Four Phases of Development. Part II

This is the second installment of 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.

Part II

Passion - strong and barely controllable emotion.

The ages of 10 through 13 years of age are when a passion for the game fires up.

These are the years of rapid growth as players emotionally, mentally and physically begin to transform themselves and mature. These are also transitional years in the development of soccer players that see focus shift from a primary emphasis on skill development towards tactical application of skills in the game environment.  Both work loads and work rates increase as the ability to concentrate and focus strengthen and mental toughness begins to develop. Coaching begins to transition from predominantly enthusiastic toward introducing an element of being more demanding.

Receiving - The player's first touch on the ball. Receiving on the move. Playing bouncing balls cleanly. Taking a ball out of the air. Turning with the ball as part of the reception.

Shielding - The ability to maintain the ball under pressure remains critical but should in some ways diminish as other skills become stronger decreasing the need to employ shielding skills as often.
Dribbling - The ability to run with the ball becomes more important as a tactical consideration. Decision making begins to enter the equation on a grander scale. Learning how and when to engage an opposing defender to create numerical advantage becomes a focus.
Footwork - Applying moves to beat an opponent with forethought and intention. It's not enough to simply defeat an opponent. We learn how to set an opponent up to be defeated in a certain manner that is to our best advantage.

Combining Dribbling and Footwork to maintain possession while defeating an opponent through individual moves or combination passing.

Passing - The ability to accurately convey the ball to a teammate with appropriate pace. Developing knowledge of both how to and when to pass short, intermediate or long and the techniques for doing so. The push pass remains the primary pass but the ability to play a driven ball, a bent ball, a chip using various surfaces of the foot become a stronger focus.
Shooting - The ability to score the ball. Combining receiving and passing skills. Developing the ability to score on the move, off runs, on the turn, from crosses and from volleys - half and full. It is important to establish an ability to score from a variety of angles using a variety of skills.

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 the Passion stage of development should focus on developing pace of play through the ability to make quality decisions under pressure.
1 v 1
Attacking - striking a balance between maintaining possession and taking risks predicated on where the ball is on the pitch.
Defending - how to pressure from in front, behind or the side. Channeling attackers to make them predictable. Pursuit angles to where the ball will be.
Small group tactics continue in 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.
Attacking - Maintaining possession through support ad combination play. Introduction of Penetration, Depth, Width and Mobility as elements of the game. Simply set pieces for restarts.
Defending - As a group and with intent. Pressure including the angle of approach, bounce step, channeling and making the ball carrier predictable.  Combined with defensive spacing in the former of cover.  Difference between and value of intercepting passes as opposed to tackling the ball away.
Attacking - Gain and maintain pressure. Safe Pass as a means to establish rhythm. Play away from pressure. Penetration, Depth, Width and Mobility. Spacing and Balance. Interchanging positions through the run of play.
Defending - Coordinated pressing to regain possession. Recovering behind the ball to establish defensive shape while teammates are pressing. Line of Confrontation is introduced. The difference between containing an attacking and destroying an attack - when each is appropriate.
System of Play - The relationship between attacking, defending and transitioning from one to the other. They must fit together in a cohesive plan with each position and positional unit knowing how they link with other positions and positional units within the system of play.

Positions - Players should continue to be given access to explore all positions. Interchangeability is becoming an ever increasing consideration in modern systems of play that specialization at this age is no longer an option.  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.
Formation - At one time there was a huge emphasis on playing either a 3-4-3 or a 4-3-3 formation during the developmental stages of youth soccer. I personally believe with the growing emphasis on playing Total Soccer or having complete interchangeability of players in the game formational considerations are not what they once were. It is true that some formations do provide artificial sub formations of triangles and diamonds conducive to passing or defending and the corresponding support angles. However, todays game increasingly calls for players to recognize, create and utilize these concepts in a disciplined free wheeling environment.

Physical Training - Any and all fitness work at these ages should be done with the ball.  Both dynamic (pre-game or pre-training) and static (post game or post training) stretching should become a staple.  Core training for strength, explosiveness, balance and agility should begin to be introduced.

Psychological Training - Training and playing should remain FUN!  Exploration of the game should be encouraged to foster imaginative and creative problem solving abilities.  Mistakes are still okay. Mistakes are still learning opportunities. Discipline increases as demands increase.

The Game - 4 v 4 without goalkeepers or 5 v 5 with goalkeepers remains a staple of training. The game itself moves to 11 v 11 and focuses on developing and sustaining a coordinated effort to establish rhythm when attacking and developing and sustaining a coordinated effort focused on disrupting and destroying the opponents rhythm when defending.

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