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Coaches Blog

Sam's Blog is a bi-weekly addition to the US Youth Soccer Blog. Sam Snow is the Coaching Director for US Youth Soccer.

 

Typical Challenge in Player Development

Sam Snow

I recently had this inquiry from a youth coach with a typical challenge in player development. Perhaps it is one you have faced too.
 
"Hopefully you can help with a question I have that no one has been able to answer.  My U-13 boy's team has just moved to Premier in our state.  I can see that many of the players could benefit immensely with some sort of a development program that they can do on their own time each day as we don't have the capacity to hold daily practices.  Do you know of any programs I could send home with them to help with the technical aspects of the game? Thanks for your help."
 
The best development program for players that age will involve getting them to tell you a skill they think they need to improve.  By having them reflect on the skill they want to improve upon for each individual means they are much more likely to really work at it.  Only if they are self-motivated will they put in the time and effort on their own to work on that skill.  The intrinsic motivation to improve will give them a better chance to raise their game to play in the premier level of competition.

When the players each tell you the skill they want to improve then give them 10-15 minutes at the beginning of your next training session to work on that skill on their own.  You can go from player to player and help them on that skill if they ask for assistance.  When you allocate that time at the beginning of one training session per week you also have a chance to evaluate if they are improving on the skill; if an individual is not improving then you can give more direct coaching to that player.  It may also show you who is working on their own at home and who needs more guidance and motivation to do so.

To help motivate the players explain to them why you are asking them to work on their skills at home and how it fits into the game for them.  Tell them that the objective is to improve technical speed, consistency, touch and timing, eye-foot coordination as well as being able to recognize the way the ball spins and how various body parts react to it.  Training activities should be demonstrated to the kids at the training sessions by the coaches.

Regularly encourage the players to practice on their own or with a friend or two and try out new skills.  This is the time to experiment and become comfortable with the ball.  Practice can also be a good time to improve their personal fitness.  Please note that there's a difference between practice and a training session.

Training players do with the team and coach and practice they do on their own or with one or two friends.  If players want to become really good at soccer then they need to practice.  Training with the team, even a few times a week, may not be enough.  So practice at home or in the neighborhood with other kids or maybe even at school if there's a chance to do so.

The things players practice are what they can do on their own.  That could be juggling, playing the ball against a wall (someplace without windows), dribbling (make a slalom course) and maybe some physical fitness too.  Here are some examples for the kids:

Wall Ball: knocking the ball against a wall gives the chance to practice several skills.
  • Passing (put an X on the wall and try to hit it with your pass.  Vary your distance from the wall and your angle to the X).
  • Receiving (as the ball comes off the wall control it with different parts of your body: inside of the foot, thigh, top of the foot and so on).
  • Heading (see how many times you can head the ball against the wall without it touching the ground.  How about trying the same things as you did in passing, but now with headers)?
  • Shooting (hit the X.  Try some shots off the ground and some when the ball is in the air).
  • Throw-in (hit the X).
  • Goalkeeping (try different types of throws and hit the X).
  • Goalkeeping (try out different catches as the ball rebounds from the wall.  Vary the height of the ball).
 
Tips on Passing
  • Point the toes of the foot you are standing on towards your target
  • Keep the knees of both legs slightly bent
  • Keep the ankle of your kicking leg locked so that your kicking foot is steady
  • Lean slightly forward to keep the path of the ball level
  • Keep your eyes on the ball
Tips on Receiving
  • Get your body in line with the path of the ball
  • Keep the knees of both legs slightly bent
  • Relax the body part receiving the ball upon contact with the ball
  • Exhale
  • Keep your eyes on the ball
Tips on Heading
  • Get yourself in line with the flight of the ball
  • Keep the knees of both legs slightly bent
  • Strike the ball with the forehead at the hairline
  • Keep your mouth shut with your tongue and checks out from between your teeth
  • Keep your eyes on the ball
Tips on Shooting
  • Approach the ball at a slight diagonal angle
  • Point the toes of the foot you are standing on towards your target
  • Lean over the ball
  • Point the toes of your kicking foot down and curl them back inside of your shoe to make a firmer striking surface of your foot (kind of like making a fist)
  • Keep your eyes on the ball
Tips on the Throw In
  • Stand with your hips facing where you want the ball to go
  • Firm grip on the ball with the tips of your thumbs just touching behind the ball
  • Hold the ball with your fingertips
  • Follow through on your throw for improved accuracy and distance
Tips on Keeper Throws
  • Hold the ball comfortably in your hand and release it off the fingertips
  • Stand with your hips facing where you want the ball to go
  • Keep knees of both legs slightly bent
  • Keep your head steady and facing your target
  • Follow through on your throw for improved accuracy and distance
Tips on Keeper Catches
  • Get your body in line with the path of the ball
  • Watch the ball all the way to your hands
  • Keep your knees and elbows slightly bent
  • Spread your fingers as wide as you can as you catch the ball for a safer grip
  • Relax and exhale as you catch the ball and absorb it