Characteristics of the Player
The fundamentals of the game of soccer are techniques. Our players will all be technically sound. Specifically, our players will be comfortable with the ball under pressure from an opponent. They will be competent in beating a player one versus one if the game calls for it. They will be able to spend most of their energies managing the game, as opposed to spending energy managing the ball.
Our player will see the game as a puzzle or a problem that needs to be solved. They can take into account the opponent, their own proficiencies and deficiencies, the weather and field conditions, the style of refereeing, the score, the time, the result needed, etc. to make good decisions on the fly and without coach intervention.
Making the joy of soccer intrinsic for our players will solve 99% of our problems. What makes a player pick up a ball when nobody is looking and work out in the backyard? What makes a player spend time trying to get as soccer fit as possible? What makes a player skip a school dance or a weekend pool party for a soccer event without a single regret? What makes a player watch soccer on TV instead of Texting their friends? Easy, they love the game! They find the game interesting and challenging. They do all of the above mentioned things, not because their coach told them to, but because they choose to do so. If they make the sacrifices and put in the time and effort to be a better player their expectations instantly elevate. This is also known as competitiveness. We want our kids to be more competitive, raise their expectations by getting them to love the game!
Throughout a players development there should be a sound distribution of the type of training that the players are receiving on both the Technical and Tactical Pillars. The Physical and Mental pillars are constantly being challenged during training and development. Below is a table showing the guidelines for a percent of focus that a coach should focus on improving during team training.
The biggest area of focus needs to be on the technical side of development. Our goal is to make the player technically competent under pressure from an opponent, so that they can spend their time managing the challenges in the game, not the challenges of the ball. Once a player stops worrying about controlling a ball they can begin to think about solutions to the problems the game presents. The sooner we get our players solving their own problems without the coach the better we will be. Encourage one versus one attacking all the time. Approximately 33% of your training sessions should have a topic of one versus one.
The training topics at this age need to be very small in scope and depth. For example, if you are working on one versus one dribbling make sure you might have to focus on change in speed, instead of change in speed, change in direction, and deception. Depending on how much training your players have had previously, doing all of those topics within one versus one might be too much.
Don’t worry about creating ball hogs. This is a golden age of psychomotor development. Since the most gains can be seen in motor skill development that is the area we want to focus our teaching on.
Demand at all times that everyone plays with the correct intent. There is no “kicking” in soccer. You can dribble, pass, or shoot. A pass is a kick with a plan to get it to a specific teammate and a shot is a kick that has the intent on being a goal.
Attacking and defending shape should be limited to triangles and diamonds, width and depth. Introduce the ideas of each with the expectation that they will not fully grasp it by the end of the season.
Introduce them, but don’t worry about positional play, team play, or other larger group tactical concepts. Basic understanding that defenders play mostly behind midfielders, midfielders play in front of the defense and behind the forwards and the forwards play in front of the midfielders. Basic understanding of what wide means and which is the left side of the field are also important here.
1st, 2nd, and 3rd attacker and defender concepts can be introduced, but once again do not expect competency by the end of the year…that is for a later age group.
U12-U13 Player Guidelines
By this point in time you have a group of dribble happy, technically sound little soccer athletes. From a technical standpoint we are getting ready for puberty and the increase in individual strength. Coaches can begin to move to more passing, receiving, and finishing type techniques than dribbling. Longer range passing and shooting will now be possible as player grow both technically and physically.
Training sessions can begin to have topics that have a greater scope as players will have a history of training in given areas. For example a passing session topic can now address short and long passes maybe even on the ground and flighted. This would cover way too many coaching points for an u10 player. But since most of this would be review for the players you can cover more information and address the deficiencies that exist.
Fundamentally we still demand intent in our play. Coaches should be ok with poor decisions as along as “a” decision is made. From there a discussion about what the player saw in the game that made them reach the decision they made is very appropriate.
Demanding better individual decisions relative to the thirds of the field and risk versus safety issues with the ball should start to take precedent here. At u10 we encouraged individualism, even if it meant dribbling at inappropriate times on the field. Now players are old enough to be expected to understand where one versus one is appropriate and where it is not. A short pass in front of the goal while under pressure from an opponent is no longer ok.
The game should begin to expand for the player to include more players (3rd attackers and defenders). Second attacker and defensive concepts begin to be a focus.
Positional understanding should really develop at this point in time. Understanding positional roles and responsibilities within the formation and team begin to become important. Functional concepts like set players and restarts can begin to be discussed and emphasized.
U14-U15 Player Guidelines
The “Golden Age” of technical development is now passed for your players. The fundamentals of technique should be continually reinforced and built upon, but don’t expect huge gains in technique. At this point technical breakdowns should be specific to a single error that the coaching staff can address and correct. Players who are not performing at 80% proficiency should be doing more outside of organized training to catch up to the group.
Advanced technical skills such as bending passes and shots on goal are good ways to continue to challenge and engage your players to continue to work with the ball. Just because the “Golden Age” is over doesn’t mean gains can’t be made. It just requires a lot more persistence and dedication to the task.
Fundamentally we still demand intent in our play. Coaches should demand “a” decision be made. At this point in time a player who plays without intent or purpose is not in the right environment. Discussion about what the player saw in the game that made them reach the decision is a great way to address visual cues and game situations.
Risk/safety issues should be nearly mastered at this point in time. Peers alone will let a player know when they put the team at a disadvantage from poor decisions. Coaches will make sure players are fully aware of the tactical results of poor risk/safety issues for the team.
Transition is now a vital component of success and failure for the players. An introduction of what transition represents and where it fits in the scheme of the game is now appropriate.
3rd attackers and defenders are now a focus for the coaching staff. Expanding the game to its full size and incorporating all of the players on the field in creating attacking opportunities and organizing defensively are now important.
Positional understanding and team shape and execution of formations is now in the players’ realm of understanding. Coaches can begin to identify how the team’s formation interacts with the opponent’s formation and possibly what kinds of adjustments are needed to gain advantage.
U16-U18 Player Guidelines
This is the age where technical training is usually wrapped around fitness training. Coaches will spend less time teaching technical skills in training sessions and more time creating environments using small sided activities to reinforce already learned technical skills.
The responsibility falls heavily on the players at this point to continue to work and hone their technical skills by spending time with a ball outside of organized training. Coaches can facilitate this by identifying player weaknesses and providing ideas and activities for the player to address those weaknesses on their own.
All tactical concepts are in full play at this point. Coaches can demand players see and understand the game like competent adults, even though they won’t be able to yet.
Coaches should now be presenting the game to the players as a problem to be solved. Global soccer concepts such as matchups, opponent strengths and weaknesses, formations, field and weather conditions, etc all coming together to dictate decisions and what the players and the team needs to do to be successful in the match at hand.