The first ingredient of player development I’m going to talk about is the four corner model when developing a player at any level or age. This tool aims to support the long term development of each & every player in four key areas Technical, physical, psychological & social.

Below shows the four corners which make up players key characteristics’ in the foundation phase 5-11 age. 

If you want to capture the child and allow them to love the game try to develop these key skills before moving onto the youth development phase 12-16 age.  

There has been much debate in recent times in England about the best way to educate and develop our young footballers. The argument seems to have a split into those in favour of the FA’s new philosophy as promoted in the Youth modules which propagates the notion of the game being the teacher with all practices game like and opposed and those who encourage isolated technical skills training and 1v1 domination.

Is the game the teacher?

I have attended and passed the first 3 of all the youth modules and found them very enjoyable and enlightening, may I also add I worked at the FA for nearly 5 years and have definitely made a lot of positive changes but also have along way to go in terms of education. The main theme running through all the courses is that game like, opposed practices are the best way in educating and developing our young footballers.

Seeing & working in Academy Coaching in the Foundation Phase of Clubs for nearly 10 years I can concur that this is indeed an essential ingredient of any development programme. I however as a technical coach firmly believe that without unopposed isolated practice you can’t produce top level performers.

In my eyes there is also a 3rd way, one in which both approaches are activated and in reality if you look at Academy Football this is what goes on. learning to master and then use techniques, particularly 1v1 skills. Much of this is done unopposed and/or with passive pressure. This comes hand in hand with a focus on SSG’s 1v1s, 2v2s, 3v3s and 4v4s.

The FA promotes the game as the teacher whilst ignoring the importance of ball mastery, skill development and 1v1 domination. Whilst all group sessions should include game like opposed practices, it is imperative and especially important at the foundation phase that we develop and test individuals technique with unopposed and passive pressure exercise.

As coaches, we have a responsibility to support the players in fulfilling their potential. If we really want to produce good players they must be two footed, this is achievable and easier the earlier you start.

Learning from other Sports

If you look around the world at other elite sporting environments you will see the unopposed technical practice is a main stay of top athletes. If we look at basketball, another team invasion game, players at the top level will spend endless hours practicing their shooting unopposed. This of course goes hand in hand with opposed practice, the point is one doesn’t work without the other. Tennis players will spend hours practicing their forehand and backhand strokes, perfecting each weapon in their armoury preparing for game time. If you look at any sport and the top performers in it, you will see examples of isolated unopposed technical practice.

If you’re coaching in the Youth Development Phase it’s useful to consider the players’ futures – what do they need to be prepared for and what might the game demand of them by the time they get to adulthood? If we want exciting, creative players in the future, the experiences the players gain through the Youth Development Phase must provide opportunities to develop those characteristics, skills and attributes.

Each player’s journey is unique

It doesn’t matter in what setting you coach or where the players you coach end up in the future: everyone’s journey is unique 

Youth Development Phase:

So, how do you help players transition into 11v11? Although this is an important aspect of a young player’s Youth Development Phase journey, it can be beneficial for your players to play other game formats in addition, like 9v9, 7v7 or Futsal. Varied game and competition formats can have multiple benefits for your players across all four corners.

Developing the individual (within the team)

In the Youth Development Phase, it’s important to still prioritise the development of each individual. Remember, we need to help each player to stretch and grow their own unique capabilities, whilst embracing their individuality. Importantly, however, as they move through this phase, players also need to learn how to play with individuality, for the benefit of the team.

Each of your players will have different capabilities and potential. They will be at different stages of development across all four corners and maturing at different times. Some players will be born earlier in the year and some later, some might have played for several years and others might just have started. They all need elements of challenge and support and the role of the coach is to nurture them along their journey, providing the experiences needed throughout this period of change.

Their developmental journeys will continue far beyond the Youth Development Phase and well into adulthood. It’s impossible to predict where each individual’s journey and potential will take them.

Players won’t yet be the ‘finished product’. They’ve still got plenty of time and room for development beyond this Youth Development Phase. We must value self-expression and encourage playing with freedom, so players can explore their game and creatively push their boundaries.

If I look back on the time I spent learning to play, none of this was available, and I was even playing 11 v 11 at the age of 6 probably touching the ball a handful of times in a game. I like to think technically I’m quite advanced but how good could I have been given the opportunities and intelligence in the sport now available. 

The coaching manual created the below and if you’re a parent reading this then it gives a great visual of the journey your child will be on themselves & maybe how you can support them in their own development?  

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