Friday, November 16, 2012

Think about the player that will be ....

Working with the early bloomer and preparing the late bloomer.   Another justification for Long Term Player Development.

"Get the ball up to Joey ... go, get it UP!!!! .... go Joey  GO JOEY  SHOOT  SHOOT .... AHHHHHH Joey .... Ahhhhh ..... don't worry Joey , you'll score next time .... wait ... yes .... Get the ball back to Joey .... why didn't you give the ball to Joey??? "

Eight smaller players.  One big, fast striker.  Everybody's job is to get the ball up front to the big boy.  His job is to run and bury the ball in the goal.  He will score 1 of every 5 chances because he can't strike a ball while he's running.  He will run a lot because the passes are all over the place with no real purpose other than to go forward.   Nobody has learned a thing because the team is winning games and the coach, with his nice jacket and two trophies,  is feeling successful.  This will keep working .... until you play a team with TWO fast players.

Everybody needs to remember that everything changes at 13/14 years old, for boys and girls.  The growing player starts to become the adult they're going to be and speed and size start to even out.  So what will separate players at that point?  Technique, skill and smarts.

Ask yourself:
  • Have I seen a player who dominated at age 10 disappear at age 15?
  • Have I seen a player who struggled to make a team at age 10 dominate at 15?
Playing at the right level in the right situation at the right time with the right training helps the early and late bloomer compete once everybody catches us to each other.  Keep in mind that not every athlete is a late or early bloomer.  Some are average the whole way through.

Early bloomer
  • More confident, at the moment, because they are succeeding
  • Exposed to more competition because they are making the higher teams
  • Established reputation that might help them later if they start to fall behind
  • Never had to worry about skill development because they were faster and stronger ... true technical abilities may be lacking
  • Subject to unrealistic pressures too early in life
  • Sometimes subjected to jealousy of other parents
  • Occasionally benched because score is running out of control ... in a sense, being punished for being an early bloomer
  • May be exploited by coach to secure wins, forgetting about development
  • Parents may start to "dream" a little too early.
  • Child may have trouble dealing with competition when other players "catch up"
Late bloomer
  • May lack confidence from not making travel teams
  • Lack of success may result in trying multiple sports
  • Lack of confidence may carry on into other areas (ie school) or vice versa
  • Rarely hear their name being cheered for during games
  • Parents may not understand development and make poor decisions
  • May be subject to negative feedback
  • May lose interest in seeking a competitive spot later on
  • May develop an attitude of "what's the point of trying?"
Don't fool yourself.  Both the late and early bloomer are feeling pressures that are uncomfortable.
So the problem is simple.  How do we best prepare everybody to compete when our physical stature is no longer the main separator? When the defender is now as fast as your striker, how does your striker beat him 1v1?  How does the player who scored by putting the ball over the keeper's head score now the the keeper is taller?
  • Keep everything enjoyable and progressive.  Frustrations from games and crazy sideline talk needs to be wiped away by enjoyable environments.  We want those players to be training and playing while and after their bodies are going through changes.
  • Don't let the early bloomer rest on their early successes and insist they focus on mastering technique and playing "smarter".  Encourage the early bloomer to use their tools to bring teammates into the play.  If an early bloomer is smart and technically sound, your entire team will benefit.
  • Find occasional situations for the early bloomer to step in to that challenges their mind and body (playing higher levels or with older players).
  • Find occasional situations for the late bloomer where they can take a bit of a leadership role (training with a younger or lower level team)
  • Don't let the late bloomer feel like they are just a supporting player for the better players.  Give them roles that suit them today, building confidence in them for tomorrow.
  • Raise the level of physical literacy among all of your players.  During the periods of growth spurts, continue to train the muscle groups to keep co-ordination levels where they need to be for soccer.
  • Technique Technique Technique - Ensure all of your players are comfortable with the ball in as many situations as possible and at full pace.  Do this with and without opposition.
  • Problem Solving - continuously give your players problems to solve involving the technique they are using.  Mini competitions at training, small sided games with conditions, individual challenges, etc.
  • Promote and encourage ambidexterity.  This is necessary for the successful player and ties in with physical literacy, but is also a great confidence builder as a child.  Imagine how they would feel after a goal or assist with their weaker foot.
  • Revolve positions to give your players exposure to as many situations as possible.
  • At training, use small sided games to force players to find ways to compete without the convenience of their size or speed.
  • Devalue competition or decrease the number of pressure situations you put your team in.  Maybe skip a tournament and find festivals to play in.  This takes pressure off stronger and weaker players and makes it easier to have them feel comfortable in trying new positions.
  • Make sure you have treats afterwards.  This has nothing to do with anything in this article ... I just like treats.  :)
If you've amassed any kind of coaching experience, you will have stories about late and early bloomers quitting sports at around age 15. 

Learn about LTPD and you will see that what they emphasize at different stages of a child's development supports the information above.  And it doesn't apply only to soccer.

Your goal is that all of your players are socially, emotionally, mentally and physically prepared to compete and enjoy soccer in their teenage years.  If you get them to that point, you've succeeded. 

Some good articles about late bloomers: