Performance Improvement Tip #2: Technique + Game Intelligence = Success

johan simple game

As I mentioned in the first article yesterday technical development should be placed at the cornerstone of youth development. Technical ability is a base requirement and will ultimately determine how far young players will go in the game. If young players can successfully master the ball, then they will have the confidence to consistently make the right choices and create solutions for themselves, and others on the field.

As young players advance in the game, it is important that young players start learning game intelligence and combining this with technique. This should not be confused with the team tactical work that I see at the youth levels of the game. It is about providing “individual players” with the tools to consistently scan the field of play and look for the space that they can exploit during play.

What qualities do the world’s top clubs look for when evaluating young players? They generally begin to consider players as young as 7 but cannot invite them into formal training programs until the U9 level (that is, at the age of 8). Spain has been the leader in recent years with respect to youth development. During my trip to the top-flight Spanish club Sevilla FC in 2011 they confirmed that they look initially for good technique and pace. They then look for young players who understand the game. On the field, are these kids looking around at all their options? Can they make intelligent runs into open space? Can they make correct choices when to dribble and when to combine with teammates?

These same qualities are highly prized by our partner club in the UK, Wolves FC, although they will generally pay greater intention to the physical characteristics of players, as in England the physical demands on players are generally much higher than in Spain. According to the English FA’s Technical Guide for Young Player Development — The Future Game, young players of the future will be required to release the ball accurately and instantly over a variety of distances using both feet and on any surface. A quality first touch will be critical as will the ability to operate successfully in congested areas with speed and precision. Retaining possession will be a key feature of play for Elite players and so will possessing the “craft” to disguise techniques and “out-smart” their direct opponents.

The ability to exchange passes quickly and accurately with teammates on a consistent basis will increase in importance as a player gets older, rather than repeatedly taking players on in 1v1 attacking situations. As players mature they will have to demonstrate their ability to decide what to do and when to do it within the demands of game situations.

Spain, in recent years has best demonstrated the success that good technique and game intelligence can have against more physical opposition. Every player on the team, regardless of his position, has a flawless first touch, knows how to move the ball quickly, makes sound, quick decisions in all phases of the game and is willing to combine all these qualities with his teammates to form a team that is the only one in soccer history to have won three major titles in a row.

A combination of good technique and game intelligence can take our young players to higher levels of the game. I often tell the tale of Pep Guardiola being chosen for Barcelona — the club team that has supplied most of the players to the Spanish national side — as a skinny, slow youngster because of his leadership qualities and game intelligence which far outweighed his speed and or other physical attributes at an early age. Guardiola was able to go on and play at the highest levels of the game and now is one of the world’s most innovative coaches.


 A recent series of articles by the Coaching Manual  on the use of Rondo’s as a youth development tool can provide players, coaches and parents with information on how space can be exploited when in possession by width, length and depth

Tips for Players:  Young players should read this series of articles and then watch games on television and try to identify when teams are applying these principles. Become students of the game!

Tips for Coaches: The articles can provide you with coaching content on how you can use Rondo’s within your training activities. Rondo’s allow your players to play, improve technique and you can teach the basis of attacking principles – length/width/depth

Tips for Parents: As a parent you can provide more support to your child and the coach by learning more about the game also. Like your own child-become a student of the game.

Performance Improvement Tip #1: Improve contact time with the ball

keegan-at-wolvesOne of the biggest challenges that young Canadian players face is the lack of contact time with the ball.
Young Brazilian players are spending 12-15 hours a week working on their ball skills and young European players are training five or six times each week. Consequently, Canada must adopt the same philosophy towards technical development if we wish to be truly successful in soccer in competition with these nations.

It is important to remember that while these players may not have “coaches” in the same way that we understand the term, there is always an older sibling, parent, relative or friend to pass along lessons of technique and the fundamentals of mastering a ball. More and more professional academies are introducing “non-structured” free play to their curriculum in an effort to develop more creative players. This can include futsal play, ball mastery work led by the players themselves or even 1v1, 2v2 or 3v3 competitions.

“Technique is the basis of everything”

“I notice that many coaches still think that training technical skills can only be done during a warm-up or that it is only a small part of a larger whole. This thought process must be eliminated. Technique is the basis of everything. If you can see where you have to pass the ball to, but you don’t have the technical skill to pass the ball to the correct spot, then recognizing the correct moment is worthless. Without technique there is no tactic.

