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Coaching at the Youngest Age

Monograph by Attila Nyiri

COACHING THE YOUNG AGE GROUPS A GUIDE TO COACHING 7-10 YEAR OLDS IN THE GAME OF SOCCER BY ATTILA NYIRI Coaching the young Age Groups A guide to coaching 7-10 year olds in the game of soccer By Attila Nyiri I hope that the content and context of this humble monograph will illuminate and bring a much-desired catharsis to our game, which will serve as a springboard to developing better, more skillful, astute, witty, cunning, and imaginative soccer players. Attila Nyiri USSF National Licensed Coach New York State ODP North (Mid Hudson ValLey) Technical Director NY State ODP-North Head Coach, USA Region I. Staff Coach Technical Adviser to CAO Oradea, Romania Consultant to Olimpia Satu-Mare, Romania I dedicate this monograph to my children, Andrea & Clarence, who constantly challenge me to be and remain a good person. Also, to my wife, Gratiela, who is always by my side, as the rock of our family. To my parents without whom I could have never achieved all that I did. Prologue Arriving at this point took many years of empirical research, starting in the very early 1990s. I then had to decide to either forgo my stay in Europe and continue with the professional game as a coach or take a break and return home to the US and embark on a new venture in strictly coaching children at the grassroots level. Returning to the States, I sensed that things are astray but was always assured by the "experts" that all was right. Well, it wasn't, and after thirty years, things came to a head when in 2019, we did not qualify for the World Cup in Qatar. It took thirty years of slow and steady improvements, plateauing, and rapid regression to finally end in the degeneration and humiliation of not making the 2022 Men's Soccer World Cup. In August 2021, everyone hoped for another Women’s Olympic gold but in the end, had to settle for a bronze while suffering the humiliation dished out by Sweden and then the limp performance against Canada. The blame is manifold, and doses of it reach all corners of the soccer world. USSF Presidents, Directors, Administrators, Policy Makers, "The Pay to Play" system, Coaches, the playing system, etc., are all blamed except one domain. The Methodology by which we do things is never pointed out even when the protesters accuse the coach. I hope that I will show and demonstrate to you that a purge is needed. If all of us in our small way can contribute correctly and honestly to our game, our beautiful game would not only reach but surpass the player dominance of Europe and South America. Chapter 1 The Beginning After many years of contemplation, in 1997, I decided to return to the USA. It was a painful decision to arrive at as it was a choice between continuing with my steady ascension as a trainer and coach in the professional game or forego all and return to the USA. With one set goal in mind, to be a catalyst in applying what I learned, but now at the grassroots level. The first thing I've done is take a break from the grueling regiments of the game, and I spent my days going from park to park in NY City and observed what is occurring on the soccer field. I noticed that the most significant improvement in the game, systematical development, took place on Long Island, Brooklyn, and Queens and to some degrees in the Bronx and Staten Island. Here, at least, there were organized practices. Of course, this was still the volunteer mom or dad, and here and there, some paid trainers, but even those were seldom qualified or licensed to be called coaches. Most of these coaches were well-groomed and well-accented foreigners like me, who often even exaggerated their accents to clear a fatter check. I befriended many trainers. After repeated conversations (independently of each other), I concluded that they believed Americans are stupid, spoiled, soft, and ignorant; moreover, these kids will never amount to anything. But the pay was good and there for the taking, and many times even turf-wars broke out, and long-lasting friendships fractured due to this falsely claimed proprietorship of soccer grounds. This period (to this day) was also when the conversation that should have never surfaced did. The commonsensical question, even posed by coaches who were teachers in their civilian, daily lives, asked it. Why shouldn't children play like and train like pros? And this is where I had an advantage. I have observed many experts and those who thought they were "experts" on two continents for many years. For some reason, I found three distinct camps. The first group believed children as young as six-seven should train like Pros—the second group thought that children of ten and thirteen should train differently. The third group would join any camp that would convince them of their methods, not through empirical data and tangible sentient results, but false hopes and tribulations. A great example here was a boy not yet nine years of age, his brother four years younger, and his dad, who always trained hard out- side. They practiced alone and with their team/s. Later, I found out that this boy played several sports, and played as many as three soccer games on the trot on Saturday and Sunday. Many things wrong here, but for now, let me concentrate on one. After seeing them several times at their individually held "practices," I have noticed that this boy was always shooting and had excellent prowess in his shots. Meanwhile, he had his little brother in a regulation goal. His brother was not yet four feet tall but guarding a goal 8 feet by 24 feet, while his brother was masterfully scoring goals and successfully humiliating the little guy shot after shot on every well-executed attempt over his siblings' head. All this while dad was, like a peacock in full feathers, celebrating the magisterial cannons lobbed in the upper corners of the goal, out of the reach of the five-year-old who struggled mightily to show that he was worthy too. After a few times viewing this, I have ventured over to them and asked what the goal of this exercise is? He very confidently and with an air of detectable fatherly pride, laced with a smidgin of conceit, told me that this is his son Johnny. He is a great shooter 10 out of 10 in the upper regions of the goal, and that there, with tears running down his cheeks, was little Billy, whose character is forged as we speak now by the Messi-like messianic Johnny. After repeatedly seeing this debacle, I gently prodded the father to walk with me out of earshot of the boys. I asked a few questions that I also pose to you all. What was wrong here? More importantly, why an adult with all of his faculties does not understand that there was something wrong here on several lev- els; moreover, these were the people he loved most in his life, the apples of his eyes. Many explanations followed, one worst than the other, but surprisingly ones that made perfect sense to a novice (this father claimed to be a great coach). Let me list the explanations that still haunt me, and, perhaps, after we evaluate them, we can purge them out of our mindset. Also, pounder these questions again: how did these explanations found their way into the soccer world? How do they become "practices" set in stone? How and why does a majority of soccer parents still believe them to be true? Here are the explanations: 1. Johnny is a great shooter, and his right foot is a cannon. (I later worked with Johnny, and I confirmed that he could only shoot with his right foot.) 2. Johnny always hits the upper regions of the net under the crossbar. (this was true). He was very accurate on his shots and lobs. These were shots that turned into lobs that his father called a shot. 3. Johnny wins every game for his team on a set-piece and sometimes shoots from twenty-twenty five yards out and always scores. 4. Billy is little yet, so he is the goalie. 5. He hates to be in goal, but he can't shoot as hard as Johnny, and Johnny gets bored and saves all of Billy's shots. 6. This practice is a character builder for Billy. When he is Johnny's age, he will be a winner like his brother. 7. He began telling me that Vince Lombardi once said, and I stopped him here. Does anyone recognize this at your previous or present clubs in this century as well? The answer is still a resounding yes. As it turned out, John was indeed a great shooter who would lean back on most of his shots, sending the ball in a high trajectory, and by having a tiny person in a huge goal, his success rate was intoxicating. But once we reduced the size of the goals, his shooting prowess diminished a great deal. On the other hand, Billys' confidence in goal shot up many levels. Players had to fain and dribble around the keeper, who was now defending a smaller target. Players played with a smaller rubber ball, had to score off of dribbles. Once we made these equalizing environmental changes, Johnny, the second coming of Messi, was now challenged. On the other hand, Billy began enjoying the game and playing against the big brother who had problems scoring on this tiger-like happy keeper. Of course, I am just providing a nutshell. You all know the issues here, but none of you are ready for the fathers' response to what happened. Ready? He went off on a tirade to the club president that there are unknowing and unqualified coaches here who impede children learning like pros and reduce his talented child to boredom and tears as they take away his favorite weapon from him. What kind of moron asks a kid to dribble and not pass and shoot, but after they beat the keeper pass the ball into the net? Can you guess what the club president did? He got the board to- gether to reprimand me for instructing the club patrons with the wrong information and warned that we wouldn't have any players left if I continue in this way. Can you imagine my shock and surprise? Yet, I am sure that you all encountered this or this kind of problem in your coaching lives in all the US clubs you coached. In conclusion, it has to be said and underlined that what happened here (and I neglected to mention that this was a European adult and an American Club President and Board) does not constitute; neither does it infer that Americans are stupid. Nor are they spoiled. This example is not a watershed measure as to how far their kids will go in the game. What occurred here is the response to decades of faulty perceptions, perceptions paired with haphazardness at the national level and their affiliates, up and down the totem pole, with leagues and administrators willingly switching playing systems and methodologies as it was a once worn sock. It allows pretenders, imposters, overaggressive, obsessive-compulsive disorder-stricken people, and soccer moms to define and frame our game and how it should look on and off the soccer field. Roots of Everything: We can now affirm that healthy non-afflicted children are in training to become performing machines from birth. The mere ability to wiggle on their back, then turn onto their stomachs is lovely to experience as a parent. Sitting in a tripod pose, then crawling, cruise, getting up and becoming bipedal human beings and understanding and perfect rudimentary language, listening, and reacting, yes, even anticipating events, is a magnificent human achievement on their part. Some babies achieve this feat in eighteen, but most in twenty-four months—a marvel of biological progress. We know a lot about this developmental stage from Karen Adolph, a neuroscientist and psychologist at NYU. In her Infant Action Lab, Professor Adolph performs tests on neonates to toddlers and can provide all interested coaches and students of Physical Intelligence about this stage of development with a plethora of information. Why is this important? Why do you, my fellow coach, need to know all of these "irrelevant" things? There is a simple answer. If you do, then all of your questions and assertions such as: how did they do that? Where did they learn that? You can't coach that! All such and similar matters and statements of amazement would thus disappear. Today, it is no longer enough to know the game to be a coach. It was never enough, but that is part of an entirely another book. For a coach, it is crucial to understand human development and, within that category, the development of movement, psychology, neuroscience, and physiognomy all in one package. There is something essential in the works of Prof. Adolph's' conclusion concerning gained knowledge and its transfer from one level to the next. She vigorously affirms, but only after years of research and empirical data, that children do not "transfer" learned knowledge from one stage to the next in their movement. Watching thousands of her experiments convinced me that