Part 4 - Training Methodology

Part 4 - Training Methodology

This is the forth installment of my series; The Playbook - My Strategy (So Far) for Raising an Elite Soccer Player. Today's topic discusses the methodology I use for conducting individual training sessions with my son. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Using a consistent structure works well for my son and makes the sessions more efficient.
  • Keep it simple - "Skills of the Week" allows my son to master techniques without suffering from information overload.
  • Keep verbal instructions to a minimum.
  • Leverage follow-along videos and apps.
    • "Not knowing soccer" is no longer a legitimate excuse.
  • Technical players have more fun.

    The Parent/trainer relationship - Being a parent/trainer is rewarding, but can be frustrating for both the parent and the child if not handled properly.  Through trial and error, I developed a system that works very well for me and my son. I encourage you to apply nuggets from this post to your routine.  Remember, the number of repetitions needed to achieve ball mastery won't always be "fun", but rarely should it be upsetting. You are giving your child an advantage and hopefully sharing a few life lessonsnot training them for certain pro stardom. Keep that perspective in mind as you set out on this long journey of youth soccer.

    Special author's note: My rule of thumb: Be consistent, limit verbal instructions and let the child own his/her training by memorizing routines and leverage technology.

    The objective is to improve on essential soccer skills in three key areas:  Ball mastery/technical ability - dribbling, first touch, juggling/aerial, turning/changing direction, receiving and passing, finishing and 1v1 (offense and defense).  General fitness -  conditioning, coordination, balance and speed & agility.  Other - situational awareness/options and Tactical awareness.

    Master the Ball, Master the Game - There are several reasons I focus mainly on ball mastery.  Firstly, ball mastery is, by far, the most important component of soccer development.  Secondly, the younger a player starts the easier it is for them to acquire these skills. Team training does not provide nearly enough time on the ball. Also, ball mastery drills improve general fitness - the reverse is rarely true. Finally, technical players have more fun. To my surprise, this final point is so seldom mentioned - that I feel the need to spell it out.  

    1. We know that soccer uses only one ball divided amongst 22 (or less depending on the age) players.
    2. We also know that every youth player wants the ball. Don’t believe me? Roll a ball in front of a group of kids and see what happens.
    3. Therefore, logic has it, that the more a youth player has the ball during a game or practice, the more fun they will have. Conversely, the less a player touches the ball during a game or practice the less fun they have.
    4. You don’t have to be Pep Guardiola, the esteemed Manchester City manager, to know that youth players with superior technical ability tend to dominate the ball.
    5. This means that kids with superior technical ability tend to enjoy soccer more than players with less technical ability.  This has a lasting impact on how long they continue to play the game.
    6. This cycle becomes self-fulfilling; The more technical (and confident) your child becomes, the more time they have the ball during games and practice, which increases their technical ability and enjoyment which in turn increases confidence and time on the ball, get the point.
    7. Enjoying the game is a huge motivating factor in my son’s (and most people’s) willingness to train individually.

    My methodology - Broadly speaking, I divide our technical sessions into three primary groups following a 90/10 rule. In future blog posts, I will explain each section in detail. The groups are:

    • Juggling/aerial Warm-up
    • Skills of the Week and
    • Follow-along Soccer Videos/or Apps

    90/10 Rule (90% Reps and Memorization / 10% Teaching) - In soccer, repetition is the key to mastering difficult techniques. As a parent, I am mindful that giving too many verbal instructions 1) adds little value, 2) frustrates my son and 3) hinders self-discovery.  I decided to focus 90% of each session on the goal of maximizing the most repetitions in the shortest amount of time. One key is using routines that he is familiar with. This means that 90% of the session virtually runs on autopilot because my son has either memorized the routine or is following a video or app. The constant repetition improves technique and increases muscle memory. The videos and apps add variety and the memorization removes the need for constant interruption.

    Special author’s note: Not giving constant instruction is an important feat when dealing with your own child; especially considering that the training could last over a decade. You need to implement a system that doesn't lead to frustration and enables them to eventually own their training.

    Juggling/aerial Warm-up - Juggling is an absolutely vital skill in soccer.  Check out this article by Universal Soccer Academy to learn more.  From a practical standpoint, I usually begin each session with a juggling warm-up because my son can warm-up on his own while I am setting up. The key is that he has memorized the routine.  Therefore he performs the routine deliberately and efficiently with no instruction from me.  Depending on the time allowed, I will assign one of the below routines:

    • Full juggling/aerial (20-minutes)
    • Modified juggling/aerial (10-minutes)
    • Super modified juggling/aerial (5-minutes).  

