We Have a Problem With How We Develop Soccer Players

by Christian Isquierdo, Founder, LeftFoot Coaching Academy originally published, September 2010 

The current course of player development, in general, emphasizes age-groups, specific genders, and organization of team-based players that are oriented toward game or league achievement. The model offers excessive camps and clinics that only promote short term and immediate success. This organizational pattern of player formation is detrimental to the future of the game. It hinders learning, skills mastery, and tactical application as well as undermines the very nature of childhood exploration, social skills, and personal growth.

Only the Best Get Better

What occurs most often is that teams of ten, twelve, or sixteen players get the highest qualified coach, the most field or facility time, access to leagues, and additional training.  These players then get team-based training where maybe only 2-3 players play specific roles on the field, gain the most touches, score the most goals, or get the most out of team specific training.

All the while, players touch the ball less, increase their anxiety about performance or failure, and ultimately quit the game or get cut by teams when they fail to execute coach specific demands. Players looking to get better may attempt to go to different camps which are geared more toward fun and distractions or even guest in tournaments without really emphasizing individual development that is specific toward their own unique athletic ability or psychological makeup. Inevitably, players on the top teams gain a faster speed of play due to better competition, more practices, faster players and more attention.

Players are taught to conform to tactical disciplines that guarantee success in adult frames of reason.

The Rest Get Left Behind

Players on the second, third and fourth teams never get access to training frequency, speed of play or skills oriented development for many reasons including: lack of expert youth coaching, lack of committed teammates, lack of programming by the club or team, or internalize second-class status because of their rank in the age group. They therefore suffer from an overall lack of technical development as they progress through the age based system of youth soccer. Between the ages of 9-14, during the most critical development period of an athlete, skills development is left to the least qualified coaching candidates on a national scale. While many clubs and state associations are attempting to address this, player development is still geared toward development within a team game rather than on long term individual skill development within a cohesive peer and mentorship community that is not threatened by cuts, recruitment or numerical restrictions.

Gaps in Development

During the refinement period of skills development for players, aged 14-16, many committed players are still learning proper technique or are behind the curve in terms of foot-skills, ball striking or acceleration and deceleration skills so they remain on the second and third teams continuing the gap that started at u11 and u12. At the same time, team based practices are devoted to winning matches and are limited on “touches,” a measuring tool for how player specific a practice is oriented. Players can spend countless hours working on set pieces that are designed to win games because equipment and facilities limit access to one or two players practicing these specific tactics on their teammates who stand in walls, or in position waiting for their turn.

Teams Slow Players Down

You Can Only Have Three Strikers

Players fall behind faster in team based training because of the focus on larger group tactics and limited playing time. Players that are behind never catch up and are in fact never promoted in current club systems that see players for six to seven or even ten years. Between the ages of ten and sixteen players rarely see promotion onto top teams with expert coaching. They often only see new players recruited into top spots— a testament to the failure of the club model to develop players within.

Parents Become Responsible

Long term development and coaching is then left to parents. Club administrators have no way of tracking the skills and player development of the masses of players that funnel through their associations each year. Success is often based on team wins and status achieved rather than the quantity of players developed for higher levels of play. Clubs measure their success on teams promoted to new levels but rarely evaluate their progress on players promoted between levels. Top players then must leave their community club in search of better facilities, coaching or training because they have no long term options in house.

Facilities Development Still Favors Large Empty Spaces

Facilities Are Designed For Teams and Groups

Proper facility development is also a challenge for soccer specific camps and clinics. Many cities and parks only create open fields that are game specific rather than training specific. How can players get better at scoring goals when there are only two goals that are anchored into the ground for four teams training on the field? Others become profitable by renting out space to independent camps and clinics or by starting leagues that reinforce the issues of player development: too many competitive games which have limited touches and too few training sessions devoted toward individual technical development. Or much worse they can only fill their space with mass marketing clinics and getting 20-60 players in an environment with 1 or 2 low paid coaches. Clubs and Associations have begun to develop indoor facilities that orient toward large expansive spaces, geared toward renting space for team practices and scrimmages or creating leagues. The payment pyramid then demands facility managers to go through the clubs and teams to rent the space or allocate space by getting families to pay higher club fees or rent the space based on team mangers or coaches requesting and scheduling time for teams to practice. These facilities then offer no additional training space for ball striking, rebound training, agility courses or goal scoring. On top of this, clubs and coaching companies then rent space and sell allocated time to families without allowances of any flexibility or additional access. Players can only attend with their designated teams or can only attend designated nights and sessions.  The costs inherited in such premium indoor space must then be passed on to families that purchase 2 maybe 3 days a week but end up participating in training sessions that may have fifteen to twenty players to every coach.

Coaches and Trainers Can’t Invest in Long Term Relationships

Within these sessions new coaches or club trainers have little to no relationship with the long term development of the players they are meant to serve. Trainers can be unlicensed, former players who use lines, lectures and laps to promote a fitness base rather than a skills base within the teams. Even though a random quality instructor may be available to a select group of players the instruction is short term and not year long or mutli-year because of the schedule demands on quality coaches that may coach one or two teams in the club. 

This cycle continues year to year and player to player no matter the club, the community or the team. It faces qualified parent coaches who want the best for their kids and it faces coaches who care about the kids they instruct. It will continue until we summon the courage to transform how and why we play, coach and serve the game, with whom, for how long and where. LeftFoot Coaching Academy attempts to address these problems by first identifying them and then transforming the industry one child and one facility at a time.

Summary

Summary:
Players don’t develop because:
a) access to quality technical coaching
b) access to training specific facilities
c) limited space and facilities
d) limited opportunities when organized by team or club; not player specific choice

Problem of facility design in soccer:
a) fields require over 15,000 sq ft to be used for leagues and games that can maximize rentals
b) limited hours of youth specific programing between Sept-May
c) maximizing the number of visits in high demand time slots is challenging

d) number of league dominated facilities reduces the access for individuals