Q: At what age should you consider changing the emphasis from technical to more a tactical approach?
A: The first question to consider is the level of your players... What pressures do your players encounter during skill development... Do your players understand tactical application of technique in the game... These are questions that you have to ask yourself about your team and then move into your individual tactics..1v1..group tactics (2v1 to 7v7)...then to your team tactics of 8v8 to 11v11. My point here would be as you move through these various tactical units, as far as what age you would progress to team tactics depends on if your players are technically sound enough to make the right tactical decisions and execute those decisions in a game.
Q: What are the best types of drills to use to encourage aggressiveness?
A: I would recommend any training exercise that basically will be even numbered. By that I mean 1v1, 2v2, 3v3, exercises where there is a transitional element (attack and defend). Some players now have to attack and defend which should enhance aggressive play. If you put them in exercises where the numbers are not even. The 'numbers up' team will always be more aggressive...i.e. 4v2. The two in this scenario are going to typically sit back where the four will be aggressive to keep possession. This will not teach aggressiveness.
Q: We preach player development. However, when we recognize players, teams, coaches - we recognize the ones who were 13-0, state champions, etc. We recognize winning - not development. What will you do to recognize the skillful team that went 5-8-1?
A: Before they begin training young players, youth coaches have to choose between two very different approaches. Trying to lead their teams to victory in the short-term --- win at any cost. Or gradually introducing their players to the complexity of soccer, using age specific training priorities. If a club decides it's emphasis is win early rather than player development you are then presented with the following disadvantages... ...players size - physical abilities...their strength and speed for example. ...become to engrossed in tactics and less with technique. ...training sessions tend to emphases only soccer and you forget about things like fundamental movement skills for young players. The best youth coach isn't the one with the best Win-Loss record, but the one who... Instills passion in his young players for soccer and two prepares his players to succeed at the next level. The way I see it, development is winning. A few keys to consider, let the players play...teach all of the positions...teach them to be creative and have fun...teach them it is ok to take risk and improvise...more creative coaches lead to more creative players.
Q: What priorities should youth coaches set for the U10-U12 age? What needs the most improvement in youth coaching at these ages?
A: In looking at the U10 age group focus on continuing to build upon individual and small-group understanding. Positional responsibility...we're not looking play chess on grass out there. Don't forget to continue to enhance the U8 soccer skills, especially in the area of body control and receiving as well as fundamental soccer skills using vision and turning. This the goalkeeper skills, as I said, for all players. I'm going to answer a few other questions and try to get back to the U12s.
Q: What do you see as your biggest challenge and goal at US Youth Soccer?
A: US Youth Soccer is an extremely large association, there are 55 state associations. To get everyone using consistent age-specific training priorities and similar coaching education philosophies so that when players move from one state to another, their development is consistent across the board. So that basically their development just doesn't stop. This would include the recreational player, the elite club player and the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Player.
Q: Do you think that in the US there is too much of an emphasis on tactics at a young age (U12 and younger) just to win games leaving the kids underdeveloped to properly perform tactics when they reach older age groups?
A: This is a good question as I believe there is a large philosophy that people tend to question tactics in general without realizing that without sufficient technical ability that applied tactics will breakdown at any level. I like the idea where our youth coaches spend more time in training on learning patience with technical improvements before moving their team into tactical areas where their players aren't likely to be successful. In short, I believe their is too much emphasis in this area. It's really a pretty simple idea that gets clouded.
Q: For clubs looking to establish a development curriculum, do you have any recommended resources? I'm sure that every club does not need to reinvent the wheel.
A: We at US Youth Soccer have a variety of resources available for clubs that focus on player development for both the recreational and competitive player. One of the current projects that we are addressing at the Workshop in February, our annual convention, is a player development document that will address eight specific training priorities from U6 to U18. This should be available in early 2008. I would encourage you to take a look at our DVDs and the Assistant Coach Series that are all curriculum driven. U6 through U14 for example - pick up the Assistant Coach Series. Our coaching group will look to assist a club like yourself that is seeking to develop guidelines for player development that could be used by any club in the country - rec or competitive.
Q: I am a U16 player and I want to play college soccer. What do I need to focus on or key development areas that will help me get there?
A: This is tough to answer without observing your play. I would first identify a college program where you feel comfortable as a player. You want to be able to play and contribute. Be sure to look at the style of play that team plays, number of players on a roster, etc. that will play into you having a meaningful college experience. Areas to help you prepare for that is the US Youth Soccer ODP, be involved in competitive club team games and also continue to work with the ball on your own. What I saw this past weekend at the Women's Final Four is that there is a physical element involved in the women's game and technically players should be able to handle pressure from the opposition and still perform techniques at a high level.
Q: What are the ideal pre-practice warm ups for teams in the Under-10 and Under-14 age groups?
A: For the Under-10s I would do a lot of warm-ups with the ball. We call it soccer gymnastics. Concentration on ball skills. Warm-ups should be basically a lot of ball activities to get them touches. Even for these ages, there should be an introduction to soccer specific stretching exercises as well. Some could consider some ladder work or speed work but the technique is the most important focus. Dribbling, passing, etc. are fundamentals in a warm-up for Under-10 players. For the Under-14s the biggest difference is in the need for more stretching. That needs to be incorporated into their warm-ups. A little technique work, stop and stretch. A little technique work, stop and stretch etc. Increase the tempo of the warm-up activities after each of the bouts of stretching. Gear the technical aspects of your warm-up to the technical focus of your training. The demands of the U14 game is going to take more out of the players so the warm-up is key in preparation and having the players mentally focused for the match or training. For both of these groups there needs to be a warm-up before training or a match. Showing up to a match or training and whacking balls isn't advised. Proper warm-up is needed before any activity.
Q: How would you best define the keys to improving players shot making skills?
A: It has to be the ability to choose the right surface (foot/head) to strike the ball and possessing the quality and technique of striking the ball with that surface. The choice between shooting for power or for accuracy. If you are trying to improve that, it would basically be training those players who are going to be in shooting situations to place them in environments where they have to make the above decisions and give numerous reps to improve their technique and decision making ability.