One of the biggest challenges that young Canadian players face is the lack of contact time with the ball.
Young Brazilian players are spending 12-15 hours a week working on their ball skills and young European players are training five or six times each week. Consequently, Canada must adopt the same philosophy towards technical development if we wish to be truly successful in soccer in competition with these nations.
It is important to remember that while these players may not have “coaches” in the same way that we understand the term, there is always an older sibling, parent, relative or friend to pass along lessons of technique and the fundamentals of mastering a ball. More and more professional academies are introducing “non-structured” free play to their curriculum in an effort to develop more creative players. This can include futsal play, ball mastery work led by the players themselves or even 1v1, 2v2 or 3v3 competitions.
“Technique is the basis of everything”
“I notice that many coaches still think that training technical skills can only be done during a warm-up or that it is only a small part of a larger whole. This thought process evolve. Technique is the basis of everything. If you can see where you have to pass the ball to, but you don’t have the technical skill to pass the ball to the correct spot, then recognizing the correct moment is worthless. Without technique there is no tactic.
Pepljn Lijnders- current Liverpool FC First Team Development Coach and Former Technique Trainer at FC Porto (Portugal) and PSV (Holland)
In Canada and North America in general I see far too many training sessions where players have limited contact time with the ball and there is an over emphasis on tactical work. As Pepljn rightly points out, you can have the best tactical plan and objectives for your team but if our young players cannot keep possession, feel confident in taking players on and beating them in 1v1 situations or passing a ball accurately at the right pace to teammates then the players cannot succeed. Last year I ran a 30-minute ball mastery session where the players touched the ball close to 5,000 times (I had a parent count). Surely our time as youth coaches is better spent on facilitating this type of dynamic environment (that mirrors the game) than one that is static, unrealistic and robotic.
In 2016 I visited the Chievo Verona academy in Italy. We all view the Italians as great tacticians of the game yet at Chievo this work does not begin until the U15 level. Prior to that the younger teams spend one session at the beginning of the season working on how the team should play. At the Chievo Verona academy they focus on ball mastery in the air and the majority of training activities involves 1 ball/player, or group work in two’s and three’s. This is very similar to the approach that Pepljn adopted at FC Porto and at PSV. It is also similar to the training activities I observed in Spain with Sevilla FC.
The academy programs at professional clubs in Europe are designed to develop and produce talented individual players. The focus is on individual player development. In Canada, we are still overly focused on building and developing teams. It is an approach that is not helping us to develop creative and talented players who are comfortable with a ball at their feet.
Let’s change this by increasing the contact time that all our young players spend on the ball.
Tips for Players:Take a ball to the park and work on your skills for 30 minutes each day, rather than spending time on your phone or iPad. If you ae not sure what to work on Coerver have a FREE app containing ball mastery activities to work on or you can research other work on You Tube. There are lots of tips also on the 1v1 Soccer FC YouTube channel. During winter months you can use a tennis ball in the basement
Tips for Coaches: How much of your training activity is spent on ball mastery work? Typically, I spend 30 minutes each session with players working at a high tempo in a chaotic structure which demands close control and recognizing and exploiting space. Have a look at Pepljn Lijnders sessions online. Can you incorporate this type of work into your training? Coerver Coaching is also another great resource for placing Technical development as the cornerstone of your program
Tips for Parents: You play the most important role in your child’s development. By being positive and encouraging your child to focus on constantly improving their individual skills and love the game you will be providing them with the key attributes to succeed long term.