Pepljn Lijnders- current Liverpool FC First Team Development Coach and Former Technique Trainer at FC Porto (Portugal) and PSV (Holland)

See Pepljn Lijnders Training Sessions

In Canada and North America in general I see far too many training sessions where players have limited contact time with the ball and there is an over emphasis on tactical work. As Pepljn rightly points out, you can have the best tactical plan and objectives for your team but if our young players cannot keep possession, feel confident in taking players on and beating them in 1v1 situations or passing a ball accurately at the right pace to teammates then the players cannot succeed. Last year I ran a 30-minute ball mastery session where the players touched the ball close to 5,000 times (I had a parent count). Surely our time as youth coaches is better spent on facilitating this type of dynamic environment (that mirrors the game) than one that is static, unrealistic and robotic.

In April of this year I visited the Chievo Verona academy in Italy. We all view the Italians as great tacticians of the game yet at Chievo this work does not begin until the U15 level. Prior to that the younger teams spend one session at the beginning of the season working on how the team should play. At the Chievo Verona academy they focus on ball mastery in the air and the majority of training activities involves 1 ball/player, or group work in two’s and three’s. This is very similar to the approach that Pepljn adopted at FC Porto and at PSV. It is also similar to the training activities I observed in Spain with Sevilla FC.

Observations from Chievo Verona Academy (Italy)

Observations from Sevilla FC Academy (Spain)  

The academy programs at professional clubs in Europe are designed to develop and produce talented individual players. The focus is on individual player development. In Canada, we are still overly focused on building and developing teams. It is an approach that is not helping us to develop creative and talented players who are comfortable with a ball at their feet.

Let’s change this by increasing the contact time that all our young players spend on the ball.







Tips for Players: Take a ball to the park and work on your skills for 30 minutes each day, rather than spending time on your phone or iPad. If you ae not sure what to work on Coerver have a FREE app containing ball mastery activities to work on or you can research other work on You Tube. There are lots of tips also on the 1v1 Soccer FC YouTube channel. During winter months you can use a tennis ball in the basement

Tips for Coaches: How much of your training activity is spent on ball mastery work? Typically, I spend 30 minutes each session with players working at a high tempo in a chaotic structure which demands close control and recognizing and exploiting space. Have a look at Pepljn Lijnders sessions online. Can you incorporate this type of work into your training? Coerver Coaching is also another great resource for placing Technical development as the cornerstone of your program

Tips for Parents: You play the most important role in your child’s development. By being positive and encouraging your child to focus on constantly improving their individual skills and love the game you will be providing them with the key attributes to succeed long term.

1,000 Blogs in 1,000 days on youth soccer performance development


ian-at-wolvesI have been coaching soccer for 19 years in Canada! During that time, we have failed to qualify for the 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014 and now the 2018 World Cups!

Every year we use the same excuses – not our national sport, long winter climates and no professional league etc. Small nations like Iceland have proven that these are excuses and if the right investment is made in youth player development, then we can compete successfully at the international level.

Yet, we continue to battle internally between the volunteer based club system and private academies with professional coaches. We think that OPDL will solve all our player development problems. That program has not, and it will not. What other country in the world would limit it’s talent pool by telling young players that they can’t be selected for their province unless they play in a specific league (OPDL). The answer is none.

soccer-success-formula-newI’m been asking myself what can I do in order to have a positive impact upon youth player development in Canada. What can I do to have the largest impact across the country? My passion lies in performance coaching – improving the performance of individual player’s over building and developing teams. So, I’ve decided to write 1,000 blog articles (over the next 1,000 days) to share performance improvement tips with players, coaches and parents. The tips will cover all four corners of the player development model – technique, tactics, psychological and physical.  

Ideally, I hope that this information will be shared amongst the soccer community to stimulate thought, discussion and hopefully tried on the training field in order to help all our young players, reach their full potential. Look for the first blog article tomorrow. Let’s work together to help qualify for the next World Cup finals!

