I have been a long time technical trainer of youth soccer players. As a trainer, a skills instructor, and as a club director and coach, I have had the opportunity to work with close to 2000 boys and girls from the ages of 3 to 18. I have developed an affinity to teach technical skills to younger players. I leverage a lot of methods and techniques from a popular skills training program and host one of the areas largest camps every summer. There are tons of systems and techniques out there that essentially focus on the same things for individual skill acquisition. I am not advocating one system over another because I use a lot of content from a few different systems. Almost every system that gets results includes ball mastery and 1v1 moves. Ball Mastery is important to get the player comfortable on the ball with every surface of both feet. Moves are important to give a player more time and space to take a shot or find the next player in the progression to pass to.
There are no shortage of coaches that are offering technical training both in their local community and on-line. Some of the videos that I see on Instagram and youtube lately are concerning because they are less and less relevant to the game. Sure it looks impressive to see a player getting a gazillion touches in a tight space around cones, training dummies through ladders, etc. What is it that you are teaching? I am seeing more and more players that can demonstrate the moves but they simply don’t know how to use them because they are not being instructed properly or in a way that translates to the game.
Lets talk about the use of equipment first. Cones are good visual cues to establish markers for boundaries or distance, they are even good as a ladder or agility course but I see a lot of over use or cones being used for the wrong intent like as an actual defender. Agility ladders are great tools for teaching fast feet, agility, balance and coordination and can be used effectively with a ball but it should be purposeful. Re-bounders are nice because they can make up for not having a player available to return a pass. On their own or in combination, they can be very effective but once again, I find myself seeing video after video and I just scratch my head. Sure, for a parent or young player, it looks impressive to see a player rapidly progressing through a pattern, around a bunch of cones, through a ladder, off a re-bounder and the rip a shot top bin, but break that down and you can see why that is cringe-worthy. People that are teaching this way are reinforcing too much time on the ball in my opinion.
Consider Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar. Go back a bit further and consider Ronaldinho, Pele, Maradonna, Cyuff, and Matthews. What do you notice about them? They are all very smooth, they use incredible moves and then explode behind or past a player, they cover a large area in a short time. Now go back and watch these 1 on 1 training videos. I am not trying to compare the average player in one of these clips to one of the greats but what I want you to notice is how choppy, erratic and almost spastic some of these players look. I get that as a trainer, you may be trying to demonstrate speed but to me it just looks too forced and not natural. So look again at the most skillful players, how often after a move do these great players shoot or pass the ball? Now consider some of these promotion videos, touch after touch, a prescribed pattern with lots of touches, turns, maybe a pass against a wall, bench or re-bounder followed by a shot. Looks good on the video but it does not translate to a game.
Think about how many times you see young players with great foot-skills beat a player, not advance the ball, beat the same player again and then again. It happens everywhere, sure they have great skills but they end up dribbling in the same small area and typically don’t go very far. Also consider when the player is in the box, they take on one player, two players, etc until they eventually get smashed without ever taking a shot. The next thing you know those parents are paying you to work on their shot when it has zero to do with their technique and everything to do with their decision making. Coaches, you are actually conditioning these players to hold the ball for too long. They are memorizing patterns to get repetition and by doing so are failing to recognize when to shoot or pass.
Sure, ball mastery improves first touch and builds confidence on the ball, a ladder develops quick feet and a re-bounder is useful as a training partner when there is no one around but when you put them all together and sell it as an advanced program, you are conditioning the player to a pattern, to holding the ball for too long, to try to emulate speed of play with frantic movement and removing decision making from the equation.
Consider this instead: use ball mastery as a way for the player to get a lot of touches in a short period of time as a warm-up, conditioning or homework. Have the player explode into space after making a move and shoot or pass the ball. Use a re-bounder to work in repetition and passing technique. When you are working with the player on passing activities, work on their movement into space after the pass instead of near static repetition, let that be homework. Use equipment in the right way and incorporate it for a specific area like first touch by having to regain balance as the ball is coming to their feet.
Individual training can be both technical and functional but if your training activities make for a good youtube clip because of all of equipment that you can fit in a 4×4 grid, ask yourself how that applies to the game. Teach the individual skills so that they can do them on their own and create programs to use those skills to set up a pass or a shot and apply those skills to a game like situation not for an instagram ad.
Bring on the hate!!