Every child that is introduced to the game of soccer embarks on a journey of discovery; starting from the moment he/she first touches the ball. The ones that eventually develop into high-level players go through the following phases of growth, generally in the sequence shown:
Phase 1 — Introduction to Soccer
The first experience of organized play usually occurs anywhere between 4 to 12 years old. The player’s first exposure to teams, coaches, practices and games. The players first attempt at mastering the skills of the game. Soccer might not be the only sport played, as the player dabbles in many sports and activities. If the introductory experience was fun, the player might move on to phase 2. If the experience was not enjoyable, the player will likely drop out of soccer.
Phase 2 — Commitment to Soccer
If the introductory phase proves an enjoyable experience, the player will decide that he/she likes soccer and is keen to continue playing the game. The most common motivators for continuing to play soccer are a) discovering the freedom inherent in soccer, the players game – the freedom to run and do with the ball whatever the instinct dictates, b) a noticeable or rapid gain in skill, c) having a ‘fun’ coach, and d) enjoying the social aspects of team sport. It’s not necessary for all of the above four motivators to exist together for a commitment to be made. All it takes is one reason. And it’s not necessarily just the best players who make a commitment to soccer. Players of all abilities can fall in love with soccer and make it their sport of choice. Once a player chooses soccer as his/her main sport and commits to playing it on a regular basis, soccer becomes an integral part of the weekly routine and is ingrained into the family life.
Phase 3 — Commitment to Excellence
Once soccer is chosen as the main sport, players begin to acquire soccer idols as they spend more and more time watching high-level games. And with exposure to high-level soccer, come the dreams about emulating their idols. At this stage, many players start to compare themselves to their peers and begin to wonder whether they are good enough to play the game at a high level. Unfortunately, some players quit soccer at this stage, when the realization that they are not as good as their peers hit home. But some develop an aspiration to become top players and make a commitment to work on their game. They are hooked! A player who is committed to excellence trains on his/her own in addition to the normal team practices. He/she watches games intently, trying to learn from the best. He/she becomes self-analytical, constantly looking to improve, and basically eats, drinks, sleeps soccer.
Phase 4 — Commitment to Winning
This is the stage when a player reaches a high level of technical and tactical maturity and, with it, a competitive streak. The player is seriously looking at a college or professional career in soccer and therefore, sets high standards, both for himself and for his team. The player who is committed to winning has no patience for slackers, wants to play with other players of similar ability and drive, and is looking to constantly challenge herself in practice and in games.
The phases described above are intrinsically developed within each player. Adults cannot and should not push or ‘fast track’ players through these phases but rather allow the players to progress at their own pace. Some players show promise early while others mature later with time. It typically takes 6 to 10 years for players to go from phase 1 to phase 4. Adults cannot decide for the players in which phase they need to be. Let the players decide! Most players never progress beyond the first phase, let alone reach the fourth one. Our task, as a club, is to provide all our players the programs, resources and the opportunity to advance through the phases of development without putting any pressure on them. We must let our players decide for themselves how much they want to commit.