By Tim Bradbury, Director of Coaching Instruction, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association
I have tweeted, e-mailed and written numerous articles recently on player development and the curse of the win at all costs mentality. It is slightly scary that when I talk with the other technical directors around the country, these are the very same topics that they also write most about. The very same message of player development , possession soccer and teaching players the skills of the game before stressing about the win-loss record is echoed by US Soccer, the United States Youth Soccer Association, the NSCAA and all other youth soccer organizations across the country.
With the message being repeated so frequently by so many experts in the game, it is very sad that so few are doing the right thing. There are many who pretend to, who play a few passes in the attacking third and hide behind the win-loss records. These coaches, along with parents who pressure them to play this way, are developmental impostors. They are the cowboys who hurt the game. They play a style of direct soccer that is based around having a few athletes with pace and strength. They go quickly form back to front and are not really interested in player development at all.
As a coach who still works with teams on a regular basis to go a whole season with a team playing more than 20 games and to play only one team who was really attempting to develop players is really disappointing. To be told by so many so-called professional trainers, "Tim, we get it but if we play the right way, the parents will demand a new coach as we may lose."
This is truly an indictment on the parent groups within each team that pressure the kids and the coaches to play in a manner that means only a few develop and the vast majority are destined to stop playing by high school. There is no gray here--you are either part of the solution or part of the problem.
For those confused and even more to expose those who look to confuse others by stressing the wins as an indicator of player development, I suggest ALL use these three areas of development and the criteria below as a means to truly get a picture of the type of team your son or daughter is playing on.
Every time your team plays a competitive game, record the categories below
1. Number of quality first touches that allow player to keep the ball.
2. Number of passes completed.
3. Number of passes in a string (average and maximum)
4. Number of times GK attempted to play out of back and build through possession
5. Number of times players attempted to take players on 1v1
6. Number of times team attempted to switch point of attack
In addition to the game indicators listed above you can also consider the best practice criteria listed below.
• Sessions completely absent of LAPS, LINES AND LECTURES
• Sessions full of ball related activities.
• Sessions where players are at the center of the action – they get to think, solve problems, experiment try and fail.
• Sessions that are economical – wherein the activities used have a technical, tactical, physical and psycho-social piece embroidered into their foundation.
• Sessions where a possession based approach to attacking with all players encouraged to master the fundamental skills of passing and receiving is at the core of all ball work.
• Sessions full of well-designed questions used to elicit high level thinking from the players
• Sessions with lots of activity and brief breaks where they play more than they stand around
To seal the deal and to ascertain without a shadow of doubt that your child is truly in the care of a coach who is deeply concerned about player development, the following coaching habits should be frequently displayed
• A coach who asks questions and guides players to think for themselves.
• A coach who stresses that effort is applauded ABOVE ALL
• A coach who encourages players to compete honestly and fairly at all times.
• A coach who treats players with respect at all times and demands that his players treat all in the same manner.
• A coach who firmly and unwaveringly puts player development before winning.
• A coach who believes that his/her primary aim is to produce a lifelong love for the game and sport (the by-product is soccer excellence)
• A coach who inspires his players to always give their very best effort and to also enjoy the process.
By 12 years of age, a truly developmental team will be scoring well in all categories above. If this is the case, your child is in good hands and you have managed to find one of the rare coaches who truly can develop your child. Hang on to these environments because in all honesty they are a rare find.