Director - Soccer Division, USA Sport Group.
I was at a club meeting (in a volunteer capacity, as my son’s U9B parent manager, I may add) 2 weeks back and a debate was started with respect to the value of using and the philosophies of professional trainers. Should they focus purely on teaching the techniques of soccer, and developing the training environment so these techniques can turn into skills as players become more proficient? Or should they teach “the game”? “The game” was interpreted by several team managers as the rules, formations, tactics?
1. A framework must be created though dialogue between the club representatives and their chosen training group. This should include measurable objectives.
2. Flexibility must be shown to allow deviation from this framework depending if a team is above or below their chosen age group performance threshold.
3. The framework is influenced as to the amount of trainer contact time that a club or team agrees to undertake, i.e. 1x a week, 2x a week, 2x a week plus games.
4. Trainers and team managers should be encouraged to discuss the merits and the progress of their weekly training and game cycle.
5. Overall, I believe that techniques developing into skills (defined as being able to perform a technique reliably and correctly under the pressure of reduced time and space) are the back bone to successful players. However, once players are introduced to techniques, practices should progress to allow the players to play in an environment that challenges their use of these techniques. As players increase in age and experience their exposure to individual (5-8yrs), small group (8-11yrs), large group (11-13yrs), and team (14+yrs) tactics will increase.
6. However, there is one large exception to this. Anytime players are exposed to NEW game formats then, in my opinion, trainers should address the challenges. The following are examples:
- At U6, players should be playing 3v3 and 4v4 for their end games within all practices sessions. At the beginning, and at appropriate times through a season, basic soccer rules should be introduced and taught, i.e. when and how to take a goal-kick. Basic diamond formation can be suggested.
- At U7, goalkeepers may start to be introduced. Techniques to ensure safety and confidence in this specialist position should be introduced, as well as the rules variations.
- At U8, and to an increasing extent clubs are waiting until U9, most leagues introduce 8v8*. At this point, trainers should take time to cover the increasing volume and complexity of the rules, expose players to different formations, teach and suggest roles for different positions, both generic and specific.
- At U11* (although, thankfully, several leagues here in NJ are delaying this until U12/U13), most leagues introduce 11v11. Again, trainers should take time to cover the increasing volume and complexity of the rules, expose players to different formations, teach and suggest roles for different positions, both generic and specific.
7. Finally, trainers and managers should include regular communications to their players' parents about what is being taught to their children and the progress that they are making.
*That’s a WHOLE different debate as to whether these 2 landmark ages and team sizes are a corrector for wrong soccer development! My thoughts have evolved over the years both from experiences on the field and from working with many different clubs and creating training philosophies and curricula that aim to work for them.
What do you think?