To read more of my views on youth player development visit and to purchase the book “Play the 1v1 Way! visit

1v1 Soccer FC to host Stoke City FC Player ID Camp – September 3-5th

1v1 Soccer FC will be hosting a Stoke City Player ID Camp in Burlington on September 3-5. An academy coach from Stoke City FC in England will be training and evaluating male & female players between 8-18. The best players will attend a National ID Camp for North America and possible selection to travel to the Stoke City camp in England for additional training and evaluation next spring.

Players can register for the camp here

stoke city 2016

Train with Dutch Coaching Staff from FC Utrecht – July 2-4th in Burlington

Why are the Dutch so successful at developing some of the world’s most creative players and coaches?

How can a country of 6 million people be considered as one of the top soccer nations in the world?
johan simple game
The Dutch vision on youth training has seven key elements:

1) Football (soccer) is about attacking, defending &  transition
2) Young players learn the game by playing the game
3) Several training actions should not be separated
4) Training sessions must be game related
5) Training is designed to simplify football (soccer)
6) Players have to solve football (soccer) situations
7) Coaches are there to assist the players to solve problems
We hope you will join us on July 2-4th in Burlington to train with the FC Utrecht Academy
Learn more about the Dutch Vision on Youth Development Below (Click on Presentation)
dutch vision
fc utrecht1
fc utrecht2

Why Northern Ireland Successful at Euros 2016

During the last few weeks I have been asked many times why my country Northern Ireland are doing so well at Euros 2016. Why, as a country of 1.8 million people has the team been able to navigate through a tough qualifying group containing Germany, Poland and the Ukraine to qualify for the last 16? Why do they hold the record as the smallest nation to win a game at the World Cup finals? How can they be ranked as high as 26 in the FIFA world rankings?
Rory McIlroy sent an inspirational video to the team before the Euros started. It filled us all with pride and made us realize that for many years our wee country has punched well above its weight and produced world champions and top sports teams. Many of the same attributes have all been said about Leicester City this year when they went on to win the English Premiership against all the odds. Hard-work, determination, persistence, togetherness as a group, good management and a humble group of players that have had to overcome many obstacles to reach the higher levels. In addition, a good Manager who understands the mentality of the group of players and plays a style that best suits their abilities.

rory mcilroy

The Leicester City players overcame any obstacle put in front of them to achieve success with their Manager Claudio Ranieri. The Northern Ireland players do the same for Michael O’Neill. Also, don’t forget the fans! Leicester City fans backed their players throughout the entire league campaign this year and made a difference, especially at home when the side needed a little extra encouragement to keep going during tight games. Northern Ireland fans have widely been recognized as the best in the tournament and have enthusiastically backed their players before, during and after the games. It gives the players a lift and they have a bond with the fans that not all of the bigger teams have.
The tide is turning! The top teams and the so called big players are under pressure. They are being out-worked, out-fought and sometimes out-thought by supposedly less talented opponents. In football (soccer) there is no place to hide on the field. If you are not putting maximum effort in and supremely motivated, you will be found out. Some of the top teams and players who are not on top of their game and letting their standards drop are now been humbled by their smaller opponents.

Yesterday, the Northern Ireland goal-keeper Michael McGovern make 28 saves against Germany, the World Champions. When asked about his performance in an interview he simply shrugged his shoulders and said “I had a busy day!”.

I think everyone is ready for a new era when the players and teams who are humble, hard-working and willing to do whatever it takes to overcome any obstacles in their path are achieving success. It is a refreshing change and provides our young players with better role models who are humble and demonstrate on a daily basis that success has to be earned and that it is achieved over the long-term with great determination, persistence and hard-work!
As we say frequently in Northern Ireland these days ……..Dare to Dream!

