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