Great Quotes on the Philosophy of Player Development

Next week I am sitting for the National Youth License.  It is a multi-day licensing clinic (Tuesday through Saturday).  There is a lot of prerequisite reading (which I love) and one of the documents on the coaching clipboard is about Player Development.  I have posted on this before and I think it is an interesting topic.  Here are a few quotes from the US Youth Soccer Player Development Model (Feb. 2012).  Players are divided into three Zones (Zone 1, ages 6-12, Zone 2, ages 13-17, and Zone 3 18+).  Here is what the manual says about Zone 1:

Zone 1 has a technical emphasis that is accomplished by focusing on player development versus match outcome. The intent is for coaches, administrators and parents of the players to spotlight the process of playing the game, rather than the score. The measurement of success in Zone 1 is the players’ improvement of ball skills, understanding of the rules of the game, playing fairly and learning general game principles. (page 9)

Too often at these ages results matter more than players.  Teams matter more than players.  When we place the importance of the team over the individual, are we helping the player?  I think soccer is leagues ahead of baseball on this. In Select baseball and youth league baseball, for example, there is no training or organization to remind the coaches and parents of this.  It is a win first mentality not matter the harm to the kids, his arm, or his interest.  At least in soccer, we have a system of education to address this issue.  Here is another goodie:

Too often coaches concentrate on a team formation to the exclusion of essential developmental needs. A common question is, “What is the best formation to win?” Some coaches are quick to permanently place a player in a specific position. That is an erroneous decision. In fact, many coaches teach the game by position. This approach has an over emphasis on a particular system of play and the team formation to execute that system. Systems are not the focus, but rather the framework. The decisive factor is the player and his or her individual qualities, specifically technical expertise. Players must be given the chance to play every position in soccer to deepen their understanding of the game. While it takes more coaching talent to do so, teaching positioning prior to the roles of positions in a formation develops anticipation players. Do not lock players in a position! (page 16, Systems of Play)

This material can be found at the US Youth Coaching website.  It requires a membership fee to join but you gain access to practice models, drills, teaching aides, etc.  Here is the link:  I encourage everyone interested in coaching soccer to join.


UGH!!! Chelsea Just Set Soccer Back 50 Years!

The question now….how do we deal with Chelsea.  No need to practice ball movement, passing, player interplay, or anything that has made the “beautiful game” truly beautiful.  I thought we had already turned this corner.  Didn’t the Invincibles demonstrate the value of possession soccer?  Didn’t Spain in the World Cup place an exclamation point behind it?  If there were any doubters, didn’t Barcelona ease your concerns?  WHAT IS HAPPENING TO THE SPORT I LOVE?

Now, we just crowned a champion that defied every statistical category in the two games with Barcelona (on aggregate) and in the final against Bayern Munich.  I know Barcelona likes the ball so much that they never want to release it.  You could read their minds in the Chelsea semi-final – “you mean, you are not going to challenge for the ball? you are just going to sit in the box? ALL OF YOU (not you Torres)?  They out-psyched the Catalans who, puzzled, resigned to pass around the box.  Since they don’t like to shoot other than tap-ins, they were a lost cause.

In the semi-final, Barcelona had 80% possession against Chelsea, who resigned themselves to play 10 in the box and “get stuck in.”  English all over were proud and giddy.  A collective “I told you so” was exhaled to all of the rest of “us.”  (You see, there are English – from the Island – in soccer and everyone else.  They have written off the success of “continentals” and those weirdos from South America as aberrations – their confidence never truly shaken).

Surely Bayern wouldn’t make the same mistake.  While Barcelona treats the ball like its “precious,” the attacking four for Bayern are happy to release it.  Well, they shot it today.  The stats as I read them:  Possession 56-44, Shots 43-9, Corners 20-1…The only statistic Chelsea lead was fouls – 26-14 (almost twice as much).  There you have it.  Just tell your team to play in their box (all of them but one), hack the other team, and hope to score on your one corner.  Please don’t use the word “efficient” to describe Chelsea.  I can hear it already: “Bayern’s shotgun, wasteful shooting thwarted by Chelsea’s efficient finishing.”  The English press is ready to roll.  Here is their headlong:  “Whew…WE WERE RIGHT!!!”

