JT's Blog will be a weekly addition to the US Youth Soccer Blog. John Thomas "JT" is the Assistant Director of Coaching Education for US Youth Soccer.
We recently completed another US Youth Soccer National Youth License Course in North Carolina. Thanks to Chris Little and the state office in Greensboro for doing a first class job. It was a well-run course. My hope is that the coaches who attended the course learned how to organize and conduct training session for Under-6 to Under-12 youth players. During the NYL course we discussed what was age appropriate. We focused on how cognitive, psychosocial and psychomotor abilities play a major part in the training of players. We discussed using age appropriate training sessions to provide the most effective training for the individual player.
U.S. Soccer Best Practice document states the most fundamental skills in soccer are individual mastery of the ball and the creativity of it. This should be a priority in training and during games, especially in the early years. As these skill are mastered the rest of the game becomes easier, both to teach and to learn. As the players start to develop their cognitive, psychosocial and psychomotor abilities, practices can be built around facilitating the development of the skills necessary to move and control the ball. As these individual skills and creativity come alive in the game they begin to develop a level of competence, the finer points. The recreational and club coaches who work with our youth players on a daily basis play a fundamental role in the development of the soccer players in this country. Recreational and clubs should strive to place experienced coaches who have a clear understanding of the value of teaching technique at the age appropriate level to our youth teams. A coach’s personality and character are equally important. Working with six- to 14-year-old children requires patience, kindness and respect. This also means the coaches may laugh and have fun within the training session. Fun can be a good thing in training.
Coaching soccer can be confusing at times because the game is changing as the players improve both their skills and physical abilities. When coaching young developing players, as well as the adolescent players, U.S. Soccer feels it is helpful to keep the following ideas at the forefront of your mind:
1) Set up situations where the players can learn by playing the game. The game is the best teacher for young players.
2) Coaches can often be more helpful to young players development by organizing less, saying less and allowing the players to do more. Set up a game and let the kids play. Keep most of your comments for before and after practice and during water breaks. Comments should be kept short and simple. Be comfortable organizing a session that looks like a pickup soccer game.
3) Teaching and learning the game of soccer is a process: make your goals seasonal, as well as daily and weekly. Often, at younger ages, the developmental efforts of one season are not noticeable in children until sometime in the next season.
4) Set age-appropriate goals. For example, know what the child is able to do at that designated age.
5) From a developmental standpoint, the young ages are the best ones for learning skills. Spend this time encouraging this growth. By the age of 17 the capacity to pick up new motor skills begins to decrease. On the other hand, their ability to conceptualize team organization, tactics and strategy increases. As a coach, work with these strengths, not against them.