To realize their soccer potential, players need to combine a variety of training scenarios. While group training is at the core of being part of a team, it isn’t everything. A player must have an arsenal of individual skills and abilities available to contribute to the team. So, individual training is vital to player development. However, as a coach (or parent), it isn’t enough just to tell your players to improve by saying, “Make sure to train on your own.”
New habits require learned behavior. Your specific, creative and consistent guidance, follow-up and encouragement is an essential part of supporting your players, especially when it comes to their independent skill development.
Part of the COVID-19 pandemic phenomenon for soccer players has been the necessity to train on their own. However, with the recent resumption of team training, in some places and with limits, perhaps players have the idea that they can limit or even curtail this individual training. They should understand that the training methods they built during isolation should now be translated, adjusted, and maintained. Since now all players have experienced training independently, now is the time to reinforce it, and make it a regular habit.
Despite the difficult circumstances that necessitated that independent training--and even if that individual training is scaled down with the resumption of group workouts--this is a golden opportunity to stress the value of continuing. That’s because the work players do on their own is fundamentally important as well as gratifying.
Obviously, individual training is about becoming a better player, differentiating oneself, figuring out how to stand out at soccer tryouts and playing at the highest level. While that's understood, it's not everything. In addition, how do you make those aspirations clear, to say, a 12-year-old? And why would you want to? Aspiring to play soccer in high school, college or professionally may not be relevant or appropriate for young children. At that early age, it's about what's at the core of the game, and why people play it in the first place: fun.
Fun is the Name of the Game
When Techne founder Yael Averbuch was in her youth playing days, her coach regularly jumped into team scrimmages. With deceptive dribbling, scoop passes and superior skills, he loved good-naturedly challenging his players. Frustrated but admiring of his undisguised ability to dominate at will, something he said one day hit home to her: The better you are with the ball, the more fun the game becomes. He loved playing because he was good at it. And he got that way by a lifetime of working on his individual skills.
Let’s face it, it’s more fun to win than to lose; more fun to dominate than be dominated. Like most everything in life, the better you are at something, the more you will excel and enjoy it. And you get better by working at it.
Tips for Talking To Your Players About Individual Training
Explain the Why
Encourage any and all time spent mastering the ball with individual skill work. People often claim some skill development, such as juggling, is not the best training to do because it is not “game realistic.” But that misses the point. Players need to have the ball at their feet in order to learn to control and master it. What’s more, it’s the individual ball skills combined with the team training and tactical concepts that coaching and playing experience provide that together create a great player. You can’t have one without the other.
Here’s a post all about why soccer players should be training on their own.
Make Skill Development Fun
Emphasize the correlation between getting better and having fun. Soccer is like a chess game: there are nearly infinite moves and combinations of moves a player can make. And the more skills players have in their bag of tricks, the more they can create. And that creation, including when done together with teammates and peers, is one of the great joys of the game, and of life.
It’s not enough just to instruct players to “go home and train on your own.” It is much more helpful to give a specific reference on what and how much soccer training they should do on their own. Set a minimum standard; for example, “Everyone spend 30 minutes on individual training before next week’s session.” You can suggest specific tasks depending on what you’re working on, such as 100 times of doing a shooting drill during the week.
Point out within a session or game when there is something you expect players to do more of on their own. That might be long balls or crosses. Explain that in a group training session each player gets maybe 8 to 10 reps, but on their own, they can, and should, do many multiples of that. Group sessions are also a good opportunity for those who have worked on a skill individually outside of practice to demonstrate their progress.
Foster self-motivation. Help skills training become a personal interest, even obsession, for getting better--not just something players do in front of the coach. Show an equal appreciation of the basics (e.g. use of both feet, consistency of first touch) as much as the more “flashy” aspects of play.
Incorporate skills challenges into your sessions. You don’t have to devote a lot of extra practice session time, maybe something that can be done during warm up or cool down. Assign skills for players to practice on their own between sessions. Have them come back and show what they improved on. Foster healthy competition. For example, assign some of the Techne Time Trials and test who can improve the most.
Be a Role Model
Demonstrate soccer skills if you can. Players will respect and imitate you. Yael Averbuch recalls another youth coach who one day casually rested the ball on top of his foot, and then performed an “around the world” trick. She went home and worked on it until she herself could perform the move. If you aren’t comfortable or able to play or demonstrate, you can certainly find those who can assist in this effort.
There are so many ways to enrich your players’ soccer experience. Encouraging individual training is one of the most important. If there are any doubts, simply recite the long list of the great players--and what made them great: the investment in, and joy of, their own individual play.
Lately, it’s probably been relatively easy to convince your soccer players to train on their own. That’s because with the restrictions created by COVID-19, it has been “the season” worldwide for individual soccer and sports training.