Knowledge of the correct techniques and how to train using these techniques
There are four main technical components of soccer: Passing/Receiving, Dribbling, Shooting/Finishing, and Defending.
For each component there is a specific set of techniques needed to execute the skills correctly every time. You need to learn the correct way to execute these techniques. Many young players believe they have already learned and mastered these techniques – but when asked to demonstrate, it becomes readily apparent that almost every young player really only has a very basic understanding of the correct technique.
Learning soccer is very similar to learning a foreign language. Just like going to your Spanish class, you need to practice in order to learn these techniques. There is a progression of steps that build upon each other leading to soccer-fluency!
Players can develop their soccer skills in two ways: being taught or self-taught … hopefully it’s a combination of both. But the most important thing is that they learn the correct techniques – there is no improvement if one continues to make the same mistakes, improvement comes from making new mistakes!
Understanding the reasoning behind the techniques and ability to recognize/correct flaws
There is a reason behind every technique; each component of a technique is an important part. Every player knows how to shoot, but it’s in the details of the technique’s steps that make your shot a goal. A player who understands the reasoning behind the technique will be able to correct why their shot has no power or went over the goal. If a player does not know why they are not getting the result they desire, they will not know how to fix the problem.
You can know everything about soccer but you need to repeatedly practice the correct technique to make it second nature. Spaced repetitions are the most important learning method – teaching a new technique, and then over time continually repeating that technique makes it become second nature.
In just one training session, your skills are impacted immediately; but over-time, through constant training/repetition, your skills are impacted permanently. When you learn a new skill there is an obvious immediate improvement in the skill, but these skills drop-off over-time. To keep on the path to mastering a skill, players need spaced repetition that converts the correct techniques to memory. These repetitions should be constant and focused. It’s at this point that many coaches fail, because they do not constantly teach the same information again and again until the skill is permanent.
One of the tricks to great coaching is to get your players to master skills through repetition without boring them – this means providing them with an array of different drills and games that teach the same information. For example, if a coach just knows one shooting drill or game to work on shooting, a player’s level of interest and effort will diminish over time. Keep it fresh, providing new material will increase both attention and retention levels.
“When you create a memory, a pathway is created between your brain cells. It is like clearing a path through a dense forest. The first time that you do it, you have to fight your way through the undergrowth. If you don’t travel that path again, very quickly it will become overgrown and you may not even realize that you have been down that path. If however, you travel along that path before it begins to grow over, you will find it easier than your first journey along that way. Successive journeys down that path mean that eventually your track will turn into a footpath, which will turn into a lane, which will turn into a road, and into a motorway and so on. It is the same with your memory: the more time that you repeat patterns of thought, for example when learning new information the more likely you will be able to recall that information. So repetition is a key part of learning.”
Mastering soccer is not about learning 1,000 moves, but rather doing a handful of moves 1,000 times. You yourself have probably heard the acronym K.I.S.S, which stands for “Keep it simple, Stupid!” (Or for young kids, “Keep It Super Simple!”). The K.I.S.S rule is a general rule for many areas of life, but in soccer it is essential. The more complicated and fancy you make soccer, the more likely you are going to make a mistake.
Your ability to improve in soccer is directly affected by the amount of time you practice. This is why we divide the needed soccer skills into four components (Dribbling, Passing/Receiving, Shooting, and Defending). For each of these four components there are 5-6 key techniques and concepts that form the foundation of all play. The aim is to Keep It Super Simple. These 20 or so techniques are all that is needed to be a great player – whether this is to be the best 2nd grader in your elementary school or playing in Europe in front of 80,000 fans.
You are better off performing 20 skills very well, than 1,000 skills poorly. By focusing on mastering these 20 techniques, you will train smarter.
Sit In The Stands
A large percentage of youth soccer players have never been to a professional game, or even worse have never watched a game on TV. Young players need to see a visual demonstration of soccer being played by professionals. Your coach can describe and teach soccer forever, but you get a completely new understanding when you witness it. This doesn’t mean that the New England Revolution (an MLS team) provides a perfect example of how the game should be played; or that if you watch every European match that is on TV, through the magic of osmosis you will become a star.
