiar framework is an absolute must for children, and this we accomplish with rituals.
In contrast to rules, rituals have a symbolic character. The children have to accept these rituals and demand them, only then the acts have been chosen properly.
Yet for many coaches, the term "rituals" has negative connotations, too, and is often confused with religious procedures or simply with something forbidden that restricts their freedom of action. Often, rituals are even considered an unnecessary waste of time during training sessions whose time is already limited anyway.
Therefore, use rituals consciously but in moderation. They should find their place as a confirmed habit, giving club soccer a structured procedure, providing order and social safety.
I am limiting the list to training, playing, weekly and birthday rituals, believing that this covers the most important aspects of joint experience.
B. Examples for Training Rituals
In principle, each soccer training session takes the same course. This does not refer, naturally, to the drills themselves but to the procedure's structure. Below, I have described an exemplary coaching session.
- Joint assembly of auxiliary devices.
- The children, their coach and the counselors move around freely. Whenever two players or the coach and a player meet, there is a greeting. The greeting can be performed with a handshake, giving one's name, but it is also possible to issue a greeting in different languages. The coach greets every child in a more pronounced way, such as "Good to see you!", "I am happy to see you here!", "I hope you will have lots of fun!" With this, training becomes more enjoyable than with a simple "Hello!"
- Once the children and their coach have greeted one another, the trainer, all counselors and the children embrace each other, forming a circle. The trainer issues brief information about the course of the training session.
- The trainer then starts chanting: "1,2,3..." whereupon the entire team replies "....have fun with training!" and the first soccer drill begins.
- When the coach calls out during training, "Where are you?", all children come running to gather around the coach. This is a signal to be quiet and listen.
- At the end of the training session, all children again gather into a circle to say good bye to each other. The coach exclaims, "Thank you, you were great!" and the children then approach one another, giving each other high five with both hands. Each child then approaches the coach and the counselors, saying good bye with a handshake. Encouraging words by the adults are something that goes without saying. Parting is always positive, since nothing is worse than to leave while under stress.
- Joint dismantling of auxiliary devices.
C. Rituals for Games
Before games, it is more difficult to always adhere to the same procedure because times and local conditions vary.
- Each child is personally greeted at the meeting point with kind words by the coach.
- The children might greet each other in the locker room. Children, coach and counselors form a circle, sounding a loud "1,2,3...Hello!"
- Now, the coach announces the team captain for today's game. This task rotates from game to game and every child is considered.
- "Warm-up" should always occur immediately; I need not go into detail here.
- Before the game, the children, their coach and the counselors gather into a circle. The coach wishes the children lots of fun and then goes as follows:
Coach: "Who are we?"
Children: "A Team!"
Coach: "What do we want?"
Children: "Fair Play!"
- When players are exchanged, the children give each other high five, wishing each other luck.
- At the end of the game, the teams are dismissed by the arbitrator.
- In the locker room, the coach thanks the children for a great game.
- After the children leave the locker room, each is personally bidden farewell by the coach and the counselors. No child may leave the game's venue without farewell and words of praise.
D. Weekly Rituals
Weekly rituals are tasks the children have to fulfill. Responsibilities are defined anew every week. It is important that these activities not be punishments. The children are to fulfill tasks for the team; this trains their social behavior within the group.
- The assembly and dismantling of auxiliary devices is determined.
- There is always one child who gets to keep the ball at home for a week.
- A group of children is responsible for keeping the locker rooms and the playing field clean. This does not include heavy-duty cleaning but merely collecting waste paper and making sure that furnishings and auxiliary devices are treated with care. The children must not be overly taxed by these tasks.
- There is always one child who may keep the captain's armband for a week.
E. Birthday Rituals
I consider birthday rituals to be very important. For children, birthdays have a totally different meaning than for us adults. They need acknowledgement and according signals from the group.
- A birthday song is sung in the group's circle at the beginning of the training session or game, or a loud "Happy Birthday…!" is issued.
- Those whose birthdays occurred during the week, play right from the start at the next game.
- If a child shows up for training on their birthday, he or she may express a wish for a specific drill and compile their own team for the training session.
No matter which rituals are implemented in children's soccer, they all must have one thing in common: They must never be boring. For this reason, the children are always included in determining and changing these rituals.
Children Love Rituals!