Youth Player Development- The ONLY Path to Take.
Many times I have sat after games in the U.K. mulling over the meaning of life, “what could I have done better?”, “do I need to revamp our training sessions?”or “what could I have done to be blown out by 80 instead of 100?”.
Many, many times!
Out in Spain though, few games had a greater impact on me than a particular U10 game early on in my first season over there, for post game I was left at a fork in the road. First allow me to paint a picture.
The group I was working with were typical for the club, very talented. Bear in mind that these players were Under 10, if you were to observe the average session you would see that the group were able to make 9/10 with strong hand lay ups, 6/10 weaker hand, all with perfect footwork, and taken at a good speed. Thats not bad, right? Across the group they all had solid shooting mechanics too, on balance, finishing with two high hands, and a good follow through. Regarding the players ability to handle the ball, they could do all the moves you like: through legs, behind back, crossover etc. At Under 10, you would take that. The players were so good that they were able to complete these skills in games too, not just 1v0. After working with this team after a short while I felt that they would be unstoppable. Naive!
Our opponents had a skill set and tactical approach which left me in two minds about how to develop young players. Rather than attempting right and left handed finishes, they were only demonstrating the ability to finish with their stronger hand. In relation to dribbling, although their dribbling skills appeared strong, it was clear that rather than a variety of crossovers, or spins moves etc, they had an inside out with their stronger hand and a crossover to counter. From a tactical standpoint they just ran. Sitting on the side lines, we watched them rebound, throw the ball ahead and finish with the right hand or they would dribble up court, make one dribble move and finish. All game it was clear what they do in training. Refreshing!!
The Under 10s I worked with beat the aforementioned team comfortably in game number two later in the season. Our group showed an array of technical skills that any coach would be proud of, and made reads that picked apart their opponents play after play.
I’m sure there is a case for both approaches, the club I worked for took the latter approach, throwing a lot of technical skills at them at a young age (age 10–14), with a few conceptual offensive actions added as the seasons rolled by (a stark contrast between technical and tactical). This approach led to players with their own identity, the players worked on the skills that they connected with and pruned off the skills that didn’t suit their game.
Which path is better for player development? Is it better to go for depth i.e. teach a few skills and work on them all season or teach a lot of skills and let the players find their own identity? I’m sure a coaches meeting could pick holes in both approaches. What do you think?