By Tim Bradbury, Director of Coaching Instruction, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association
There are many debates as to what club environment results in the best player development which in turn leads to healthy teams with three /four teams in each age group. One of these key debates is around the AGE GROUP Training vs. TEAM Training discussion.
In order to fully understand the discussion, it is necessary to first define each program
From the age of four and up, players are placed in formal teams each year. They train as a team and compete as a team. Typically a parent/coach is appointed.
Age Group Training
No formal teams are created as this is age group training where all players from one age come to a field at a set time and then are divided into training groups. On game day, each age group comes at set times and the players are once again divided into random teams to play.
With the definitions above in mind, below are the positives and negatives of each program
Team Training Potential Plus Points
1) Players feel a sense of belonging and make friends quickly.
2) A well-trained coach can run mixed ability sessions that cater for ability bands
3) As team grows together, game performance should improve as team harmony grows
4) As it is a more formal team environment, parents stay committed to the team.
5) Scheduling additional practices is easy and due to a feeling of commitment to a team, players are more likely to attend.
Team Training Potential Issues and Problems
1) Team is at the mercy of the quality of the assigned coach in terms of the mixed ability nature of training sessions.
2) Team is at the mercy of the commitment level of the assigned coach.
3) Game day becomes overly competitive due to parents identifying strongly with team.
4) Decreasing number of parent coaches that wish to get educated in age appropriate coaching methods.
5) Player development can be delayed as players do not get to regularly compete or train with players at their own developmental point.
6) Roster problems are not easily addressed at the team is at the mercy of the commitment level of the parents.
Age Group Training Potential Plus Points
1) Increased flexibility to create training groups whereby players are stretched at their level at that time.
2) Easy to move players from training group to training group.
3) Individual player development becomes the focus as there is a de-emphasis on game intensity.
4) With the right group of coaches in place, a club playing style and culture can be established.
5) Roster problems cease to exist due to inbuilt flexibility of the program.
Age Group Training Potential Issues and Problems
1) Due to lack of identity with a team, the commitment level suffers.
2) No additional practices are run as there are no club coaches.
3) Without a clearly defined need and role for parent coaches, their place within the club structure becomes a question
4) Game day organization suffers as the players need arranging into teams to play.
The choice of which program best suits the needs of a club or age group is difficult and one that requires key questions to be considered in detail before the choice is made.
Questions That Need to be Considered and Answered
1) What is the mission statement of the club ?
2) What is the long-term athletic development plan of the club? Do they have one?
3) What is the quality and experience of the coaches providing the training? Who writes the curriculum?
4) What is the place of parent coaches within the club? Do they follow a developmental pathway?
5) How many soccer hits per week and per season do the club suggest?
6) Is there a clear plan for game day organization within the age group model?
7) What is the plan for the banding of the players with the training groups ?
8) With diminished team identity, is there a plan to reinforce the intrinsic desire of the players to compete and associated plan to ensure game days stay competitive?
Having described the programs and their inherent strengths and weaknesses along with the questions that need to be asked so that an intelligent decision can be made on which program best fits a club I realize I should be able to offer some guidance on which path to take. The answer is not that clean and is dependent upon two three key factors: quality of coaches providing the training, the competitive intensity that prevails on in house game day and of course the level of parent engagement throughout the club.
Any club or league that wishes to discuss this paper or the programs discussed, can e-mail me directly at email@example.com