Today’s guest post comes from one of my social media friends, Tristan Tillette. I know he’s legit because he tweets back at every tweet I put out there, especially when it comes to soccer performance training and youth development. He’s been in the game for over a decade and has plenty of knowledge to share, compared to my 6, meager years. ;-0
When it comes to team practices, is this enough to get our kids to the next level? Let’s dive in.
It’s soccer season…..but wait it’s *always* soccer season. Club teams, school teams, ODP teams, 3v3 teams.
Note from Erica: …futsal teams, middle school teams, high school indoor teams, technical training, speed training, how-to-floss-teeth training…
It seems like the “season” is a never-ending story of carpools, sessions, tournaments, trainings, trainers, and camps that takeover parents’ lives. And this is the case for many, so hearing more time dedicated to the game makes us sprint in the opposite direction.
This article will look at the question: “Is Team Training Enough?” And it will explain how parents can work smarter rather than harder.
The building blocks to answering this question will relate to the following variables about your son or daughter – age, goal, commitment, and current programming. Once you answer these questions (and remember honesty is ALWAYS the best policy), the path should start to appear. Here we go:
Simply put, how old is your child? This answer provides a piece of the development puzzle as 18 year olds have more time remaining in the development process than 8 year olds. Less time means more urgency. For example, your 16 year old hears from College Coach X “you really need to improve your speed to play at the next level.” WHAT!?!??? (Insert expletive here) In this case, the player may only have a few months to do so before the next evaluation by their dream school.
Note from Erica: If your child is 16 and up, it’s best they get started on strength, speed, and power gains ASAP. Physiologically, none of this can be gained within two weeks, even a month. So plan accordingly.
How far do they want to proceed with the game? High school? College? Pro?
Our job as parents involves open and honest discussions with our young players about their goals and WHY. WHY college soccer? WHY high level college? WHY pro? Etc. Keep in mind they will be hanging on our every word so discouragement is not an option. I firmly believe that ANY kid can make it….but unfortunately ALL can’t. One determining factor is our unconditional encouragement and belief in them. The secret sauce however is THEIR commitment to the goal.
Note from Erica: Being clear about your goals as a player is an excellent gauge on how much effort should be put in. If a child simply wants to make the high school team, then maybe grinding it out a few months in the summer is their best bet. If a child wants to play in college, then buckle up. That’s a continuous process and takes an insatiable desire to get better technically, tactically, and physically.
Uh oh! The “C” word.
There are different leagues and levels of play – Rec, State, RPL, ECNL, DA, XYZ. The last one doesn’t exist but most likely coming soon. Honestly, it breaks down as the following – committed vs social soccer. Do the players participate because they love the game? The process? The journey? Or do they simply want to play with friends?
Note from Erica: Do they want to be the next Alex Morgan? Do they want to drop kick their opponents? Then training beyond practices is required, namely, physical (strength, power, conditioning) and technical (first touch, 1v1 mindset, ball confidence).
Keep in mind this answer is completely separate from the level of play, league, team, etc. A player can be on the highest level possible; but if purely in it for kicks and giggles, then team training is most definitely enough.
Last variable to examine is soccer programming. Notice the term “club” wasn’t used. This issue goes beyond club, school, and other participating groups. This variable varies significantly across cities, states, and regions in the US. The standard range of club training is very broad i. e. 3hrs-8hrs per week. And the services provided are even broader – Team A trains 2days per week…league B requires 4days, journaling, and monitors recovery…UGHHHHH! Cant we all just do the same thing? US youth soccer is a business, so we wouldn’t want to kill the entrepreneurial spirit by just giving all kids what they need. (Hmmmmmm).
Good news! It’s this simple. A complete development program should address the following:
1. Technical skill – dribble, pass, shoot
2. Functional skill – skills related to positions (older)
3. Tactical Skill – formations and player placement
4. Physical Skill – strength, speed, power, etc
5. Psychological Skill – journals, readiness, teamwork
Some smaller communities have excellent programs that deliver comprehensive formats for all their players. These players are cared for technically, tactically, physically, and psychologically. While some “big name” teams provide 2-3 team training sessions a week and cross their fingers that they win championships.
So now what?
Once parents have honest answers about their situation, steps can be taken to ensure players are reaching their true potential. Remember above where it said “technically, tactically, physically, psychologically?” 🙂 Yes it takes all of those for complete player development to occur! Let’s be honest this can’t happen in 3-4 hours per week. So in this case team training is NOT enough.
Now last question —- are you getting ALL of this in your team training? If not and the secret sauce (COMMITMENT) is there, then it’s time to fill the gaps.
It seems like the soccer organizations, clubs, and teams spend the vast amount of team training time on “soccer.” Most of the sessions being devoted to soccer skills, team shape, tactical work, etc. Makes sense….on the surface. Simply put, this is the obvious choice and direct responsibility of the coaches.
But what about the physical pillar of the game? Who focuses on that? Some clubs address physical qualities such as speed, agility, and strength; while others may outsource this training to a “specialist” or an existing fitness business located in the local communities. Physical attributes are the basis for all athletic movements and sport skills. How can young players dribble at speed and shoot with power if they can’t run and jump efficiently?
Note from Erica: Excellent point, Tristan, about the physical pillar. I’m not a biased strength coach or anything. ;-O
Simple motor skills and strength movements should be implemented 1-2 days per week in-season and increase to 3-4 days per week during the off-season (with younger players being on the lower range of these recommendations). The following movements are appropriate for all players …all ages:
Coordination – marching, skipping, shuffling
Speed/Power – hopping, jumping, running, med ball throws and slams
Strength – push-ups, pull-ups, bridges, bodyweight squats, lunges (all directions).
**Once players are confident with these movement patterns resistance can be added through medballs, dumbbells, weight vests, etc. Seeking a qualified fitness professional is always the best option to assist with physical programming for the player**
Note from Erica: I’m happy when players ask for “take-home” programs, but nothing beats the programming and attention-to-detail from a certified professional. Especially once athletes start to pull heavy weight, a professional will ensure they don’t die.
One more note from Erica: For more information on youth physical development, my favorite books at the moment are The Athletic Skills Model (for proper long-term physical development), and Strength Training for Soccer (what exercises are best for soccer players).
In conclusion, the sporting experience should be one that’s fun and memorable for our young players. A positive environment is one that’s engaging and appropriately challenge for each specific player. The team dynamic, vast ability range, and commitment level makes this a daunting task for even the best coaches. Let’s band together as leaders and parents to ensure we’re putting the players first in all of our decisions. Please reach out to us with questions about your particular situation as we’re excited to help your son or daughter enjoy the journey.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tristan Tillette serves as an Outreach Developer for the Alabama Sports Foundation. In this role, Tillette works with numerous youth sports organizations at the grassroots level. He has also assisted several youth clubs and colleges as a Soccer Performance Specialist. His primary passion is education and promotion of a positive sporting experience for all young athletes. As a “soccer dad” and father of three young players, Tillette has a strong vested interest in raising the level of youth soccer across the U.S.