CONSISTENT TRAINING IS A KEY FOR PLAYER DEVELOPMENT!
Few days ago I talked to my good friend from California who coaches young players and does fantastic job with them. He definitely coaches smart possession oriented soccer and does it exceptionally well. Of course he has very good players and he has been working with them for last 3 years but the bottom line is that his team is very legit (one of the best I've seen at this age) and he has 2-3 players who are exceptional technically and in terms of soccer IQ! But when I talked to my friend-coach it was clear that he is not very excited about the future of the boys he coaches so I asked him why he is not optimistic and here is summary of his answers:
- next year they will join Academy and will get a coach who has drastically different view on the game than I do and their development will change. The focus will be defensive organization and not letting opponent to play, possession will not be priority as counter attack will be much more prioritized.
- year after that they will move to another coach who is huge on physicality and playing through the wings. It will be speed, strength and pressure the hell out of opponent but in terms of playing with the ball - not much out there.
- so the priority will quickly shift from technical play focused on keeping the ball and creating scoring chances to fast pace soccer designed to intimidated opponent by strength and speed.
- the coach is sure that his current key players in two years will be average, non-influential players as they are not big or super fast (quick on the ball but not fast).
SO BOTTOM LINE IS THAT THE COACH AFRAID THAT THOSE TALENTED KIDS HE CURRENTLY HAS IN TWO YEARS WILL BECOME ORDINARY, MEDIOCRE PLAYERS THAT WILL ALSO LOSE THE EXCITEMENT TO PLAY BEAUTIFUL GAME! Actually, he is not afraid of that - he knows this what will exactly happen as it already happened several years ago with his previous team - his best player quit soccer after two years in Academy.
I'm sure the coach is very biased and not objective but I've also seen his team playing and I can assure the team and players are legit! They win games playing proper style of soccer! So knowing the coach personally I have no reason do not trust his opinion and I do think this is a big current problem in youth soccer.
SO THE PROBLEM IS SIMPLE: MAJORITY OF CLUBS DON'T HAVE OR DON'T EFFICIENTLY IMPLEMENT CURRICULUM BETWEEN ALL THE TEAMS IN THE CLUB. STYLE OF PLAY SOLELY DEPENDS ON VISION OF PARTICULAR COACH. AS A RESULT THERE IS NO CLUB-SPECIFIC STYLE OF PLAY WHICH EXISTS IN ALL SERIOUS EUROPEAN OR LATIN AMERICAN CLUBS. So one can easily find two teams from the same club playing completely different style of soccer (let's say low defense and counter attacks vs. high pressure and possession).This inconsistency definitely hinders player's development and really confuses kids - yesterday technical player was MVP on the team while today he is on a bench as he is not good enough in tackles and 50/50 balls. Actually, even worse - vast majority of teams don't have defined style of play - they play the way opponent allows them to play.
Some clubs provide curriculum but it is so general and in reality has nothing to do with a style of play - it basically says ,on week one we work on defending in our defensive third and week two we work on attacking in final third etc. But how exactly the team will attack or defend is up to coach. So pretty much it is not real curriculum but more like periodization of training.
I know the other extreme too - when club tells coaches what exact activities to do on each day (coach receives ready-to-go session each day). I think it is better than absence of curriculum but it takes away on my opinion the most fun part of coaching - design the training. But for some coaches it might work really well!
Another solution to this lack of club identity is to let coach lead players through multiple years (move with them from U10 to U19). I know one very successful example of it but the coach (Brian Kleiban, currently in Galaxy) and whole team changed 3 clubs during that process. The team was and still is extremely good and developed at least 3 players who currently play on National Youth teams (USA and Mexico) and already play professional soccer (youngest player is 16 and other two are 17). This is unique example which is for sure hard to repeat for many reasons and I'm not sure how many there are cases when this approached was not successful. But considering the current state of coaching in youth soccer in USA, idea on my opinion is valuable - coach doesn't have excuse that he only worked with boys 3 months and they are all at different level of game understanding. The coach will have time to build a team from very young age and at older age groups perform recruiting for specific positions. Reminds me those pro coaches like Wenger, Ferguson and even Guardiola in Barcelona who has been at the club for some substantial time and built certain culture and style.
In my current club, Nomads SC, we went very meticulously through our style of play and then every Monday Director of coaching runs session with my team and explains me and players exactly one or two aspects of our style of play. The session is not real training but rather 11v11 game with constant stoppages and stress on one or two key characteristics of our style. Then I work on my own and design training for my team to implement this style. We are very small club - only six Development Academy teams and may be 3-4 non Academy teams. This seems to me one of the most efficient ways to establish the style but it will take some time and of course I understand that it is much easier to implement this method in a club with 10 teams than 100 teams.
At Soccer IQ Academy coaches run well defined practices from very specific SIQ curriculum . Of course they are free to modify practice due to circumstances (number of players, level of players, weather etc.) but in general the idea is that players and parents receive very consistent product and know exactly what they are signing for. We are not a club and therefore for us it is important to provide very consistent high level product.