The Player Puzzle

Updated: Nov 23

Why do youngsters engage in sport? Seen their roles on TV, thrown into a club by their parents or positive experiences in school would be some answers near the top but responses around wanting to learn and be challenged wouldn't be too far off either. A 2019 Sport England study on attitudes of children and young people towards sport and physical activity revealed enjoyment to be the biggest driver of activity levels.

Are we putting the needs for team success over the needs of individual player development?

We should be careful and considerate about what youth engagement is actually about. The context and playing age are obviously important factors for this but for us all the #EndInMind with youth sport must be to see as many players still playing in 10+ years time because we have provided them with the hunger, challenge and love to continue their involvement. The true indication of positive youth development is in the future.

Are we putting the needs for team success over the needs of individual player development? Are we putting winning ahead of individual longterm player needs?

Not just football... EVERY SPORT!

For the criticism that often surrounds football academies, the hidden and unrecognised work that coaches are doing to provide the right learning opportunities for each individual to reach their potential is remarkable. Their #EndInMind is clear, they want as many youngsters playing at the top-level as possible in 5, 10, 15 years.

The on-pitch programme is a flexible model of work. Age groups will regularly play different formats of the game throughout the season, these may include futsal, 5v5, 9v9 and sometimes playing numbers down (e.g. 9v11) to provide stress and stretch for players. Age boundaries are often fluid to suit the individual and this is further supported by many competition organisers to ensure players have the best opportunities to grow.

Yes, they have more contact time than a grassroots club but what is stopping us from having a more flexible games programme? Similarly, we often set team challenges and goals for the season but how often do we discuss individual player goals? Would we see greater development of the team's performance outcomes if each player had their own individual goal?

Do we release players and provide the opportunity for youngsters to experience different settings or do we hold them back because the team is bigger than player development? Would you let a player who needs stretch in your age group play up/across an age group? Or even play across an age group because they are relatively new to the game so their training age is low in comparison to others. Common language around ‘Playing across’ age groups would be important here rather than using the language of playing down or up and the perceptions this brings.

As ever a tone of questions to consider with a thousand possible answers but develop each individual and you’ll end up with some pretty awesome players wouldn’t you? Join the conversation across social media @The_CoachingLab and share your coaching adventures with us.