Self-Training: Athlete Development That Goes Beyond Soccer Performance
Let’s continue with the theme of summer training opportunities for youth soccer players.
In last week’s blog post, we covered private training. We’re going right back to topics covered in The Soccer Parenting Handbook this week, looking at alternative training options.
Youth soccer often trains 2-4 times weekly in addition to 1-2 weekend matches for 6-10 months a year. For most families, this workload and investment is perfect. Players can prosper at the classic, premier, elite, ECNL, and MLS Next levels.
Some players want more. While they can’t control their underlying physical attributes, they can improve their technical, physical, and mental game. Depending on the family’s disposable income, time, and logistics, there are several types of training to consider. While this training does not guarantee a pathway to the highest level of soccer and a college pathway, it does increase the chances considerably. In the end, these types of training will help your player be the best they can be.
First, the most important consideration is that the player really wants and is excited about additional training. The player should want this training much more than their parents. Be prepared to hit the pause button if players are getting tired or feeling overcooked. Make it a policy to ask your player if they want to stop at the end of each month so they get the sense that this is a privilege, not a right. They will likely value the training even more.
Like many sports, soccer is being planned out in terms of workloads over the course of a year. An annual plan includes specific targets for the team and individual players. For example, there is a preseason where the emphasis is speed, endurance, and skills. There is a plan to peak in the Fall and Spring seasons while taking breaks in winter and summer. However, the summer may have heavier loads for building strength and speed while maintaining those during the season.
A longer-term personal plan could be created over the span of several years. There is more suitable training for younger kids than repeating what professional athletes do after years of training. Sometimes, the training needed to improve your player now may be inconsistent with a longer horizon training program with a peak for high school or college optimization. Developing a long-term training plan requires expertise. Most importantly, parents need to get comfortable with the idea of players getting the appropriate workloads at the right time with adequate recovery. These plans are often called periodization.
This is the easiest start point. Tom Byer, a youth soccer thought leader, thinks that training should start in the home. Leave soccer balls around the house so even the youngest of kids can dribble their way to and fro. Kicking the ball against a wall or sofa 10 minutes a day will do wonders. Buy cones, speed ladders, return net, or a goal for the yard. The most successful kids always want to be on a soccer ball. Players can find training moves on YouTube and subscribe to a large number of coaches.
"It's not overtraining if it's self-induced and the kid derives pleasure out of playing five hours of soccer every single day. That's his enjoyment. He believes he owns his free will, his own free time, and his own fun. That's not pressure. Pressure is when you frame it in the expectations, the pressure to win, and it's all organized. That's when the kid burns out. It's not from the actual time." -Tom Byer
The next level is an online structured training such as CaptainElite.com where there is a combination of online as well as in-person options. Online Soccer Academy, Beast Mode Soccer, and SoccerRenegade.com are great options as well. Plus, they offer a lot of great content (for free) on YouTube. The paid versions of these programs offer well-curated drills and offer additional segments of confidence management and the mental game.
Game film is a great educator and guide for self-training. As players watch themselves compete, they’ll have concrete feedback on the things that are going well and areas that need improvement. All you need is an action camera with a high rating of frames per second. While you don’t have to film every game, periodic recording is a fantastic resource for the players and offers direct insight on areas for self-training.
Whether or not your family purchases online programs to assist self-training, the core idea is developing a greater mastery of the ball. You know what can return a pass? A wall...or curb...or fence, dresser, couches, draws, walls, or a willing sibling. Want to work on controlling the ball out of the air? Tossing or kicking will work, so will a roof (subject to parental approval or ignorance).
Routine self-training at home or a park is a sign that your child loves the game and wants to improve. Improving their skillset is important enough to your son or daughter that they sacrificed the comforts of temperature controlled living and video games. That's a love worthy of encouragement.
Why We Train
There are so many ways to approach summer training. Some of these ideas transfer to in-season supplemental training as well.
Private training isn’t an option for everyone, but individual training is and its adaptability makes it easy to slot training into the family’s summer schedule. Even if your child is participating in private training or camps, their willingness to work on ball mastery or advanced technical skills of their own accord is a sign of their motivation to advance in the game.
Even more importantly, the additional training sessions, especially self-training, are exercises in character development. Consistently showing up and performing at a high standard is difficult, but these are skills our kids need before they transition into adulthood. Sticking to that daily habit conditions them to enjoy the learning process, to analyze their performances in search of small improvements, and see the value of persevering through hardship for that delayed gratification or achievement.
Developing a soccer-specific skillset is the icing on the cake. Instilling character developing and growth-oriented habits in childhood…that’s the cake, or the substance, our children really need.
Head back to Scott Martin Media for next week’s article on pick up soccer.