The Evolution of a Youth Soccer Player; Age 3-14

Especially for newer coaches and parents, we include a short summary that covers various stages of youth soccer development, as well a few suggestions to enhance player development and fun.

In addition to our introduction below, there are a number of other sites that cover, age-specific player-development tips in even greater details. We especially recommend U.S. Youth Soccer’s Coaches Center at: http://www.usyouthsoccer.org/coaches/coaches_document_center/

We’ll be sure to include links to other quality web sites as we review them. 

THOSE FIRST LITTLE KICKS (Ages 3-4)

What can three- and four-year-olds do on a soccer field? Dribble and score goals—two of the most important skills at the highest levels of the game. Child-friendly movement games, keep energetic young players running and learning skills while they have fun.

TIPS:

Practices: This is a one-ball—one-player age group. The ball is a toy and each preschooler needs a toy. It’s easy to keep players busy with running, chasing, dribbling and shooting games. Give frequent water breaks and use lots of different activities.

Scrimmages: Short scrimmages can introduce preschoolers to free-play, but keep in mind that scrimmages are the least productive part of the training session for this age group. Essentially we are asking six inexperienced players with almost no concept of team play to share one ball. For one-ball games, play no more than 3v3, and no more than five to10 minutes, unless players want to keep going. At least one coach should be on the field to pull the ball out of the clutter and play it to an open part of the field. Don’t overdo the scrimmage! Players this age can’t improve their ball-control skills if they’re constantly stuck in a beehive.

  

DISCOVERING THE GAME (Ages 5-6)Players acquire an increased awareness of soccer and learn basic rules. Their dribbling skills become more dynamic and explosive as coaches encourage young players to use moves and fakes to beat opponents and score goals.TIPSPractices: Dribbling and shooting activities increase in intensity and urgency. The practice environment includes light pressure that encourages young players to solve tasks on their own. Two-touch control (receiving and passing) can be introduced, not so much for passing, but for trapping and controlling rolling balls with the first touch. Scrimmages and games: Playing time increases with 3v3 or 4v4 games.Playing time: No sitting on the bench! Players in this age group have too much energy to sit and watch. If players are waiting to enter the game, keep them busy with running, dribbling and shooting activities.

 

FUNDAMENTALS (Ages 7-10)Players enhance their dribbling and scoring abilities with trapping and passing skills. Awareness on both sides of the ball may increase as players learn tackling, tracking, shepherding and other individual defensive concepts. Especially toward the end of this stage, players may begin to understand combination play and elementary team tactics.TIPSSkill acquisition: Players should be challenged to execute the most basic ball-control skills with ease. This is a great stage to take dribbling to a higher level with increasingly dynamic moves and fakes. Advanced trapping techniques will help players control balls with different surfaces of the body: outside of the foot, thigh, chest, etc.Team play: Although possession play is probably not possible for most teams, coaches should start to encourage players to find teammates with passes instead of just whacking the ball down the field. Short fields will discourage long aimless kicks, encourage players control the ball inside the field and work out of tight spaces.Ability Grouping: To retain as many players as possible organize multiple levels of play. Because this age range lies in the middle of the sensitive period for skills acquisition, every player at every level should receive the best training possible. Exceptionally gifted players may be asked to play in older age groups to develop their potential, but coaches and parents should also consider physical, emotional, and social challenges children face when they play up.

 

BECOMING A TEAM PLAYER (Ages 11-12)Players continue to develop and increase individual skills, but also learn to contribute more effectively to a group effort. Faster-paced training and matches help players read the game and communicate with each other. Teams should begin to focus on ball possession. While consistent possession play may be difficult to execute in a match, players can generate dynamic and entertaining attacking options through basic combination play.TIPSIndividual skills and initiative: As players acquire tactical awareness, they need to work on their ball skills and 1v1 game more than ever. When game plans, formations and possession break down, explosive individual efforts at key moments can turn the game around and lift a team.Possession and combination play: In practice, dynamic short-sided play will help players explore options and make choices: 2v1, 2v2, 3v3, 5v5, etc. Give-and-goes and overlaps done well in practice can be used effectively in games. Keep-away games can be made even more dynamic with teams counting completed passes to keep score.

 

WORKING AS A TEAM (Ages 13-14)This stage presents new challenges both on and off the field. Skills work, physical effort and cognitive demands increase. The game takes on more of an adult focus as bodies mature and players move to 11v11 play on larger fields. As always, individual skills are the main key to success, but more than ever players must now learn to make collective decisions that leverage their talents with others and help multiple players solve problems as a team. Players will be challenged to play in basic formations, execute consistent possession play, recognize offensive and defensive transitions and carry out more sophisticated game plans.TIPSIndividual skills To play at this level, the first touch must be of the highest quality to control the ball and create space needed to play and make decisions in a much faster environment. As players acquire tactical awareness they need to work on their ball-control skills and 1v1 ability more than ever.Possession Play: To maintain team possession, every player on the field must be comfortable with the ball and acquire field vision to plan ahead. Players that always want to the ball will develop the confidence they need to play under pressure and maintain possession.Giving back to the game: Encourage players in this age group to help out with training at the youngest levels. Players that help teach basic skills to beginners will improve their own skill set in the process.MAJOR CONCERNSGrowth Spurts: Boys especially struggle with coordination as they grow. To enhance agility, teens and pre-teens need to keep playing through these challenging periods.Volunteer Attrition: After years of support, many parents want to take a break from volunteer duties. Parents that had high hopes for soccer stardom, often stop supporting soccer activities when their child is cut from a travel team.

Retention: Attrition is a huge concern at the U-14 level. Studies reveal that between 70-75% of youth players drop out of organized sports age 14, or before. In soccer, travel teams often cut players without offering any other alternative to keep playing. When players stop playing at such an early age, the talent pool shrinks drastically because late bloomers are not allowed to fully develop. To keep as many players on the field as possible, we encourage clubs and organizers to create quality recreational soccer options for middle school and high school players. We also encourage soccer supporters who share our goal of increasing recreational opportunities for older youth players to contact us at coachrick1984@att.net .