As soccer players hit puberty and the early teen years of 12 – 16, they are developing and maturing both physically and emotionally. These years are important as strong bonds are forged with peers and individuals become less self-absorbed. Independence is gained, a clearer insight of likes and dislikes and role models such as soccer coaches or teachers come to play an important part in their lives.
Usually by the age of 14, a soccer player will have a realistic idea of his abilities, weaknesses and strengths within the game. He will become conscious that regardless of how many attempts he makes at something, if he does not have the basic ability, then it is a waste of time. However, he will also be aware that trying to the best of his abilities will be appreciated by his teammates.
During the formative years of 6 – 9, direct comparison with other members of the team gives an idea of competency. However, in the teen years, players have the ability and experience to evaluate and judge their own performance to a reasonable extent. It’s important to be aware of this because players will self analyse and question themselves more and this can have an effect on their confidence, whether it builds or destroys.
When coaching adolescent soccer players, it’s vital to offer lots of positive feedback and encouragement and help build up their self-confidence. There are many issues teenage players have to learn to come to terms with during this period such as shape, size, concentration, coordination, embarrassment, etc. and these are all major concerns when going through puberty. For instance, some players may show self-consciousness when changing or showering particularly if they are early or late developers. Another issue is when a player with excellent ability has a sudden growth spurt, losing all sense of coordination. This doesn’t mean he’s become a bad player, just that he needs time to get used to his new body.
These circumstances and many more can prove to have a negative effect on the self-image of a player. This in turn leads to self-analysis, which can determine their performance on the field. Someone lacking in confidence may hide during a match, a loss of coordination may give rise to frustration, leading to an out of character outburst of temper or anger.
It is the duty and responsibility of a soccer coach to guide and help his team through such times. Offer help in assessing short-term goals to rediscover control and movement. Explain to the player what is happening to him, enabling him to make a connection and know what to expect. A substantial number of soccer players drop out of the game around this age and it’s possible the issues discussed here may be among the main reasons. By guiding players through this difficult time, more may be encouraged to stick with it.
Up and down emotions are all part and parcel of life during the teenage years and coaches should expect some moodiness from players. Don’t make fun of a player or have a laugh at his expense. During these developing years, you may find players becoming distracted by things that may not have held any interest for them previously such as fashion, music, other sports, the opposite sex and spending time with friends and girlfriends/boyfriends.
However, there is a positive aspect to this change. As players grow up and mature, they become much more efficient in working together as a team. Leadership, spirit, looking out for each other and pulling together are all positive developments that will occur.
How to help your players in a positive way
- Support your players by encouraging them to talk and listening to what they say.
- Encourage them to open up by asking lots of questions. (Expect one-syllable replies or grunts in return!)
- Offer lots of positive feedback both for performance and effort not just results.
- Set practical short-term goals together.
- Develop good team spirit by acknowledging contribution.
- Show sensitivity to the development of players. Never coerce someone into what could be an embarrassing situation.
- When making decisions, explain them clearly and precisely. Be impartial and offer unbiased critiques of performance.
- Be a positive example to your players.
- Self-image is fragile during teenage years. Don’t make fun of, ridicule, or use sarcastic comments to your players.
- Working with youth players can be incredible and it offers a totally different challenge than training with junior teams. Get to know each player as an individual, not just as a member of your team. Give plenty of encouragement, support and guidance and then watch your team grow.