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Technical Skills Training: The Younger, The Better

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Technical Skills Training: The Younger, The Better Empty Technical Skills Training: The Younger, The Better

Post by Son_ofa_Pitch on 21/12/13, 01:20 am

Good Reading...

Many parents struggle with their child's development in youth soccer. They constantly worry about what to teach them, what team they should play on, what camp should they go to, or whether they should play them up an age group. I hope that this article will put many minds at ease and clears up some true objectives for parents, players and coaches.

The Child's Tool Bag

I just finished reading "The Italian Job" written by Gianluca Vialli and was really struck by a few comments made by both him and some of the greatest coaches in Europe. I think they make a point that I will try and drive home. Vialli was a tremendous player and as a manager for Chelsea won more trophies in 2 ½ years than any other manager in club's history. He knows soccer and what it takes to make a player "whole."

He quotes Sir Alex, Manchester United Manager, and his thoughts on youth development. I think this quote is vital for all to learn.

"To some degree we can list the attributes of a successful footballer: technical, tactical, athletic and temperamental. The trick is to identify a child's potential and help him reach it. Clubs are trying to create foundation through basic technical skills and practice. You have to have that first. It's like if someone gives you a bag of tools and there are only a few tools in it. Even if you are a trained electrician or plumber, but you only have one hammer and a few screws in your tool bag, there isn't much you can do. What we at United believe in is getting kids who have the full bag of tools before they come to us at sixteen. Then it's up to the coaches to put the football (soccer) part into it, the tactics and all that."
He also quotes Juventus boss Fabio Capello who was in charge of Milan's youth set-up for six years.

"At 8 or even 12, you should be focusing on two things: having fun and improving your technique. The other aspects can come later. What's the point of trying to build up fitness of a ten-year old if his body is still growing? And what's the point of cluttering his mind with tactical notions and formations? All you're doing is stifling his ability to express himself."

Both of these quotes instill what I have preached for years. Many players are good soccer players but often lack the full range of tools needed to continue that play at the higher levels. The genesis of our SoccerU series started with the realization that most developing players simply can't get everything they need from just attending "organized soccer." There are more than 100 technical skills to learn and little time to work on them.

Why does this happen? Let's take a quick look:

Lack of Training Time

Compare your youth soccer training schedule to those around the world and in upper level training academies. Most United States youth players practice twice a week for one to 1 ½ hours. This is done during a season that lasts around 12 weeks. Play spring and fall and your total training time might be as little as 48 hours a year.

Compare this to some development programs where young players might receive over 700 hours a year. A simple reinforcement of the fact that much of the technical training a youth player needs must come from outside organized soccer.

Focus on Winning

Many of our current U.S. systems are set up on the "here and now." We watch results, look at standings, and recruit guest players for tournaments to improve standings for the team and the club. This is done as young as the U10 level in some areas. In true development academies most players are allowed to participate in one match per week. The rest of the time is spent on developing the player's growth, overall athletic ability and technique. Very rarely, if ever, will you see any tournament play.

If you've ever been to a U13 match and watched the coach and parents screaming on the sidelines, you'll understand what I mean. Winning is often given top priority in our systems. Players are not seen as a "final product" traveling down a path of development, but instead what they can contribute now, to my team. A sad statement when you are talking about 9-12 year olds.

If I'm watching a soccer match and someone asks me the score, I can never tell them. I really couldn't care less about the results, but instead focus on each player's "bag of tools." Many coaches try and develop player's strong points and strengths; I want to work on their weaknesses.

Strengths vs. Weaknesses

Years ago I quit traditional coaching and decided to only focus on technical development, studies and training. It has been a blessing. I have worked with all levels of players; from 8-year olds to Division I college players to professional players from all over the world. The one thing I see in common is that they ALL have their weaknesses.

I believe this is emphasized by our own system and coaches to some degree. There are many well-respected camps that promote "positional camps" for players as young as 10. Not a good thing for creating the overall player. Players between the ages of 8 and 14 should not be locked in to positional play. They need constant exposure to all aspects and positions.

The top players in the world are well-rounded even though they have their strengths. Instead of working on their strengths they have focused on their weaknesses, or at least have had well-rounded training and exposure. This should be the goal of everyone that is involved in youth player development. Making sure they have a "full bag of tools."

