Every once in awhile, I hear about an instance where something goes on that I believe isn’t age appropriate. In my fifteen years of coaching Professional, NCAA Division 1 men’s and women’s, ECNL, Development Academy, High School and every age group of youth soccer… there is nothing more polarizing to a team than when a coach separates a drill into starters versus nonstarters.
Imagine an exercise of 6v4 to goal where all of the remaining players rotate through the defensive four positions. The coach never subs out one of their front six players and only focuses on the movement patterns of that front six and neglects the back four and the remaining non starters.
You would probably think that is an absolutely normal practice in soccer. But what about in a U12 practice? Would you say it’s age appropriate? What it shows me, and unfortunately the player that told me the story, is that this coach is not focused on developing everybody on their roster and is primarily focused on the teams starters.
Coaching a team where the gap between the top player and bottom player is large always seems like a dilemma for most coaches. I’ve never seen an issue with that as long as you have standards for each and every player and you hold those players accountable to those standards. I can often see the measure of a coach based solely on the treatment of the best player on the roster. If a team is focusing on technical aspects in attack, and the best player makes a bad decision with their first touch, and is not corrected, that sends a red flag to me about the level of the coach. It is also a red flag when nothing is said when the worst player makes a mistake and isn’t corrected. Every player deserves to be coached.
Players at the younger ages should rotate through attacking and defending roles in training. If this is so hard to ask, consider that the Croatian Development Curriculum created by world renowned coach Romeo Jozak, states that players rotate through all field positions until the age of thirteen. It’s sad when a player comes to me and tells me about a coach that can’t even rotate players in a training session. This is not developing everyone on your soccer team.