this is true. What does that mean? Well, it means a whole lot, especially if you are a caring coach in our sport. You, as a coach, must be familiar with the five W's & one H all of the time. The 5W's are the what, where, when, who, why, and the 1 H is the how. So let's revisit the affirmation that neonates from birth do not transfer the knowledge they gained into subsequent learning levels of their moving development. The (what) is the learning process of the neonate. The (where) is the environment of the baby (our player). The (when) are the stages of the (what) the learning process. The (who) is the baby at hand (our player). The (why) is the reasoning, the explained actions we as coaches carry out. Finally, (how) represents the methodology to determine (what) to implement (where), choose the correct period (when) with the reasoning behind the choices selected (why), and all for the only subject that matters, the player, the (who) of our equation. Now, with all of the above-referenced concepts explained, let us see the relevance of Prof. Adolph's findings. Neonates do not transfer gained movement knowledge from one learning stage to the next—for example, one of the experiments of Prof. Adolph is the babies crawling right over a cliff. The research was first carried out by Gibson and Walk in 1960, but it manipulated the environment. In Gibsons' experiment, babies started one side of the table and crawled towards the other side, the table split by a marker. The other side of that marker hid a significant drop below a glass top. Prof. Adolph changed the environment, took away the glass top, and built an adjustable table with the ability to lower one side to three feet. The surface of the table is a checkered pattern. Here too, babies were encouraged to crawl, and they did. At the initial stage, as they were "learning" how to crawl, they crawled right over "the cliff," but once they became comfortable and experts in crawling, they always stopped at the edge of the drop-off. Evidently, without being told or taught, babies figured out that flat surface-crawling was excellent and enjoyable. Still, cliffs represent an imminent danger, and internal signals warn the baby to stop. Yet after all this, babies learn to adjust innately and find ways while crawling to change body position, modify themselves and go feet first using their hands and arms to hang on to the upper part of the cliff and have their feet feel out the depth. Once their feet touch the bottom, they fall back into a crawling position and continue their journey. After all this, one must presume that babies have learned the value of sensing the danger of heights and forever can navigate these distances in the elevations of their environments. But one must be wrong to do so. Once these crawlers become bipedal humans, toddlers walking on both feet repeat the same mistakes as they did when they were crawlers and walk right over a cliff. Only after they are confident walkers do they once again learn not to walk right over the precipices. Although there are many more examples, this demonstrates that knowledge mastered at one stage does not transfer to another. The other captivating phenomenon in Prof. Adolph's video is that babies and toddlers always do it with a smile on their faces, whether crawling, cruising, wobbling, or walking. These videos are a testament to us coaches that children of all ages enjoy physical exercise and can smile even under the most challenging environments if that environment is conducive to their psychological stage for both their biological and calendar ages. Coaches of the youngest and subsequently young age groups must understand the correlation between motor skills, mental capacity, and psychological stages. Ignoring or overusing; moreover, exploiting and straining any of these elements can harm the player's development. I have stated earlier that a great grassroots coach must also be an educated polymath. In this instance, we require knowledge in child psychology, mainly referring to Piaget, the famous Swiss child psychologist. But first, we must distinguish why Piaget differs from other psychologists. He is vital to us because : ! His method is concerned with children rather than all learners. ! It focuses on development rather than learning per se, so it does not address learning of information or specific behaviors. ! It proposes discrete stages of development, marked by qualitative differences, rather than a gradual increase in the number and complexity of behaviors, concepts, ideas, etc. With this established, now let us begin with Piaget's tadpole theory. Centuries of child-rearing clung to the tenet that children are merely miniature adults, moreover, that they are imperfect beings. Yet, precisely the opposite holds: the fact that children must be measured against their functions and if they correspond to them, they are impeccable creatures has only become commonplace and a generally accepted idea in the last one hundred years. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Piaget used a very befitting example to explain the functional anatomy of children. He compared children to tadpoles and implied that they are not imperfect frogs, meaning that they cannot be accounted for their four legs to jump, so it is not advisable to search and look for adult-like abilities and virtues in children. If tadpoles can swim and live in the water, they are suitable for tadpole functions; that is to say, they are functional autonomous beings. On the same lines, we must see and recognize the child within the child and judge them according to the functions characteristic of children. In my experience, I often found that the teachers on the soccer field, the coaches, very often lose sight of this fundamental but basic principle. They barely acknowledge what their profession and professionalism, and rationality demands of them — that children need the appropriate opportunity to live out and exercise their childish functions. Let there not be a misunderstanding here. I am not speaking nor advocating against requirements, rational loading, or discipline! I advocate for the exact opposite. Development in body and soul—and sporting knowledge, since this is not independent of the coach—can only be expected from supporting requirements and honest pedagogical work. Coaches must be willing to accept the fact and notice that these age groups are very different from the "junior" and "adult" groups. They should manifest this knowledge through their daily work by understanding: that these age groups demand more expression of appreciation and praise. These players constantly need perceptible (sensible) personal affection since they cannot logically defend against persistent failure. However, they did not develop a secure technique for the parrying of constant humiliation, and generally speaking, their social skills are barely evident. By validating this understanding daily, the coaches are on the right path to becoming successful mentors within these age groups. A critical point in close relationship to the one above is that while coaching these age groups, coaches must place tremendous attention to and give a significant role to the practice of acclimatization. We can already implement persuasion methods affecting intelligence, but only in conformity with the intelligence level of the player at hand and expect results compared only to that. The practice of acclimatization is a tiresome pedagogical procedure. Many parents rearing young children often complain, "I already told them a hundred times, without any result!" The truth is that it needs repeating for the one hundred and first and the one hundred and second time and many more times after that for it to become ingrained. Experienced coaches will know that the trying work of ac- climatization can be made more pleasant and more productive by introducing the elements of variety and suddenness in it. We know that we are proceeding correctly if our methods and, in effect, all of our pedagogical activities are characterized by playfulness. Like all other sports activities, soccer itself must be viewed as a big game, as this is the point of view and direction that corresponds with the requirements of modern sports pedagogy. When we bring attention to the validation of the principle of playfulness, naturally, we do not only hold vital that we cannot expect work of blood, sweat, and tears from children. Also, the fact that —figuratively speaking—we must put all of our ordinary activities into parenthesis and, in it, the genuine demands, rules, and regulations, functioning values, etc. Everything, and I mean, everything should be a game but a game that is worth playing. Games, through which even the most clumsy will realize, to some degree, a sense of achievement. A game through which the cleverest and strongest can temporarily meet with the sentiment of losing. There should not be any players who, through lousy coaching, will loathe sports for the rest of their lives. As a child or even as a parent, those who tasted and experienced youth sports, this beautiful but very controversial world, unfortunately, gathered many unfortunate experiences from untrained, heartless coaches and their primitive methods. Over-reliance on the "stars" the wanton overplaying of a few better and more well-developed players, while altogether shunning and humiliating others, is alien to the healthy characteristics of this age group and the comportment of coaches within it. It is necessary to emphasize that children are very quickly inspired, capable of passionate love for their chosen sport, in our case, the game of soccer. It is precisely this positive characteristic that creates certain situations in the sphere of our competition that we must necessarily discuss. Children have the right to manifest versatility in their abilities, including their physical skills as well. In essence, this is their primary interest. Narrow-minded sports-interest often exploit the diligence and enthusiasm of children. Yet, at this age group, versatility must win over specialization! We must realize and see that in the development of children, versatility and specialization are not opposites but mutually cohesive notions. Out of pedagogical consideration, we must staunchly defend the enforcement of versatility. General experience/observation—thus, it is not only valid for soccer—tells us that the rigors and requirements of versatility call for the suppression of specialization as specialization exclude versatility. Versatility, from the aspect of anthropological-pedagogy, means implementing a comprehensive locomotive action experience for all young players. The development of human potential is only possible in this fashion. Within education, next to freedom, it must guarantee the richness and versatility of aspects. However, it is true that within new training theories, for example, during conditioning training coaches, strive to propagate versatility but only from the part of the specialization. Namely, versatility always ap- pears in a significantly reduced capacity. The requirement of versatility does not only refer to motoric, but to situations where movement learning occurs. Hence, to the wideopen social learning process and its possibilities. It is not about following only one given movement pattern while learning, but about securing for players the free choices they should make to develop their movement competency in an ever-changing social field. That is to say, in these age groups, "games, experiencing, exploration, trying must get the right away ahead of drilling." For many coaches and teachers, a portion of children put under their care appears to be ineducable. Still, in reality, if one or the other is very difficult to deal with, everyone can be and must be educated. Concerning the scope of rearing, modern educational viewpoints see it necessary to point out that the window for teaching always diminishes over time, namely as the pupil gets older. This "diminished chance" does not ever equally affect all critical implications of the pupil. First, it is the chance for the development of the locomotive that diminishes. The affective and cognitive spheres remain open much longer and stay receptive to the effects of rearing. There is an essential conclusion for all coaches and educators that results from this empirical fact substantiated by many case studies. Teaching motoric abilities and skills in a time of order for anyone to be a successful player cannot be debated. It is clear to all professional soccer coaches that "dribbling" and the "knowledge" of inevitable kicks, etc., can only occur and be operable at a very high skill level within the game. Those whose attention is bogged down by the execution of motor skills during