Developing young players, creating the best environment and releasing their potential, whatever that looks like, is a complex thing and involves many moving parts.
If the game in the future requires players to be highly flexible and adaptable in all aspects of their development then it would make sense to provide them with many different opportunities. A varied diet of activities, formats and surfaces, to name just three, might be a great place to start. Each variation will present different problems for the player to solve. These “problems” may require movement, technique or decision-making solutions but each challenge would be designed to provide opportunities to develop, improve and learn.
"It's important from a young age to keep that freedom...for everyone, not just for forward players."
"You won't enjoy it as a kid if you're always getting detail detail detail"
Check out this video from Lauren , who talks about the opportunities she was provided growing up.
To do this successfully, the coach needs to know what returns there will be for each variation. What might futsal give you that our traditional 5-a-side might not? What will playing 2v2 help the players understand and get better at? And the same goes for each different opportunity whether it be related to different sized areas, different numbers on each team or each individual challenge – what will the likely returns be? I believe that coaches are beginning to embrace this aspect of development but there is still more to be considered.
What if a coach did all of the above; provided a rich diet of different games and formats on a variety of different surfaces? And adopted an approach that restricted the players to pre-planned solutions, prescriptive instruction and controlled one-dimensional decision making. Do you think this would restrict the potential of the players and would a great opportunity have been missed? For me – absolutely. The two go hand in hand. If we are giving the players lots of different opportunities in order to release their potential, why would we adopt a coaching methodology that works against this?
The key is to skilfully bring these two things together. In your coaching sessions provide variety but understand what you are trying to help the players get better at. Know what you might be gaining but think also about the trade-offs. Once you have the session or game idea then adopt an approach that frees up the players to explore possible solutions and gives them time to experiment and try things. This does not mean that the coach is a bystander. It is the opposite. The coach becomes a critical observer of the players and the game. Is the game working, have I got the area right, does a player need an individual challenge, who needs some help, support and advice? This involves highly skilled coaching and lots of practice to perfect this approach.
"When I play, the amount of freedom, I can just go on the pitch and be myself."
"Being on a football pitch is where I can express myself, how I probably can't express myself off the pitch."
Check out this second video where Lauren continues to discuss how being offered freedom, helped her develop as a player.
However, it is worth the investment in the time it will take to get better at this. The coach will get the time back as players become more independent in their thoughts and actions. Their decision-making will improve because the coach has allowed them time to test things out and has offered guidance at appropriate times to help each player. Players will grow in confidence through the trust that has been shown in them. And each player can play with the type of freedom and creativity we all love to see.
"We were given the freedom to do what we wanted in the final third... you don’t want to be restrictive and make them robots."
Check out this third video where Kelly Smith also explains how being given freedom helped her, especially in the final third.
Providing a range of inspirational opportunities is just the beginning. An important ingredient is also the coach who can release each player’s potential by creating a special environment within which these opportunities take place.
If you would like any help with any of this or have a question about it, please comment below.