Youth Soccer Players Stop Thinking
Does this sound
like a bad thing?
The title might
lead you to think so, but in fact it is a good thing when youth
soccer players can actually stop thinking. Follow along and
what you will grasp is the key aspect many developing players,
parents and coaches are missing.
“soccer greats” play.
The other night I had a once in a lifetime opportunity. I took
my son to watch AC Milan play. You could tell he was truly
engaged by the power of this experience. We had the opportunity
to watch Ronaldinho play and see Onyewu, only the second
American to play Serie A, make his debut. What a night as we had
no idea that both would be on the field together in their first
As I watched
the match I was once again truly impressed how natural
everything seemed. A ball sent in from 60 yards away was touched
once and was sitting at the player’s feet. Coming into 3
defenders Ronaldinho simply stayed centered on the ball and
waltzed though them gracefully escaping the pressure. Every pass
was at perfect pace and rolling smoothly on the ground. The
overall first touch of these players would amaze anyone.
After the game
I reflected on what a technical director from England and I had
talked about last year. This “perfect touch” and all the
technical skills didn’t just come naturally and they didn’t come
from just playing “pick up games”. The majority of these players
had these skills engrained into their souls by repeating them
100’s if not 1000’s of times on the practice field, day after
day, year after year. They performed them without “thinking”,
they were “instinctive”.
youth soccer coach and trainer should understand this
behavior that is mediated by
reactions below the conscious level.”
In other words,
we perform these skills and react without having to “think”
How do we teach
soccer skills make something instinctive?
about tying your shoe. Well, maybe I should say think about the
fact that you DON’T have to think about it. It can take months
for a child to learn it and even longer for it to become a
“thoughtless act”. The same applies to skills in soccer. One of
the key principals of the
www.SoccerU.com training series is this “learning process”.
Not just the skill, but how this skill is learned step by step.
1) First we
must learn the skill broken down and step by step. Each step of
the skill is vital and if not perfected, will break down the
overall movement and result. We must show it in slow motion,
give a visual example and also explain the why, not just the
2) Next we must
make sure the player is performing the skill properly. We don’t
want the player repeating the skill “improperly” or that is the
way it will be engrained. (You can see this on every soccer
field in the world. Kids repeating a “bad” shot on goal time
after time, hoping it somehow improves.) This takes patience and
must be done in slow motion, but after a while the good skill
will come through.
3) Then we
repeat the skill over and over without pressure. We want the
mind to be clear and focus on performing the skill at game
speed. We repeat this over and over, day after day.
4) Once this
step has been completed we add the pressure if it applies; a
closing defender or another player that is nearby. This step is
critical so that the player “feels” the real game situation in
which the skill will be used. This game like replication, with
pressure, is a critical part of learning the skill for use /
recall in a game.
these skills be repeated often?
Last year I was
on the practice field with a team and their 30 professional
players. I couldn’t help but notice the warm ups and touch
drills they ran through over and over. These were not “high end
technical skills” but basic core touches and raw skills. These
were skills that they would use in a game over and over, yet
they were repeating them in a practice setting.
professional golfers. Why do some of the greatest golfers in the
world go to the practice range every week and some even every
understand that learning a skill only one time or practicing a
skill a few times over several years is never enough. The human
brain builds a set of "sensory-motor memories" for each skill we
learn. The more we repeat it the better defined and more
“natural” (instinctive) the skill becomes. Once this process has
been completed this “memory” becomes engrained into our brain.
Now even if we don’t use the skill for a while, such as riding a
bike, our brain has the ability for “spontaneous recovery of the
skill” or memory.
We need to
revisit each skill time and time again. Teach a child how to
receive a ball on their thigh when their 9 and by the age of 10,
this skill will be forgotten or not be “instinctive”. Revisit
this skill once a week and by age 10 it will be ingrained into
their subconscious and be “instinctive”.
At home and
away from “practice”.
Look at the
amount of time you, your team and your child has to practice
these skills in a “structured soccer environment”.
countries players show up for soccer practice 5 days a week and
these practices sessions last for 3 hours. In the US and many
other countries we have about 2 hours a week during a 12 week
season. Within this time we also have to work on learning the
game, fitness, set plays, formations, scrimmages, and many other
aspects. This leaves little, if any, time for repetitive skill
training. Not a problem for those who play for “fun” or
recreational purposes. However, a large percentage of players
leave this recreational level and move to a competitive, academy
and travel level. These players want to compete, focus on the
game of soccer, and improve to be the best they can be at this
sport. These players must have the assistance of their parents.
The parent must make time to work with their child in a private
or semi-private training time away from the “structured
practice”. We can then focus on skills that are specific to that
child and their needs.
don’t have to be a pro.
At home or on
the field parent / child training sessions should be fun but
also focused on repeating and improving skills. The parent
doesn’t have to be an “ex-pro soccer player” to do this. Any
parent can learn right along with the child while practicing. It
might be a bit humbling, but watching Mom or Dad fail and
struggle often makes the “medicine go down” a bit easier.
Believe it or
not, this is how many of the great youth soccer coaches in our
system are born. They start out knowing little about the game
and devote a great deal of time and energy to learning about
development of young players, rather than “winning”. They often
devote years and hundreds of hours of their time becoming better
trainers, coaches and builders of young minds and bodies. So
regardless of your own skill level as a parent or coach, you can
teach young players skills. Simply learn how to teach them and
then invest the time.