Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

Being happy is the one thing a young player wants most of all

David ClarkeIn my club I have tried to create a situation where, at each age group, players can develop at their own pace, whilst guaranteeing themselves plenty of playing time in the process. We do this by having more than one team at each age.

This has worked well up until now – with over 40 players fitting into one particular age range. Any player who develops quicker than their contemporaries can move up, while any player struggling has the option of moving down, and I make sure there is no stigma attached to any of the groups.

With everyone playing each week and no-one stuck on the substitutes’ bench, it has been a very successful season. But there’s a problem that has developed…

Because in our club there is no stigma attached to the groups, there is by the same token no sense of achievement for the players who move up through the teams – there is nothing pushing them to advance.

For instance, one player from the third team has developed at a very fast rate this season. He has grown a considerable amount and filled out too, and when playing matches he has really started taking command in the middle of the park.

In short, he is ready to take on a new challenge; after all, there is no point in watching a player become complacent because he thinks he is the best player in the team.

So I suggested he was moved into the second team as I reshuffled the pack at the end of the season. His mum and dad were flattered and were pleased he had progressed so much that I felt he could be moved up.

However, the player dug his heels in – his best friends were in the third team and he wanted to be with them. This caused a real conflict. In one sense, I wanted him to progress as a player, yet on the other side of the coin I knew it was vital for him to have fun and enjoy his soccer without worrying about where he was playing or who his team mates were.

So I spoke to his mum and dad again. We decided between us that it was the right thing to let him stay with his friends because enjoyment was the deciding factor that we should base our decision on.

It goes to show, you can chart your players’ progress, organise meticulously and really build a plan of action, but for most, being happy in playing the game is really all they care about.

And there he is now for another season – unless of course one of his friends plays well enough to get moved up!


1 Comment so far
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Dave, I have a slightly different take on this.

Within any team you can expect to find a group who are forging ahead, a group struggling to keep up and the majority coping well in the middle. In a training session, a good coach can tailor the environment to ensure every child is suitably challenged, and everyone has a chance of success.

On a match day, the coach has less control. You are now faced with an opponent of unknown quality who is trying to defeat you. For the players who on match day are forging ahead, you as the coach can set them extra challenges in the game. It could be making better use of the “second favourite foot”, performing a greater variety of 1v1 moves to beat an opponent or making an assist for team mates. For the majority that are finding the match provides the appropriate level of challenge and motivation, the game serves it purpose.

The greatest challenge for the coach is how to set goals and targets for the player that is struggling. Is it sufficient to set objectives that are within the reach of the player and yet consistently fall below the expectations of the other players? It might be the opponent presents an exceptionally tough challenge, and it’s a one-off scenario. But if it’s the same situation repeated week after week, you need to take some kind of action to prevent the loss of confidence and damage to their self-esteem.

Therefore, ensuring players are able to compete in matches against appropriate opposition on a regular basis is crucial. To avoid individual players suffering this misfortune, look to move them to a team that are playing opponents of similar ability.

In summary, a different thought process, but with same outcome.

Best Regards

Comment by Graham Goddard

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