For our youth coaches to understand what our developing players require they need to understand and take note of what our current pool of senior players are missing.
In my recent exposure to the senior environment within Victorian NPL football it is visible that our players require ongoing development even at senior level.
However, due to the pressure of achieving results and semi professional environments, the focus on individual development is pushed aside making it extremely difficult for our NPL players to reach the heights of A League and beyond.
With only ten A league teams in the country there is limited opportunity to gain access to a professional environment and this is one of the major contributors hampering the development of both players and coaches in reaching the standards required to produce top players and coaches. A bi-product of the lack of opportunity to reach the higher levels is a lack of desire and interest for senior players to learn and decreased interest for senior coaches to teach individual development, as key performance indicators are about results and winning matches on a weekly basis.
The below 4 points are visible components of development our senior players are missing in my opinion, and a guide for youth coaches to develop better future senior players.
1. Understanding space, how to create it and how to utilise it
Our current senior players lack the understanding of how to create space, and require more development in having the ability to see and understand the impact of their movements and positioning with relation to space.
The understanding of movement; how, when, where and most importantly why to move or not to move to create space is essential in having a better football brain, this understanding is a major contributor to both individual and team performance.
In my opinion our senior players show little evidence of understanding the science of space within a team and the creations of space for oneself or another team mate through movement to or away from the ball, or by simply not moving.
I believe one of the contributing factors to this outcome is the current senior players at youth level were not taught from a young age “order on the field” with movement. Just like repetition of a core skill movement needs to be repeated and understood until it becomes a habit of understanding.
This is something European player especially in countries like Spain and Holland are being taught from 8 years of age. However, is there enough time to focus on this with only three training sessions a week in our youth NPL teams? I find it interesting that majority of our NPL teams from U12s to senior football have the same training schedule of 3-4 training sessions a week and in some cases only two plus the game. In comparison to European football where the increase of age means an increase of training sessions.
If we look at Dinamo Zagreb youth academy, ranked one of the best youth academies in the world, their youth program has four sessions per week for U8s – U11s, five sessions per week for U12s-U13s and five to six sessions per week for U14s-U19s. Something to think about if we want to compete with the best in the world.
2. Understanding pass information and the meaning of a pass
Pass information and the ability to read pass information is one contributing factor that differentiates the good and excellent players. The understanding to see the second play (picture) and guide your team mate in the next action can change the game completely. Many senior players at NPL level fail to make passes with pass information and the intention behind the pass is not visible in many cases. This is delaying the process of proactive football in building effectively through the thirds, scoring more goals and getting in behind the opposition in all areas of the ground.
3. Execution of core skills under pressure
Easily the most identifiable is the inability to execute core skills under pressure. In my view there is a high turnover of play due to the inability to execute core skills under pressure and in some cases without pressure. Our senior players panic under pressure as they have not been taught to absorb pressure from a young age or see the space in behind to decrease the overall anxiety of pressure.
There are a variety of components that impact on this but one that stands out for me is we continue to increase the size of the working area for our youth players. The execution of a skill comes from practice. Practice is the repetition of an action with the goal of improvement that helps us perform with more ease, speed and confidence. Increasing the size of the area to decrease pressure will never improve the execution of a skill under pressure. That said, the size of the area always needs to be controlled by the coach to ensure the goal can be achieved but difficult enough to ensure learning occurs.
4. Ability in 1v1 situations when attacking
Our current attacking players within the NPL senior environment lack the ability to attack defenders with confidence, speed and skill. Many struggle to understand the technique required to beat an opponent in the final third or on the wing and what to look for in the attempt to get past a defender. Others fail to assess the right moment for 1v1 situations by not seeing the space in behind the opponent or the positioning of the second defender.
Is this a result of continuous pressure in youth level to not lose the ball? Players need to be given the freedom to express themselves and dribble past players without having the fear of failure.
Youth coaches need to give youth players more opportunity in 1v1 situations without the desire to intervene too early and avoid giving the solution to early. Most importantly the opportunity to practice without fear or failure to lose the ball.