Here are a few observations that I have made over the years with regards to youth soccer development. I would like to bring these ideas to the forefront so that others can reflect on them.
Recreational soccer should not be miscast as a competitive activity. Coaches and parents should emphasize childrenâ€™s simple enjoyment of the sport. Children playing soccer in recreational leagues should be enjoying themselves on the field even if they are not yet competent in the skills and havenâ€™t yet learned how to play soccer well.
At the same time, the children that are more gifted should be encouraged to take part in more competitive traveling team experiences. Players who join traveling teams will have greater opportunities for learning the game and improving their skills because they are usually exposed to better coaching and to better quality competition.
That said, I have found that local recreational leagues tend to stress competitiveness inappropriately. As a result, coaches in these leagues are less willing to give their players the opportunity to participate in other more educational situations out of fear that they will lose them to other clubs. Not all talented players qualify to play on traveling teams, and I would not recommend that all should do so. However, if players show aptitude, it would be in their own best interests to seek to deepen their soccer experiences by playing on traveling teams.
In summary, recreational leagues should be just that: recreational. Players with aptitude and with good coordination should be shifted to the more competitive traveling teams, where they will become prepared to play soccer on a more advanced level.
Another issue I’d like to reflect on concerns the introduction of children to tournament play and when such specialized training should begin. Michael Sokolove, in a New York Times article, states: “U.S. Youth Soccer, the governing body of state soccer associations, recommends a series of measures intended to put the brakes on go-go youth soccer culture, like no travel tournaments for players under ten that promote winning and losing and the awarding of trophies. Also: no encouraging of specialization until players reach at least the age of twelve”. “We teach in our coaching courses that there’s no advantage to it” said Sam Snow, U.S. Youth Soccer’s director of coaching education. “Soccer is a late specialization sport. Players do not peak until they’re in their mid-twenties”. I asked Snow if he felt his advice was being heeded. “No”, he said. “I’s not.”
I agree with most of the Mr. Sokolove’s comments. However, I would suggest some modifications. Children under ten should not be sent to tournaments. By contrast, children under twelve can be allowed to participate in tournaments with the purpose of exposing them to different playing environments.
I agree that specialization skills (playing exclusively in certain positions) should not be emphasized before twelve years of age because generally players do not have enough fundamental skills to begin concentrating on certain specific areas of development. By fifteen to sixteen years of age, most youth players should be able to start specialization.
If you have an opinion with regards to this article, I’d be happy to hear from you. Please send an email to : [email protected]
Dr. Gabriel Nigrin (DOC)
Founder, Silver Lake Soccer