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Balanced Soccer Training

I find it somewhat dumbfounding how entire soccer nations see the need to shift their training emphasis. And once they make that commitment it’s like the tail wagging the dog. Everything else must change. There are many examples worldwide but I will focus on the two I know most about.

After a disastrous world cup 2018 Germany is reviewing causes for failure. The most dominant conclusion is that there seems to be a lack of individual creativity and ball skills to put creativity into play. After the poor performances of WC 1994/98 Germany did a similar exercise. At the time the soccer leadership recognized that kids weren’t developing skills by playing street, park, or backyard soccer for hours after schools anymore. So they created a national talent discovery program and instituted regional training centers and required each professional club to run an academy. The academies were for the most talented starting at U15 and offered full-time residence and academic integration. The idea was to have adolescents focus on soccer more than on anything else. And it worked. Good players came out of the system culminating in winning the 2014 world cup. Did everything go wrong since then? I think not. What went wrong since the beginning of the program is that it wasn’t balanced. It emphasized tactics, skills, and physical fitness over the mental aspects of soccer, part of which is creativity, soccer sense and problem solving on the field.

Canada decided in the late 1990s to focus on possession soccer. The entire national and regional training programs changed and coaches were trained to teach the key ingredient to play possession soccer – ball control and passing. Fields were resized by age group, as were the number of players on a team. Clubs needed licensed coaches and technical directors. Nothing wrong with what was done, but again it was unbalanced. Tactics and physical development were reduced in training and delayed to U14/15. U12 players have little concept of formations or positional play. Again the approach was unbalanced.

I have always advocated a balanced approach based on the Four Pillars of Soccer Coaching, which also happens to have become the “official” coaching model of FIFA and many member nations, ironically including Canada and Germany. I advocate to use the four pillars at all ages, the content shifts by age group, the coaching methods and delivery shift, but the essence remains the same: holistic player and team development.

For example, to develop skills it has been determined that young children need 4,000 touches on the ball every week. I have monitored practices and on average a player can get 100 touches per minute by dribbling, practicing moves, etc. – individual ball work. That is only 40 minutes per week. In our practice plans, these touches are generated in the warm-up phase when players always work with a ball individually. The rest of the practice, mostly working in small groups, generates additional touches. Depending on the number of practices per week a coach may need to adjust the phases within our training sessions. By comparison, the average youth player (U7 – U13) gets at most 40-50 touches during a game. Clearly not enough.

So what does balance look like? One way is what we have built our program on:

4 PILLARS OF SOCCER™:

Soccer Skills & Techniques – ball control, moves, passing, shooting, 1v1, ..

Soccer Game Tactics – formations, attacking, transition, defending plays,..

Soccer Specific Physical Fitness – aerobic, strength, agility, flexibility,..

Soccer Specific Mental Fitness –  communication, perception, anticipation, reaction, decision-making,..

Each soccer drill, practice plan, and book contains the appropriate balance of the four pillars of soccer.  In our BLOG we unpack some of the drills to let you look “behind the curtain”.

Our Soccer Drill Principles:

  • Maximum ball touches – no waiting in lines
  • Constant player movement
  • Easy set up & demonstration
  • Holistic training – four pillars of soccer
  • Small group & full team games
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