Watching soccer helps you to see what makes a good player. The trick to really benefitting your personal development in soccer is to watch professional games as a student of the game. Some find watching soccer boring, while others think it is very exciting; regardless, in all likelihood when you watch a game you follow the ball or the star player. You need to look deeper into the game. Look away from the ball – how do the players position themselves? What runs are being made? How compact is the field kept? Don’t watch the game as a spectator, but as a student trying to pick up tips.
The most important part of watching soccer is to find the person who plays your specific position and watch that player for the entire game (use your peripheral vision to follow the ball). Youth players should know who the top three players in the world are at their position, know the responsibilities and duties of their position’s role, and understand what makes these players the top players. If you can learn some of the things the top players in the world are doing (or even the local professional player who plays your position) it will make you a better player at whatever level you are at!
There is a wide range of philosophies regarding the physical components of soccer and its importance. Leaving the professional game aside, players must have enough endurance so that can fulfill their game responsibilities.
Being bigger and stronger can help you in soccer, but it can also hurt you. The best players in the world are not huge players – in fact the average height/weight of the four 2010 World Cup Semi-finalists are as follows:
Germany: 6 feet, 173 Lbs.
Uruguay: 5 feet 11 inches, 166 Lbs.
Holland: 5 feet 11 inches, 163.7 Lbs.
Spain: 5 feet 11 inches, 160.7 Lbs.
The top three players in the World Cup (according to FIFA): Diego Forlan, Wesley Sneijder, and David Villa average only 5 feet 8.5 inches and weigh 155 pounds
Lifting weights to be built like a NFL linebacker would not help you on the soccer field. What is most vital for young players is to not allow a lack of fitness to affect their play. When a player becomes fatigued, they lose their mental focus and commit errors. Your two minutes of direct action that we talked about earlier does not come all at once. Your two minutes is a total, it comes in small spurts throughout the game. At the end of the game, you need to be fit enough so if you are attempting to pass a ball you have the mental focus and physical stamina to execute the technique correctly
Soccer is full of complex movements. On the field players need to be able to rapidly change the speed and direction of their body effectively while under control (this is agility). A player’s coordination determines their agility. As young players grow, their speed and strength naturally increases; however, they need to work to maintain their agility. The bodies of youth players are always developing, but the hardest transition is when there is rapid growth (both in terms of weight and height). When the body is at a constant growth rate, it’s relatively easy for a player to improve their technique. However, when the body is in a rapid growth phase it is more difficult because of a loss of coordination. This is the most important time to focus on coordination and proper technique. If a player can maintain their coordination, technique, and agility while they are undergoing rapid growth, they improve very quickly. It’s much harder to regain your coordination after your body stops growing rapidly, than it is to maintain your coordination as you are growing rapidly.
This is one of the least thought of, but one of the most important components of improving your child’s soccer development. There are many great athletes or players with innate talent. What separates the potential one has and the success one achieves is greatly affected by their motivation and personal initiative. This notion is not just true for professional players, but for all players. If a child has a large amount of personal initiative and motivation, he/she can overcome many disadvantages to achieve things thought unattainable. At the youth level, having the motivation and personal initiative is often times the most important factor in determining to what level and how fast a player will develop.
It’s the players that need to be called in for dinner from their backyard because they want to pass the ball against a wall or practice a new move one more time, who often achieve the most success. This personal initiative, even if it’s just to find 10-15 minutes every other day to work on some aspect of your game, is vital. As discussed above, there is such limited true time during games and practices to improve that players need to work on their own.
Many parents assume that children either have a passion for soccer or they do not. If your child doesn’t have the initiative to practice on his or her own, the majority of the time it isn’t because they don’t like soccer, but because either they don’t understand how to train themselves or they don’t understand how doing so will benefit them. By teaching players how to train themselves, the correct techniques to master, and empowering them to recognize their errors: they will improve, gain confidence, and succeed. If your child works on shooting for 15 minutes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and then on Saturday in their game they score a goal or receive positive encouragement from outsiders, they will understand the benefits to be achieved from their own training. Teaching players that they will get out of soccer what they put in, feeds on itself and creates a passion that can fuel unthinkable success!