1v1 Soccer FC and Pro Stars Announce Partnership Agreement

1v1 logo clean prostarsAncaster, ON — 1v1 Soccer FC is pleased to announce it has entered into a formal partnership with ProStars Football Club Academy (PFC), to work with and focus on the development of players for High Performance professional opportunities overseas and within North America.
Both organizations believe that young players in North America are capable of performing at the highest levels of the game providing they are exposed to a high level of coaching, a training environment dedicated to excellence and are dedicated and committed to continuous improvement.
This agreement will provide 1v1 players and other players from Burlington, Hamilton and the surrounding areas with a dedicated pathway to League 1 ( which is a semi-professional league for Men & Woman, sanctioned by the Ontario Soccer Association. The objective of the agreement will be to work together, share resources in a combined effort and to elevate the performance of both programs. This agreement will result in a larger talent pool of dedicated players with more pathways to higher levels of play.
PFC has selected 1v1 Soccer FC to work with based on it’s established track record of contributing to the development of players in preparation for moving them on to higher levels of play. 1v1 Soccer FC has a successful partnership with the Wolves academy program in England and several other European club contacts, based on its successful strategic partnership with Global Image Sports. PFC also has several important European club contacts that can benefit both organizations.
There will be additional announcements during the coming weeks as the organizations begin to align both development programs.
For more information, please contact:
Ian McClurg (1v1 Soccer FC)       Josef Komlodi (ProStars FC)
E: E:                 E:
P: 289-239-9602                           P: 416-876-5601

Wolves FC Player ID Camp – Summary Notes

Thank you to all the players and families that participated in the Wolves Player ID Camp last weekend.
Marc Campbell presented to players and parents last Sunday on what professional clubs look for in young players. I have included some notes below.
We are also delighted to announce that our partner Metrifit have provided our families with a special offer on how to monitor our young players athletic development. Information on this special offer is below.
Next steps are that players will be notified shortly on their selection for travel to England directly or selection for the National Camp in Georgia. We will also be announcing upcoming Wolves North Academy training days once a month and players selected for this program will form the Global Image Sports Regional Squad for Canada East.

wolves fc logoKey Success Factors for Youth Development

Marc touched on a number of key points during his presentation on Sunday on how young players can improve their performance levels. Young North American players must overcome some challenges in order to each the performance levels required at professional club academies in Europe. These challenges are difficult, but not impossible to overcome.


1) Training Hours: Youth players at Wolves complete the following number of training hours, which includes ball mastery, movement preparation and technical/tactical sessions based on 4 phase model. Young players in North America must put additional time in at home or seek supplemental training to reach these levels.


U9/10 – 7.5 hours/week + game
U11/12 – 10 hours/week + game
U13 – 14 hours/week + game


2) Game Understanding: Players at Wolves are taught all four phases of the game (as covered in the camp). Young North American players must be exposed on a regular basis to this type of training. 1v1 Soccer FC follows this training model and we will be offering Wolves North American Academy training days on a monthly basis beginning in August.
wolves philosophy


3) Balanced Training Loads: While young players at Wolves reach a high number of training hours on a weekly basis, rest & recovery is build into training cycles. Rest & recovery, sleep and proper nutrition is considered just as important as training hours for youth development. Our partners Metrifit can provide our players with a tool to help monitor and improve these factors. (see below)


4) Growth Mindset: Players and their families receive growth mindset workshops during the season to reinforce the importance of being open to new learning experiences. Resilience and successfully overcoming set-backs and disappointments is an important factor in becoming an Elite player Learn More


5) Positive parental support. Parents are the most important influence on a young players development. Therefore, it is important to positively support your child in their development and reinforce the same message as the coaching program. See English FA Respect Below


metrifit constant contact

Play the 1v1 Way! Observations from Italy – Chievo Verona International Academy

Article one in a series of how we can accelerate our youth development success in North America  

Last month I travelled to Italy to spend time at the Chievo Verona Academy. Our global partner, Global Image Sports, is establishing an international residential academy there, beginning in September 2016. (Learn More) I travelled with 6 players from 1v1 Soccer FC to train with the Chievo academy coaches and gain an insight into the training experience for the upcoming international residential program.

chievo verona academy photo












The trip provided me with an opportunity to observe a youth development program in Italy and expand upon my previous trips to Sevilla FC in Spain and our partner club Wolverhampton Wanderers in England.

Observations from Sevilla FC in Spain (Learn More)

Observations from Wolverhampton Wanderers (Learn More)

What I have learnt from these experiences is that European professional club academies do a much better job at supporting the development of the individual player, rather than developing great teams. My experiences in North America are that we spend too much time selecting young players for immediate team success (bigger, faster, stronger) rather than identify the young players who learn quickest and have the growth mindset (learn more) to evolve and progress to be the most talented players in the future. In North America, we still have a culture where young players move from team to team on a frequent basis as they try to ensure they are on the “next big team” coming through. It simply does not work – North America has yet to develop a truly world class outfield player! (Learn more)

In contrast, the training activities that I observed in Italy where predominately based on individual technique – tactics is only introduced at the U15 levels!

chievo verona vid 1


Young players travelling from North America to Europe typically perform at a high level when training with or playing against young players from Europe up until the U12 age-group. Technically, we have some outstanding players. After that a gap occurs due to the increased contact time, the lower ability of coaching in North America and the fixation with short-term success versus long term development.


