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.