Many parents struggle with their child's development in youth soccer. They constantly worry about what to teach them, what team they should play on, what camp should they go to, or whether they should play them up an age group. I hope that this article will put many minds at ease and clears up some true objectives for parents, players and coaches.
The Child's Tool Bag
I just finished reading "The Italian Job" written by Gianluca Vialli and was really struck by a few comments made by both him and some of the greatest coaches in Europe. I think they make a point that I will try and drive home. Vialli was a tremendous player and as a manager for Chelsea won more trophies in 2 ½ years than any other manager in club's history. He knows soccer and what it takes to make a player "whole."
He quotes Sir Alex, Manchester United Manager, and his thoughts on youth development. I think this quote is vital for all to learn.
"To some degree we can list the attributes of a successful footballer: technical, tactical, athletic and temperamental. The trick is to identify a child's potential and help him reach it. Clubs are trying to create foundation through basic technical skills and practice. You have to have that first. It's like if someone gives you a bag of tools and there are only a few tools in it. Even if you are a trained electrician or plumber, but you only have one hammer and a few screws in your tool bag, there isn't much you can do. What we at United believe in is getting kids who have the full bag of tools before they come to us at sixteen. Then it's up to the coaches to put the football (soccer) part into it, the tactics and all that."
He also quotes Juventus boss Fabio Capello who was in charge of Milan's youth set-up for six years.
"At 8 or even 12, you should be focusing on two things: having fun and improving your technique. The other aspects can come later. What's the point of trying to build up fitness of a ten-year old if his body is still growing? And what's the point of cluttering his mind with tactical notions and formations? All you're doing is stifling his ability to express himself."
Both of these quotes instill what I have preached for years. Many players are good soccer players but often lack the full range of tools needed to continue that play at the higher levels. The genesis of our SoccerU series started with the realization that most developing players simply can't get everything they need from just attending "organized soccer." There are more than 100 technical skills to learn and little time to work on them.
Why does this happen? Let's take a quick look:
Lack of Training Time
Compare your youth soccer training schedule to those around the world and in upper level training academies. Most United States youth players practice twice a week for one to 1 ½ hours. This is done during a season that lasts around 12 weeks. Play spring and fall and your total training time might be as little as 48 hours a year.
Compare this to some development programs where young players might receive over 700 hours a year. A simple reinforcement of the fact that much of the technical training a youth player needs must come from outside organized soccer.