Four Phases of Development. Part I

This will be a four part series looking at the development phases for youth soccer. I believe one of the priorities in coaching is to prepare those who wish to move on to a higher level to do so. It is with that premise in mind that I write today. I am going to look at a microcosm of the overall developmental process - U6 through U19 or Kindergarten through the end of high school. So, the end game here would be to prepare an athlete to play in college or professionally.

Romance - a feeling of excitement and mystery that results in one wanting to explore further.

The ages of 5 through 9 years of age are when the game is introduced and the love affair begins.

These are the technical or foundational years. It is important for young players to enjoy this phase of development. There should be an abundance of opportunities for everyone to experience scoring a goal and making a great save. Rotating players through all positions is not an option, it is an absolute necessity. This is the best way to develop individual skills under the pressure of space, time and an opponent with the aim of not only teaching and developing technique but also increasing the speed and comfort level at which the technique can be proficiently performed.

Receiving - The player's first touch on the ball. Inside, outside, sole and top of the foot. Thigh, chest head. Begin stationary but as soon as possible make it practical. Receive by checking to the ball, by being sideways on.

Shielding - The ability to maintain possession while under pressure by lowering the center of gravity and utilizing short share movements such as spins, change of direction and change of pace to gain separation from an opponent.

Dribbling - The ability to run with the ball.

Footwork - Moves to beat an opponent.

Combining Dribbling and Footwork to maintain possession while defeating an opponent.

Passing - The ability to accurately convey the ball to a teammate with appropriate pace. Inside of the foot push pass, outside of the foot flick, laces drive, heading the ball.

Contain - The ability to be patient on defense. Stay in front of the ball carrier to slow forward progress of the attack.

Force - The ability to take options away from a ball carrier and make him predictable thereby allowing your teammates to easily provide defensive help.

Tackling - Teach the cues for when it is appropriate to tackle as well as the proper technique for doing so. Do NOT attempt to tackle when the ball is between the ball carriers feet. Stay BIG when tackling. Do not dive in, stab or turn sideways.

Tactics in this developmental phase should have a heavy emphasis on 1 v 1 situations with appropriate attacking and defending emphasis. 

Small group tactics should be limited to 2 v 1, 2 v 2, 3 v 1, 3 v 2, 3 v 3, 4 v 1, 4 v 2, 4 v 3 and 4 v 4.  Remember when working on attacking in small groups the attackers should begin numbers up and work towards competing at even numbers. The same holds true when working on defending in small groups.  Defenders should defend with numbers up and work towards defending with even numbers.

* This is extremely important. As playesr advance in age and development they will learn to look for, create and utilize numerical advantages in games. It is best to begin playing in those conditions ASAP.

Positions - Players in this initial development phase must play a variety of positions This is the only way to develop an awareness for the  game in its entirety. Emphasis must be on developing an understanding of all principles of play and exposing the player to the total game.

Physical Training - Any and all fitness work at these ages should be done with the ball.  It should also be done with partners or in small groups whenever possible. Playing the game is enough, but make sure the practice activities or games have a large emphasis on FUN!  Lot's of competition, scoring and blocking of shots.

Psychological Training - Keep it FUN!  Encourage players to explore the game to their fullest ability. Allow and encourage players to make their own decisions on and off the ball. Praise effort.  Mistakes are okay. Mistakes are learning opportunities. Kids are expert game players. They learn from mistakes. They go back to the start and work their way through the process until they advance to the next level. Trust them to learn from the mistakes they make on the pitch and praise them like crazy when they do.

The Game - If we are truly focused on developing players and not winning games, these age groups should play 4 v 4 without goalkeepers or 5 v 5 with goalkeepers included.  There are 4 basic elements to the game of soccer - Penetration, depth, width and mobility.  4 v 4 covers all of these without duplication.  There is no clutter to the 4 v 4 game. The problems encountered will be in their simplest form and the decisions to be made will not be complicated by excess.

For a number of reasons local leagues will play games at 6 v 6, 7 v 7, 8 v 8.  These are recognized as acceptable if not optimum numbers for play for the 5 - 9 years of age groups. Anything more than 8 v 8 is frowned upon as unacceptable and even a disservice to the youth.

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