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The long-term development of your players is reliant on appropriate work being completed at certain times in the young soccer player’s journey from age five through to adulthood. Clearly, in school, at home, or in any other environment, we do not expect the same from a five-year-old as you would from an 18-year-old, so why would we in our coaching program?
It is very difficult to group players, even players of the same age, into a rigid framework (or blocks). Indeed, a simple matter of a birth date within a particular age-group can throw up huge differences: physically, mentally and in other development areas.
What we can do, however, is group them according to ‘normal’ or dominant traits seen in players of a relevant age.
Note: It is easy, over the following pages, to play devil’s advocate and come up with examples where players display traits outside of their age-related characteristics. For example I recently worked with a 16-year-old who displayed the same self-centredness of an eight-year-old. I have also worked with a pre-pubescent lad who had the maturity, game-sense and self-awareness you would want from a 17-year-old. As you read the following traits, remember there will always be those who sit outside the presented framework. Be adaptable and work with your individual players accordingly.
All national player development documents and club academies will differ slightly in where they precisely draw the line between ages. One of the most useful processes is the one outlined by the Royal Dutch Football Association’s (KNVB) Albert Stuivenberg in The Dutch Vision on Youth Development. The diagram below, taken from this KNVB document, shows the youth development process as one that is fluid between the age groups:
[Text Version of Dutch KNVB Youth Development Process Age-Related Characteristics]
Top/U18-19 : Learning to be Competitive
U16-17 : Playing as a team
U14-15 : Fine tune basic tasks as a team
U12-13 : Learning to play from a basic task
U10-11 : Learning to play together
U7-9 : Goal-orientated actions with a ball
U6 : Learning to control the ball
Allowing players to move effectively through the development process relies on certain work being completed before players can move on to the next stage of their development. All phases, as suggested by the KNVB above, are interconnected. For example, to effectively teach ball mastery skills to a 10-year-old, their physical motor skills need to be honed at the earlier age. By mastering the ball as an individual, and being able to control body movements, players can become technically stronger as they proceed through the age groups. Later in development, being ‘technically able’ makes carrying out tactics more effective. If players are not technically able to carry out certain game strategies, then any tactics will be flawed.
Long Term Player Development Model
We often see the Long Term Player Development Model (above) expressed in boxes, with all categories given a distinctive place. This can suggest that a soccer player’s development process can be neatly separated into categories. This is not the case. Each of the categories are interlinked and will overlap each other. For example, a player’s physical make-up impacts their ability to perform technically, which in turns impacts on tactics. A player’s psychological make-up impacts on his social and lifestyle decisions, which as a consequence affects his game.
The information below breaks the development process of young players down into age-related stages, with studies and examples of countless professional soccer clubs and national associations from around the globe. All these will vary to an extent, but the core processes in developing young players follows the same guidelines. In general the Long Term Player Development Model splits the development of players into six phases:
1. FUNdamental Stage
2. Learning to Train
3. Training to Train
4. Training to Compete
5. Training to Win
For the purposes of our focus on youth players, we will look in depth at the first five stages…