The Importance of Coaching Correct Technique in Youth Football
The UK has often been criticised by pundits and football experts for having less technically gifted players than other countries. I am not going to debate this subject but reflect on where this accusation basis comes from. The international stage is where the English, Scottish and Irish teams have failed to make a significant impact. This proposed ‘under achieving’ causes the experts to doubt the technical ability of the British players. The strength of the Premier League and the growing lack of home grown faces in the starting line ups, again lends power to the argument. Aside from this, there is a change in mentality in football coaching and for some of the academies and centres of excellence across the UK. Technique is now an important ‘buzz’ word when talking about youth players, rightly so I believe, as still I see grassroots clubs ignoring this factor.
The ’10,000 hour rule’ has been around for nearly 15 years now, it was an initial study conducted into the performance of violinists at the Berlin Academy for Music in 1997. The subsequent studies and articles following this study from various scientists and authors have supported and elaborated on this basic rule. The study suggested that to reach elite level in any field, including sport, a person would require around 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. Thinking of football, a player would have to practice 1 hour a day for over 27 years. This seems a lot, but if we look at it differently, it is possible for children to practice in the school yard, during physical education, and after school. The problem is that during these times the player is not being instructed on their technique, so all of this time could be spent practicing an incorrect technique.
The importance of using the coaching session to correct technique and encourage using these techniques is very high. It has even more significance in today’s society as the habits of school children have changed significantly over the last 15 years. Nearly gone are the days where a child plays football at school, comes home, plays football outside locally until it’s dark. The introduction of games consoles, the internet and instant messaging has conducted a switch from outdoor activities to those indoors. This change has had a significant affect on the health and sporting behaviour of young children across the UK. Studies have shown that children are not learning some of the motor skills needed to complete sports and activities that were took for granted 15 years earlier. This is why there has been a major increase in organised sport in school, after school and through local clubs; some supported by government money, showing the extent of the problem. Specialist ‘multi-skills’ course are being delivered around the country, which cover basic areas of movements including, hopping, jumping and catching. They also include a number of other skills, many of which were learned though unsupervised play by the youth of the past.
From this information, it is important that as a football coach, we recognise the need to provide our players with the environment to practice and correct technique, especially in the all important formative years. Youth players should be encouraged to participate in other sports and activities outside of football as these can help develop their motor skills and help provide the basis for football.
Youth soccer coaches of all levels should place an emphasis on coaching technique, setting aside a proportion of training to include repetition of this skill. It is this time that will allow the coach to support the growth of a players technical knowledge and help to in-grain the correct movements so they can be repeated outside of their organised training session. This will ensure that the technique that is becoming part of the players skill set is effective. Professional clubs across the world have become aware of these technical problems and some choose to employ a technical coach, who trains each squad in a separate session, focusing solely on correcting technique. These coaches design sessions that allow the players to repeat the skill and improve muscle memory, but more importantly give them a chance to repeat this technique in a game like situation repeatedly.
As a coach, you will have noticed that there are coaching businesses focusing on technique training such as ‘Club Soccer’, ‘Brazilian Soccer Schools’ and the most famous being ‘Coerver Coaching’; these pay attention to the technical side of the game and are attended in addition to team training. There are definite benefits to players for attending these kinds of courses, but not all players can or enjoy these. This is why a team coach must provide technical training as part of their team’s schedule.
Technical focus does not have to mean line coaching or uninteresting drills, but it does mean repetition. Coaches must provide players with the opportunity to practice these techniques in an unopposed situation, allowing them to learn the specific biomechanics. The coach must also offer the player the chance to practice these techniques in game-like situations, where they can repeat the application under pressure. This kind of practice also helps the players to make decisions that affect their performance.
Incorrect Technique or Incorrect Decision?
A good coach should be able to realise when a player has EXECUTED an incorrect technique, like attempting a drag back and leaving the ball behind; and when they have CHOSEN the wrong technique, like executing a right foot drag back when the defender is on their right shoulder. Coaching the player to choose the correct choice can only be done when the player has the skill base to draw from, it is unfair to expect a player to use a left footed drag back, so that their body shields the ball during the turn; if they cannot execute the technique. Again this takes us back to repeating the technique so the body can learn the biomechanics of the move.
Through large quantities of quality repetition, a player is able to build a strong basis of technical knowledge and expertise to draw from in a game. As a coach, you have a responsibility to build this technical knowledge and supply your players with the tools necessary to succeed and perform in football.