the game, as they continuously concentrate on themselves and the ball, cannot focus their attention on the game. They are not syncing with the game; moreover, they cannot play at an assessable level. Suppose at these age groups we do not pay enough attention (and time) to the mastering and the polishing of execution for all basic movements and the increase of the tempo in the speed of execution through persistent and continuous practice. In that case, we are said to be throwing away a golden opportunity. This opportunity is not only important from the aspect of biological motion. Social-psychical factors also contribute to the "closing of the window," as premier youth and premier junior level players cannot continuously remain beginners. Of course, this is very different at recreational levels in soccer. In sporting terms in both Europe and South America (where it is on offer), their category is the lowest tier. In reality, it is not soccer but something completely different in nature. (It is said to be soccer-like.) Soccer is a team sport, sure enough, it is, and as such, it gives plenty of great opportunities for the development of the community. Unfortunately, the community as a socialmoral-value became significantly compromised amid the many "progressive social programs" that were, for the most part, counter-current to the very communities it helped. As such, its pedagogical standing and prestige had also diminished. Perhaps, maybe, it just tarnished. Anyhow, we must, at all cost, rehabilitate—that community mending, always aspiring for the better movement written with large capital letters called—VALUES. It could be a beautiful calling of our mission at the Hudson Sports Complex and Fox Soccer Academy, despite the many societal factors continually challenging us, to once again become the fertile terrain for community building. Will this occur? It strictly depends on the professionalism, eagerness, and enthusiasm of our coaches. I find it necessary to add a supplement to this same train of thought— maybe this is not a self-evident fact for all the coaches—that through community-building, we do not merely serve an abstract social or national goal! Successful community building is an expressly significant interest in our sporting campaign; furthermore, it is in the best interest of our club. Although not yet capable of developing lasting human relations, this age group is capable of fitting in and of dominance (super-ordination). They are very interested in opportunities for shared activities. They are capable of being enthusiastic over common goals; namely, they are very receptive to community building. In the world of sports, the parameters of "us" are delineated and can be well separated from "them." It is effortless to associate with the values of "us." It is straightforward to learn the symbols, the circumscribed roles are apparent, and the formal and informal leaders are quickly followed. What also aids in community building is that sports are local organizations that act against the segregation of politically estranged, religious, ethnic, and racial groups. These factors result—as earlier mentioned—in a perfect opportunity for our coaches in the development of community building. Coaches should set reasonable (real) goals for their teams, that in this way, long term, short term, and midterm goals-- (that tie the other two together), will move the players towards everyday activities. We must handle our traditions deliberately (consciously), as these make it possible for the players to identify with the community emotionally. For the new members, with the acquirement of our traditions, they, in turn, can become members of the FSA Family. I did not wish to enter into details on the suitability of community rearing. In general, I wanted to illustrate the marvelous teaching opportunities afforded within soccer and specifically within these younger age groups. For our coaching function can bear not only direct sporting gains but also national recognition. We can ascertain that we can build on many of our players playing in these youngest age groups later, even as they will enter the ranks of elite players. The coaches of players showing a lot of talent face a tremendous moral dilemma. In many cases, the road chosen by these players strictly rests with the coach's decision-making. Will they want and take on the effortful and significant academic task most suitable for their personalities and abilities, or will they embark on the steps necessary and dictated by a carrier plan in the sporting world? In the case of the more lucky players, there is a circle of confidential and fiduciary people who can assist in the preparation of this emotional-intellectual decision-making process. With a relatively unbiased eye, these benefactors can weigh and view the future of the youngsters, including their long-term future, namely, their real interests. It is easier to make these decisions with the help of responsible parents, sensible and practical teachers, and good coaches. Unfortunately, my experience showed me that club presidents and coaches (especially in Europe and South America) often use the most accessible way on their pupil's educational roadmap. They never think about any detours or time-consuming training as they never find it feasible for their pupil to move to another city even though this would suit their player the best from a sporting and educational perspective. From a particular aspect, back in Europe, this was accepted by the old guard and today for the coaches only working with and looking for shortcuts. They always claimed their work and effort, blood, and tears; moreover, their future coaching success is vested in the player, whom they will never relinquish, and falsely perceive to be not the clubs but their private property. Before you dismiss this notion that those crazy European and South American coaches and clubs do this, ask yourself how many of you would give up your three best players tomorrow whom you know belong to a higher level? I always say that those without sin shall cast the first stone. Although I do understand and accept this righteous self-defensive—and ambitious defensive sporting posture—at the same time, I stress the moral responsibility associated with it! (Surely, we also see in the case of many players that the best decision for them is to be tied for a short or prolonged time frame [contract] to the game of soccer and build other life strategies around the sporting life. It is straightforward to convince those players who chose academics but did not obtain the desired grades to arrive at these sporting decisions). According to analysis and research of my scientific-sporting team in Hungary, Spain, Germany, we concluded that the teachers in the fields who are the coaches, just like those in the classroom, can be classified into two groups (at times into three). Other investigations have examined whether coaches and teachers regard themselves primarily as subject-matter experts or pedagogical experts, following Caselmann's classification in "logotrop" (mainly interested in subject matter) and "paidotrop" coaches and teachers (primarily interested in educating children) (Caselmann, 1970). Some researchers supplement these two aspects by a third—that of a didactical expert. The didactical expert is (mainly interested in preparing and executing coaching, teaching, and learning processes). These processes might be related to, but not identical with, being a pedagogical expert. The study of Beijaard, Verloop, & Vermunt (2000) concludes that; "teachers derive their professional identity from (mostly combinations of ) the ways they see themselves as subject matter experts, pedagogical experts, and didactical experts." Replacing traditional with integrated sports activities can be regarded as a threat to the coach's and teacher's sense of self, as Helms (1998) points out. Aikenhead (2003) considers forming an adequate professional identity to be one of the significant challenges for the transformation from a dis- cipline-based sporting and science approach to an integrated one. This transition raises the question of what kind of coaching and teacher education is suitable for student coaches and teachers to develop an adequate professional identity, and if and how professional identity affects coaching and teaching competence. Therefore, the characteristics of logotrop coaches are that they hold very dear and seriously the tenets and responsibilities of their sport. Mostly, they diligently prepare themselves professionally and take the task of training the players very seriously. They set high expectations for the team but mostly neglect the work of their player's rearing. They do not notice the problems of individual players and their families, and they never have kind words or looks of encouragement for those who struggle. They disregard their duties in the field of community building, even within their team. The paidotrop coaches turn towards the player, and they generally decided to become coaches because they love to deal with people (children). The paidotrop coaches make allowances in the rigors of soccer. They are less intense in the formative details. Still, they all prove to be great community builders. They usually build a great atmosphere during practices. Through their leadership, there is tangible and visible development in human relations, and conflicts are kept to a minimum, never getting out of hand. It would be unreasonable to deem and qualify one type over the other to be preferable in the pedagogical field. Today's educational approach does not want to put these two types against one another since it recognizes that both types possess important values and respectable strong suits. At the same time, both models have their drawbacks. I want to emphasize and make coaches see; moreover, admit that our constitution makes everyone different within their coaching style and work, yet our compositions do not necessarily make us coaches commit pedagogical errors. I believe, after my transformation, that with conscious introspective work and the exploration of our characteristics—as if holding a mirror to ourselves—we could all become capable of learning the values of the other side. This age group adores a demanding coach! In the interest of sporting success, they deem all demands to be virtues, and they expect consistency of execution. Here, live (kinetic) experiences relating to sports are the shaper of opinions. At a very early age, in their games and through practices, all players experience and learn that only their resolve with multiple multipliers of their will in their character and total devotion will do. Work carried out without maximal effort will never suffice and will always lead to failure. In the quest for this achievement of striving commitment to mobilize forces, there is ever a need for outside help. Among others, the coach's help should always manifest through the highest level demands. Playfulness, coupled with requirements (maximal at each age group), is the guarantor of success in the work of a coach! My Soccer Philosophy Vince Lombardi once said, and sadly, many repeat it and believe it to be the mantra of youth sports: "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing." With these views, it is not surprising that during practices and games, sometimes the desire to win makes players angry, grumpy, manifesting their disgust against opponents, referees, and even their teammates, coaches, and their parents. Thus during games and practices, this erroneously adapted attitude turns everything into a dull, annoying, rough, on-edge encounter without any glimmer of quality. If, however, during play, the players concentrate on playing with courage and fighting spirit, bravery, imagination, intelligence, and sense of improvisation, chances are that an excellent game will develop, which will, in the end, provide a lot of joy and great satisfaction. In short, players at my club and under my tutelage will have it ingrained in their minds; then, they will express it: The more quality they play with, the higher the enjoyment. And once we see a great goal or a great play, this is the closest thing to happiness. Achieving happiness on the field must be their most significant goal, not merely winning the match. Soccer and Our Methodology The game of soccer was born in 1883, but as such, it was a brutal and violent one where during games, many fractures occurred, including broken legs, arms, ribs, and jaws, because players were allowed to hit each other any other which way they pleased. Naturally, very few people wanted to participate in such a brutal sport. Very much later, around 1930, to eradicate the violence mentioned above, there was a change in the