Soccer Development Strategies
Necessities for Being “in it” For the Long Term;
Soccer Development Strategies
National Staff Instructor – U.S. Soccer
The development of soccer talent is an on going process; it truly is
longitudinal. It is a process in which individuals’ progress gradually
from simple to the more complex experiences that the game provides.
The process of player development requires planning that has clarity
and based upon a modern technical development ideas. This plan and
direction needs to come from the technical people; coaches who are
educated, experienced and knowledgeable. Anything less than a
comprehensive and coordinated effort only means that player development
is left to chance rather than being maximized as a result of coaching,
programming, competition and well thought out planning.
This process can not be rushed. It is not positively affected by “if
this much is good then more must be better.” The process of player
development can be influenced by elements that are essential for
effective player development.
Training: The development of HABITS and a TRAINING MENTALITY.
To stimulate players to raise the level of response training needs to
balance demanding and challenging with motivating and interesting. Much
of a training mentality has to do with the development of concentration
and the responsibility within the players to coach themselves. While we
often hit the peak we’d like to in training --- the attitude and
intensity, we lack the ability to pick up in the next session where we
left off in the previous one. Transferring what’s been retained from
one session to the next is one indicator of learning. Even the simplest
aspects that are associated with mentality – punctuality, correct
equipment and attentiveness are huge in the whole process.
The additional aspect of training is to balance it with games. The
accepted ratio at U12 and older between competitive games and training
is 2:1 training to games. At U16 the ideal ratio is 3:1 training to
games. Too many games results in a poor mentality and attitude; “it’s
just another game”. The lack of training also creates the added
difficulty of fixing problems from competitive games. It is the basic
issue of QUALITY versus QUANTITY. There needs to be balance!
- Competitive Matches: Games of varying difficulty. Games that suffice
for different priorities or purpose; Games that are player development
opportunities (PDO) versus games that are result driven. Competition is
important but games differ in importance of achieving a result versus
player and team development. Ultimately competitive players must earn
playing time in result oriented games. There’s also a necessary element
of “fear free” playing time in games that are oriented towards player
development versus a result. While the result is not the be all, end
all, it allows for the necessary experience of “winning” or “losing” in
games other those that are the most coveted to win in order to be
successful in. There are those coaches who also believe that losing a
“big game” while disappointing in the short run is beneficial in the
long term of winning more important matches in the future.
- The “Political Pipeline” of administrators, politicians, coaches,
referees and parents.
Parents are tremendous assets and necessary pieces of the youth sport
mosaic here in the United States. Parents can be tremendous during the
entire player development process or detractors. Parents can, and do
have, operated in what they believe to be the “best interests” of their
children. While parents can lend all the necessary financial support
and assistance they can’t do it for their youngsters. They can only
assume an ancillary role which is best described as supportive.
Sometimes the best and most realistic thing parents can allow
youngsters and teenagers to do is to learn to fail in order to decide
how important soccer, and learning to be an accomplished player is to
them. In the case of board members (club, league, state) they must
operate with the technical professionals in the mutual interest of the
players and the game. They must avoid being inclined to carry out the
aims of their own “technical plan” based on their presumptions and not
expertise. The coaches owe those in the positions of being “trustees”
explanations and the rationale for planning out technical and
competitive issues. The organization of recreational and competitive
playing environments need to come in line with the mainstream and
accepted rationale based upon what is tested , tried and definitely in
the best interest of players.
- Coaching: it is the one thing that interfaces MOST with the one
product in the game; the players. Coaching is responsible for more than
90 minutes of training or 90 minutes of game management. In the youth
game coaches are instrumental in communicating with parents;
articulating information in order to educate them. The club in concert
with the coaches is collectively responsible for the long term of
preparing players for collegiate opportunities. This includes working
towards academic requirements, matching players with institutions,
ensuring that players are working with guidance counselors at school
and networking with college coaches. In coaching older teams and
players this is an absolute necessity in the United States. There are
some older boys who are now by-passing college and transferring
directly into MLS. Dealing with this is also an important facet for the
coach and the club.
Coaching younger players under 12 years of age has become its own art
and science. Coaching these players involves putting experiences into
them that contribute to their development while investing in them for
There is no guarantee that every player will reach his or her
potential. Much happens outside of training and the club to distract
and deter individual players and their progress. But at least we must
give all of them the opportunity to “Become The Best They Can Be”.
Bobby Howe, former U.S. Soccer Director of Coaching remarked “Soccer is
as much art as science. The game should be played attractively as well
as effectively. Soccer is a game of skill, imagination, creativity, and
decision making. Coaching should not stifle, but enhance those
elements. Neither should politics or alternative interests.”
“There is no magic formula or short cut to successful player
development,” added Howe. “Coaching at youth levels is all about
working with players to improve performance, not about recruiting
players to build teams to win championships. Soccer is a player’s game
and players should be considered first when political, administrative,
and coaching decisions are being made”.
Good principles of business or enterprise are mainstays no matter what
continent or country. Good principles of player development are no
different. It’s a long term proposition in either case. Business and
enterprise is not a seasonal activity neither is soccer and player
development. It’s not a matter of convenience or chance in terms of
doing what will be best for achieving goals in the long term. It is a
matter of priorities, planning and design.