Any instructional program for a youth soccer player must meet the athlete’s needs in two basic respects:
1- The player must have the opportunity to learn The Game in a manner that enables continued enjoyment of soccer for as long as he or she wishes to play. This includes a) developing a solid foundation in the game’s essential skills, b) learning to recognize and solve the small group situations that are the basic components of team play, and c) acquiring a repertoire of effective soccer habits.
2- The program must also focus, perhaps more so, on the additional benefits of participation in sports. These personal and social rewards follow from what an athlete learns about character traits such as commitment, dedication and discipline, perseverance and resilience, fair play and sportsmanship, integrity, and accepting ever-growing responsibility for his or her own role in the pursuit of excellence.
The obligation in those two areas, to the player and the person, is as important for the athlete whose future in soccer lies with youth and adult recreational teams as it is for the potential National Team member.
In Coerver Colorado’s camps and other programs, the development of the skills, habits and character of the individual player comes first. Until that is done, attention to team play is limited to basic offensive and defensive organization.
Many programs talk about the importance of individual player development. Yet too often the commitment to that principle disappears under pressures tied to wins and losses. If anything, there has been a declining emphasis on technical development in recent years. It’s easier and much more comfortable to focus on building teams for today instead of developing for players for tomorrow. At the same time, the ability to teach skills is itself a talent that many coaches do not have, even though they may possess the skills themselves.
Choosing to prioritize the development of creative and skillful individual players can be at some initial cost to team “success,” especially when judged only by the numbers on the scoreboard. We know, though, that when teams use a “skillful players first” philosophy quickly become surprisingly “successful” – not because the team is better, but because of the superior skill of the players. That skill forms a rock-solid foundation for the development of creative, attractive and effective team play that is successful by any definition.
Players who do not get a thorough grounding in soccer’s essential skills at the younger ages – anything below age 13 or 14 – are being cheated out of their futures in The Game. Teach skills and they will play for a lifetime.
With that in mind, Coerver Colorado programs are designed to grow players with:
> A Dynamic First Touch – the skill and vision to place the ball with the first touch with either foot to a spot where it can be played again quickly and productively. This would be trained in every session.
> Accuracy and Power when striking a ball with either foot, and the ability to use several surfaces of both feet in controlling the ball.
> Superior 1v1 Skills – the ability and confidence to take on and beat an opponent in a one-on-one situation, the poise to keep possession of the ball when under strong defensive pressure, and the skill when individually defending to shut down the artful attacker. Using some sort of one-on-one activity in every session produces players of exceptional skill and confidence when facing the individual duels that so often determine the outcome of a match.
> Mastery of the Small Group Situations (2v1, 3v1, 3v2, etc.) that are the building blocks of team play.
> Mastery of the Great Soccer Habits, the little things great players do that make a big difference on the field and form the basis for a player’s Sense of the Game (a.k.a. “game smarts”.)
> An Appreciation of the Competitive Process – learning to make the maximum effort at practice as well as in games, both to make yourself better and to challenge your teammates to be at their best.
* * *
By the end of the Under-14 year, Coerver Colorado players will be exceptionally skilled. They will be poised, confident, creative and bold with the ball and will make excellent use of the fundamental elements of team play. They will “see the game” and regularly anticipate the coming movements of players and the ball. They will demonstrate the ability to make good decisions about the mix of individualism (“I can beat you myself”) and team play (“or with the help of my teammates”). And they will demonstrate the Qualities of Great Athletes on the field and in all other aspects of their lives.