One of the challenges we face in North America is our tendency to place young players in specific positions at young ages. Typically, coaches will place children in positions based on physical size, level of aggression, speed and technical ability.
Less skilled players are asked to play as defenders, aggressive players are asked to play midfield and fast and skillful players are selected as forwards. The problem with this is that coaches are typically making these decisions to win games, not to develop players. Also, many young players adopt a mindset that they can and only will play one position. This limits learning and growth as a player.
As a young player I played every outfield position. This helped me to gain a good understanding of the game and an opportunity to practice many diverse skills. One week, I was able to try 1v1 moves against defenders and supply crosses for the forwards. The next week, I was playing central defense and using my defensive skills.
In the modern game, at the highest levels, players can find themselves playing in more than one position, during each game. Sometimes a team may be chasing a game and play with more forwards on the field or alternatively be trying to protect a lead and play with more defensive structure. It is a requirement of the modern game that players need to be able to adapt and play in different positions.
Many of today’s professional players started their careers in different positions. Lionel Messi, for example, was considered a wide player at Barcelona during his early years and considered too small to play centrally as a forward. Cristiano Ronaldo currently plays on the left side for Real Madrid after playing the majority of his games for Manchester United on the right side. When I travelled to the English Club Crewe Alexandra more than 10 years ago their academy teams systematically rotated their young players through a different position each playing period. If a young player started as a left fullback for the 1st period, they would play central midfield for the 2nd period and then rotated to play as a left winger for the final period. After every three or four games they would have experienced playing in all positions.
By contrast young North American players would typically play two or three seasons or even more playing in only one or two positions. In my opinion this places young North American players at a significant disadvantage. They do not learn all aspects of the game, nor are they exposed to the opportunities to solve different problems on the field. It can also limit their opportunities later on to join higher-level teams, as coaches may have established players in “their” positions.
Young players can gain an advantage over other players by playing in multiple positions and accelerating their knowledge of the game.
Player Tips: Be open to play in multiple positions. In fact, seek these opportunities out to improve your knowledge of the game
Coaches Tips: Develop intelligent and well-rounded players by exposing your players to multiple positions. This will benefit their game knowledge more than teaching tactics to them at young ages
Parent Tips: Encourage your child to embrace change and try different positions. Successfully being able to adapt to change is a major component of being successful in todays modern game. Your child will benefit enormously from learning these skills at a young age