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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.

 

Player Development

Sam Snow

I want to share with you excerpts from a few US Youth Soccer documents that are great resources to any youth soccer coach. All of the documents can be downloaded for free from the US Youth Soccer website. To kick off, here is the introduction to the US Youth Soccer Player Development Model – Spatial Awareness.

 

A Progression for Coaching the Tactical Use of the Field of Play through Concepts of Space

This paper is not an analysis of individual, group or team tactics. Nor it is a discussion of systems of play. Instead it provides the youth coach with an age appropriate approach to teaching players concepts of concrete and abstract spaces on the field of play. As players mature at judging distances and angles on the field in relation from themselves to the ball, goals, opponents, field markings, teammates and corner flag posts then tactical decision making within the Principles of Play improves. This document provides coaches with developmental markers to be used within a thorough curriculum for player development, such as the US Youth Soccer Player Development Model.

All concepts, Principles of Play and specific tactics need to be learned in well planned and properly conducted training sessions. Look to the Coaches page on the US Youth Soccer website for session plans on these topics and more.

Soccer, like all team sports, involves both elementary and sophisticated tactics. Of primary importance is coaching players in the concepts of the game – known as the Principles of Play. Of secondary importance is coaching specific tactics to execute the Principles of Play. Gradually broadening players’ awareness of space and the use of space on the field will lead to more enjoyable and attractive soccer. The general Principles of Play and the division of the field help clarify tactics for the beginning player and competent coach. Within the zones of the player development pyramid from the U6 age group to the U19 age group, coaches should stair step players into elevated awareness of tactical tenets. Beginning with general concepts, coaches should progress players' knowledge to specific tactics in exact areas of the field. While it is true that knowledge of the theory of the game helps the player to choose the right tactics that tactical ability depends on equally developed theoretical knowledge and practical experience. Neither theory nor practice can replace the other.

Understanding the characteristics of the age groups will help coaches be realistic about the tactical ideas that youth players can comprehend. However, do not be locked in by the age group while coaching the Principles of Play. Take a step by step approach toward awareness of space and the use of space on the field of play. When players can grasp the concepts then teach them. If the players are not ready for a tactical idea then wait until the next season.

A recommended approach helping players progress along the developmental pathway is the use of ‘street soccer’ games. In these games clubs could mix the age groups and/or genders to provide for a richer learning environment. Another option is to use the ‘academy approach’ for an age group. In this approach the players are not on a fixed team roster, but remain in a pool of players. Those players then move between training groups dependent on their developmental needs at the time. More details are available on the US Youth Soccer website on both possible approaches to enhanced player development.

The Laws of the Game can be used as one of the tools in helping players improve their spatial awareness. Start young players understanding of the soccer field first with the actual markings on the ground; i.e., boundary lines, halfway line, etc. As they move up in age groups there will be new markings on the field for them to learn such as center circle, penalty area and so on. By the time they are in the U12 age group all of the markings from a senior soccer field will be seen.

Beginning with the U6 age group use maze games, and then beginning with the U10 age group add in target games, to help players get into the habit of lifting their head to see the field. In training sessions use dots, disks and cones to mark tactical spaces on the field in order to literally ‘paint the picture’ for the players. As players learn about the marks on the field of play they can be introduced to some concepts about the field that will impact how they play the game. For the youngest players it starts with understanding our half of the field and the other team’s half of the field. Progress this understanding by introducing abstract concepts about spaces on the soccer field kicking off with the channels on the field and concluding with the mental picture of the field as almost a graph paper grid layout.

While the first concept of space on a soccer field is horizontal, the halves of the field, the next to be introduced are the vertical spaces known as channels. Next to be taught to players are the horizontal spaces of the thirds. Finally, we end with subdividing the channels and thirds.

You can download the full document here: http://www.usyouthsoccer.org/us_youth_soccer_releases_spatial_awareness_coaching_guide/

 

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