Recently I had an interesting email conversation with a parent who is very knowledgeable in soccer. Just thinking about this topic got me very excited so I decided to share some of it here,
So what is player development for young players? I think around 16-17 years of age the focus of development is changing towards narrow specialization on the field and defining key position-specific and individual qualities. But what about development before 16? What does it mean and what it should be focused on?
I think that before age 16 we need to teach kids universal principles of football such as play away from pressure, switch the field, break lines, no horizontal passes, if you have space - face forward and invite the pressure, if you don't have space - protect the ball, open between the lines, support when ball possessor is under pressure, advance when ball possessor has time/space, many many more.
These principles are for everyone - regardless the player plays this year as center back or striker!
I think that we need to teach players to make correct decisions according to these universal principles. The problem with schools that focus on one component of the game - technique, speed, strength - is not that they teach the wrong things. Obviously, all these skills are very important components of the game. The problem is that teaching tools is not enough players need to know how and when to apply those tools! Obviously I'm talking about decision making!
To me 10-12 years old player who receives the ball, puts his head down and dribbles until loosing possession is not much different from the player who always plays simple pass for 5-10 yards to save a possession. Both have very minimal decision-making skills - they just manifest differently!
It really hit me when one Spanish coach said about a pretty high-level kid (I valued him a lot and still do) who always played what is called "simple soccer". He said: "yeah it is all good but I can find a thousand kids like this in Spain - so what is special about this kid?". Believe me we are talking about very good level player!
It was about 8 years ago and since then the first thing I do is think what is special about each player and how I as a coach can help this player to demonstrate his special feature at the highest possible capacity.
During last 3 years I've trained some very good 14-19 years old players and one thing I've noticed is how many of them are very robotic. I can tell you exactly what very good level player is going to do in each situation!! I'm talking about Development Academy and National team level players and they execute their decisions perfectly (technically very solid). The only problem is that there was no decision making involved - it is robotic action, if the ball comes from left play it to the right and vice versa!
So at the end of the day, I'm asking the same question - what is special about this player! The only answer I have - he/she has really good tools (technique, skills) but I don't think it is enough for pro level without high decision making abilities!
Recently I watched 5 youth games in Colorado and this Saturday planning to watch 4 more. I have some interesting observations about it and will share it next week.