Physical development: Kicking around

Jenni Clarke, education author and consultant
Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Try stopping a young child from kicking a fir cone, stone or ball – it's not easy. There is a natural tendency for children to interact with their environment and the objects in it, so encourage them and support their skills by playing football.


Playing football at any level of competence is a great exercise that supports cardiovascular health, improves core muscle strength, flexibility of joints and balance.

Sports in general help children to develop co-ordination, spatial awareness and physical confidence. If they are ready to play team games there is the bonus of learning how to listen, communicate ideas, watch and work with others.

Football helps with developing problem solving and its fast pace means cognitive flexibility and reaction is improved too. It is also a game mostly played outdoors promoting a healthy lifestyle and it's fun.

Playing and exploring

  • Children learn to control a ball by freely exploring the resources
  • They develop an awareness of their bodies – their feet in particular
  • They increase their confidence as they learn the best way to kick a ball

Leave a basket of balls outside in an open space and observe the games the children play. Support the variety of ways they use the balls but as the focus is on football make this your focus too by joining in and using your feet to move the balls. Use football vocabulary when you comment on their play.

Model using different parts of your feet to move the ball and use open-ended questions to encourage the children to have a go with you. Encourage them to use both feet and decide which one they are more comfortable with.

Add a large spinning arrow next to a ball and try to kick it in the direction the arrow points, even if it means kicking backwards. The children may move around the ball to kick it, or stand still and try kicking sideways etc. Talk about what is harder and easier to do.

Use a rope to mark a starting point and see how far the ball can be kicked. Have a variety of sized and weighted balls for the children to experiment and play with. Talk about how to mark how far the ball went and challenge them to kick it even further.

Add a large dice with pictures of places in the outdoor area and a rope to mark a starting point and see what the children do. They may try and kick it once towards the place or dribble it there and back.

At some time a ball will go up instead of along and this is the moment to see how high they can kick a ball. Use some low open top cones to place the balls on so they can get their toes underneath, then try without.

Your football games

Create an area outside marked with ropes, two goals, a box of balls and sets of coloured arm bands to encourage the children to create their own rules and games. Use a camera to record how the children or child decides to play the game. Make plans of the pitch for the children to draw and write their rules. Create a board inside with photos and scribed comments and rules for other children to see.

Active learning

  • Children's levels of concentration increase as they focus on aiming
  • They experience trial and error as they succeed in their goals and then push themselves further
  • Their core body muscles will strengthen as they play, giving them more balance and co-ordination

Once they are more confident with kicking the balls, add in a pop-up tunnel or two and place a ball at one end. The game may be to kick it straight through or to see how far away they can be and still get the ball into the tunnel.

The children may naturally start adding other objects to their play such as boxes or baskets. Support and encourage them to try different things as they continue to hone their football skills while having fun.

Draw chalk circles with numbers or dots inside on a wall or fence; some of these can be low to the ground and some higher. This takes their kicking the ball off the ground skills to another level as they are aiming too. They may want to record their scores, so ensure there are resources available for them to use.



Football skittle is fun too. Place a group of plastic bottles with some sand in the bottom for a little stability with the balls and see what happens. They may line the bottles up and try to knock one at a time. Group the bottles together like skittles and see how many in one go they can knock down, or they may devise other games.

Create some curving pathways with ropes and place the balls at the start of each one. Can they dribble the ball along the path without kicking it over the ropes? Add a timer if they want to try and do it faster.

Set out a lines of cones, they may use them as targets or to dribble around. Encourage them to try their ideas and then use open ended questions to encourage them to try other ways of using the cones. Add numbers to the cones and see how this changes the way the children use them.

Add a football goal with a net and see how they use their new skills to dribble, aim and shoot.

Creating and thinking critically

  • Children increase their problem solving and thinking skills in response to challenges
  • They develop social skills as they continue to experiment with the idea of football as a team game
  • They experience playing alongside other children in a relaxed and fun outside environment

Challenge children by calling out a target name for them to aim for and join in with the play, allowing them to challenge you too.

Ask them to make their own targets to hang off fences or from a tree. Can they make ones which are noisy such as using bells or saucepans from the mud kitchen or metal buckets? Sounds are an added incentive to be accurate. Can they make ones the balls can pass through? Ones the balls are caught in?

Talk about the different balls they are playing with and ask them which ones they like to use for which game, encourage them to think about the size and weight of the balls.

Encourage them to work in pairs, maybe start either end of a tunnel to encourage a straight kick, before kicking to each other in an open space. This could progress to taking one step back each time they manage to kick it to each other to see how far apart they can get.

They may want to play dribble and pass games using cones as markers. Be supportive of their partner games encouraging them to listen to each other. If they are ready to work in a small group, look at pictures of a football pitch and help them to make their own with two goals.

EYFS Learning Goals

While children play and experiment with kicking a ball there are many opportunities for number development through measuring distances, counting how many bottles have been knocked down, counting the numbers on the targets and recognising numbers on cones.

All these give children the chance to demonstrate the following: ‘Recites some number names in sequence. Uses some number names accurately in play. Recites numbers in order to 10. Knows that numbers identify how many objects are in a set’.

Key points

  • Children discover they enjoy kicking a ball and develop their skills independently
  • Football is a popular sport and children will engage with it – particularly if their family are enthusiastic about it
  • Children enjoy participating in challenges and develop problem solving skills
  • Developing physical skills give them confidence and growing self-esteem
  • Children begin to understand that competitive games have rules

Useful resources

  • A variety of balls
  • Hoops
  • Boxes and nets
  • Photos and pictures of the sport

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