Helping young soccer players develop their full potential requires a well-stocked reservoir of coaching and training techniques. This article looks at the five stages of development that soccer players experience, and these can be used to help build practice sessions, which will add value to the development of young players. The five key stages of growth for soccer players are unopposed practice, passive opposition, positive opposition, small sided games, and full game practice.
Stage One – Unopposed Practice
This technique encourages technical competency in soccer players, and is best used as an entry level method of coaching. In unopposed practice, the goal is to help players master body alignment and shape, and physical movements in relation to the ball, as well as mastery over handling the ball through touch, feel, and control.
Give clear instructions to the players, along with simple demonstrations used throughout the process. Always use key language to identify body parts that players will be using, and be sure to select words that the players will understand (i.e. laces rather than instep).
Technical development at this stage should be pure because no opposition is used whatsoever. By introducing opposition before players are ready, they will be hindered because they haven’t yet mastered the core components of body and movement. Their concentration will be thwarted as they become concerned with obstacles and opponents instead of basic motion, which should come first. They key is for players to be encouraged toward making decisions with regard to the path, speed, and flight of the ball, without the distraction of opposing players.
Stage Two – Passive Opposition
Once young players have acquired mastery over the ball and their own physical movements, it’s time to speed up the tempo and start introducing passive opposition, putting mild pressure on the players so that they have a little more to think about. This second stage works to shift a player’s technique into skill.
For example, if you are coaching U6’s on how to pass a ball, you’ll start with showing them how to master the ball without opposition. Pair up two players and have them pass the ball to one another, encouraging them to react to the path of the ball and instructing them to focus on ball control as they pass it back and forth in a simple play.
As the players gain control, start moving into passive opposition using the following two techniques:
1. After a player passes the ball to his partner, have the first player follow the ball as if they are going to close in on the receiver. The receiver’s objective is to maintain control of the ball while keeping it at least 12 inches away from his body.
2. Place two cones three yards away on either side of each player. Instruct the players to keep the pass within the boundary set by the cones. Encourage them toward accuracy in passing, but also focus on control. The receiving player will control the ball, taking it around one cone and then accurately pass it back to his partner, making sure that the ball stays between the lines indicated by the partner’s cones.
Anything that distracts the player who in possession of the ball at any time, or anything that puts pressure on the player to maintain control acts as passive opposition.