The Soccer Player's Journey

By Jeff Tipping, UEFA A License, USSF A License, Former NSCAA Director of Coaching Education

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Players - As players mature and become more sophisticated their technical and physical capabilities, along with their personality and game understanding, will change. A Club needs to be aware of the changes and anticipate the kind of programming which will address the needs of maturing individuals. 

Coaches - Need differing skills and activities to keep players on the cutting edge. The skillset for coaching 6 year olds is very different than coaching 16 year olds. 

Activities – The activities the club designs for training sessions, the physical capabilities of the players, the non - formal training programs, social activities and events along with game scheduling must be adapted to the age and developmental level of the players.

Outcomes – Probably the most important aspect of a developmental soccer club are the benchmarks by which the club measures success. Following a period of specialized training the players should be competent in various skills. In other words the players should exhibit certain standardized qualities after receiving specialized training. Clubs which are, consistently, going back to teach skills which should have been taught in the past will go no - where in a hurry. 

In addition, coaches should be, constantly prepping the players to support the game of soccer so that, long after their playing career is over, the players will still support the game as a coach, administrator, spectator, sponsor or referee.

Age of Discovery / 5 – 8 years

Player Characteristics

  • Limited attention span. 

  • Soccer is one of many activities.

  • Cannot kick the ball very far causing clumping around the ball. 

  • Tend to dribble the ball rather than pass it. 

  • Do not comprehend winning or losing. 

  • Kick the ball in one direction - forward

  • Play game to have fun.


  • Enjoys young children and is future - vision oriented. 

  • Is aware of attention span of this age group.

  • Has a menu of fun games for the children to play. Tag, relay games and activities which replicate soccer movement  i.e. running, jumping, dodging and changing speed and direction. 

  • Makes drill work fun incorporating sound technical execution. 

  • Coach must be a good demonstrator.

  • Older club players may be excellent coach/demonstrators for this age group.


  • Tag games, games of dodge with and without the ball – relay games etc. 

  • Games which emphasize soccer movement. 

  • Passing and dribbling around cones etc. 

  • Heading with soft rubber balls.

  • Some technical drill work is, also, appropriate. 

  • 1 v 1, 2 v 2 and 3 v 3 games. With and without goalkeepers. 

  • Practice Games – Normal team size 3 v 3 with no GK’s. Coaches keep track of how many times the players execute the techniques just practiced rather than the number of goals scored. 

  • In house games.


  • Players should - demonstrate basic soccer movement – running forwards, sideways, backwards.

  • Execute basic skills. Can pass and get ball in air without using toe.

  • Pass the ball backwards.

  • Dribbling moves.

  • Display fast footwork mastery.

  • Understanding of basic defensive movement.

  • Some goalkeeper training.

  • Players should know the basic rules of the game.

Age of Romance / 9 – 12 years

Player Characteristics

  • Enjoys a challenge. 

  • Likes putting on the team shirt and belonging to a team.

  • Increasing range of passing. 

  • Begin to pass in three directions.

  • Winning becomes important. 

  • Calling for the ball is almost, completely, absent.

  • Bad habits become more difficult to correct.

  • Players begin to adopt certain positions on the field. 

  • Will begin to support a professional / college team and identify favorite players.

  • Models play on players from higher levels. 

  • Some players begin to rebel against authority figures.

  • Can be fearful of playing against bigger players.


  • Fun but firm.

  • Game analyst.

  • Must be a good demonstrator. 

  • Challenging technical exercises - Heavy emphasis on correct technique.

  • Introduction of team tactics 

  • Various small sided games.

  • Some unit training.


  • Repetitive Drillwork of basic skills.

  • Introduction of advanced techniques – e.g.  bending the ball, scooping ball on first touch.

  • Tactical games – e.g.  4 v 2, 5 v 3.  

  • Practice Games – Variety of Small Sided games - 4 v 4 with no GK, 5 v 5 including GK’s, 6 v 6 through 11 v 11.

  • Unit training.

  • SSG Games and 11 v 11. Games should require a shape.

  • GK training for all players.

Desirable Outcomes

  • Players should know rules of the game 

  • Players should know how to take a throw in. 

  • Players should display appropriate soccer movement. Running forwards, backwards, shuffling backwards etc.

  • Players have mastery of basic techniques – especially “toe – up” passing and receiving, how to kick the ball in the air, heading, etc.

  • Players enjoy belonging to a team, wearing team colors etc..

  • Pass in three directions.

  • Some shielding.

Age of Commitment / 13 – 17 years


  • Clearly chooses soccer before other sports.

  • Friends have similar interests.

  • Talks about the game away from the field.

  • High value on belonging to a team.

  • Various sizes and stages of physical development.

  • Can play various positions but has a preferred position.

  • Can perform advanced techniques.

  • Will evaluate quality of the coach..


  • Student of game and age bracket.

  • Understands adolescent life – strong but fair.

  • Good demonstrator.

  • Good manager.

  • Understands functional training, systems of play.

  • Appoints and utilizes players with leadership qualities.

  • Well rounded and sophisticated technician and tactician.


  • Small sided games – Keep track of scores over the season. 

  • Functional (positional) training.

  • Games with/against older players.

  • Fitness training – including plyometrics and body work.

  • Lectures and presentations.

  • Evaluations, group and individual meetings.

  • Off the field bonding activities.

  • Playing in an appropriate league.

Desirable Outcomes

  • Soccer lifestyle.

  • Good at all technical skills – exceptional in a couple. 

  • Shielding.

  • Understands functional roles and can play several positions.

  • Competitive mentality.

  • Hungry to learn more.

  • Good physical movement.

  • Good practice habits.

  • Extra practice.

  • Dreams of the future. 

Age of Fulfillment / 18+ years


  • Will be - Committed to college, professional or adult team.

  • Will probably - Specialize in one position. Should have secondary positions.

  • Concentration on technical and tactical functional training.

  • Soccer lifestyle.

  • Winning is important.

  • Has views on coach and team mates.

  • Has views on how the game should be played and/or coached.

  • Keeps physically fit.


  • Must have - Strong personality.

  • Must be - Good manager of players and staff.

  • Must be - Student of game.

  • Should be – Good recruiter. 

  • Must have – Good written and verbal skills.

  • Must have – Understanding of systems of play.

  • Must prepare - Stimulating, challenging and competitive practices.

  • Past experiences shape decision making.

  • Must be - Balanced professional and personal life.

  • Must have - Individual, group and team meetings.

  • Must have - Formal and informal player evaluations.


  • Fitness, agility and competitive conditioning training.

  • Functional Training.

  • Individual, unit and team practices.

  • Individual, group and team meetings.

  • Discussions on playing, managing and competitive philosophies.

  • Post playing career guidance.


  • Positional specialists. Can play 2/3 positions.

  • Good, strength, power and agility.

  • Elite level skills. Outstanding in 2/3 skill areas e.g. heading.

  • Leadership and/or Teamship qualities. 

  • Commitment to purposeful practices, practices before and/or after formal practice and does not need to be supervised.

  • Good verbal and visual communication skills. 

  • Use of upper body.

  • Internal motivation.