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Exciting Times for a Youth Soccer Player

Back in 2016, when the first rumblings of a Player Development Initiative (PDI) were heard, many coaches were skeptical; Players grouped by birth-year, smaller adapted fields with adapted rules for youth players; many changes were on the way.

Fast forward 2 years later and the PDI has had a huge positive impact on the youth soccer landscape. Youth soccer players can develop in an environment that is age appropriate, that is fun and that let the players be creative.

While we are going into the right direction, one of the problems is that youth soccer decisions are made by adults who see the game through a different set of eyes. Not all adults involved in the game see the need for the PDI. Too many parents/club boards don’t understand that their seven-year-old child is not equipped (mentally and physically) to play on a 7 vs. 7 field, let alone on a 11 vs. 11 field. There is still a lot of education to do.

US Soccer has also introduced a new training methodology for the grassroots soccer player, Play-Practice-Play (PPP). After over a decade of research by US Soccer, this proven methodology has taken foothold in youth soccer besides the PDI. The US Soccer coaching education department has created grassroots coaching courses to introduce this methodology to the youth soccer coach and parent. The grassroots courses are designed for the 4 vs. 4, 7 vs. 7, 9 vs. 9 and 11 vs. 11 game models. The National D-license is renewed and focuses on the PPP as well.

Clubs all around the country are adopting or have adopted the PPP, so let’s explain this methodology to the parents who are eventually the paying customer.

In most cases, parents expect the training sessions to be structured with lines and visible repetition. Drills were the norm when they grew up, so it is understandable that the parents think this way. Furthermore, the US sports environment with American football, baseball, basketball to name a few, is coach-centered. What this means is that the decisions on the field are mainly made by the coaching staff and the athletes are the executors. This is structured but leaves almost no opportunity for creativity and decision making by the players themselves. Soccer is a game that cannot be coach-centered due to the unstructured nature of the sport. Soccer is a player-centered game in which the players need to come up with the answers to the questions the game presents itself with. Drills and waiting in line do not stimulate decision making and creativity.

In a structured unstructured environment, the PPP model stimulates the players to make decisions. Soccer training sessions need to be game realistic to ensure that the players learn to the fullest. Can you learn how to ride a horse without riding the horse?

The first Play Phase allows the players to get to training and start playing, like street soccer. We can’t bring the youth soccer players back to the street, so we bring the street to the players. When all players have arrived, the coach will stop the scrimmages (max. 4 vs. 4) and will explain the objective of the session. Play Phase 1 will then be 2 x 9 minutes of games with guided questions asked in between the halves. The guided questions, which are in relationship to the objective, are to be answered while playing the game. The coach calls out a couple of key-words which he/she will use throughout the training session. It seems that the coach is not coaching, but in reality, the coach created an environment totally conducive to the learning of the players.

The Practice Phase is where the coach guides the players in activities that are game related. This means that an activity needs to have direction, needs to have transition and needs to encourage the players to be creative. The coach can now manipulate the activity in such a matter that the objective is learned through experiential learning. When a player is able to come up with a correct decision, (which might be a different one than the adult sees) there is no need to coach. When a player (s) is not able to come up with the answer, the coach will coach using the guided discovery method. Asking players questions rather than giving the players the answer.

Technique and tactics are taught through game-like, repetitive and challenging activities.

The second Play-Phase is for the players to show off his/her new learned technical and tactical skills. Minimum coaching from the coach as we need to accept mistakes by the players. Only through mistakes is it that a youth soccer player learns. Allowing the players to fail and allowing the players to learn through experience creates a holistic approach to teaching the youth soccer player. The road to success is filled with mistakes and that is okay!

Take a grassroots soccer course and experience yourself what great and exciting times US Soccer has to offer for your youth soccer player.

Next time we will discuss why not to coach from the sideline!

Quote of the Week:

"While winning is important, development is paramount."

Auke Wiersma

Director of Professional Development

Total Soccer Development

US Soccer/ NJYS Coaching Instructor

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