Developmental soccer. We’ve all seen the words. They are on every website attached to just about every club out there. Problem is, the actions by many aren’t matching up to the words.
A few years ago, as a coordinator for numerous young age groups, I went and observed one U9 team play 6 weeks of 7v7 soccer. Numerous things stood out to me right from the get-go, but the 2 that annoyed me the most were: allowing players to simply boot the ball away when it was at their feet and allowing keepers to punt the ball as far down the field as they could. Of course, the other usual tendencies were present as well : fast kid up top, bigger, clumsier kids playing in goal or the back every week, etc.
There was a boy on the team that I recognized from coaching during a previous year. An introverted child, one who was all too happy to get rid of the ball when it came to him, pleasing the coach in the process. I started counting his purposeful touches during a few games, as when I was observing the games it seemed there were few happening for some of the players. 1st week: 12. 2nd week: 9 (!). 3rd week 13. At U9 that’s inexcusable and it only gets worst as they get older with some programs.
As a parent of a child in a program, those numbers would be alarming to me. If every time the ball arrives at the feet of a player we view that as a “problem-solving” opportunity, then our jobs as coaches in truly developmental soccer should be to look to maximize those problem-solving opportunities.
If I could get every grassroots coach from U10 and below (at least) to adopt 2 things tomorrow it would be : no kicking from hands for your keeper & not allowing your players to simply boot the ball away when it comes to them. If those were the only things coached to on a game day, that would be a massive improvement and they could be adopted tomorrow by everyone. This is of course provided your club hasn’t already implemented changes to the game itself like these amazing developmental rule alterations.
Players have 3 things they can do when the ball comes to them. 1- strike on goal, 2- pass to someone (who can strike on goal or is open) & 3- dribble (to beat someone, create another angle or protect the ball). Those are your options kids. No kicking it away. The ball is precious, it’s your friend! Those changes will get far more touches on the ball per player.
By not allowing the keeper to punt the ball away you are now facilitating playing from the back, and that will also get far more touches on the ball for the outfield players. Not to mention, with physical literacy issues and rising concussion incidences, it just makes sense not to have young kids hoofing the ball high in the air. There’s no problem-solving happening there.
Now we have a situation where, when the ball comes to the keeper, no longer does everyone run to the center of the pitch and wait for the ball to magically fall from the sky. Now we have kids moving off the ball, moving into space to receive, getting the ball at their feet more and having many more opportunities to solve problems. Now we have actual developmental soccer happening. From there you start getting into spacing to play out of the back, etc, but this foundation at an early age can set the tone for players as they move forward.
Here’s what it could look like in a 4min video:
I want every parent of a child to go to your kid’s U9/10/11 game and count the touches you child is getting in their game. Ask yourself if that’s the best learning environment for your child if their touches are limited by the style of play the coach is driving. I know my child wouldn’t be playing in a direct style at those ages. The players need to have the freedom and opportunity to practice their techniques and problem-solving in the game day environment. Maximizing those opportunities is our job as grassroots coaches.
My kids used to laugh if a team scored on us by hoofing the ball down the field. “Anybody can do THAT” I remember one boy say. I think what he was really saying was “anybody can do THAT, but we are here to Play Better”.
Go. Play Better.
Play Better guarantees the fundamentals of decision-making and age appropriate development becomes part of your team’s DNA. See what Play Better coaches are saying about how the program works for them. Now, get on it! Sign up your team today.