By Tim Bradbury, Director of Coaching Instruction, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association
It is now a well-researched and documented fact that any player hoping to fulfill their soccer potential needs to experience 10,000 hours of intense practice or to put it another way, 2,237,000 touches by age 17.
In many countries where free play was the normal path to competence, these number of hours and touches were achieved by playing in the streets in child organized environments for 2-3 hours every day, seven days a week. In most cultures, those days are long gone.
There are many people running leagues and tournaments that are promoting the myth that the best way to soccer competence is by playing an ever-increasing number of games. The numbers state that this is simply not true.
It is a well-documented statistic from the professional world that in a 90+ minute game, each player has possession of the ball for just over two minutes. The table below presents the corresponding touches for youth players:
The table above assumes that all players receive equal playing time and we all know that this is not the case. Using the above table and assuming 100 games per year (you should be scared), this amounts to a total time of 136 minutes possession of the ball for the average U14 player.
As the table below shows, even for the very best player who the coach ensures never leaves the field the total amount of time in possession at U14 for 100 games is still only 223 minutes.
Now, if you look at the game development issue in relation to the 10,000 hours of intense practice or 2,237,000 touches that I started this article with. For an average player at 100 games a year from U14 up it would take a staggering 50 years to reach our 10,000 hours. I am not sure that anyone has researched how many average touches a 60-year-old player gets per game, but then I doubt that 100 games is possible.
If we examine the same numbers from a well structured training session. In stating well structured as you can see from the activities presented, we stay true to the NO LAPS, NO LINES, NO LECTURES coaching mantra that dominates all modern day coaching courses.
So in a well-planned training session each player has approximately 21.25 minutes of possession. Stated another way in case you are in doubt, attending well-planned training sessions for six months produces the same number of ball possessions as SIX YEARS OF PLAYING 100 GAMES per year.
What should be apparent to all is that simply throwing more and more games at our youth players is not the answer. A well thought out developmental plan with a sensible and balanced game/training session ratio is required.
I thought it appropriate in light of all the numbers and facts presented above to finish with a plea. I have spent the last 25 years in America teaching courses, educating parents and trying desperately to ensure that no player gets left behind. Thousands of coaches have been transformed from a LAPS, LINES AND LECTURES approach in which players rarely touch a ball, do laps around the field, dribble through cones (as a young 8-year-old said, "We never play against cones!") and yet I still observe practice after practice in which no sensible or fun soccer development takes place.
Please do all you can within your club and league to bring in any form of coaching education...our young players deserve the chance.