Development Phases Overview |Coaches Manual

Development Phases

Foundation and FUN! – Academy Phase (5-7 years old)

Paid staff coaches overseeing volunteer coaches with the emphasis on having fun and learning to love the sport. Games are a forum for players to test their ball skills and should be considered an additional means of development, rather than the objective. Learn More

Cultivate Training Environment – Development Phase I (8-10 years old)

Goal is to teach players the importance of focus and effort in training. Introduce basic Principles of Attacking and Principles of Defense. Continue to create 1v1 up to 4v4 scenarios for players that maximize reps and realism of a match. Learn More

Perfect the Training Environment – Development Phase II (11-12 years old)

Increased training load and specificity from Development Phase I. Focus of training is to improve soccer-specific skills, soccer intelligence, small group tactics and general club style of play. Players begin to understand the results of focused and dedicated training. Promote the continued growth of ball skill, an increasing game awareness and an appreciation for taking calculated risks in the attack through the 3 v 3 to 9 v 9 game model. Learn More

Problem Solving – Tactical Phase (13-18 years old)

Expanding player understanding of the game as much as the players technical and game maturity will allow. Developing tactical concepts of the game while continuing to develop technical abilities. Whole team tactical concepts and strategies are introduced. Training sessions become more tactically complex and nuanced, covering various formations, strategies and tactics. Learn More

Learn How to Win – Competition Phase (15-18 years old)

At this point, winning is the purpose of the game. The emphasis is to have players maximize player performance in all aspects of the game and get a positive result in individual matches. Training is characterized by high intensity and relatively high volume with frequent periods of rest. Learn More

A player’s chances of success at the Competition Phase are greatly enhanced by mastering the building blocks of soccer that are best addressed at the preceding Developmental Phases.

At the Academy and Development Phase I, ball skills, enjoyment of and experimentation within the game is key for a player’s development. At Phase I, and II this can be seen in ball skills, enjoyment and insight into the game, with a gradual introduction to fitness, mental toughness and results. At this point, any success in winning matches should begin to be the product of a consistent and systematic approach to the game that focuses more on player development than on teambuilding. (The theory being that individually competent soccer players that are placed together on a team are more prepared to win than well-organized players who are unable to stand alone on their soccer abilities). At the Tactical and Competition phases, players need to use all these qualities together, along with a commitment to excellence, in order to figure out how to win. If a player skips a step at any of the early Developmental Phases, they will find success and enjoyment more difficult as he/she moves toward the Competition Phase. At the early Phases, there are several points to address when discussing how to achieve these goals:

  • The game is the best teacher – let the kids learn from it by setting up opportunities for them to play.
  • Allow kids to learn in environments that are sensitive to age and abilities (emotional and athletic) and that offer a variety of experiences.
  • Age and ability competition is a central element in a player’s development.
  • At the youth level, a competitive environment is not a result-oriented environment. The differences must be clear. A competitive environment at the youth level encourages decisions from player and coach alike that focus on performance rather than results. (Favoring ball skill and inventiveness as the means to find success within the rules and spirit of the game)
  • At the junior level, technical skill and attacking soccer continue to be important themes, but now there is a greater focus on developing players’ insight into the game by emphasizing the role of the game itself as a forum for learning. (Still focusing on the performance, rather than the result)
  • At the youth and junior levels, matches are important as a means to player development (enjoyment, ball skill, insight, fitness), not as the aim. The usefulness of the game, in this respect, can occur in many different forms, from the 4 v 4 to the full-sided match model. Even at the Senior level, the game still offers opportunities for growth – only the weight of balance between factors such as enjoyment, ball skill, insight, fitness and results shift more toward the latter.
Developmental Phase Age Youth Player Characteristics
Academy Phase U6

All practices should be based on fun games.

Players must spend the maximum time possible in contact with the ball and experiment by themselves.

For the first time the player has to build a relationship with other players. Give different responsibilities to the players in order to develop a sense of team.

Basic motor skills like walking, running or jumping have to be combined with ball handling and ball control.

Developmental Phase 1 to 2 U9

Pre-pubescent players from age 9 to 12 years have a special ability to learn. Therefore, this is the right age to work on specific soccer techniques and skills. Developing good technique is essential at this age.

1v1 and 2v1 attacking and defending situations are important to develop individual skills as well as the passing techniques to develop the necessary team game.

Use small-sided games to develop basic attacking and defensive principles. Other important aspects of tactical training are possession, combination play, transition and finishing in the final third, as well as zonal defending. Players will rotate in two or three different positions to avoid early specialization.

Speed, coordination, balance and agility are the main physical aspects to improve at this stage.

Developmental Phase 3 to 4 U13

At this stage, training sessions are orientated more toward tactics and the player will practice in bigger spaces. Players must practice all different types of techniques at this stage. Continue with small-sided games.Strength and endurance should be part of the fitness training. Coaching methods have to consider and preserve players’ health since they will be experiencing many changes due to puberty at this stage. Warm-ups and cool downs are essential as is dynamic flexibility.Players must develop discipline at this stage by following the instructions of the coach both during and outside training sessions.

Tactical to
Competition Phase

Tactical training and small-sided games are an essential part of the training at this stage. Attacking and defending principles must be part of all games. Important aspects of the tactical training are speed of play, quick transition, counter attacking and finishing in the final third, as well as pressing.

Technique will focus on speed and accuracy. Passing and finishing are two of the main techniques emphasized at this stage. Part of the technical training will be position-specific (e.g. defender: passing, center midfield players: receiving to turn and strikers: finishing).

The physical aspect of the game is key at this stage: endurance, strength and speed will be part of the weekly training routine.

Players should be expected to show commitment to the team, concentration in training sessions and competitiveness during the game.

Specific U19

All tactical aspects of the game must be covered. Strategy and set pieces are now a major part of the training sessions.

The technical and physical work is based on explosive actions.