Much has been said in many quarters about player development and in particular about the technical
ability of Canadian and American players. Many debates have been discussing what technique “should” be taught first: passing, receiving, or dribbling/shooting. Opinions vary, and in a multicultural society like ours, the influence of our original soccer roots is ever present in any discussion.
You can bet that Italians, Scottish, English, or Brazilians will all have different opinions on the how, what, and when. However, they all agree that technique training takes priority in youth development, and even though their approach to teaching it might different from one to another, youth coaches in the US and Canada serve it as a "main course" in their training session.
The question still remains: why can’t we develop good technical players?
I am sure that any soccer coach reading this article can come up with at least one good explanation and solution to the problem.
However, with the implementation of the Long Term Player Development Plan,(LTPD) coaches are starting to realize the importance of physical literacy and the role that motor skill development holds in developing good technique.
What is motor skills development?
As the word “motor” signifies movement, motor skills is the ability of a person to learn how to move with their body. Crawling, walking, running, jumping, turning, climbing, and also balance and coordination are part of motor skills development.
From the day we are born, our body, with the help of our brain, learns how to move and is continually readjusting to the various stages of growth that we go through till maturity. When we teach a particular technique, mechanical repetition of a movement is key. The more we make a particular movement, the more it becomes natural and second nature.
How doea all of this have anything to do with technique development?
We, as a society have created an environment that encourages sedentary life versus a mobile lifestyle. Computers have taken over outside play, inertia over movement. How does this affect technique development you might say?
In this case the answer to this question has to be provided by a series of questions:
How can a player dribble a ball correctly if he/she cannot run or is uncoordinated?
How can a player strike a ball correctly if he/she cannot stand balanced on one foot?
How can a player head a ball when he or she does not know how to jump?
How can a player receive the ball when a he or she has poor flexibility and lateral movement?
As coaches we have to be aware of this problem and re-adjust our thinking .When planning our season and defining objectives, we need to incorporate motor skills training. At the pro level these steps have already been taken, as I have seen first-hand when visiting Inter Milan a few years ago. (Article on this visit will be presented in the near future).
At their youth level, each team has a fitness coach on staff whose main responsibility is to address motor-skills training development of their players. At the local club level, the reality is that we do not have the resources that a pro club has to provide this special training. However, we can still make some adjustments in our approach to training motor skills development by incorporating specific activities.
One of most important things that a coach can do is to encourage players to participate in other sports. It might seems sacrilegious coming from a soccer coach but, especially at the younger ages, it is important that players have a broad experience of a variety of different sports to enhance motor skills.
Schools at any level can play a great role in motor skills development, and soccer coaches must support any players' involvement in school sports.
In planning a training session, especially at the younger age groups, (8-12) coaches need to look at how to incorporate motor skill training within the session.
In these age brackets there are various activities that a coach can plan to promote motor skills development. Play and fun are key:
· Obstacle courses
· Tag games
· Relay races
· Skipping rope
· Games of balance
Relay races is an activity that can be programmed in any part of the training session. It is fun and addresses some aspects (coordination, balance) of motor skills training.
Fun activities in form of games can be used in the warm-up phase of a training session. Quick change of direction and running coordination are highlighted.
Running coordination, obstacle courses, or a combination of technical exercises integrated within the coordination exercises helps keep players motivated.
The following video shows other type of activities that a coach can incoporate in a training sesion.
This is a crucial period of growth for players. The body is rapidly growing out of proportion. Players look awkward, and at times are not able to execute routine technical tasks .
At times, they seem to have lost their skills, however players have to relearn how to execute a technique or task with the new growing body. We can help out players by incorporating specific motor skill training in our annual program. Running coordination is very important at this stage and should be done regularly. If feasible, hiring a professional running coach at this stage would be a wise investment.
What follows are some examples of activities that coaches might use in practice sessions that can help motor skills development: