Coaching a soccer team, especially a youth team, is rather straight-forward, at least theoretically. Like all things, the devil is in the details. But so many coaches never even get beyond proper planning that the details are beyond a hope and a prayer. Here is my outline for developing a training model for a youth soccer team focused on development:
1) Determine what the starting point is for each of the players. What technical skills, tactical knowledge, and experience do they each come in with? As a group on average what are the abilities that each player should possess? Bear in mind, that individually there will be variations, deficiencies, and advanced abilities. These provide areas where the coach can focus individual lessons. But overall, we are looking for where the players are technical and tactically at the beginning of the season. This largely is dependent, of course, on the previous seasons development and success, or lack thereof.
2) What is the end-competencies required for the players? What technical and tactical abilities/skills do you want the players to be able to accomplish at the end of the season? Are you refining skills carried over from the previous season? Are you introducing new skills or tactical concepts? Each requires a different training methodology. This list should also not be so all-encompassing to be ludicrous and not realistic. Better to focus on a few critical technical and tactical abilities and teach them well than try to teach/train everything and do it poorly or without devoting enough time to each.
3) Write this list of objectives and end-competencies down. This is the start of your training curriculum for the season.
4) Determine the optimum order for the training of the end-competencies. How much time is required to teach each one? How much repetition is required? Are some skills and abilities progressive, meaning you have to reach a reasonable level of mastery of the first stage before you move on the the second?
5) Now you have a training curriculum.
6) Determine or develop the training lessons, exercises, games, etc, that you will use to teach these skills, techniques, and tactical abilities. Don’t go crazy with training exercises. Again, better to have a few that you can coach really well, that teach the necessary concepts clearly and allow for progressive increasing of difficulty, than to have a million drills that don’t allow the players to focus on getting better. In general, the games should be as soccer-specific as possible, involve multiple phases of play (or all four, ideally), and provide a means to increase or decrease the level of difficulty so that your players can progress.
7) Plan your training week. Determine how you are going to teach that week’s topic with the given exercises or games. Allow for repetition and feedback. Be realistic. Adjust based on the teams successes or failures with the training.
8) The game at the end of the week is where two things need to occur – 1) The players who trained all week, working hard, and trying to learn new things, get to have fun and play the game of soccer, and 2) you watch, assess, and evaluate the previous weeks training. This is not only feedback for the players but feedback for your coaching and training ability. What worked? What didn’t? What still needs to be worked on? This provides the starting point for next weeks training agenda. Adjust, refine, continue to teach your curriculum.
So, that’s what I consider to be the Learning Model as applied to sports training. I tried to keep it straight-forward. Bear in mind that there are details in each step that must be addressed. But overall, it is fundamentally about teaching. Not one step is simple, and each requires a level of competency and ability on behalf of the coach. However, when we can start to break complex tasks down to steps or chunks, then we can start to divide and conquer so that our coaching can improve, thereby improving our players, too.