Technique matters: When should it be emphasized in youth soccer?

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Technique matters: When should it be emphasized in youth soccer?

By Sean Jensen
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There are four essential elements to developing a young soccer player: technical, tactical, physical and psychological.

The latter is perpetual, while tactical and physical skew towards older, more mature players. But, technique is typically a point of focus earlier in a player’s continuum, then lessens as they become more skilled.

“The traditional view has always been that there is a window of optimal trainability for technique, and that happens slightly different for boys than the girls,” says John Curtis, a former schoolboy standout in England who made 300 professional appearances, including with Manchester United. “Generally, for players between the age of 9 and 12, a significant chunk of practice should be technical training. But, what is technical training?”

Curtis says some people incorrectly assume technique is manipulating the ball, like step-overs and tricks. He insists that technique is the way a player passes, heads the ball, shoots the ball.

“It’s basically the way we do everything,” says Curtis, the technical director for the New York Club Soccer League and the player development director of the New England Premiership. “What we’re trying to do, as coaches, is teach the kids the optimum technique to do things, because, very often, nobody’s technique is exactly perfect.”

Steve Cavalier, the director of youth development for the Delaware Rush, says an emphasis on technique is critical for his 8- to 10-year-old players.

“They need a technical base: how to dribble, pass, shoot and receive the ball,” Cavalier says. “You can talk about scenarios and results, but I focus on individual development. I design a curriculum that revolves around the major technical aspects, like dribbling with both feet, receiving the ball with both feet, turns and shots.”

In practices, Cavalier tries to create game-like situations, such as two versus one.

Without competency in core techniques of the game, players may not have the skill to execute a tactical strategy. But with a good, technical foundation, players can learn to make cuts without the ball and integrate a third player into developing an offensive play.

Young players love watching the pros perform tricks, and Curtis says he sees no problem with practicing those. Coaches must run practices that are not monotonous and boring for the athletes, Curtis says.

“What’s important to recognize is, it’s not just doing tricks,” he says. “We can’t just associate technique with skills. We need to be able to address all the technical issues within the game.”

If proper technique isn’t learned early, the player will have more difficultly reaching his or her potential.

“It becomes difficult to un-train the body to do something,” Curtis says.


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