Training sessions should be geared to the age group of the players. It’s important to know the age group’s physical and mental characteristics. Adapt the training program to suit the players and set the level of competition according to the stage of physical and mental development of the team.
For example, intermediate level youths, which are usually slightly older, have naturally different abilities. In comparison to beginners, physical characteristics at this level include a longer period of endurance due to increased heart and lung size, increased muscle strength, and improved coordination and reaction time.
Mental characteristics at this level are longer attention spans, increased intellectual curiosity, greater emotional control in individual and group situations, and more independence and peer group identity. Players in this age group understand the concept of team performance, enjoy competition, and are tough, fearless, and energetic. Therefore, competitive team games must be offered encompassing the player’s basic skills and tactical awareness. Players can also be given tasks that demand more power, endurance, speed, and ability.
By the time players have reached an Intermediate skill level, most know how to perform each of the individual skills. Some may perform better than others, but they’re at least familiar with the idea of passing, ball control, dribbling, and shooting. Nevertheless, ball work and skill sessions are still a vital part of practice and shouldn’t be abandoned.
These players are now ready to move on to the more complex side of soccer and the big-picture aspects of the game. They need to work on transitioning, switching fields, and moving and passing to open spaces. These are skills that aren’t going to be learned in small skill sessions and fun games. They involve a different type of practice in which emphasis should be placed on the thinking aspects of the game. Intermediate level players should also begin to “know where they are” on the field in relation to the overall play. In other words, all players should begin to be aware of what all of their teammates are doing and where they’re located on the field at any given time.
When you have a practice that involves teaching one of these big-picture concepts, you should make sure that the drills and games surrounding the instruction are fun. Start with something fun and physical. If the players become exhausted, then they’ll be more likely to stand still and listen to instruction. Talk about what you’re trying to teach and play a half-field scrimmage to illustrate it. Stop the scrimmage frequently to reinforce a point.
End the practice on a high note. If players enjoy a certain game then make it the last thing they do every practice. They won’t want practice to stop and they’ll look forward to coming next time.
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