Mass Youth Soccer offers these ideas about player development to youth coaches to help you to identify age-appropriate aims. For each two-year age grouping, we have proposed guidelines in the major elements of the game: technical, tactical, psychological or mental, and physical or fitness-related. We have also suggested some ideas about the practice environment and listed some resources for coaches of each age grouping.
Our purpose is to suggest a framework for the coherent introduction of soccer's techniques, tactical ideas, and fitness components. These ideas and guidelines, this framework, these suggestions are directed to you coaches to help you to plan a helpful progression of practice plans and intentions for your season.
These ideas are general. Every child is different: each has her or his own physique, mentality, motivation, cultural situation, etc. Some eight year olds are athletic and have played soccer for three years and love to compete; other eight year olds are not so athletic, are just beginning soccer, and are playing because their best friends are. Kids learn and develop and grow at different rates! There are precocious kids, late bloomers, erratic learners, etc.
Patience is vital. One way to consider this outline is as a source of simple, seasonal objectives. These objectives should always be considered in relation to long term outcomes and the players' needs - not the coaches' needs.
These ideas are not intended as final objectives or "end results". Player development is a long, never-ending process to be undertaken patiently by both players and coaches. Also, there are many intangible qualities which lead to success on the soccer field which are not discussed here: imagination, fantasy, tenacity, concentration, and others. An abundance of any of these intangibles - persistence, fighting power, creative flair, for example - can enhance a player's technique or tactical sense or compensate for deficiencies in these.
We urge you to avoid trying to "get ahead" of the ideas in this framework, but not to avoid reviewing and consolidating. Hesitate to go ahead, but don't hesitate to go back!
It is impossible to quantify the elements of soccer which are discussed here. These guidelines are intended to express in a general, global way what it is reasonable to expose players to at each age. Some players may exceed expectations; others may struggle to reach them. For example, one nine year old may receive a ball during a scrimmage, see that she can play it ahead, and turn up the field, balanced and with fluid technique. Another nine year old may have no idea about what to do when the ball arrives, be tense and rather clumsy as she tries to control it, and be indifferent to your suggestions when you approach her.
Few players will "master" all these elements at a given age, and their performance will almost certainly be inconsistent as they grow through pre-adolescence and puberty. Some players are more "technical", some more insightful and intuitive, some more physically gifted. A coach's challenge is to help each player achieve the most enjoyment and fulfillment at each age.
There are some parts of soccer involvement which are universal and consistent. All players of any age should reflect them: respect for the game, teammates, opponents, coaches, etc.; punctuality, responsibility, sporting attitudes.
We do not discuss coaching methods here: the "how" of organizing and inspiring and transmitting knowledge is the topic of another discussion altogether.
We also do not discuss goalkeeping here. We feel that all kids should be exposed to the rudiments of goalkeeping, that everyone should be encouraged to play in the goal occasionally until they are 12 (at least in practice!), and that no one should specialize as a keeper until she or he is at least 12. Goalkeepers now must be considered "field players" who need well-rounded skills. Goalkeeping is so specialized that it calls for its own set of guidelines.
Ultimately, all players must learn how to attack and how to defend by themselves, as part of a group, and as part of a team.
A reasonable aim for players at each age level, in relation to the techniques and tactical issues listed here:
Technically - solid, stable skills, under pressure and at speed.
Tactically - recognition and understanding of situations and decisive action or reaction in response to them.
There is an implicit challenge to all of us coaches here! We must all commit ourselves to learning as much as we can about children, technique, tactics, and physical preparation.
In considering these ideas, coaches should not lose sight of the most important element of youth soccer development: FUN!
The two big words are FUN and PLAY!
Stages of Development for Players
Within Mass Youth Soccer's development and instructional group, we have adopted a new way of thinking about player development. We don't intend to suggest anything radical in terms of substance - just a new way of thinking about the organization of youth player development. This is based on our conviction that practice activities and objectives and game forms for youth players ought to be age-appropriate.
We hope that this "new" organization will help the coaches of Massachusetts to create a more coherent, accurate system of training for their players. The Mass Youth Soccer coaching staff thinks of youth development in 3 stages:
Stage One: Ages 5, 6, 7 and 8.
Stage Two: Ages 9, 10, 11 and 12.
Stage Three: Ages 13, 14, 15 and 16.
Of course, every child is different. What is true for one ten year old girl may not be true for another, and there is a big difference between six year olds and eight year olds. But in this situation, we are content to speak in generalities. Here are some of our ideas about each stage:
Stage One ( 5-8 years)
Stage One is the introductory, exploratory stage for kids. They are meeting the ball and the game and the practice environment, literally "feeling their way" into soccer. The most important considerations for practice and games are freedom to move, positive encouragement, trial and error and fantasy.
Practices should be fun: stimulating, low-key, child-like, dynamic events. The central elements of every practice should be the natural curiosity and eagerness of the child... and the ball. The emphasis at practice: touching the ball, becoming "friends with the ball", understanding how it moves and acts.
There should be virtually no talk about tactics and no fitness work. No laps, or running without a ball, or calisthenics, etc. There may be goalkeepers, but no goalkeeper training!
Stage Two ( 9-12 years)
For Stage Two, the primary emphasis, as always, is on fun and dynamic movement. This is the time when technical development-mastery of the ball and the acquisition of skill-is vital. Repetition of "soccer movements," small sided games, trial and error, and a patient, coherent introduction of basic tactical ideas should form the basis of practices.
Refining skills, absorbing soccer's truths and solving soccer's innumerable little problems are most important now. Still, we should not be concerned with strength training, isolated fitness work or elaborate tactical planning.
Towards the end of this stage, 11-a-side play comes in, as do heading and goalkeeper practice. It's all about repetition and patient advancement as the kids seek to become all-round "ball players."
Stage Three ( 13-16 years)
In Stage Three, technical progress is still most important. But now, increasingly, the players have to learn to apply their skills, under pressure and quickly. Everything is still "with the ball," but now soccer begins to become a little more abstract. There are more tactical lessons and more concentration on the organization of players on the field.
But even now, the critical elements are fun, dynamic movements and freedom of expression. The players are investigating all the positions, the different "climates" around the field and the endless tactical options of this free-flowing game.
More information about coaching is available on the
Massachusetts Youth Soccer Association website.