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North Hills Soccer Club

Club Philosophy

North Hills Soccer Club Training Philosophy

Our player development philosophy, simply stated is: It is all about player development.  We aim to provide our youth players the skills that will allow them to play successfully for the rest of their life, rather than trading away their future for victories today.


Is Winning That Important?

The US Soccer Federation has identified poor development in the youth categories as a significant problem with soccer programs in the United States.  The reasons for youth participation in sports have been quite clearly identified since the 1970’s. A survey indicated that young athletes participated for the following reasons (listed in the order of their importance): a) to have fun, b) to improve skills and learn new skills, c) for thrills and excitement, d) to be with friends or make new friends, and e) to succeed or win (Universities Study Committee, 1978.).


Winning should not be the goal of a youth soccer development program, but the end result of a good development program.  The only way to win games is to play well (regardless of strategy).  When we force youth players to focus on the result, players are actually distracted from the task at hand and the way to get there – the game. Focusing on the game, the chances of victory will eventually increase. All in all, when excessive emphasis is placed on winning, it is easy to lose sight of the needs and interests of the young athlete.


If It Is Not About Winning, What Is It About?

From an educational perspective, experience is the best teacher, not coaching lectures or yelling in instructions from the sideline.  We believe that our coaches are often more helpful to a young player’s development by organizing less and saying less, and allowing the players to do more. We aim to keep comments short, simple, and understandable.  We want to encourage our youth players to solve problems creatively and to figure things out on their own.  We will provide our players with guidance, however, we want them to be able to answer questions and make decisions for themselves.  


Learning from experience is extremely important to helping a soccer player reach their full potential.  We do not want players that are unable to decide what to do, waiting for instruction from the coach.  Instruction from a coach should take place during practice, not during a game.  The best soccer players are able make instant decisions based on training and experience, not on sideline instructions from a coach during a game.

At the youth and junior levels, there are a set of fundamental principles that should be considered by anyone coaching soccer. The starting point of these principles is that young soccer players require a certain amount of uninterrupted play, which allows them to experience soccer first hand.  These young players should be allowed the opportunity to experiment, and with that, succeed and fail. A coach’s long-term goal is to prepare a player to successfully recognize and solve the challenges of a game on his or her own. It is vital that the coach approaches youth soccer with this mindset.


Winning is not a priority for the North Hills Soccer Club.  Player development is the priority.  These statements are made often in youth sport.  However, it is rare for coaches and clubs to stick with such ideals in practice.  We are proud that we have designed a program that adheres to this philosophy in theory and in practice.


Why Do We Emphasize Skills?

Coaching at the younger ages (up through U8) should be focused on foot skill development not on tactical development.  A youth soccer player needs many opportunities to learn from experience, to be able to react quickly and independently.  Games are the proving ground that allows youth players to try to apply what they have learned at practice. If they learn and discover from experience, they will be more prepared to make independent decisions in the future. 


To play with confidence in a soccer match, a player must be confident in their ability to move a soccer ball on the field.  Players need many opportunities to touch and play with a ball.  This means shorter lines and fewer lectures during practices.  Tactical considerations should not be introduced until a child has mastered the ability to handle a soccer ball.  Knowing how to play a formation or where to be on a field is of no use to child that cannot control a soccer ball.


 US Soccer Best Practices

The following are some relevant extracts from US Soccer’s guide to Best Practices for coaching soccer.


. . . at the younger ages (6 to about 10), soccer is not a team sport.  On the contrary, it is a time for children to develop their individual relationship with the ball.  The fact that younger children are placed into team environments is not their fault.  Do not demand that the more confident players share the ball.  Encourage them to be creative and go to goal.  Do the same with the rest of your players.  Work to bring all your players up to that level of confidence and comfort with the ball.  Coaches should avoid the impulse to “coach” their players from “play to play” in order to help them win the match.


Coaches should not be telling their young players to “pass rather than dribble,” to “hold their positions” or to “never” do something (like pass or dribble in front of the goal).

Remember that the level of skill and competence that a 9-year-old exhibits is no indication of the skill and competence that he or she will exhibit at 16 or 18 years of age.  You cannot predict which 9-year-old will develop into a real player. Therefore, work to encourage all your players to be competent and comfortable with the ball. This will give all your players the same opportunity to reach their potential.


Work during practice to move all your players forward at their own pace.  Do not be concerned with match results. Be concerned that all your players want the ball at their feet and they want to score.  If you can accomplish this, you have successfully allowed your group to grow as soccer players.  Unlike practice, you cannot add more balls/goals during games to give kids more chances with the ball.  But you can emphasize certain themes for the players to focus on, such as getting involved, attacking the goal, taking chances, and then spend the length of the game reinforcing these points.


There is a broad spectrum of styles and methods for how each of us experiences the game. Some of this comes from our backgrounds, while some of this also is the product of our own personalities. At the youth and junior levels, however, there is a set of fundamental principles that must be considered by anyone involved with soccer. In general, young soccer players require a certain amount of uninterrupted play. This allows them to experience soccer first hand. They should be allowed the opportunity to experiment, and with that, succeed and fail.


This approach will give your players the green light to experiment and be creative – qualities that, unfortunately at the younger ages, are often discouraged on game day, in the name of being safe and winning.


Why Do We Do “Festival Days”?

The American experience of involving our children in sports at an early age has become commonplace for all of us.  It is unlikely that we might see a group of children under the age of 10 getting a sandlot style pickup soccer game without any adult supervision. Our American experience tells us that these kids will become better players if we provide them with structure, instruction and direction from adults.  Unfortunately, this is not how the rest of the world develops their kids as soccer players, and not how the US Soccer Association recommends that we develop soccer players.


In countries where soccer is the primary sport, soccer is played in the streets or on the beaches, with little or no adult supervision, for the fun of the game.  Players like Pele and Johan Cruyff “learned” the game on the beaches of Brazil or on the streets in Holland.  We encourage players to learn the game on their own. The game is the best teacher of the sport.   Kids need to be allowed to play freely and develop their skills without the continual guidance of coaches and parents.


Street soccer is the equivalent of sandlot baseball; children playing a game, for fun, with little or no interference/supervision from adults.  The Festival Days we organize for the U8/In House division are meant to provide an opportunity similar to street soccer, allowing the kids to simply play the game with other players in the club, with little or no direction from coaches.  Our American experience has taught us that the development as an athlete is measured in wins and losses.  In street soccer, the goal of the game is still the same, but it removes the focus from winning and places the focus on having fun.


With this in mind, our Festival Days are meant to recreate the freedom of street soccer, albeit artificially.  These “pick-up” style games provide opportunities for the players to learn simply by playing the game.  Up through U10, the job of our coaches is primarily to provide instruction on developing their skills and to help them understand the game. 


Our club’s management has put a lot of thought into the structure of our training program as well as how we train and prepare our coaching staff.  We have also given a lot of consideration to how different the American mindset is when compared to how the rest of the world trains and prepares their youth to play soccer.  Using the US Soccer Associations Best Practices as a guide, we feel that we are offering the players at North Hills one of the best community based systems in Western Pennsylvania to prepare them to become successful, skilled and creative soccer players.

Michael Katz

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