One of the big initiatives sweeping through these countries and more is this obsession of producing a Messi. We want to produce confident, technical dribblers who attack and attack. Yet, just like many initiatives, it's extremely short sighted. Ultimately we've traded one end of the extreme, "the win at all costs/kick it long" mentality for the other extreme end of the spectrum: the "dribble at all costs" mentality.
We should encourage players to be confident when on the ball, to take defenders on, and to be creative. But does this mean we should encourage a player to dribble right into three defenders every single time? NO! Messi is who he is because he has a footballing brain that is unrivaled. What happens when you constantly let a player dribble to no end without any instruction? You are not helping them develop, no matter what you think.
We've ended up with a cult within the youth development world who believe that players will become Messi and Ronaldo by always trying to rainbow defenders and never passing the ball. It's a complete disservice to proper development, because we've now become so obsessed with developing one type of player that we shun the other types.
Let that sink in for a second.
Sergio Busquets, an average player according to some, because he doesn't need to do 35 step overs. Xavi must only be OK for these folks.
We have never produced a Messi, but I can also tell you we've never produced a Busquets, or a Xavi, or a Paul Scholes, or a Paolo Maldini type player either. Development is not a factory line, we aren't producing iPhones.
The player is the syllabus, and yet most coaches have to impart their preconceived notions of what a "good player" is on the young kids.
What's often lost with the "let them dribble" mentality is the idea that players will just somehow figure it out. It is our job to help develop our players ability to read the situation, and we need to encourage them to dribble when they should, but also pass when they should. If you just let kids dribble repeatedly and offer little to no instruction, maybe some get it, but the vast majority are left in the wilderness. Let me repeat again: We need to help improve our players individual technical ability and encourage their confidence on the ball, but it should fit within the context of the game.
Take this picture for example. This was sent in from a coach of a U10 team:
When we encourage our players to understand when to pass and when to dribble, and we encourage a game that features passing when it is the right choice, we are helping our players fully develop. There are some players that can do a rainbow yet can't receive a ball well with their first touch from a pass. A team that passes when appropriate, that encourages its players to think rather than just receive and run, is a team that will see its players put into more situations that will encourage proper development.
When you hear a coach admonish his players for passing at U9 of U10, stop and think for a moment how astounding that is? It's important to recognize that players that are not technically proficient more often than not can't possess the ball as a team.
Possession encourages technical development as well as tactical development. It isn't a secret, it's quite a simple truth really, yet it's almost always overlooked. A possession based game requires players who are technically proficient otherwise their first touch or their pass will let them down. A possession based game encourages players to really understand WHEN to dribble and WHEN to pass.
The best players are the quickest thinkers. Dribbling into 3 defenders and being praised doesn't promote thinking, quite the opposite really.
We have to create the best possible environment to develop players to the best of their abilities. We cannot have a one size fits all approach, because a game of 11 Messi's may not be as balanced as you'd like. The game requires Busquets, and Pique, and Xavi just as much as it requires Messi and Neymar.
I leave you with this thought. Imagine Busquets at La Masia receiving the ball and finding a great pass to unlock the defense in a split second. Now imagine his youth coach yelling at him because he didn't do "a skill move every time you receive the ball."
Sounds silly doesn't it?
The player is the syllabus. Don't do them a disservice by making them all the same.
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