It’s natural, as a beginning coach, to over-organize and expect too much from young players. Emphasis on regimentation is an easy trap to fall into. It’s understandable, though, since many first-time coaches are rushed into a soccer program, given a ball and a bunch of novice players, and told they have a game in one week!
The strengths and weaknesses of each player should be determined before establishing a system. Simply assigning positions beforehand will produce a mechanical, unimaginative team. Comments from young players such as “I am a forward and my job is to score goals” or “I play defense and I help to stop the other team from scoring” are signs that players are becoming too-typecast in a position. Of course, a player must be assigned a position as a starting point. But don’t forget that players have come to run, kick, and dribble the ball. Once the game is in progress, over-stressing positions and restricted movement within positions will only cause a youth player to get frustrated.
A complete soccer player should have the physical qualities of speed, strength, and stamina, plus an impressive array of psychological qualities. The player is competitive, determined, courageous, aggressive, and competent on and off the ball. This player has tactical understanding, knows the game, and is easy to coach. Of course, all of these qualities are rare in young players. However, some basic traits and hints of “things to come” will be evident. All the players on the team should be seen as total soccer players in raw form. The only thing the coach needs to do is mold these players into a good unit.
One of the most reliable methods of judging players is through t extensive use of small-sided games. A player’s physical and psychological characteristics will stand out when fewer participate in a restricted area. During the first practice session, set up games with 5 or 6 players on each side. With fewer players participating, player deficiencies can be easily targeted and corrected.
There are many questions to ask when forming a team. Does any one player demonstrate outstanding leadership ability to which other players respond? If so, this player can be invaluable in player-coach relations and team motivation. Do certain players show aggressiveness and determination to win possession of the ball? Are some players more coordinated than others and can they move laterally, turn, jump, and run? Are some players confident and competent handling the ball? Or do they quickly pass it off without regard for a supporting player’s situation? Do certain players adopt attacking and defending roles with confidence under an opponent’s pressure? Are some players more mentally alert than others? Do they see and create situations that could lead to or prevent goals being scored? What are the player’s reactions to winning or losing the game or an individual battle? What are the player’s feelings towards the game in general? These are some of the basic considerations that influence the coach’s decision making process. A coach can assign player positions easier with the answers to these questions.