game's rules. Rules changed, and little by little, the game transformed into a more technical, creative, and skillful affair. But much is known about the history of the game. There is very little knowledge about the development of youth soccer. Even though the soccer-playing giants at that time, such as Hungary, England, Brazil, Italy, Argentina, and Uruguay, all had professional leagues and teams, none had youth teams or emphasized youth soccer development. All the children played on the streets, in many cases barefoot using a rag-ball. Youth soccer development took place throughout the soccer-playing nations and cemented in the past 40-60 years. Before this, clubs did not pay their youth coaches. Some because they couldn't, some because they wouldn't. Therefore, the vast majority of those who were great youth soccer coaches and were passionate about the game could not dedicate the time needed for their passion and remained in their professional vocation to earn enough money to support themselves and their families. On the other hand, those that remained in the game took an extraordinary passion for imitating the drills and training of the professionals, which is the greatest mistake regarding youth soccer. How will young boys and girls learn to play? We know everything from piano to Hungarian, which is by methodical practice and constant repetition. But one thing has to be clear that to play great individually, and above all collectively, is much more complicated than playing a Beethoven piano concerto or speaking the language of Arany. The most significant confusion, even today, is that a player is born! Although this is only valid 1 - 2% of all players in the world, the reality is that a player is made and not born! "Expert coaches" and "Premier Clubs" emphasize physical make-up, height and weight, and physical conditioning. A soccer player's knowledge and capacity should never rely on their physical condition and make-up. A chubby boy, short and big-bellied, can become a great soccer player using one leg and with no heading ability. With such poor physical make-up and conditioning, players such as Puskas, Gento, Sivori, Platini, Maradona, Xavi, Iniesta, and the GOAT Messi have gone down in soccer history as the best players ever. What were their qualifications? Their sense of play and the understanding of themselves; their football intelligence was the key to their success because you can have the most exceptional physical build, excellent control of the ball, yet still not know how to play the game of soccer. The Method I had the great fortune and honor to dedicate my entire life to soccer. Unfortunately, many are not so lucky. In my youth soccer coaching carrier, I found that the lack of good teachers today only makes coaches apprentices to the game and not bonafide expert coaches. Throughout the years in coaching, I have perfected a METHOD for teaching the game of soccer. I want to thank my mentor Laureano Ruiz who showed me this method that I could perfect for the youth players. The method relies on four levels or phases and five principles of "less." The "less" refers to the reduced and most appropriate measures taken when playing the small-sided games: smaller fields, fewer players, less playtime, lighter balls, and goalkeepers. In regards and reference in the sense of play to logical ability and intelligence, my method has the following levels or stages: 1st Learn how to play with the ball three aside ( 4-7 years old phase 1.) Formation: 1-2 Field size: 25X20 Yards Goals: smallest Pug-Goals Ball: Size three (3) rubber ball So, the players learn to dribble and control and run with the ball and shield it if somebody wants to rob them of it. The game is individual as at this stage, we want dribbling, dribbling, and more dribbling! Many coaches at the youth level forbid their players to dribble and compel them to kick and, or worst, "just boot" the ball. Incredible but true. It is like trying to teach a bird how to fly but clipping its wings before the process. (In soccer, the 'wings' are passing and dribbling) Our method and my teaching rely on teaching the ability to control the ball. To run with it, when the opponent approaches, have the knowledge and intent to beat this opponent by using faints and dummies. Also, teach the movements conducive to better balance, braking, changing direction with all of these aspects present in the small-sided games. At this stage, I do not like one-touch, or even for the players to "raise their heads," or to use both feet— these new players, novices really, have a hell of a time playing with their stronger foot, let alone using their untrained one. Let's not pretend that they can do what the older players do. That time will come through proper training, but it is not here now at this stage. For all the above reasons, at this stage, I forbid players to kick the ball away or boot it up the field. Doing so is very easy, but this way, the players will never learn how to play. A clear example of this futility and waste of time is to use the regulation goals. Any kid can boot the ball into it and score many goals during such a session or exercise, but not one child will learn how to play doing so. On the other hand, introducing small goals, asking players to go forward, dribble, and engaging and fake out the keeper will make them gain vast knowledge and arm them with great ability. They need to be playing on small fields, not to make a great physical effort, as this is very harmful to boys and girls at this age, teams must play in a formation of fewer players – 3 v 3 is the ideal –- so that every one of them gets involved and cannot hide during play. In this way, they continuously learn and improve. Again this formation of three aside is used up to the age of 6. No keeper; everyone plays against everyone else. However, if the game at this age plays in a formation of 11 v 11, the vast majority of the players on the field will never see the ball and will opt to hide away in the forest of legs following it. This practice inhibits their ability to learn anything about the game, never mind improving their quality of play. Continue to learn how to play with the ball five aside ( 8-10 years old phase 2.) Formation: 1-2-1 Field Size: 40X30 Yards Goal Size 4X2 Yards Ball Size: Size 3 (rubber ball) With the small-sided games - 5 v 5 is ideal, with the formation of 1-2-1 plus keeper, the children learn the fundamental elements of soccer movements such as runs, sudden stops, change of direction, and so on. Combined with learning how to manipulate the ball, these movements will familiarize children with the correct way to classify and progress in their game learning. Also, the ground, rebounds, and the understanding of spherical concepts (the round ball and its spin direction) taught them to judge situations, distances, and the laws of impact. In other words, to make and keep the children happy, we involve them in the small-sided games as quickly as possible. This game will prove highly pleasurable, appealing, and exciting, as the players: dribble and beat opponents and score goals. This tendency, really innate, takes place in all countries and continents so that even coaches can have the pleasure to very quickly enjoy and derive joy from the game of soccer. 2nd Learn to play with teammates phase 1.- (11-12 years old) Formation: 3-1-2 Field Size: 70X50 Yards Goal Size 6X2.1 Yards Ball Size: Size 4 (rubber ball) None of these children have yet (at this age) conquered the instruments of mutual understanding. However, they do not understand the concept of self-discipline and reciprocity rules, as they believe that they are at the center of the universe, both socially and physically. However, gradually, thanks to the coexistence and interaction with other children, they get over themselves and gain awareness of reality. Thus the children discover their personalities and that of others while losing their ego trip. This phenomenon never occurs in children less than ten (10) years old. In the first phase, the children were selfish, and many coaches want to change that to find it a complete waste of time. Many coaches lose this critical time to work on all the individual aspects of the game, such as control and technical ability. Personal elements are what I do at this age with children under my care, and I suggest this is what we must do from now on. Now is the time to start the collective game, but not forgetting the individual, with a strong emphasis on perfecting ball control, dribbling and feints, and dummies. Yes, a shot can indeed be a goal, as well as a pass. But if the command is defective, there is no pass, or there will be no shot. When my team loses the ball, I turn to defend (dodge). While attacking, I try to approach the opponent's goal through passes between the defending players' lines to finish off with a goal. But many times, the opponent makes it very hard to pass and shoot. Now, this is when the opponent must be taken on and attacked by dribbling at them and using faints and dummies to open up space and make the attack more positive. Once we deploy this skill, everything changes, clear lanes for passing will open, and avenues will be available for shooting on goal. 2nd Learn to play with teammates phase 2.- (13-14 years old) Formation: 3-2-1-2 Field Size: From one edge of the 18 Y-yard Box to the other Goal Size 6X2.1 Yards Ball Size: Size 4 (rubber ball) At the same time, the collective game commences, which prevails into the magical world of passes, the sense of unity, astuteness, cunning, and deceit in movements. But at the end of this phase, players will understand that the pass is king. Especially serendipity — the feel and will to do the unexpected — is encouraged and sought out. At the end of this phase, players will realize that making a superb pass to a teammate in the opponent's box where we trap the defend- ers by surprise and baffle them is much better than taking the defenders on. Also, in this phase, the players will understand that teamwork and aspects of cooperation also trump dribbling. Such as dispersion (where our team draws one to several opponents into a false position) to make a killer pass to a teammate who has unexpectedly turned up in an area not expected by the defense. 3rd Learn to overcome the opposition posed by opponents (Regulation size five (5) ball. 15-16 years old) Formation: 4-3-3 (or any derivative of it) Field Size: regulation size Goals: Regulation Size Ball Size: Size 5 (leather) Many players who excelled at the previous two levels –- managed the ball to perfection and understand the "logic" of the game — now think that they are complete soccer players when they still have a long way to go and much to learn. Talented writers always come through their work. Also, this is true of gifted painters. But in soccer, a very talented player with enormous capacity in understanding the game, and develop in it, has to understand and overcome the opposition of opponents. It is these opponents who are all trying to remove him from his game. Many players at this level render themselves incapable of anything, although they have excellent quality because their opponents display more courage, bravery, and physical conditioning. An outstanding soccer player must "know," "love," and "want" to play this game. The players I refer to here "know," but the question is, do they "want" to play? If asked, they say yes, and that they give their utmost effort. But the reality is quite different. They are comfortable, have the "good enough" mentality, and easily surrender to solid opposition. We should not forget that these qualities, such as courage, bravery, eagerness to produce, concentration, etc., can be taught and developed in these players. In the previous levels, these players regularly played small-sided games, rounds, rondos, etc., and elevated their capacity and knowledge of the game. However, they have also developed some defects. They make their learned technique unilateral, and they, for example, don't know how to shoot with the inside of the instep and are still lacking control of the ball from the air under pressure with — head, chest, thigh — here all domination is lost. They are "zero's" in aerial play and always hold on to the ball for the sole reason of the joy of the dribble losing the ball a majority of times. To correct these deficiencies, we devote this level of practice time and include them in the "small-sided games" to fix and perfect those gestures and techniques that we have cited, which cannot be mastered simply by just playing. Also, coaches at this level should continually suggest that players train on their own and get used to self-training. We still emphasize dribble. In the history of soccer, extraordinary players such as Puskas, Pele, Di Stefano, Maradona, Cruyff, Ronaldinho, Robinho, Ronaldo, Messi, etc., were still alive and active are outstanding dribblers. So we should insist on this level to achieve the mastery of the players mentioned. Practicing and practicing is possible, as I have seen in many young people. However, I was unable to teach adult players, and for that matter, professional players learn how to dribble or feint. They tried, they repeated, but none succeeded. 