Authors: Sam Snow - US Youth Soccer
It is not uncommon for coaches to train young players in one component of the game at a time. This is often seen in a separate training on technique which is accomplished through specific drills. With older players, the training of the four individual components of soccer is seen mostly in fitness training. While there is a place for separate fitness training, particularly from 15 years old and older, most training sessions must be economical. Economical training is working on two or more components of the game at a time. For example; in a 4 v 4 training activity, all four components of the game are taking place but the coach might focus the training on just one component. If that component is technique then the benefit of this approach over other drills is having players connect the skill to the tactical moment in the game. If one attends the "D" or "C" license course, then the coaching of technique and tactics are done simultaneously. Yet decades of teaching skills as a standalone component are still being phased out. Many coaches and clubs are in the process of making the change. That leads us to this exchange with a club coach.
I am struggling to defend a principle that you taught us at the"Y" License course this summer. If I recall, you told us that for U10s - in which I include U9s, the pinnacle of coaching is to have players solve problems in 3s and 4s.
Our technical director has set a curriculum that focuses almost exclusively on technique for the U9 travel players and waits to introduce group concepts at U10. I understand his general approach, but feel that the particular group of boys in our U9 group are especially gifted and have already shown themselves to be ready to solve problems in groups rather than an exclusive focus on technique. During the summer I led them through sessions on defensive transition and pressure-cover activities (using age-appropriate activities and small sided games of course) as well as possession passing and support. The results of the summer training are showing in games. Our U9s are using back passes, to the keeper at times, to relieve pressure and redistribute. In our last game I counted fewer than 3 "clearances" since our boys tend to want to hold possession. I noticed good cover and spacing all over the field. The boys don't know they are doing it; they are just doing it and are enjoying being good at this game that they love.
I am fearful that once the season starts, and the Academy training is focused on technique there will be an exclusion of the principals of play and our boys will not continue to push the envelope. I am not saying that technique is not critical to a U9 player, it is important. What I think I am saying is that principals of play can and should be taught along with technique to U9 players if they are capable of getting the concepts.
I think I am correct, but cannot articulate the reasons why. I'd appreciate your perspective and thoughts on this so I can adjust my own opinions. I would like to better understand the pinnacle of coaching that you support and if your opinion can help me influence our Academy training curriculum I would be grateful.
Well, it sounds like you had a productive and fun summer with the players. I am sure you are all looking forward to the fall season. The situation you describe is actually a 'good problem' in that the need to improve the ball skills of the American player is quite real. However teaching ball skills in isolation from the game is a problem. Even young players need to make a connection to why they are practicing the skills. Yes it is fun to learn how to do things with the ball; it is a toy to them after all. But players 8 and older like knowing how skills can help them play the game.
So for the U10 age group, which clearly includes the U9 age group, the ball to player ratios that should occur in training sessions throughout the soccer year are 1:1, 1:2 and 1:3/4. The player combinations could be 1v1 up to 4v4 and then odd number combinations such as 2v3 or 4v2. These variations of player combinations, still having a maximum of four players on the ball, puts the kids into situations they can comprehend – in time. Now they are seeing the game from both an individual and teammate perspective. While working the players up to meaningful play in a small group the need to practice in pairs and individually continues. The skills and principles of play done on their own or with a partner are crucial building blocks to small group play.
For example, they are at an age when they can learn how to do a wall pass. Now working on inside of the foot passing makes better sense to them. Tactically they can see how a teammate can help them in the situation. Coaching technique and tactics (execution of the principles of play) do not have to be done separately.
I recommend that you sit with your Club Director and have the conversation. Yes, you can indeed teach a lot of ball skills in the U10 age group, but don't exclude their practical application in the game.
I suggest that you also involve the Technical Director from your state soccer association as he or she can give you a good deal of support on the plans for player development.
Finally, it must be said that too often coaches try to compartmentalize the process; i.e., learn the technique first, and then play the game, however as Nater and Gallimore (2006) comment on the teachings of the late John Wooden, "… stressing fundamentals is not enough. Coach teaches that the purpose of being fundamentally sound is to provide a foundation on which individual creativity and imagination can flourish. It is a false dichotomy, he insists, to claim that one must either focus on fundamentals or on higher-order learning and understanding. One rests on the other, and both should be properly taught concurrently from the onset".