Soccer 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 help their soccer development by being aware of their natural process of physical growth and mental development. Integrating the soccer development process with the natural growth process can give young players have a better experience with the game, and it will help their overall athletic development.
There are a number of soccer-specific skill-sets that are important to a "complete" player. All of the skills and most 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 young soccer player’s developmental endpoint, especially prior to puberty. Many players who are the most talented in the earlier 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 achieve 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, encouragement and help to make progress as possible. The best way to do this is to for coaches to focus their attention on the right areas of competence at the time in the players’ growth process when it is most easily trainable.
There are four basic areas of development for soccer players. They are:
· Physical Qualities (athleticism/fitness, agility, acceleration, balance, coordination, explosiveness, strength, etc.)
· Technical Qualities (skill level, dribbling, ball control, heading, passing, ball striking, etc.)
· Tactical Qualities ("reading" the game, anticipation, decision making, working in groups, etc.)
· Psychological/Mental Qualities (confidence, discipline, self-awareness, willpower, etc.)
The four areas of development are interrelated. That is to say that they are "linked" or dependent on one another and somewhat difficult to completely isolate in training. They can all be improved by regular attention. The trick is to emphasize the most appropriate content areas 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 core 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 levels, the mix or balance of their strengths and weaknesses will tend to make each more suited to playing a certain position. 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.