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Player Development in Youth Sports

By Brian Freeland
Sports Fitness Network, Contributor

Player development continues to be one of the most significant aspects of coaching youth sports. The importance of enhancing individual player technical skills and tactical knowledge should be emphasized in youth sports repeatedly. However, it appears many youth sport coaches and parents inadvertently push individual player development aside in attempt to improve team performance and give their team a better chance to win. Youth coaches and athletes should always strive to win, but should do so by putting forth maximum effort and applying the technical and tactical skills developed through previous practices and games.  Player development can regress when youth coaches make the decision to over emphasize winning and utilize coaching strategies which actually takes development opportunities away from an athlete.

Practice sessions should be geared toward skill development where individual players are provided multiple opportunities and repetitions to enhance skills which will enable them to improve in that particular sport. Player development is often a slow progression, which begins in younger ages of youth sports and continues with improvement as the player advances in age. Children grow and develop at different rates and in many cases, the best players between the ages of six and twelve years of age do not always develop to be the best and most skilled players at the high school or even collegiate level.  This is why player development must be emphasized at the youth sports level through continuous teaching and repetitions of the key fundamental skills of that particular sport. Additionally, the best players at young ages do not always develop into the best players in high school and college because they were not developed properly to enhance their individual skills and relied on pure athleticism, strength, and size.

Strategies for emphasizing player development for youth coaches include:

  • Create practice plans which provide individual players several repetitions to develop key skill areas for that particular sport
  • Prepare practices which cover the most essential fundamentals and teaches athletes how to make tactical decisions
  • Do not let athletes get bored by preparing practices which keep athletes moving and covers a variety of skills and drills
  • Maximize practice time by using a ball to player ratio which provides individual players multiple opportunities to practice key skills
  • Avoid time-wasting activities such as having players wait too long in line to participate and stand around uninvolved in skill practice
  • Maximize the coaching staff so individual coaches are working with small groups of players on skill development
  • Place young athletes in situations where they have an opportunity to succeed in practices and games through experience
  • Do not over-coach to win, but coach to prepare each youth athlete by practicing fundamental and tactical skills every practice
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