Causing Panic

One of my favorite things to do is to work with a top-level team and cause panic, or provoke thought. I will let the coach know that the first thing I want to do is to see the team scrimmage for a while. I let the coach and players set themselves up.

Right before the whistle blows I stop the match. I take to the field and cause panic. I put the top strikers in goal. I move the left backs to right forwards. I put players in positions they haven't played for years. They all look at me like I'm crazy, and when the game starts it's pretty ugly. The midfielder that normally sends beautiful balls over the top is mis-hitting every pass with their weak foot. The new "defender" is getting beaten every time. You get the drift. They are trying to use tools that are NOT in their bag. I let them know that very quickly that if they want to be GREAT players, there is a lot of work to be done. It is fine to have a strong right foot, but every once in a while they need to have the left available as well.

The Reason Kids Quit

Read any youth coaching manual or information packet on youth sports. Right away they will tell you the number one reason kids quit soccer is that it "wasn't fun anymore." I believe this to be true, but I believe that the basic cause of this reason is misunderstood and often misstated.

I have seen many youth players play the game of soccer for years. They play spring and fall and go the normal route most do. They are coached by good coaches but often their bag of tools (technical skills) is not filled properly. Many players will only learn one to three new skills per season--simply not enough. Many will never revisit older skills and work repetitively to improve them. As they get older the skills are put aside and tactical training is the primary focus.

What happens to many of these kids is that the game, which was once easy and fun, now becomes more difficult. They are often criticized by fellow players, coaches and parents when they can't perform the skills needed to help the team win. I have watched player after player, especially in recreational leagues, win game after game, championship after championship, only to end up being a poor to moderate player. The game has become too difficult, their skills were not refined, and their "bag of tools" was very limited.

On the other hand, I have seen young players that don't have a single trophy in their room, but have the most incredible touch and skill for their age. They are the product of good foundation training.

What Should Be Our Focus?

The "tool bag" will go everywhere that the player goes for the rest of their life. Add as many tools as you can. They will play for many different coaches and learn many different and ever-changing "tactical" aspects. They will at some point take a few months off and get "out of shape." Both of these things can be fixed or changed quickly. However the technical skills that are now instinctive to them take years and years to develop. They are long term and must be developed early.

We must help players grow and provide a path that leads to improvement, creativity and learning.

Playing the game is very important and whenever possible, kids should participate in semi-organized pickup matches. They have a tendency not to focus on "I can't make a mistake or fail" but rather "can I try this and make it work?" Often they fail, everyone laughs and the game goes on. In a real match they would be criticized for trying and failing.

Watching the game is also important. In Europe many kids will watch 3-5 professional matches a week. In the U.S., many kids might watch one per year. I think watching the game at its highest level is critical for learning. It's amazing when a 10-year old shouts "good idea!" at the TV, even though the pass was not received well by the striker.

The Tool Bag is Portable

Make sure you don't focus on the "here and now." Don't worry about results but rather the strengths and weaknesses. The "tool bag" of raw technical skills can be taken anywhere the child goes. Through their soccer career they will play on many teams and with many coaches. They will change positions and be required to perform all the skills a soccer player must have.

Keep filling the bag, enjoy the game and let time take its natural course.

Coach V is the founder and developer of the Blast The Ball soccer training system and the SoccerU training series. He currently works with all levels of players including youth, collegiate and professionals.

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Post by travelin light on 21/12/13, 08:22 pm

This is one fantastic post...thank you SOAP!   cheers  cheers  cheers 

The technical toolbag is part of what separates the top influential select players from the good ones.  At the academy ages, wins & losses don't mean anything.  Sure, it is always nice to be on a winning team, but is your DD truly developing her long term portable toolkit at the expense of fitting into a tactical system used to generate short term results?  Many academy programs are built this way to generate wins, enhance club prestige, widen the recruiting base, and ultimately increase revenues.  Our flawed youth system (Gotsoccer rankings for academy teams - REALLY?) focuses metrics on instant success instead of long range vision for what's best for the individual players.
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Post by go99 on 21/12/13, 11:38 pm

maybe you should post this in the "speed and agility at what age" thread
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Post by KicksNation on 23/12/13, 08:18 pm

Outstanding, a model model many of the NTX clubs should subscribe to
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