Player Development-The Big Picture

The Development Process

Players go through a process of development that begins with their first exposure to the game of soccer and continues through the end of their playing career.  When soccer players begin playing the game at a young age, we can plan for and assist their soccer development by being aware of their natural process of physical and mental development.  Doing so will help young players have a better experience with the game, and will help their overall athletic development.   

There are a number of skill-sets that are important to a "complete" player.  All of these skills and characteristics can be improved through training; however, each player’s developmental "endpoint" is set by heredity.  That endpoint can be stretched to its maximum potential by training, but because it is set by heredity, it cannot be changed.

It is very difficult to predict a player’s endpoint, especially prior to puberty.  Many players who are the most talented in the earier ages of the process (7-11) may not make it to the highest levels of the game, while some who are quite average early in their careers may go on to acheive great things.  Since we do not know for certain which players will make the most progress in the long term, it is very important that all young players are given as much attention and help to progress as possible.  The best way to do this is to help players develop and learn to use the right tools at the right times.

There are four basic areas of development for soccer players.  They are:

  • physical/athletic (agility, acceleration, balance, coordination, explosiveness, strength, etc.)
  • technical/skill (dribbling, ball control, heading, passing, ball striking, etc.)
  • tactical/understanding the game ("reading" the game, anticipation, decision making, etc.)
  • psychological/mental (confidence, discipline, self-awareness, will to win, etc.)

The four areas of development are interrelated.  That is to say that they are "linked" or "tied" to one another and somewhat difficult to completely isolate. They can all be improved be improved by regular training.  The trick is to concentrate on the right one or more in certain activities and at the right times during the overall process.

Even at the highest levels of the game, there are very few players who are highly developed or equally developed in all four of the development categories, but overwhelming strengths in some areas can mask or compensate for weaknesses in others.  As players mature and move on to play at higher levles, the mix or balance of these strengths and weaknesses will tend to make certain players more suited to playing cerain positions.  For instance, a player with good 1v1 ability who is smaller, but very fast and disciplined might make an ideal winger or full back while a taller, more physically imposing player who is a particularly good header of the ball might be an ideal central defender.