Rewind to 1966 – English vindication for counterpunch soccer.  Charles Reep controlled the thought of the F.A. and, based on his observation, he wrote: “Long chains of passes require repeated accuracy, very difficult to sustain as defenders move in to close down space- man-mark the targets as the sequence stretches out.”  From his philosophy, the F.A. developed its philosophy.  Many inside England look at his anecdotal, unscientific approach (he watched 578 games between 1953-1967) as the reason England has not returned to the glory in the sport it once occupied.  The continentals and South Americans, leaving the English far behind, worried little about English smugness.

Well, here we go again.  It is 1966 all over.  The U.S. Youth Soccer has a new curriculum based on possession soccer.  We finally are moving away from counterpunching.  Let’s not look back.  Forget 1966.  Forget today.  Let’s get back to the beautiful game.

***For the record, I understand why you need to counter attack as a strategy.  You may lack the resources, you are over-matched, etc.  But, doesn’t Chelsea spend more than Bayern?  What’s their excuse?  We bought the wrong players?

The Philosophy of Player Development – For All Youth Sports

As you can tell from this blog, I love soccer.  Soccer is not just fun to play, it is fun to watch.  One of the great things about soccer is the educational arm of US Youth Soccer and the opportunities (and requirements) to learn.  I have been involved with my children in other youth sports and that level of oversight is missing.  In many instances, be it baseball, basketball, or football (and, gasp, soccer), the mentality is to win at all costs.  Team success and the individual performances supporting it are the main focus.  But, one thing I have learned through soccer, it is not about me or “my” team.  Rather, it is about the kids and their growth.

In soccer circles, they refer to this as “player development.”  Player development is synonymous with a system that evaluates, trains, places, encourages, etc., players based on their needs, not necessarily the need of the team.  I have been studying for the National Youth License course and one of the quotes in the handbook reads thus:  “The needs of the child, while playing soccer, should be placed above the needs, convenience and self-interest of the adults. True player development focuses on the development of the player, not the development of the team! Up to age 12, this should be the only criteria used in designing and running youth soccer programs.”  Dr. Ronald W. Quin, The Official US Youth Soccer Coaching Manual US Youth Soccer (2008).  Placing the team or the coach ahead of the player is an obstacle to the growth of the player.  How many times have we encountered coaches holding players back from development because they helped their team?

One of the main culprits, as I have mentioned here before, is the emphasis on winning at such a young age.  When a team’s performance in a fall U9 rec league (or Academy) is made the primary goal, kids’ needs are not.  (related blog post from January 14, 2012 on this site —  When we emphasize winning at U9, we make decisions as coaches based on that.  Maybe you have a kid who is a standout keeper – so you play him there every game.  Now he isn’t learning any of the other positions.  I believe that before U13 (even after), kids should be given opportunities to play everywhere.  You may have a kid that really excels at scoring goals because that is all he has done at ages 8-10.  Well, how well does he defend?  If you have a kid that knows how to play one position really well, what happens when he plays somewhere else?  What happens when you cease to be his coach – will he be able to blend into another squad?  As the quotes in the blog post above indicate, not only is player development the right philosophy for the kid, it is the one that will make stronger players.

I feel strongly that we need to evaluate our system to make sure it is based on player development.  Teams are special and are usually bound by geography and friendship.  I built a team just like that.  Because we were a neighborhood team, we had kids at all skill levels.  Some of our kids were much more advanced than others.  At some point, the more advanced players who wanted to continue their soccer education need to move to a situation where that could be accomplished.  It can break your heart as a coach but it is not about us, it is about the kids.

Now, the great news???  Soccer is really the only youth sport that is circulating this memo.  I anticipate we will continue to grow as a sport as a result.   Cheers.

Concussion Risk in Soccer

I have been concerned about this issue for some time. There is not a lot of literature about it but seems there needs to be. One boy I coached had a concussion (age 10) while heading a punted ball. Some of the literature suggests avoiding headers until boys are 12 and girls are 14.

Here is an article today talking about the risk of head injuries for girl soccer players in particular.

I think there needs to be some exploration about the teaching and use of headers for boys under 12 and girls under 14.  Most of the literature focuses on contact with other players or the post, but it seems there is a risk with heading that needs to be addressed.

*** Update***

I did a little more looking and there have been some research on the link between heading and concussions.  Not tests had been conducted on youth, but it was recommended that 10 and under youth should not head the ball.  Here are a couple of helpful links:

I have looked at headgear to wear and even bought one (looks like a sweatband – you can find it at amazon)..  “Real” soccer players look down on this but maybe we can reverse the peer pressure!  Here are some examples of soccer protective head gear:

Article talking to about the effectiveness of three different protective headgears used for soccer.