An important part of youth development is developing the entire person — not just the soccer player. We expect young people to go onto the field of play and make smart, correct decisions by themselves — so it is vital that we begin to develop these qualities early in their development.
When I talk to academy coaches across Europe or professional scouts they place a large emphasis on the psychological attributes of young players when evaluating potential. Is the player self-motivated, taking responsibility for their own development, has a strong mentality to overcome set-backs and do they have a strong capacity to learn?
The best players in the world have dedicated their life to a constant process of self-improvement. As they have amassed training hours and game -time they have had to navigate through challenges such as injuries, growth spurts, loss of form, criticism, self-doubt and external pressures from family and friends.
As Professor Damian Hughes pointed out in his excellent book “ The Barcelona Way – How to create a High Performance Culture” star athletes and elite performers continuously monitor their own progress and routinely exercise a process of self evaluation.
One method that young players can use to take greater ownership of their own development pathway is to self-asses their own performances, both in training and games.
When I have travelled for study-visits at top youth academies in the UK, Spain, Portugal and Italy I have noticed that they strive to have their young players take greater responsibility for their development. Several academies have each player rate themselves after every game on a score from 1-3 (Poor/average/good) on the following criteria:
- Preparation for Match/Enthusiasm
- Team Attitude (We not Me)
- Individual Goal One (assigned by coach for each game)
- Individual Goal Two (also assigned by coach for each game)
They also have their young players give themselves a performance score (out of 10) for their overall display, as well as describing their best and worst moment of the match. The players completed this information after every game and handed this (in their player book) into the coaching staff. The coaching staff then provided their own feedback, in terms of scores and comments before handed this back to the players.
If the teams that young players play on do not have a similar feedback system in place, then there is no reason why young players cannot implement their own version of a player book to track performance progress. This kind of performance feedback is critical for elite athletes. They must understand their current performance levels, and must be seeking improvements on a daily basis (during training and games). This will help them understand their own strengths and areas of improvements.
Sample Individual Player Feedback Form