August 13, 2021

I am in a very fortunate position to do a job that I am passionate about and love. I coach over 200 children a week and within those boys and girls are a varying range of ability and age groups. We have had a lot of success with our younger players with over 70 players going into a professional environment over the last 6 years.

If you speak to the children, 99% of them want to be professional footballers but what differentiates the more advanced pro academy level players from development level players?

You have probably heard of the 10,000 hour theory that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to be an expert at something and although I agree that practice helps develop players, I believe that the level that a player trains or plays at is just as important. I also believe that as a coaching organisation, our structure (what level) and coaches can impact on that. We have to understand that some players just want to play for fun whilst others have real aspirations and potential to go further.

I see some children doing all different football/futsal and fitness sessions a week but not making any real progress and I firmly believe that is because their training levels. As detailed in the image, if you are always training in a comfort zone it is not challenging the player and they are not pushing themselves into a zone where they will see the rewards. This can be down to mental challenges or as a result of tiredness and fatigue from doing too much.

Over the last 6 years, most of the players that I have seen develop and progress to a higher level have had one thing in common...the level that they train and play at. I believe that to continue to improve, a player has to be training and playing in the stretch zone and occasionally in the fear zone and through our academy and youth team/league structure we can do this. If their training levels decrease, performance follows and as a group we have to be honest with the kids and parents when we recognise this and establish why. There may be external issues such as their age, level of maturity, injury, physicality, home life and issues with players/coaches or what we are doing.

Children develop as players and as people at different times and but attitude will ultimately determine where they end up. I have seen children in at pro academies at a young age fade away because they believed that the hard work has been done and on the flip side we have had children that haven't been in the pro structure, performance academies or creative player programmes continue to work hard and be invited into pro academies in their teens. They have worked extremely hard to get there but they have a bigger challenge ahead by working for a full time contract and first team football. Once a target is achieved, a new goal should follow.

Over the last few weeks we have spoke to the children about their training levels and they have taken to it really well with an obvious increase in effort levels at sessions.

What are coaches and parents thoughts on the subject?