I’ve recently had a few new coaches approach me about how I develop my players. and my beliefs in style of play. Over the course of this blog I hope to explain my theory on the game. Places I’ve found interesting content and thought provoking ideas on the game.

Like Many coaches currently I enjoy developing players who are comfortable on the ball are creative, imaginative and are prepared to take risks, especially in the foundation stage 8-11.

From a team aspect I like my players to play out from the back and through the thirds of the pitch/team move forward as a team and develop towards a team philosophy.

For players to be able to play this style of football, I have to develop technical players at an early age. The best way I’ve found of developing highly technical players is to focus a large portion of every session on technical parts of the game, before moving into 1v1s 2v1s and 2v2 games. The final part of the session is the game that brings those previously coached points into play.

One way that we can look at individual player development is to ask what a player needs at what time of their footballing journey. The below Image is an adaption of processes used in pro academies as mentioned in the Youth player development podcast

Extreme Technic

Players should start developing good technical foundations from the very first session they attend and this should not finish until the very last session they attend. For players in the foundation phase, I tend to focus on the following skills

  • Dribbling
  • First Touch
  • Passing
  • Shielding
  • Changing Direction
  • 1v1 Skills

I Find these very basic skills give players confidence to handle the ball on the pitch and in 1v1 situations.

Movement Experiment

Every player from an early age should experience all roles within the game especially from U6s through to U13s (in my Opinion), naturally as you move up the age groups players will show differing abilities and characteristics that will begin to narrow playing to certain positions, but as players are learning the game they must see all parts of the game.

The positions I look to play are based on my preferred 11v11 formation of 1-4-2-3-1 every formation I play rolls back as the format of the game alters down the age range, this allows players to be comfortable as we move through the formations as the individual roles and how to play them alter.

  • 11v11 = 1-4-2-3-1
  • 9v9 = 1-2-3-2-1
  • 7v7 = 1-2-3-1
  • 5v5 = 1-1-2-1

Movement Refinement

The third stage of player development is movement refinement, this is were as a coach we look at player performances and attributes to match them to 2-3 positions that they suit, enjoy and can prosper in. The purpose of this is to narrow the players focus and development in certain areas, to allow further focus on the technical attributes required for the player to shape their game. If we start this process at 13 when payers transition from 9v9 to the full 11v11 game, we can start to help players understand the position specific fitness requirements that they will require to play their position. Support their understanding of the full 11v11 game and the technical requirements needed to play their chosen position.

Lets take for example a modern day full back in the 1-4-3-3. From a fitness point of view they have to cover so much ground over the full length of the pitch, out of possession they need to be compact alongside the center backs keeping passing lanes covered forcing play wide and having good physical strength to win defensive 1v1. Now shift the game to in possession, it is not uncommon for the full back to be the most advanced player up the pitch, with the ability to carry the ball or move without the ball very quickly up the pitch to maximize attacking threats. from a technical stand point the need to be very proficient in 1v1s, excellent dribblers of the ball, high standards of 1st touch with the ability to control a switch ball, the ability to switch play quickly and able to cross the ball at pace. Have a look at the video below of Kyle Walker as an example

Kyle Walker – Example Full Back.

In comparison a center back will need to be effective at dealing with the aerial ball, good passes and able to move the ball short distances and find the right pass under pressure, they need to be excellent in the 1v1 with the ability to be able to slow down play and await for support. They are required to be able to show as an option to either build play (receive short from the keeper) or relieve pressure by showing as an option when the midfield Is being pressed heavily to develop space further up the pitch. see our example of Harry Maguire


Both positions would develop better with a position specific technical and physical training programs for many clubs/Teams this may be difficult to support based on the contact time that coaches have with their players. but if we discuss how to improve player attributes and performance markers outside of club contact during the movement refinement stage, you could find that more intrinsically motivated players may develop their own programs. This player ownership is vital for player development in the positional expertise stage.

Positional Expertise

This is the final stage and comes mainly after the youth development stage (apart from Goalkeepers who may specialize much earlier). This where player narrow their development to the one position, this isn’t saying that a player may not be called upon to play another role at times, but their overall training program it tailored to their role in the team and how to maximize their performance for the team.

It’s now common for professional players to have extra training sessions either technical, personal trainers and strength and conditioning sessions outside of the club to speed up their development and aid performance.

The Next Blog

This blog was just a little share of some theoretical processes that I’m trying to follow. our next blog we will be looking at a possible cover session for a youth development stage group.

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