Player development can best be defined as the growth of a player both in their playing abilities but it is deeper than that. After all, though the game is taken quite seriously and studied with great detail, it is still a game. Therefore whatever is learned from the game should be transitioned to life outside of the game.
With this in mind the development of the player takes on four main qualities; technical, tactical physical and psychological. When looking at player development, these four areas should always be considered, however it must be understood they vary greatly based on age.
Therefore, in order for expectations to be realistic for players of all ages, it must be understood that at different ages, different focuses of development are needed.
U-12 and under
Through the age of eleven it is important to focus on technical development. The muscles are learning how to work and they will retain muscle memory as the player advances in age. The focus at this age should be on ball skill and creativity with most or all of the physical training taking place with a ball. In regards to winning, it should be secondary to skill development. As the player approaches the u12 age more tactical insight is brought into training, however the focus is still technique. For more ideas on development look at the curriculum for each age group.
u-13 through u-19
From the ages of twelve through around nineteen the focus begins to shift towards tactical training. Technique learned at younger ages improves through tactical training, teaching the players how the game is played. At this point physical training can become an area in and of itself in areas with a focus on such areas as speed training, strength training and endurance training. This is the age the player learns the “way the game is played”, so focus on tactics while teaching technique. For more ideas on development look at the curriculum for each age group.
U-19 and above
From nineteen on if a player is playing competitively his job on the field is fairly well definded and his skill is fairly developed, as is his knowledge of the game, therefore it is important to work on higher level tactical training specific to his role on the team. Functional training is also important focusing on technical or tactical skills specific to the players role on the team.
Finally it is important to realize that at whatever age the development is taking place, whatever is learned in regards to competitiveness, fair play, work ethic and so forth should be transitioned from the field to the “real world”. If this can be accomplished not only will successful players begin to succeed on the field, they will also do well off the field and true development will have taken place.