4th —Improve the reading of the speed of play and learn the hidden (occult) ways of using arms, shoulders, elbows, and hands. (17-18 years old) We understand that reading of the speed of play or gestural speed, the rate of analysis of the situation, the ability to decide quickly, the pace at which you receive or play the ball, and also the promptness with which you perform the dribbling, passing and shooting, before the pressure of space and opponents are crucial at this stage. Given the current speed of soccer — tight spaces, an increased pace of play, increased activity of opponents, and so on — most actions are performed under severe pressure, so the players need to increase their acceleration and improve their ability to read and understand the speed of play. However, when the players begin their learning, they should learn technical gestures correctly, without worrying about the speed they are running. Once they succeed, they will gradually increase the speed of execution. We will do this with precise training, based on swift maneuvers with the ball (spinning, La Cuchara (the spoon), the sudden change in direction, acceleration, movement in limited small spaces) The speed of execution in the box is a crucial element in any great player's arsenal. Once an attacker receives the ball in the area, the ideal is that they know what they should do with it. If so, you need an interval to record the general location: two-tenths of a second to observe the situation of rivals. One-tenth second to glimpse where your teammates are, and yet another tenth of a second to send the ball. The player who cannot carry out the move in these interval times — although the cast does well against weak opponents — will NEVER become a professional player. At the same time, at this increased speed during training, the players must learn to play using their trunk/torso and arms. In a professional game, even scholars of the game perceive the quality and tactical movements of the game. Still, this critical game — the so-called "hidden, occult-football" — nobody will notice. Because professional soccer players have a series of plays that use tricks — legal and illegal — that the referees seem to ignore, I knew many young players with great qualities in the game of soccer who came to play in their ascension against professional players, and they failed. Their big match disappeared as they could not beat a rival who underwent overlapping shifts holding with their hands and a clear hidden interposition of the arms. Unfortunately, these "great players" never reached the elite. The players, who reach this level, must understand that, besides talent, quality, and skill, fighting shoulder to shoulder, arm to arm, and sometimes body against the body is imperative. The physical contact is excessive, and a player must train repeatedly using exercises that teach them how to overcome or avoid the trickery and the pressure from opponents. During practices, players mark their opposition. They are gripping, pushing, hitting, and sometimes are brought down sharply and violently. For this reason, young people must protect the ball "with everything" — trunk, hands, arms, elbows — and evade opponents to complete their move successfully. And finally, we end this briefing with two fundamental ideas. The bases of learning: – Learn how to dribble. – Learn how to pass. – Learn to play. – Learn to shoot. Understand that a player can shoot very well, but if they cannot play well during the game, they will never find the best position nor the opportunity to put it on goal and score a goal. *Sport Psychologists have demonstrated that mental training is unnecessary until players master the technical movements and sense of play. That is when they are ready "to be" players. Applying the Methodology Through the Method I finally arrived at the part where I can divulge how. In the beginning, I have mentioned Prof. Adolph, particularly the part where I say that through all of her videos and the babies' epic failures in trying the activities, they all had smiles on their faces. Everything done is done with joy. This "custom" continues as the babies arrive at the soccer field, now a bit older than toddlers. They are, in general happy, and you must keep them that way. I also gave examples of children not transferring learned physical intelligence from one level to the next. Therefore, it is imperative that when we talk of steps in the following few paragraphs, we bear in mind what was achieved in previous levels before these children arrive to see you. Of course, the learning process and rules of adaptation are cruel, even to children. Inadequate progress and inferior results at one level mean that significant improvement at this level is unattainable. Therefore, early developmental soccer programs mustn't merely seek specific short-term objectives and keep an eye on future development. Through empirical data, modern child psychology and sports psychology have realized that inactivity and unhappiness have adverse effects on a child's mental and physical development. During the growing process, a child should spend a minimum of six to eight hours performing various movements, which should be enjoyable and sporting. The latter is the most important, no matter what the activity. Only torrential rain and hail and heat over one hundred degrees Fahrenheit should prevent this activity from taking place. A child (or parent) should never stop playing due to wind, sun, or snow. Parents must always encourage and praise their children and those of others. But this praise and encouragement should not only be directed towards the more peaceful, docile "good kids" but also the boisterous and brave players who give their all for all to see. If all this is true, then where better to find the ideal combination than in soccer? Soccer, the beautiful game, is played outside and indoors. A game is played with a group of friends or teammates who share all the enthusiasm for the game. Children play against an opponent, and for them, it is a joy to play and develop this sport that essentially requires speed, cunning, and intelligence. Not too long ago, the commonly accepted train of thought was that children under seven to ten years old should not play organized games as they cannot fully understand the concept. The accepted age for this sporting enlightenment was the age of eleven. This commonly held belief amongst its believers also had that children should only practice a series of movements without seeking an exceptionally high standard in anything specific. What this means is that children should experience a wide variety of sports. I partially disagree with this view. I believe that a child should develop their soccer-specific skillsets attitudes by always playing from an early age. Scientific research, knowledge of the theory of the game, and the views of the outstanding coaches all indicate to me that the culture of soccer, speed of thought, and all the specific soccer skill sets can best develop and form during childhood. It is almost impossible to compensate later if these specific psycho-motor stimuli are lacking. My initial statement here is that I partially agree that children should not only play soccer. I encourage parents to experiment with all games and sports, but only up to the child's ninth birthday. But again, the follies of perception play a huge role in our sporting and sedentary lives. There are professional athletes at the zenith of their profession and had an epiphany to star in another sport. This idea, in turn, began popularizing the idea that multi-sports of all ages are beneficial for the multifaceted development of children. Laughable. Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson both failed miserably at being two-sport athletes. Neon Dean Sanders succeeded, but he did because he relied on two essential qualities: soft hands and tremendous speed in both his American football and baseball careers. Many others tried and failed. In her book, Mia Hamm, the most significant female soccer player of all time, also advocated that girls play multi-sports. A stunning statement from a woman who became the youngest USA Female national team player at fifteen years. When and what other sport did Mia have time to play competitively? I don't blame her for that statement. Perhaps she also meant at a young age (4-9), kids should play and try all other games and sports. Maybe, this was an editing mistake, but I am confident that Mia never missed a soccer practice or soccer game for any other sporting activity. Also, duly note that the athletes I've mentioned are all the "crème alà crème" of their sport and definitely amongst the more coordinated people that ever put on uniforms. But enough examples and bad examples at that, and let's examine common sense, which is usually not so common. Let's see how these "experiments" in missing levels and stages of development occur. There have been children who, for various reasons, were left out in jungles or thrown to the animals and then found and rescued. We know of Marina Chapman, who capuchin monkeys raised in the jungles of Colombia. We also remember Sasha T raised by goats and Natasha, who lived in the company of feral cats and dogs from Siberia, and Kamala and Amala in the jungles of Goudamuri, India, raised by a she-wolf and her pack. Regardless of their rescue, they have never been able to gain the necessary knowledge to get back to society, albeit given the best available teachers of their time to make up for the lost time. This occurrence is the same for soccer as it is for all performance-based disciplines. If I desire to become a concert pianist, I need to practice ten hours a day. It does not matter how much I enjoy the guitar. I cannot pick it up because I am wasting time that I can never recoup. But in my free time, I can pick up the guitar and fool around with learning songs to my heart's desire. Thus if a child wants to be a professional and make it in the game, they have to play and play and play continually. They should play as many diverse soccer-oriented games as possible on different size fields, with varying balls of size with varying numbers of opponents and teammates, and always with differing objectives. Playing in this way gives the players a complete and varied soccer education. Perhaps the most important thing is what they learn about themselves when they play, and they face confrontations with so many ever-changing circumstances. They will become much better players technically, and they will be far more able to deal with one versus one situations successfully. They will acquire stamina, and they will have the ability to develop play quickly, especially when there is little time and space. In this way, the players will acquire quick thinking and technical skills to deal with almost any situation with great creativity and imagination. All the qualities mentioned above are essential in the modern game. Above all, players have to enjoy their craft, and this should not depend on whether they score goals or their teams win. Unfortunately, many youngsters stop playing the game almost immediately if all we ask them to do during training is run and run, and they did not even get to see a soccer ball. Players should enjoy beating their adversaries or producing great pieces of skill. It is this what adults should understand and encourage. Players need the freedom to express themselves and show their real personalities that will gradually reflect how they play. However, as always, here too, there is a but. Instead of helping and encouraging players' development, some coaches impede progress by continually interrupting the game's natural flow by giving advice, criticizing, EXPECTING TOO MUCH of the players or, merely shouting unintelligible comments at them. Many players sometimes play ex- clusively in one position, even if this might be the wrong position. The result of this practice is that a vast majority of players who have an aptitude for the game with a degree of natural ability, intelligence, determination, and intuition never reach their full potential. All this is because coaches are more concerned with their self-image and ego as they want immediate results. Here, we will recap and claim again that coaches who act in the manner mentioned above