The young players that we coach all have dreams — and of course they should have! When they are young, everything really is possible and we as talent development coaches must provide environments where young players dare to dream. Aspiring young Messis should watch the Argentinian star on television go on mazy dribbles, beat 4 or 5 defenders and stick the ball in the back of the net…and believe that they can do the same!
Young players today cannot ask for better “coaching demos” than Lionel Messi (Barcelona ) or Ronaldo (Juventus) playing every week. Young players can watch them on YouTube and then want to be like him.This is where we come in.
It is our responsibility to provide an environment where young players can try new moves, without a fear of failure! When I was growing up in Northern Ireland, we would watch games on TV and immediately run out of the house with a ball under our arms to try our countryman George Best’s latest move. Children don’t play in the street as much nowadays so we as coaches are responsible for facilitating and encouraging this “self-discovery” learning in a more structured environment.
Self-expression forms a major component of our warm-up at every session. Players are encouraged to show their latest moves, and to challenge themselves to try new things. And we should always make a “big deal” about making mistakes and “being on the edge” They should be praised for that. As The Talent Code author Daniel Coyle has mentioned many times in his work, we want youngsters “reaching” and struggling to be on the edge. That’s how they get better.
As the players get a little older, around 11 years of age, more competitive opportunities start opening up for them. Players at this age can start to participate in the Fleetwood Town ID camps that we host. It is a good age for learning as the players are still very open to new ideas, are not afraid to try new things, and generally speaking are like sponges.They also are still young enough to dream big!
In North America it is important to talk openly to these young players about all their options. In more mature soccer nations in Europe the “pathways” are very well mapped out and typically involve trying to get identified by a professional club’s academy. In Canada, there are fewer options at the professional levels because we have fewer pro teams. There are only three professional club MLS Academies in Toronto,Vancouver and Montreal. In Canada we also have a new professional league. However, there is no youth development framework currently in place at those clubs.
Outside the professional club environments parents in Canada have several options. There are OPDL clubs, several private academies playing across several leagues and community youth clubs as well as provincial and national team programs.
Parents and players can get quickly overwhelmed with the menu of opportunities and start chasing all of them, often several at once.Then the players start training and playing 6-7 days a week and an important part of their development is being compromised. Time is spent sitting in cars, when the young player should be out on a field, with a ball at their feet, improving their skills and having fun!
The focus should not be about the next or latest opportunity. The emphasis should only be about getting a young player on a “pathway of learning” to make him or a better player.
If we can do that and keep the focus on learning versus the “achievement” of whether players have been selected for an OPDL team, the provincial team ,or an MLS academy, then we are doing what is truly best for young players and their families. The greatest achievement for young players in soccer is simply getting better at it! There is no better gift that we as coaches can give our players than that.
It is important that young players set goals, that they have dreams and are prepared to be dedicated and invest in their own learning to achieve those dreams. If players focus on improving their skills and overall performance levels then good opportunities will then find them.