“At the youth levels we focus on improving the individual player. If we coach the team, then all we do is hide deficiencies” (Chievo Verona Coach)

Our young players can improve in their training mentality and decision-making abilities. Every minute counts on Europe and players maximize their time. They are prepared for training with proper diet, sleep and hydration. They are prepared to commit to “deep learning” (learn more) where they face challenging training activities and are prepared to embrace the targets set, make adjustments and achieve them.  In North America, we are still fixated with immediate outcomes, rather than embracing youth player development as a long-term process.

Chievo Verona have a very unique technical program that is very challenging. A large majority of their ball mastery work is completed in the air. I estimated that their young players “failed” over 60 % of the time in their training activities. However, they worked tirelessly to figure things out, make adjustments and overcome the challenge. Chievo’s methodology is based on the fact that if young players can master the ball in the air – then they can easily master the ball on the ground. Their teams frequently play 4v4 games “in the air” where the ball cannot hit the ground.

Chievo Verona training 1

Decision-making by young players in Europe is much more advanced than our young players in North America. This can perhaps be attributed to soccer not being the main sport in North America. Young players in North America are surrounded by parents and coaches who have never played the game. They have limited options to watch top players live and there is a “naivety” around what it takes to play soccer at a professional level. Young academy players in England have a 1 % chance of graduating to play at the professional level (learn more). What are the chances for the young North American player? Soccer is a very, very competitive sport at the highest levels and I see a tremendous gap between young player’s goals and aspirations……and the amount of sacrifice that they are prepared to make to truly play at the highest levels.

My own philosophy is that the game is a sport to be enjoyed. Develop your passion for it, be the best you can be and take advantage of the best learning experiences available. If you do have aspirations for playing at the highest levels…then be fully prepared to dedicate your life to the sport day in day out and understand that there are no guarantees. There are no guarantees for the young players that I observed I Italy and they are part of a professional club’s development system. What are our young players prepared to do that will push them ahead of these players and what can we do as coaches to help them?

Decision-making I believe can be improved in North America by establishing more positive learning environments. Young players should not be receiving as much information from coaches and parents on the sidelines. They should be allowed to assess situations, make decisions, review their own outcomes….and learn! We must help them with that. They should be encouraged to try things and make mistakes, if we wish to develop truly creative players. (Learn More) 


What are some of the changes that we can make in North America to accelerate our youth development success in North America?

  • Challenge our players more technically on a daily basis – introduce “deep learning” to training activities
  • Help young players increase ownership of their own development
  • Educate parents and players that young development is a long-term process, patience and persistence is required

Look for upcoming articles in this series. If are interested in reading more about my views on youth development (Read More)

join our newsletter

To purchase a Hard copy of Play the 1v1 Way or the ebook version, please visit our website (Learn More)



Wolves Player ID Camp – June 3-5th in Burlington

1v1 Soccer FC is delighted to announce that Marc Campbell, Wolves Academy Assistant Manager will be visiting Burlington on June 3-5th to train and evaluate young players (Boys & Girls) aged U8-U18.

The best players will be selected for a National camp and potential selection to travel to England to train at Wolves. Players can register directly for the camp here 2016 will be a big year for Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club as it seeks to continue to grow on the international stage, in conjunction with its partner, Global Image Sports (GIS). Since coming together a few years ago with the aim of growing Wolves in North America and South East Asia – the club has seen large numbers of players attend regional identification camps and then later National Selection camps in both Atlanta, Georgia and Singapore. Wolves will only send out the top academy coaches from Compton Park to work with these players in a bid to possibly one day identify a potential new recruit into the club but also to provide the opportunity and experience for partner club development. Fundamentally – the partnership enables the Wolves coaching staff to work directly with these clubs in America, Canada and South East Asia, develop and instil the ‘Wolves Way’ into the clubs and ensure a better standard of coaching provision, player development and international growth of the brand that is synonymous with the club.

Learn More About Wolves