ignore the basic principles of their profession. In essence, the sporting ability of a player should grow safely and progressively without putting undue pressure on physical or mental development. My Views in more Detail: Under no circumstances should seven to ten-year-old children not be allowed to play organized soccer. Just think of the research discussed earlier when we affirmed that they learn to walk and talk basically on their own. They don't know if the next step leads to a tumble as much as they don't always know the next word that leaves their mouth, but they all have a tremendous propensity for learning. Walking and talking are great examples for soccer as they both involve the ability to combine the necessary skills and movements, while language requires phonetic coordination. Seven to ten years old is the optimal time when children develop a predisposition for soccer. If soccer is continuously around them (older siblings are soccer players, or any parent is a professional player, or both are, or referees), this predisposition can appear as early as three to four years of age. Most great players have fallen in love and became obsessed with the game between seven to ten years old. Anyone who starts later than this age would at best become a mediocre soccer player. The reason for this is because development stages in crucial learning periods are missing. At this age, players should have constant contact with the ball, train two days a week, and play on a third. There is a grave danger that there will not be enough players in our sport soon. Again, cockamamy reasons are given to explains this occurrence, as it is something new and acute, and specific to this decade. Every country has the same issue (even the soccer-playing ones where soccer is the number one sport) with the transition from U-13 to U-14 and up. This phenomenon occurs at the state level; for example, NY State could not field a U-18/U-19 team, and this year there are even problems with the U16/U17 age groups. The tedious and 'athletic' sessions and programs are forcing many young children to look for other sports or hobbies that are more enjoyable. Soccer training can involve an infinite number of exercises, but the majority are useless. Youngsters flock to the fields full of enthusiasm and are ready to imitate and emulate their idols from TV. But instead, they are expected to do bodybuilding, track and field, marathons by running for what seems an eternity, cross country, and around cones. This type of exercise has little or nothing to do with soccer. I can understand why youngsters soon become disillusioned with such training and look elsewhere for their enjoyment. In the preceding decades and well into the last century, children at this age spent many hours playing with the ball. In turn, playing with the ball gave them skill, agility, and flexibility. The ability to play as individuals or as part of a team developed organically and aided them to become real masters of the game. Children played their games, which they organized and chose teammates for as they played in the streets, in schoolyards, on the beach, even on wastelands. The available space always dictated the game and its "rules de jure." Regrettably, this is now a thing of the past. Today, the dump (wasteland) is a garage, and highways, byways, and freeways often uprooted the quiet streets. Many school fields are no longer available or, if they are, must be acquired through a rigamarole of frequently impersonal and militaristic bureaucracy. With the available soccer-playing venues rapidly deteriorating, it has become the work of a coach to bridge the gaps of modern-day obstacles that discourage children from playing our game. Clubs must offer alternatives to the lack of space, over-crowded schedules, and competition from other available and spectacular leisurely activities. Coaches must compensate for forging enjoyable soccer practices that suit the desires and needs of these players and fit in with their other commitments. Worry not about the times they are not available, but give them everything when they are. Therefore, the priority should always be the maintenance of enthusiasm and expectation that these children manifest for playing our game when they first encountered it. The introduction of small-sided games is an excellent way of assisting players in familiarizing themselves with the ball. At the same time, it affords them the practice of fundamental movements imperative to our game, such as running, stopping, changing direction & speed, twisting, and turning. Learning and mastering movements unconsciously while also understanding a feel for ball control such as timing, bounce, and rebounds is crucial in every player's arsenal. However, it is not advisable to coerce players to consciously learn complex technical skills as they are not yet ready physically or mentally to carry out or understand the concepts behind the complex movement. In the ghettos of Buenos Aires, Santiago de Chile, Quito, Bogota, on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, on the wide-open plains of the African continent, the "old fashioned" tradition of learning the game by continually playing is still being practiced. When we as coaches plan, devise, and create practice plans, we must never forget that children need to play games and matches as this is what they see adults doing all of the time. They love to test their skills against opponents. This kind of training affords them opportunities for steady improvement and prompts them to better themselves technically, formulate tactical ideas, and compare their progress with that of their peers. Players of this age are very selfish and narcissistic. Therefore, introducing them to playing a team sport is beneficial as it teaches them cooperation and how to understand and work with others and appreciate that they are not the center of the universe. For this reason, our training involves a variety of team games and competitions. How should these players train? In my opinion, this is how I think that these young players should train: • We should be mindful that players, even at this early stage, possess different abilities. Players might have similar technical skills; there could be a huge discrepancy in their understanding of playing the game. Being mindful does not mean constant interference with the game. Be a great coach by not intervening. Children of these age groups love to play in the same team as their buddies. Allow this to occur, but the goal-scorer must immediately swap teams if the games become too one-sided. • Here we are referring to very young beginners. However, once players reach the ages of 9-10, teams should always be evenly matched so that every player has to play well with maintained levels of enthusiasm and effort. • The frequent occurrence of talented players is that they enjoy being on the same team. Of course, we cannot allow this practice to occur, as the weaker players offer no challenge and are quickly demoralized. In comparison, the better players never have to play very hard or exert much effort to decimate their weaker opponents. I follow a true & tried method during training: 1. Players get in a horizontal line facing the coach, and we count them out loud (1,2,3,4) depending on how many teams we want to create. With this scenario, we just picked four teams. If only two teams play, the count is only (1 and 2) and, even numbers form one group, and odd numbers form the other face each other. The creation of teams in this way is always rapid, but the outcome is unbalanced teams. Significantly when intelligent players, usually the better ones, strategically place themselves in whatever position they want to play on the same team with their friends, 1. Another way of picking teams is when the coach picks two captains to choose their teams, and these captains take turns picking players. Again a perfect, quick way of picking teams but here too, as above, one team is always much better than the other. Moreover, here there is a psychological factor that we must consider: it is very humiliating for the inexperienced, weaker, chubbier, disliked child to wait in line until the very end for their selection. • Therefore, my suggestion is to leave team selection in the capable hands of the coaches. They can surely pick balanced teams and immediately end rivalries as they occur. If the same players always play in the same teams against other teams with the same cast, players quickly learn the moves of each other, and those players that are now "exposed" get discouraged right away. Please note that teams might be evenly matched when playing a "normal" game. But this could change when the emphasis is on passing, heading, or dribbling technique. • My experience at big clubs, while learning from great coaches, is that it is advantageous to pick teams of the same age group. Have them play up or down but always against teams where the coaching staff believes that the younger team can handle the extra physical strength of the older players while implementing their superior technical and tactical prowess. These games are always popular and played with great enthusiasm and determination. • Now players are doing what they like best: playing a game, but as we all know, children of this age follow the ball and make it very difficult for anyone in possession of it to do anything constructive with it. Understandably, the player with the ball feels under pressure, and to disperse the crowd instinctively gets rid of the ball any way they can. This lamentable action is not soccer, and if the coach is not careful, many players can be discouraged from playing the game. • Because of the statement mentioned above, we must submit to the following principles when allowing the players to play the game: 2. Reduce the size of the field, 3. Work in small groups, 4. Observe the player's interaction with the ball, 5. Observe the player's interaction with teammates, 6. Observe the player's interaction with the opposition. • At this age group, reducing the playing area is imperative, as it gives all players within the small group the opportunity to get involved in the game. In soccer, there is a NATURAL PROGRESSION that all MUST respect. Beginners must first learn how to control the ball effectively. In the beginning, they are all uncertain since the trajectory and spin of the ball are always unpredictable. They always find directing the ball tricky since their feet-eye coordination does not yet match their hand-eye coordination. Coaches expecting youngsters "looking up" or "looking-out for opponents" or "keep an eye on their teammates" are demonstrating their lack of knowledge of the teaching of our game. • Natural Progression is as follows: 1. The first stage, learn how to play with the ball, 2. In the second stage, learn how to play with teammates, 3. The third stage is to master how to play against the opposition. • At this stage, we teach them the throw-in and briefly practice shooting and the 'forbidden' art (heading). Each skill mentioned above has a particular sequence of progression attached to it to achieve perfect technical execution. Pass the ball into 'the light.’ As children progress from the very youngest age group and reach the 7-10 years old bracket, we introduce them to keywords, phrases, and sentences that help orientate them to carry out the required piece of skill or action when it is needed. One of the earliest of these phrases is "pass the ball into the light." As the learning process is prolonged and gradual, it is during this stage that we play them in a narrow playing zone where they are unable to pass the ball into the light. The reason for this is that up to now, we willingly "forced" them to play on a narrow field where only forward play was of the essence, and we "programmed them" to dribble and play the ball out of trouble in this fashion. Coaches very quickly realized that reducing space, furthermore, narrowing it poses a difficulty. In the psychology of a young player of this age, this situation is only solvable by merely booting the ball aimlessly upfield, often encouraged by the "ever-knowing-sage-parent" on the sidelines screaming, yelling to "boot it," "send it," and "kick it." To avoid this and accelerate the learning process, we need to introduce two rules for the players and approach the parents with a third: 1. From this moment on, players are not allowed to kick the ball aimlessly upfield. They must try to 'play' soccer, and everything they try should be for an excellent soccer reason. (It is perfectly acceptable either following a great piece of skill or cunning and after a terrible decision for the coach to quickly ap- proach the player and ask: Why did you do that? Was that the best solution you could find?) 2. Players are not allowed to kick the ball out deliberately. 