The Game Day
The biggest hurdle to player development is the game day experience.
Too much instruction hampers player decision making
Too much pressure hurts player enjoyment
Too much fear to make a mistake hurts development
We unfortunately cannot control the game day environment; there are too many variables with opposing coaches, trainers, referees and parents. All of which have differing ideas on what constitutes success. To summarize, we see three very different game-day scenarios:
Philosophy 1) Play to win –
These groups throw development out of the window.
Their style of play consists of getting the ball down the other end of the field as quickly as possible. Usually accompanied by screams of boot it, kick it or send it.
Players treat the ball like it's a hot potato, no one is comfortable in possession and it is hardly surprising because as soon as they have it they are consumed with loud noise and commands.
Defensively they will sit back inside their own half, these players will only be involved when the ball comes to them, and when it does they boot it back to where it came from with little thought or purpose.
Offensively they have their fastest players up top to chase down said boot and score. This player never develops anything other than chase and shoot. When players develop physically and this player is no longer as quick, they don't have any 'Plan B' and become one-dimensional.
- The 'team' wins games
- There is no individual development.
- The players become uncomfortable on the ball and in most cases don't even want the ball.
- Players end up watching one or two players play and don't get the touches they need necessary to improve.
- The players on these teams quit soccer when it becomes too hard.
Philosophy 2) Positions and Passing
These groups believe that the most important aspect of development is being able to pass the ball and stay in positions. Players are set an area of the field that they must stay in regardless of where the ball is. When the ball comes to them, they must pass it to another player standing in their set position. Usually on command by the coach with specific directions "Pass to Derek!"
- It looks good
- Players can pass the ball
- Although pleasing on the eye it is pointless and counter productive. The players don't get the touches they need in the pressure situations the game environment provides.
- Children this age lack the cognitive development necessary to understand special awareness. Why go against their natural progression and force something they are not ready for?
- This philosophy develops robots, programmed to pass the ball all the time. There is no creativity and no penetration, two of the major principles of attack. Teams struggle to break other teams down, as they get older.
Philosophy 3) Ball Mastery
This is our philosophy, reflecting the current trends in youth soccer and based on the United States Soccer Federations' (USSF) Player Development guidelines.
It is centered on the players getting the touches they need in the situations they need them in in order to reach their full potential.
It uses the players' natural progressions physically and mentally to the players' advantage. Players are encouraged to think for themselves on the field and participate rather than spectate.
- Develops individuals comfortable in possession of the ball
- Fulfills the amount of touches needed for a player to reach maximum potential
- Is all inclusive and develops problem solving and creativity
- Uses the cognitive development of the players to the advantage of development, we are not fighting natural urges of players but instead using them to aid development
- We don't' always win
- Can look messy at times
A good measure of the games shouldn't be, who is winning and who is losing?
But rather, Who is developing?
Watch the games closely. What are our players doing with the ball? Are they merely kicking it away, watching the game or are they dribbling, taking touches and being involved?