The game of football (soccer) is random. The field and goalposts stay fixed, the lines on the pitch don’t move, and the ball is round — but that’s about it. Other than that, things are pretty chaotic. The ball moves, teammates are all over the place and so are the opposition. Players have to make decisions in milliseconds.
I’m a firm advocate that young players must train based upon the demands of the game. If the game is random, then young players must train in chaos! A key component of youth training should be practicing in very tight spaces. If young players are practicing with teammates, then it is important that the space is limited and that young players are challenged to executive a skill and change direction (at game pace) every couple of touches. I see a lot of ball mastery work that is low in intensity, in straight grid lines and players can easily complete the work without being challenged to have close control and be explosive in their work.
If young players are trained consistently within this type of environment they will quickly get used to having many players around them, in tight spaces and they are challenge to constantly master the ball and navigate their ball away from pressure. This mirrors the real challenges they face when playing the game.
Dan Micciche, the current U15 Academy coach at Arsenal, is recognized as one of the most innovative coaches in the UK and has had great success in challenging young players. When at MK Dons academy in England, he helped develop creative young players such as Dele Alli – now with Spurs and a current England international. Micciche used to challenge his players by playing 9v9 and then 11v11 games in small condensed playing areas (60 x 40 yards). He even went a step further by adding in offside areas to further condense the play. The reason for this? He feels that young players need to be challenge to be able to work successfully in tight spaces. In his sessions, Micciche limits space and time, and to survive in this type of game, you really have to be able to play.
Micciche believes that many coaches don’t like limiting space because it looks messy. “Sometimes it does because we’re asking a lot technically, you might not always get quality…. but when you do it is the highest quality. And when they go out onto a full-size pitch again, it feels as if they have got all the time in the world.”
But what if you’re a young player and are not training in an environment that supports this type of challenging work? Then, young players have to take the responsibility on themselves to do more technical work by themselves away from their team. They can challenge themselves by working in 5 x 5 yard grids at high intensity and constantly working on learning new technical moves and combining them. Then when training with their team they can introduce these moves in opposed work and then later introduce these new technical moves to actual games.
The game is random…..train in chaos!
Tips for Players: Ensure you train at a high intensity in tight spaces. If your team is not doing this take more responsibly yourself by training more alone to achieve this
Tips for Coaches: Challenge your players technically by limiting space and facilitating a chaotic training environment where players must get used to mastering the ball in confined areas with other players around them
Tips for Parents: Ensure that your child is in a program where they are getting challenged. If they are not, help them and encourage them to take on more responsibility for training themselves