3. Parents should not yell commands and instructions out for their children during practices or games. They should only praise but leave the teaching to the coaches. Please remember that some parents never participated in soccer, and they too are thirsting to know the game. With well-informed parents, down the road, the coach's job gets more natural as well. The central idea behind the above is to compel players to play the ball and with it themselves out of trouble. With these two restrictions, and hopefully, parents quieted, the players must control the ball and try to dribble or pass to a teammate. Naturally, the obstacle is always the opponent that is trying to win the ball. In the beginning, players consider this to be very hard, but improvement soon arrives with practice. Coaches must also make amends for those players who, at this stage in their development, are not physically strong, technically gifted, or show to be very shy. These players, too, must be incorporated into the daily soccer training activities. Moreover, these players need 'extra' nudging and encouragement to build their confidence over these sessions and incorporate them into the game when they are ready. When they participate, it is a great idea to involve them more in the game by taking throw-ins, corners, and some free kicks. We need to develop 'analytical' players starting at a very young age and think about the game as they play it and don't just boot the ball long up-field and very often out of bounds. However, if we encounter an excellent keeper candidate who is talented on the ball, they can punt the ball out on a volley, including their goal kicks. The reason behind this thought is to improve hand-eye-feet coordination, which many players find very difficult at this age. For the players that master this element rapidly, we make them kick the ball out on the volley using their weaker foot. In case this too is trouble-free, we make them throw the ball in the air and head the ball out into the field of play. One vital element and skill in our game is dribbling. Yet, many coaches forbid their players to dribble the ball. In my opinion, this is a grave error in judgment. According to many celebrated coaches in the world, both at pro and grassroots levels, the consensus is that there has never been nor will there ever be an outstanding player who has not been able to dribble with the ball. Therefore, I pose the question to you: How can players become great dribblers if we don't allow them the opportunities to splash? How can one learn how to swim when they are never allowed near water? At this age, according to neuroscience and psychology, children are still in a selfish stage. They feel that they are the center of the universe and have not yet developed politically correct attitudes and social graces to fully understand the concept of team and teammate, society, and shar- ing. The reason is that their psychological development does not occur until they reach their 11-12 birthday. And, since here, we are discussing children between the ages of 7-10 who are still very selfish and greedy, yet our coaches want to make them pass the ball to others, they are wasting their time. The perfect time for our players to master the ball and improve their own game, including dribbling it is at this stage of their development. Players at this age must also begin to understand the rules of the game. Without knowing the rules, they should not be allowed to play in the game, as this is always the root of most arguments that break out during their games. They only need to know the basics. When is a goal a legal goal? When is the ball out of play? When to take a goal kick (often this is confused with when the keeper has the ball)? When to take a throw-in or when to take a corner? And the most severe sanction, the penalty kick. In the beginning stages, except the timidest ones, players compete for the ball while they push and shove each other. Please know that this is a natural defensive mechanism and not an action out of malice. Not one of them is aware that they are committing a foul. The coach must constantly remind them that they are committing fouls and accentuate the loss of the ball to the opponent once a foul occurs. Offside rules are introduced but only very close to the goal. As a coach, you will encounter the helicopter mom and dead, and the tiger mom and dad, who will continuously complain and cheer depending on their psychological profile. Disregard or explain to them if you so choose that this is a natural progression until their kids learn the game's rules. At this stage, the players play an infinite number of smallsided games, but when the time comes to play a formal match of five v five, they must play with four field players and one keeper. They often will bring smiles to your face how they learn bad habits from watching games on TV, and a seven-year-old will stand right over the ball after a foul as to impede a quick free-kick, but they have no idea how to play a pass to the goalkeeper in this new situation. During five versus five games, the playing area should measure 40X30 yards, which means that on a regulation field, at the same time, eight games take place. The goal should be 4X2, and the box in front of the goal should be 6 yards. (I usually paint this with a semicircle). At this age group, this is the only offside zone that is applied. The game is two twenty minutes halves with a break of ten minutes. We can use a size three leather ball as a special treat as typically, these players train with a lightweight rubber ball. We should not fully inflate the balls at this stage of development to make playing easier on the players. However, with player progression, we make the balls harder and harder to create a faster and more challenging game. Who wins these games? Here I will introduce a concept not known outside of Spain but now used at some clubs in Hungary and Romania, and the US, where I succeeded. Since I consider these games part and parcel of a crucial learning period, these games are never decided by which team scores the most goals. The following criteria judge them: 1. Goals. In 'real' games, every goal is worth one point for the team. However, until players reach an acceptable level, approximately age 16, goals are valued very differently. A goal is worth 2 points if the entire attacking team is in the opponent's half, and 3 points if an opponent (defending team) player is not on their half when the ball crosses the goal line. Once this is made clear to the players at any age, it encourages concentration, physical effort, and cooperation. 2. Special plays. Every quality move or skill that the coach adjudges to be particularly useful earns an extra point for the team. Any movement is valued, such as a great save by the goalie. Or, a defender who solves an awkward situation, an attacker who makes an exceptional pass or a superb dribble, a player who scores an extraordinary goal (this would mean 2 points for one goal by the same player), or even a great team effort. Every time the coach sees one of these individual plays, they call out to the players to let them know. There is no limit to the points collected. 3. Rules of the game. Knowing the rules is imperative, and it also helps improve performance and avoid injuries. A player can never fully be complete without knowing all the laws of the game. Every player starts out the game with 1 point, which they lose if they do not conduct themselves in line with the rules of the game. Players lose the point for any severe error such as: committing a bad foul, repeatedly committing petty fouls, taking corners, throw-ins, or goal kicks incorrectly, and being caught offside more than once. Coaches should award extra points to players who show an exceptional understanding of the rules. 4. Sportsmanship. We need to encourage players to display the right attitude to receive a point just for starting the game. (What a reward it is)! We deduct this point the moment players misbehave. Coaches can award an extra point upon a manifestation of good sportsmanship. In other words, a team can lose some or all of these points or, indeed, increase them. 5. Penalties. Every player takes a penalty kick at the end of the game. They earn a point if they score. They can also earn an extra point if the penalty is well struck or scored with style. The goalkeeper also earns the team a point for every save they make. 6. Free kicks. They are not taken at this stage. From the age of 14, the players take a penalty and a free kick at the end of the game. The free-kick is executed with a wall 20 yards from the goal. The players can choose to take the free-kick from the left or right side. Any older than this, it is the coach who determines where the spot of the ball is. A team wins by scoring more POINTS than the opposition and NOT more GOALS. One of the most prominent mistakes a coach commits during training is that they simply stand on the sidelines and make personal mental notes about the game. These mental notes, which, unless they are about a huge mistake, are as quickly forgotten as they are formed. Thus, the game exits with no record of anything a team player did during the vital part of the training. I always say that if you don't measure it, you can't control it. An unexamined game is not worth watching. A coach's job when working with youngsters of this age group or any other age group is not complete after the technical activities are seemingly out of the way. The hard work begins when the game starts. During the games, notes are taken. After practice, these notes are tallied and entered into a database. The club then successfully track the progression, regression, or plateauing of every player on our books. Each coach will receive the template on which game has to be recorded and handed into the office. Here is a sample: To clarify, in the lineup table, the one does not mean goalkeeper and two right back, etc. Players are asked before the game begins to give themselves a number 1 through however many players are on the team. Therefore, when only 5v5 is playing, it is advisable to have five players per team because more substitutions have to be made. When playing 5V5 and one side has six players or both, do allow a 6V6. However, if there is more than one player above the five, the coach must make substitutions as they see fit. The game is 40 minutes long and ten-minute halftime. The five players all play 30 minutes and rest for fifteen. Once in goal for five minutes and once at half time for ten minutes. This workload gives us two to one ratio, which is crucial for this age group. Do not play 7V7, as that is an entirely different game. Playing Five a Side Soccer Let's now examine the benefits of playing five-a-side soccer. • Ball skills improve as the players are constantly touching the ball. • Players' ability steadily improves in dealing with one versus one situation since this frequently occurs in a five-a-side game. • Players' creativity with and on the ball also improves as creativity is an essential part of this game. • Physical fitness levels markedly improve as players are highly motivated by the game and work hard at it. Physical fitness training during this age group and level should only take place as part of small-sided games. The only exercise I recommend is 'tag' and running with the ball around a cone obstacle course. In this way, players achieve all relevant and necessary skills such as accelerating, stopping, twisting, turning, and changing direction. Even though no ball is used in two tag games, the players practice some functional mental preparation skills such as concentration, anticipation, and decision making. In the 1950s, a cardiologist and sports scientist, O.H. Gauer, has demonstrated that a child's and youngsters' cardiovascular system is similar to that of an adult. His findings almost seventy years ago dispelled the myth that children's organisms have functional limitations. More modern studies from the nineties and this century keep proving that Gauer was on the right track. In an elegant study by Vinet A, Nottin S, Lecoq A, Obert P, titled Cardiovascular responses to progressive cycle exercise in healthy children and adults. Intl. J. Sports Med 2002; it is noted that prepubertal children have lower values of cardiac output at peak exercise when compared to young adults. As to cellular metabolism, several studies have observed that children have less efficient glycolytic activity during physical exercise compared to adults. During the pubertal growth spurt, important hormones (somatotropin, growth factors similar to insulin, and sex steroid hormones) are released into the bloodstream. There is an