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Fundamental Soccer Blog

Start With the End in Mind

Any instructional program for a youth soccer player must meet the athlete’s needs in two FUNdamental respects:

1. The player must have the opportunity to learn The Game in a manner that enables continued enjoyment of soccer for as long as they wish to play.  This includes:

  • Developing a solid foundation in the game’s skills,
  • Learning to recognize and solve the small group situations that are the basic components of team play,
  • Acquiring a repertoire of effective soccer habits.

2. The program must also focus, perhaps more so, on the additional benefits of participation in sports.  These personal and social rewards follow from what athletes learn about character traits such as commitment, dedication, discipline, fair play and sportsmanship, integrity, facing challenges, perseverance, resilience, accepting responsibility, pursuing excellence, and developing an appreciation of the competitive process.

            The obligation in those two areas, to the player and the person, is as important for the athlete whose future in soccer lies with the youth and adult recreational teams as it is for the potential National Team member.

          In a “Players First” program, the individual player’s skills, habits, and character development come first.  Until that is done, attention to team play is limited to basic offensive and defensive organization.

Many programs talk about the importance of individual player development.  Yet, too often, the commitment to that principle disappears under pressures tied to wins and losses.  The development of creative and skillful individual players can be at some initial cost to team “success,” especially when judged only by the numbers on the scoreboard.  We know, though, that teams developed using the “Players First” philosophy quickly become surprisingly “successful” – not because they are better teams, but because of the superior skill of the players.  That skill forms a rock-solid foundation for developing creative, attractive, and effective team play that is successful by any definition. 

The “Players First” program is designed to develop: 

           A Dynamic First Touch – The skill and vision to place the ball with the first touch with either foot to a spot where it can be played again quickly and productively.  Training is found in every session.

            Accuracy and Power when striking a ball, and the ability to use several surfaces of both feet.

          Superior 1v1 Skills – The ability and confidence to take on and beat an opponent in a one-on-one situation, together with the poise to keep possession of the ball when under strong defensive pressure.  Players can expect some one-on-one activity at every session.

            Mastery of the Small Group Situations (2v1, 3v1, 3v2, etc.) are team play’s building blocks.

            Mastery of the Great Soccer Habits, The little things great players do that make a big difference on the field and form the basis for a player’s Sense of the Game (a.k.a. “game smarts.”) 

          An Appreciation of the Competitive Process – Learning to make the maximum effort at practice and in games to improve yourself and challenge your teammates to be their best.

 By the end of the Under-14 year, players will be exceptionally skilled. 

  • They will be poised, confident, creative, and bold with the ball and make excellent use of the fundamental elements of team play. 
  • They will “see the game” and regularly anticipate the coming movements of players and the ball. 
  • They will demonstrate the ability to make good decisions about the mix of individualism (“I can beat you myself”) and team play (“or with the help of my teammates.”
  • And they will demonstrate the Qualities of Great Athletes on the field and in all other aspects of their lives.

Written by Bill Dooley

Coerver Coaching Colorado; Member Soccer Journal Editorial Board

Dr. Jay Martin

Editor: United Soccer Coaches, “Soccer Journal” Author: Recently published his first book, “Lessons from a Great Coach: Develop a Winning Team Culture That Lasts!” Head Coach: Ohio Wesleyan is the winningest coach in NCAA men's soccer history with 749 wins, making him the first men's soccer coach to reach 700 wins. Heading into the 2023 season, he boasts a 749-158-80 record and a career winning percentage of .799, ranking 14th all-time in the NCAA. Under his guidance, the 2022 Bishops were NCAC tournament champions, and the staff was named NCAC Coaching Staff of the Year for the 10th time. In 45 seasons, Martin's teams have a 297-30-24 conference play record, winning 26 conference crowns. Martin led Ohio Wesleyan to NCAA Division III national championships in 1998 and 2011 and has reached the NCAA Division III semifinals nine times. His teams hold records for playoff appearances (43) and victories (65). Awards: 16-time NCAA Regional Coach of the Year. Inducted into the United Soccer Coaches Hall of Fame in 2020. Beyond soccer: A successful lacrosse coaching career and has turned out 61 All-America and 214 all-region or All-Midwest players in both sports. He served as president of the NSCAA and spent six years on the NCAA Division III selection committee. Martin, a professor and former athletics director at Ohio Wesleyan, has also been a color analyst for the MLS's Columbus Crew for nine seasons. Learn more about Dr. Jay Martin at Super Soccer Camp at Ohio Wesleyan University.

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