A Reflexion About Player Development – By Elliot Prost
Elliot Prost is the Colorado Rush DA Boys Director of Coaching.
Another expression being (over)used in today’s US soccer landscape is “player’s development”.
Every club around the country offers programs for players that supposedly favors their development. I will focus on this article on beginners’ programs such as developmental U5-U8 and intermediate U9-U10 programs.
Clubs promote (or stress) among their community to their beginners’ programs as crucial in the development of their sons & daughters as it supposedly will play a fundamental role in the later years of their careers. In my opinion, these programs are great & should continue to flourish, but not for players development purposes. They will naturally contribute as any time on the ball for an 8-11 years old is beneficial or should be. I recommend all kids to attend these programs, but I will argue that the benefits are way more social & psychological than technical. They encourage young players to form relationships with peers, learn to deal with authoritative figures (coaches), and as introductions to follow basic guidelines: punctuality, locations, proper apparel, etc.
From a soccer standpoint, let’s dive into where development truly takes place at these ages. Or should.
Looking at history, most soccer legends (Pele, Maradona, Zidane, Messi, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, …) crafted their skills away from organized practices and coaches. They played in the street, in all kinds of courts surrounded by players from different ages, cultures and abilities. These players were hungry to ‘develop’ without knowing it, they were dying to get better just to be able to compete in the neighborhood pick-up games. For youth players, structure inhibits creativity, limits freedom, and develops prototype players.
Diego Maradona juggling on his own in his childhood neighborhood.
My message to coaches is to be humbler and more realistic in terms of what we can provide players.
Coaches’ main mission for 6-10 years old kids should be to make every player fall in love and develop a passion for the game.
A pick-up game in the streets of Brazil
From there, 10-12, coaches should provide the tools for players to be able to support their own development. These tools often relate to developing the right habits in matters of training, technique, thinking, etc.
Development in the earliest stage will be determined by how much players do on their own. Maybe the best coach is the coach able to make players “hungry” to do more, to train extra. The coach whose players arrive 20 mins earlier and leave hours after the training ended. This coach is a winning coach as he accomplishes the mission to lay the foundations for games experts to take players to the next level when the time & age is right.
95% of the top players that every soccer lover watches on Saturday mornings were all young boys and girls who spent / sacrificed their youth playing football. Picking up games with friends, developing skills by themselves. It is on random city fields that their development started. In an environment where they made decisions, get to understand every curve of the ball by touching it 1000 times a day, tried things, failed, tried again, failed again, until they succeeded.
M’Bappe, Pogba, Dembele all started with non-expert coaches in small neighborhood clubs like everyone around them. The difference was made elsewhere, not in these beginners’ programs but outside of them when no one else was playing, they were outside with the soccer ball developing themselves.
As coaches, when working with you, we must remain humble on what we must accomplish. We cannot in 2 sessions on 75 minutes a week teach a player to become a soccer player. We can lay the foundations and invite him/her to own and contribute to their own development. Between U6-U11/12, coaches are just guidance and resources for players, they provide the frame, players execute.
For all parents, please continue to sign up your sons and daughters to beginners and developmental programs. They are so awesome, but I suggest everyone to understand the expectation and actual benefits of such things. They will help your kid grow on many things, soccer development is only a little piece of it.