Elite Academy Academy Development Academy Grassroots Soccer College Advisory Program
Cook Inlet S.C. Philosophy
Posted Apr 20, 2017

What is a Developmental Philosophy?

There are four components that comprise the complete athlete: technical, tactical, psychological and physical.

A developmental philosophy recognizes that the holistic development of the player depends upon training that addresses all four of these areas.

Inherent in this is the understanding that:

  1. Individuals develop (technically, tactically, physically, and psychologically) at different rates and different times. It is therefore important to be patient with each individual to allow that individual to develop at an acceptable and natural pace.

  2. To develop effectively, individuals need to be placed in an optimal learning environment whenever possible (e.g. it does little to help the development of a classic player to be placed in a premier level environment).

  3. Given the practical nature of running any organization, it may not always be possible to provide the optimal learning environment. In a small community there will inevitably be a disparity between those players who are highly (intrinsically) motivated and those players who are less so. However, a developmentally-based organization will strive to provide the best environment it can for all its participants.

  4. The goal is to develop all participants in accordance with their commitment level, work ethic and desire.

  5. Every participant is entitled to a high level of coaching regardless of whether they are on the so called "A" team or "B" team. (Obviously this does not mean that your most experienced coach has to coach each team at every game-this is not possible).

  6. It is natural for everyone involved (players, parents and coaches) to want to win. However, in soccer particularly, you can play much better than the opposing team and lose; or play much worse than your opponents and win. When everyone involved comes to understand this, winning in and of itself, is viewed in the proper perspective.

  7. Part of learning to deal with a highly competitive environment is learning both how to win and how to lose. Understanding that competitiveness can develop in stages and at different ages, understanding that this can be a big challenge for coaches is imperative.

  8. In the hierarchy of importance, each participant's individual development comes first, then the team, then the club. If you take care to develop each individual in the group the team will (for the most part) take care of itself and winning won't be a problem. The club functions merely as a vehicle through which we provide the environment for positive individual growth and development.

  9. The vast majority of games are used to evaluate the training and preparation, which has previously taken place.

  10. Being able to compete in a high intensity athletic environment is more important than winning in a high intensity environment.

  11. Learning how to win and what it takes to win is far more important than winning itself.

  12. The development of each player is the yardstick by which a coach's effectiveness is measured-not his/her win/loss record!

Implementing a Developmental Philosophy:

Implementing a developmental philosophy is not an easy task. The first obstacle that must be breached is to overcome existing "team" and "winning" oriented philosophies. This should be done primarily at pre-season team meetings (where the information in the above section is explained) and must be continually reinforced. Under most circumstances, coaches and staff members will not be able to convince everyone initially (or even everyone eventually) and it is typically impossible to overcome well-entrenched philosophies with just one meeting. What leads most people to eventually believe is the philosophy in action i.e. when people see the individual and team success it brings!

This leads us to the second obstacle: translating the philosophy into practical implementation or action. It is not possible here to provide a specific developmental answer for every question, concern or situation that might arise in the youth sports arena. However, by far the best guideline is: when facing any issue or decision, the first question a developmentally-based coach should ask is; "will the consequences of this decision benefit the long term growth of the individuals of this team?"

(At this point, it is important to understand the difference between short-term and long-term development.) It is a fact of team sports that independent individual development cannot take place continually for every participant on a short-term basis. For example, though one may have 8 forwards (or 8 players who want to play forward) on a team, one obviously cannot play all 8 in a forward position. It is also not possible to develop in forward positions for an extended period and then rotate positions to allow each participant the opportunity to develop their forward game-play understanding. In a "team" oriented program what usually happens is that the best forwards are chosen to play that position and remain doing so until the team disbands!

To answer this question carefully, one must first look at the consequences. For example, if you're considering getting your U-12 team to play a low risk, direct style of soccer (which many coaches teach) how will this affect the long-term technical and tactical development of your players? In this case it will have an adverse affect on individual development in these areas. Low risk soccer means defending players and goalkeepers don't play with any tactical or technical subtlety or sophistication. They are simply asked to "clear the ball" whenever they can. It's certainly low-risk, but over the long-term your defenders will end up being the type of players who can clear the ball and do nothing else. After looking at the consequences and if the consequence does not seem to fit into a kind of soccer that develops technical and tactical subtlety and sophistication - do not worry about playing low risk soccer.

With the above point in mind, can we as coaches look to develop confidence in our goalkeepers in their ability to play with the ball at their feet and receive the ball out of the air; the modern goalkeeper works on and develops these traits and thus allows the team to look to build play out of the back and also benefit distribution and a possession style of play.

The second question asked is "will our decisions assist players in growing and developing?"

This is not always an easy question to answer, primarily because the success of the individual is almost always psychologically attached to the success of the team, and these two components are difficult to separate. It's important therefore to focus on how the individuals in the group are developing (and to continually reinforce this focus by word and deed) rather than individual losses in the short term.

However, sometimes the immediate short-term success of the team (e.g. winning a state championship) can have an effect on the long-term development of the team. Winning a state championship can get the team to a higher level of competition. In such circumstances, it is appropriate for the short-term development of the individual to hold them out in favor of the long-term growth of the group as a whole. For example, you may decide not to play a particular individual in the State Final believing that individual not to be ready for that particular game. In winning the game, you are now able to provide the individual with a future developmental opportunity (i.e. Regional Championship participation) that you might otherwise not have been able to do so had the child participated in the State Championship game.

As coaches we want to encourage the 3 C's in our players - Creativity, Confidence and Character.

Creative soccer players come from an environment where repeated mistakes with the ball are encouraged and understood in the long term growth.

Confidence comes from knowing that you can attempt things with the ball and after repeated trial and error, in training and in games, permanent execution and mastery is developed.

Character is developed on and off the pitch, and this is where the support, understanding and partnership with parents are important, this will be the most important long term driver of development.

Thus we see the importance of training versus games as a tool to foster long term player development.