Objectively Charting Development: A Look Back at Winter Session II

Winter Session II

Disclaimer: This piece is written by SocMM Executive Director Nate Baker

Development seems to be the in-word when discussing youth soccer. Parents want it and coaches and clubs insist they provide it.

I believe people always are going to “see what they want to see”.  You can structure any picture of youth player development through a subjective lens.

Sadly within youth soccer, the objective measurement used to gage youth development is team wins and losses.   When development is sacrificed in the name of wins and losses, the youth player’s development is shortchanged for short-sided superficial goals.

Two questions emerge: How do we gage development and what should the focus of development be?

I’ll answer the latter question first.  The game is becoming progressively faster both on and off-the-ball, so development should be geared toward preparing players to succeed in that environment.  The very first level of development should be geared towards improving players’ mastery of the ball: first-touch, passing technique, dribbling, 1 v 1 moves, turns off-the-dribble, turns off-the-pass, etc.

To develop off-the-ball, we can teach players physical techniques as well to supplement the on-the-ball training.  Proper running form, explosiveness, agility and basic coordination training are a few examples in how we can improve off-the-ball.

Psycho-social development will not be discussed in this piece even though it is a huge part of the SocMM philosophy.  For purposes of this article, we will focus on the work we did charting on-the ball (technical) and off-the-ball (physical) development.

The question as to how to gage development is much more of a grey area.  Before the Winter Session II, we were building curriculums for seasonal sessions that we felt best improved player development.  In our heart, we felt that all of the players developed, but could we be guilty of just “seeing what we want to see”?

So this past winter, we set out to make development more objective.  We tested every player in our session on Day 1 to get a baseline of their abilities and then retested six weeks later to see how much they developed.

We had 23 of the 28 players who were present for testing on Day 1 and Day 6.  The first session (groups 1 & 2) was comprised of boys and girls aged 8-12 with different backgrounds in the game (recreational, travel, etc.). They performed 16 different tests (4 off-the-ball & 12 on-the-ball).

The second session (Groups 3 & 4) was made up of boys who were mostly aged 13-17 but had varying backgrounds in the game.  They performed 17 tests (5 off-the-ball & 12 on-the-ball).  Both sessions performed the exact same tests except the older groups performed a 20-yard dash.

You can look at the charts with their results by clicking the following link: Winter Session II 2012 Final Scores.

For an explanation on how to read the chart, clicking the follwoing link: “Chart Overview”.

Did Development take place during Winter Session II?

These are some of the numbers I crunched and took away from our results:

Of the 23 players who participated in both testing days (Day 1 & Day 6), the entire Winter Session II group improved 58.6% of their scores.  The first session improved 54.2% of their test scores and the second group improved 62.8% of their test scores.

In the first session, group 1 was the youngest of all the participants (ages 8-10).  Player #5 had improved her scores in 11 of the 16 events, and this player had little experience in the game previously, which is very encouraging.  Although the player’s Day 1 scores were lower on average than others in her group, the increase in performance over all the tests were substantial and prove that once proper technique is taught on and off-the-ball (regardless of experience in the game), major strides can be made in development over a six-week period.

Another interesting item that I found was that the first session’s ability to apply what they learned off-the-ball in final testing was more difficult for them than the second session. The first session only improved 41.7% of their off-the-ball test scores, in comparison to the second session who improved 71% of their test scores.

On-the-ball test scores for both sessions on the other hand improved their scores at similar rates.  The first session improved 58.4% of on-the-ball test scores, while the second session improved a similar 59.1% of their scores.

Final Thoughts:

We felt the Winter Session II testing overall was a success.  From reading some of the previous section’s numbers, we can objectively say that development did occur.

We also believe that there are benefits to the testing other than an objective measurement for player development.  For one, it helps the coaches further realize how to construct programs that are more beneficial to certain age groups.

For example, the two running tests that the younger group performed did not see improvement.  Only two of 12 players from the first session improved their scores.  This allows us to think critically about our curriculum, how we can improve upon it and if our focus should be shifted to something that is more age appropriate.  These tests aren’t only for the players.  They can be used to improve future sessions for the SocMM staff.

The second reason that the testing will be a success long-term is that the players now have objective numbers for which they can improve upon.  They now can objectively look at their own development instead of through a subjective lens.  The players know the tests, their scores, the techniques needed to improve scores and now with their testing scores information, they can go out in the backyard or local park and develop on their own.

Although 23 players can be seen as a small sample size, I believe objective testing of technical abilities is a major step in the right direction in improving player development, and we will continue to include testing in future SocMM sessions.


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