increase in lean body mass, and this change in body composition has a positive influence on the development of physical capacities and performance during puberty. Therefore, it is acceptable to consider several aspects of biological adaptations to exercise in children and adolescents. Which physiological alterations in response to exercise occurs when children and adolescents have the same absolute energy expenditure in performing their tasks? Are there significant differences in cardiovascular, ventilatory, and metabolic responses to different demands (sub-maximal or maximal) of exercise in the growing individual The table above gives us the answer to all of these questions. There are also many scientific measurements carried out by myself and my team of sports scientists in Hungary. We will discuss those findings a bit later. Often, the physical loading during a game becomes too much, and this is when players have to rely on their stamina to help them break through the proverbial wall. As this can potentially be harmful and possibly a very damaging phenomenon, we introduce 'the den.' Any harassed player can go to 'the den,' which is a zone that acts as a sanctuary where the pursuer is not allowed to enter. It is the responsibility of the coach to 'accidentally' enable weaker players to stay in 'the den' longer, or do the opposite for the lazy players with more stamina or not allow them in at all. Rest at this young age is imperative to avoid lactic anaerobic overload in the players. During our 5V5 small-sided games, being in goal is the equivalent to 'the den.' The chief reason for getting players to take turns in goal is precisely to give them a rest. In conclusion to this chapter, I would like to stress that players should try to follow the few rules that I have just outlined. Playing in a reduced playing area with fewer players and freedom and creativity with permanent contact with the ball is very motivational and enjoyable. At the same time, players will fall in love with the game and learn how to play and properly behave. It is of utmost importance for the coach to take notes, observe, measure but not intervene too often. At the Municipal Soccer School of Santander, I learned that coaches at this level must "Be patient, and do not intervene. Players at this stage need to receive less advice and play more." The coach has to convince the players that the most important thing is the game itself, not the level of competition. In other words, players should enjoy playing the game and learn technical skills as much as possible. It is not essential to win. Twelve most significant mistakes made during smallsided games: 1. Players do not hold their position but follow the ball. 2. The ball is booted aimlessly up the field or kicked out of bounds. 3. The ball is not passed into the light. 4. The players do not try to dribble or produce quality moves. 5. Players are not at all worried about offside, neither in offense nor in defense. 6. Instead of the defense moving up as a unit, they try to win the ball and chase back to the goal line, which allows the opposition to get closer to the goal and rules out the possibility of offside. 7. At this level, an inexperienced goalkeeper is faced by an opponent who is about to shoot. They move backward and end up behind their goal line without realizing it. Even if they saved the shot and control the ball, they cannot understand why a goal was awarded to the other team. 8. Some players push and shove and grab their opponents if they are unable to get to the ball. They also do this among teammates. 9. They also make dangerous challenges because they don't know how to tackle them correctly. They should be taught not to shoot from just anywhere but to run with the ball as in the time it takes to swing the leg back and then forward, an opponent will take it off them. However, frequently what happens is that a tackle is made during the back lift, resulting in an awful foul. 10. They are poor at taking throw-ins, kick-offs, and corners. 11. Some children become frustrated and annoyed with their teammates simply because they do not pass the ball. Parents often contribute to this and call the players' ball-hogs' for being too greedy and holding onto the ball too long. We play with a reduced playing area so that everyone is involved. I repeat, at this level, players should be free to play and run with the ball. Let them enjoy themselves, and if they feel like it, let them 'hog' the ball. 12. When players are merely touched or accidentally kicked by an opponent, they retaliate and lash out, kick, punch, generally moan and groan. Before the game, they should be reminded that soccer is a game of skill and involves physical contact. If they do not wish to be touched, they should take up tennis, fencing, or pool. Levels & Technical Abilities in Young Soccer Players There are many questions and even more answers to those questions concerning the fitness levels of very young soccer players (8-10Y old). And, if at all, how to develop their level of fitness. Some pundits claim that there is no need at all for physical fitness development at this age group. Through playing the game and through constant exercise, children will ultimately reach a suitable physical fitness level, which will, in the end, lend themselves to the fitness levels needed in the game of soccer. However, this is mainly the view of European and South American coaches who are not faced -- or at least not continually faced -- with the degree of the American problem of "from the couch playing FIFA soccer video games to the real soccer field." This phenomenon had become a daily occurrence with children stepping on the soccer field right from their couches, never before making an extended physical effort. Other pundits claim that fitness should be drilled into young players from day one as fitness is the essential aspect of the game. Some of these same pundits believe, in my opinion, quite erroneously, that if a team cannot be victorious over another either technically or tactically, then the only way to gain the upper hand is to grind the other side down with fitness. Although this is an acceptable but poor attitude even at professional levels (only and because of its distasteful aspects), it is aptly called anti-soccer. As such, it is counter-current for any youth soccer program. Some believe that a healthy mix of fitness with technical and tactical development answers the questions. They scientifically explain their breakdown of percentages as to what type of practice is needed and how and when…. The truth is, the beauty of soccer and playing the game presents coaches with a different person at each turn. At every try-in or out, it pits the coaches against the dilemma of subjectivity. In an age of equalizing everyone, sports in general and soccer specifically cannot adhere to these trends. In sports, no one is equal. Therefore, it is well-advised that all coaches treat all players as INDIVIDUALS and as SEPARATE ENTITIES. Trying to "level the playing field" or having the mentality that there should be "no player left behind" traps the coaches; moreover, it clogs and besmirches the team's development as a whole. Therefore, fitness should be present at every level in a "disguised" fashion to show all players that they are merely playing games. What needs to be understood is that before embarking on a developmental fitness program, we need to know what we are developing. Simply stating, "The other team was just much faster than us." Or "our team just got tired in the last 20 minutes" or "the other team just pummeled us into the ground" are mere cliches. Excuses used by baffled and, frankly, unknowing and inexperienced coaches who are not only dumbfounded by their team's weak results but are also the very same coaches that have no idea what to do about it during the season. These are the same coaches who make their teams run laps after a lost game, and then show up angry for their first practice of the week following a lost match and make their team do laps and "suicide sprints," a phrase that today is no longer acceptable, but the drill nevertheless is still in use. Should the next game yield good results, it is a mere coincidence, but the thinking is that after one, two, perhaps three such practices, the coach had cured the ills of unfit players. Such coaches also believe that by laps, sprints and anger, fitness is built and what is worse, they firmly believe that since everyone ran ten miles and five miles worth of sprinting, all players are "equally" fit, and they can move on. It is, of course, a great misconception. The Development of Physical Ability Always considering the potential individual at hand, coaches must strive to gradually increase that player's physical fitness to the player's highest possible levels. Stamina in movements such as running, jumping, dribbling, etc., are not separately developed through childhood as these develop through the many practices, myriads of relays, exercises, and games. We also do not want to develop sustained muscle strength fitness and other strenuous, complex fitness exercises with children. But in childhood, there is to be particular importance to the development of starting speed, quickness in movement, agility, and flexibility of young players. These abilities can and must be developed from the ages of 10-11 because if they are neglected at this juncture—if, for example, we do not improve flexibility — these lapses and omissions will be impossible to correct later. All coaches must be familiar with their players' technical and tactical levels and familiarize themselves with physicality within the players. In soccer, starting speed and speed gained over short distances and elasticity and flexibility are of utmost importance. Each of these three qualities is quite easily measurable through our testing. We can quickly test for starting quickness through a 10-meter sprint administered from a standing start. However, since measuring this is most difficult even for trained individuals, I recommend timing the 20 and 30-meter sprints from a standing start. (This demands a perfect sports watch or smartphone timer and a coach with excellent reaction time to start and stop the clock). Below I would like to offer stats from previous research, development, and testing involving over 1000 boys and girls through a period of six years. I recommend that all those who turn in a good test score on the speed, agility, and flexibility testing but are players of inferior technical ability must be kept and developed through all try-ins and- outs. It is always possible that their technical ability and knowledge are impaired due to inadequate and insufficient coaching or the absence of time and place for playing the game. It is known that playgrounds are diminishing, parents schedule children's times, and they have no time for free pl ay with friends in parks and playgrounds. But if we spot a young player regardless of gender with a high propensity for learning the movements of the game, they will no doubt quickly catch up with the rest of the players in technical ability. It is a fact that the game of soccer increasingly needs and will, in the future, need quick, fast, and flexible players. I also highly recommend the testing of every player in every age group. There should be a minimum of 3 tests per year administered that track every player's physical, physiognomical, technical, tactical, and psychological development. From the moment a player enters through the club's gates, they should feel special and pushed all the time to achieve that, which makes them a valued club player. It is not enough for any club to call itself premier without being innovative, progressive, and always forward-looking. Youth player development cannot be usurped by mere useless fitness tests of two, three, four activities because a fitness test merely measures the player's readiness at that moment. It does not track their musculature, psychological, technical, and tactical development for the long run. In youth player development, a club must be able to ascertain the trajectory of a player in all categories, not merely in a handful of fitness tests. However, all of these aspirations demand a high degree of anticipation for what is next to come. How can we approve the performance of players? How do we know who is who without testing? But this monograph is for the young (youngest competitive) age group, and unfortunately, many good things in life are impossible to convey in a tweet-length blurb. As I apologize for my lengthy monograph, I hope it will provide some answers to those who are willing to embark on the beautiful journey of coaching the youngest age groups.

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