Why Should These Skills Be Repeated Often?
Last year I was on the practice field with a team and their 30 professional players. I couldn't help but notice the warmups and touch drills they ran through over and over. These were not high-end technical skills but basic core touches and raw skills. These were skills that they would use in a game over and over, yet they were repeating them in a practice setting.
Look at professional golfers. Why do some of the greatest golfers in the world go to the practice range every week and some even every day?
One must understand that learning a skill only one time or practicing a skill a few times over several years is never enough. The human brain builds a set of "sensory-motor memories" for each skill we learn. The more we repeat it the better defined and more natural (instinctive) the skill becomes. Once this process has been completed, this memory becomes ingrained into our brain. Now even if we don't use the skill for a while, such as riding a bike, our brain has the ability for "spontaneous recovery of the skill" or memory.
We need to revisit each skill time and time again. Teach a child how to receive a ball on their thigh when their 9 and by the age of 10, this skill will be forgotten or not be instinctive. Revisit this skill once a week and by age 10 it will be ingrained into their subconscious and be "instinctive".
At Home and Away From Practice
Look at the amount of time you, your team and your child has to practice these skills in a "structured soccer environment".In many countries players show up for soccer practice five days a week and these practices sessions last for three hours. In the U.S. and many other countries we have about two hours a week during a 12-week season. Within this time we also have to work on learning the game, fitness, set plays, formations, scrimmages, and many other aspects.
This leaves little, if any, time for repetitive skill training. Not a problem for those who play for "fun" or recreational purposes. However, a large percentage of players leave this recreational level and move to a competitive, academy and travel level. These players want to compete, focus on the game of soccer, and improve to be the best they can be at this sport. These players must have the assistance of their parents. The parent must make time to work with their child in a private or semi-private training time away from the "structured practice". We can then focus on technical skills that are specific to that child and their needs.
Parents, You Don't Have to Be a Pro.
At home or on the field, parent/child training sessions should be fun but also focused on repeating and improving skills. The parent doesn't have to be an ex-pro soccer player to do this. Any parent can learn right along with the child while practicing. It might be a bit humbling, but watching Mom or Dad fail and struggle often makes the "medicine go down" a bit easier.
Believe it or not, this is how many of the great youth soccer coaches in our system are born. They start out knowing little about the game and devote a great deal of time and energy to learning about development of young players, rather than winning. They often devote years and hundreds of hours of their time becoming better trainers, coaches and builders of young minds and bodies. So regardless of your own skill level as a parent or coach, you can teach young players skills. Simply learn how to teach them and then invest the time.
Coach V is the founder and developer of the Blast The Ball soccer training system and the SoccerU training series. He currently works with all levels of players including youth, collegiate and professionals.