Player Development – Breakin’ it Down with Burk

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by Marc Burkom, Director of Player Development

As the Director of Player Development, my goal is for every player in the club to develop as a soccer player and as a person in a safe, supportive, and fun environment. To that end, I will start with a walk through the different game formats we use to help players learn from the beginner level to the full game.

In Kindergarten, we use a game format called Dribbling Soccer. Activities and the game format are designed to maximize each player’s time with the ball at their feet and to make the game as simple and fun as possible. Games are played 2v2 or 3v3 on small fields.

MSI is following the lead of nations such as Belgium and Germany who have had tremendous player development success using 2v2 and 3v3 with their youngest players. Coaches engage players’ imaginations to make sure they are having fun and developing a love for the game.

For 1st Grade and 2nd Grade (Fall), our teams play 4v4 Soccer, the smallest game model that includes both width and depth among the players on the team. Per the US Soccer Grassroots coaching program, players at this age learn to attack, defend, and transition between the two.

Rather than positions, players learn to recognize “shapes” on the field, namely triangles and diamonds. While 4v4 is a team game, we do not expect or demand players at this age to pass the ball or work together the way older players do. It is important for players to learn to pass through guided discovery and the natural maturation process.

Teams at this age use the “Next Ball” approach instead of traditional restarts to maximize players’ touches on the ball and time on the ball.

In 2nd Grade (Spring)3rd Grade, and 4th Grade, we play 7v7 Soccer. Transitioning from 4v4 to 7v7 means adding a goalkeeper and two field players. It is a widely accepted game format around the world for 8-, 9-, and 10-year-old players.

The 7v7 format allows players to maintain and build upon the diamonds and triangles learned in 4v4. US Soccer identifies the developmental goal for this age group as learning to play as a team in all four phases of the game (attacking, defending, transitioning to attack, and transitioning to defend).

7v7 Soccer allows for players to learn the different positions on a team without sacrificing too many touches on the ball. Players are learning to pass and play as a team but continue to develop ball mastery and 1v1 skills.

Goalkeepers are not permitted to punt the ball in 7v7, and we use a build-out line to encourage teams to learn to play out of the back on the ground. (I look forward to revisiting and explaining the build-out line in a future post!) 7v7 remains a simple and fun game format!

Next, we transition to 9v9 Soccer in 5th Grade and 6th Grade. Adding an additional two field players is an easy transition that, again, retains the shapes players have been learning to play thus far. US Soccer’s learning goal for 10 through 12-year-old players is to learn position-specific skills and tasks.

The additional complexity of 9v9 provides the opportunity for players to encounter more advanced soccer problems and to learn specific positional roles. While we no longer use the build-out line, teams are still encouraged to play out of the back through dribbling and passing. Heading is still not permitted per US Soccer guidelines.

For 7th Grade8th Grade, and High School, we transition to the full game, 11 vs.11. At these ages, the US Soccer developmental need is learning to excel at a specific role and with a specific position on the team.

Players are ready both physically and mentally for the full game on full-size pitches. It is important to remember that even though the players may be playing the same game as adult teams, they are still kids! We strive to create a safe and supportive environment where players can continue to grow and learn.

I hope that I have been able to shed some light on the “Why” for each of our game formats! We hope you are excited for the Fall season, and we can’t wait to see kids on the fields.

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