By Tim Bradbury, Director of Coaching Instruction, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association
I get drawn into many debates on training theory, developmental coaching, playing style and winning. I must admit that I get frustrated when coaches who claim they are all about teaching the skills of the game in a developmentally appropriate way, then go on to tell me that on game day they simply launch the ball forward and seek to win at all costs.
I deal with the same frustration when a coach tells me that he gets it that learning must come first, understands that game day is simply part of the learning process and then goes onto tell me he plays 9 aside out of a GK-2-3-3 formation, How can they attempt to build a possession game when they are so top heavy? The frustration reaches insanity level when coaches I know get it; explain they are forced to sacrifice the developmental approach because the parents want to win.
To break it all down and hopefully prove to all that 2 2 does equal 4; I ask that you follow the steps below:
1. In order for youth players to fulfill their potential, they must be allowed to frequently perform the basic techniques of the game and also be permitted to make decisions of their own. This means that in a good training session they will touch the ball and perform techniques in a frequent manner, one in which they get to think and make decisions, NOT follow orders and do drills.
2. Only in a possession or indirect style of play are teams encouraged to try to keep the ball through connecting a series of short passes. This possession-based approach leads to all players within a team having the opportunity to repeatedly perform techniques (passing and receiving) and making the associated decisions.
3. In order to play a possession based game a formation must be bottom heavy (more defenders than attackers) and must stay true to both the principles of attack and building out of the back. I know that for most this is a big jump so breaking it down into bite-sized pieces
- Formations are always listed from the GK through the defenders, midfield players and then forwards
- The principles of attack or good thoughts for how we keep the ball and go forward are width, penetration, support, mobility and creativity.
- Inevitably, teams will have to defend and therefore begin their attacks from their own goalkeeper or in their own half.
- When a young (U10) GK has the ball, he or she needs lots of short passing options as the ability to play longer lofted passes that arrive at a teammate's feet is very limited (difficulty of technique and strength of muscles)
- Yes, whenever and wherever a team have the ball they are attacking. Frequently this means that a team begins their attacks in their own half with the goalkeeper.
4. If the approach and style taught in training sessions is not followed through with on game day young players get confused and frustrated. The skills and tactics they learn during the week must be the ones they get to perform on game day. As a young man of 11 once asked me, "Why do we practice things that we never get asked to perform on game day?" (The same moment I promised never again to train teams that I do not get to watch during competitive games)
5. The game at youth level should really be seen as the event that tests how well players are proceeding along their learning journey, how quickly and under what type of pressure they can execute skills learned and how well they make decisions within a competitive environment. Viewed through this lens games make sense and young players enjoy the competitive experience.
Having reread this article at least 20 times, I know 2 plus 2 does in fact equal 4. What I am hoping is that all the parents and coaches reading it can reach the same simple solution.
Let the game become a learning event, yes it can be a competition but the learning must come first!