    So when we hits the field, I only have to say, “Do modified juggling or Super modified etc.” and he knows exactly what to do. For perspective, his goal is to reach 1,000 juggles before he reaches U10.  At the time of this writing, he is over half way there. 

    Special author’s note: Ignore people who say that juggling is not important. They don’t know what they are talking about.

    Skills of the Week - We have all heard the mantra, “Crawl Before You Walk” - that is the intellectual foundation of Skills of the Week. It’s better to master one thing before adding something else.  Too often I witness parents and coaches becoming frustrated with a child who is unable to grasp the multitude of instructions and techniques that appear easy to the instructor.  Rooted in my military experience, I believe that the most effective (and least frustrating) way to teach something is by breaking the information down into extremely small chunks - then allowing the person to master one chunk before moving on to the next. In basic training, a soldier might spend all day learning about his helmet. They may spend the entire next day learning about their boots. By the end of the week, they will know everything there is to know about their uniform. Skills of the Week is based on this same principle.

    In this section, I teach a skill (usually with the aid of a video); then my son spends a week practicing that single skill before moving onto the next.  Each week we add a new skill while reviewing the previous skills. By the end of the fifth week (the ideal spot considering endurance and memory) my son will have acquired the skills and memorized that particular routine. After the fifth week, we start the process again with a single skill which builds in a natural reduction in workload. 

    Another result, is the creation of our own training vernacular - I simply have to say, “Do a modified juggle and then we will do the Skills of the Week” and he knows exactly what to expect. Memorizing the routine, removes the guesswork, makes the session more efficient and cuts time. You can use the Skills of the Week methodology in every area. For example, he may simultaneously be doing Skills of the Week for 1v1, agility and cone dribbling drills. Together, these make a nice training session that again he has memorized. Below is an example of a typical 1v1 Skills of the Week session.

    • Week 1 - Body Feint (6 reps)*
    • Week 2 - Scissors (6 reps)
      • Body Feint (1 rep)
    • Week 3 - Stepover (6 reps)
      • Body Feint (1 rep)
      • Scissors (1 rep)
    • Week 4 - Stanley Matthews (6 reps)
      • Body Feint (1 rep)
      • Scissors (1 rep)
      • Stepover (1 rep)
    • Week 5 - Zidane Roulette (6 reps)
      • Body Feint (1 rep)
      • Scissors (1 rep)
      • Stepover (1 rep)
      • Stanley Matthews (1 rep)

      *Divide reps equally among right and left.

      Special author’s note: I do multiple skills of the week per training session - some of which include ladder drills, cone dribbling, turns, 1v1 and even jump roping.  I do Skills of the Month with my U6 son.  I discuss changes to routines with him off the pitch.

      Follow-along video’s and apps - Ball mastery requires a tremendous number of hours.  I never played soccer but find it prohibitively expensive to hire a personal trainer to deliver those hours.  Follow-along videos and apps have become a staple of our training sessions - accelerating my son’s technical development far beyond what I could have imagined.

      Mentally, it is better on both of us as well. The apps and videos have clear demonstrations, technology doesn't get frustrated, it never gets tired and is always willing to repeat itself an infinite number of times. Also, the videos and apps have a set duration. My son appreciates knowing the duration of the routine. In a future post, I will discuss which videos and apps I use.

      Special author's note: Ignore coaches who try to deter you from working with your child.  In an attempt to dissuade you, they may say things like "you are confusing the child" or "you are not teaching proper technique". Bottom-line, at a minimum I focus on the basic ball mastery skills that every soccer player should master. If people can teach themselves how to code; I am sure you can teach your child how to do a tic-toc or foundation etc.

      What about game situation and decision making: Simply put, that is what I am paying the coaches at his club team to implement. I focus on him mastering what I perceive as essential technical skills in an unopposed environment (with some occasional pressure). The thousands and thousands of repetitions make it easier for my son to execute them in game situations.

      What about free-play: In your quest to produce the next Messi, don't forget to chill and do a lot of free play. My wife often reminds me to cherish the years that my boys actually want to play with their old man. 

      I hope you find this helpful.

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