Through the lens of developing our players tactically, technically, physically, and psycho-socially

By Sam Polak

There’s no short supply of different models for player development. One such approach that we have all probably seen is to segment the game and help players improve in each of the following four components: tactically, technically, physically, and psycho-socially.

I attended four sessions on Thursday. And while they were all filled with a myriad of actionable takeaways, interestingly, each session also contained one striking quote that illuminated a specific way we can develop our players in the four previously mentioned domains;

Tactically – From Game Changing Plays: The Goalkeeper Dealing with the Through Pass and 1v1 Situations

Dartmouth coach Bo Oshoniyi described how a goalkeeper can manage all the complicated dynamics associated with trying to stop an attacker in on goal by saying simply: “make the attacker have to make soccer plays.”

Embedded in this quote are several tactical nuances a keeper needs to be prepared for in order to properly tackle the session’s aim— reading the weight of a pass, maintaining a proper distance away from the goal as well as defenders, managing to close down the attacker at the correct angle, and doing all of this in the run of play.

Moreover, Bo Oshonyi and Rider University coach Charlie Inverso went on to demonstrate different ways to tease out these tactical ideas. They shaped their exercises to create varying looks for the goalkeepers by tweaking the angle of entry passes, starting exercises at larger or shorter distances to goal, and manipulating the number of defenders.

Technically – From Developing the Next Wijnaldum and Van Persie: Decision Making of Youth Players at One of Europe’s Finest Youth Academies, Presented by Feyenoord Rotterdam 

Ok this one isn’t a quote, but Glenn Van der Kraan shared a great anecdote about Robin Van Persie. The dutch goal scorer shared some insights about his first practice at Arsenal with his old club upon returning to Feyenoord at the end of his career. And the one thing that impressed him the most was how the likes of Dennis Bergkamp played inch-perfect passes every single time he knocked the ball to a teammate.

There is a lot at play in any moment of a match or training session. But that story is a good reminder that the game is always built on top of a sound technical foundation. It is always therefore worthwhile to develop players’ ability to execute the fundamentals impeccably well.


Physically – From 21st Century Soccer Schedule

“We don’t have all the answers, but we know it’s the right thing to do.”

UNC, Stanford, and Maryland are top tier men’s collegiate soccer programs. But it’s also clear to their coaches that with their programs’ success also comes a responsibility to lead the charge towards necessary change.

Sasho Cirovski, head coach for Maryland, made the remark above with respect to the need for better distributing the games over the collegiate season. With matches so densely packed over the course of the fall, it’s almost impossible to properly periodize for peak performance. What’s more, not only is it nearly impossible to have players properly improving their physical abilities or even just maintaining them, they are at extra risk for injury and re-injury.

So even though every wrinkle of their proposed legislation isn’t yet worked out, it’s clear to some of the bigger names in the game, like Carlos Somoano and Jeremy Gunn as well, it’s time to bring prioritizing collegiate players’ physical well-being to the forefront of the US coaching community.


Psycho-Social – From It’s a Mental Thing: Ideas Coaches Can Use to Help Athletes Develop Mental Toughness

Greg Dale, Director of Sports Psychology & Leadership Program at Duke University, reminds players in every practice that they are either “getting better or getting worse” on that day.

Instilling this type of mindset has two key benefits. 1) It puts players in a state of mind where they can focus on the present. It’s easy for athletes’ minds to wander during training. Having tools to combat that as coaches is invaluable. 2) It enforces a sense of accountability when it comes to improving. Players can better own their desire to improve at each training opportunity.

Incremental improvements is hard to sell players on. But promoting this dialogue is a useful tool for coaches in that pursuit.


Have a great friday at Convention and I’m looking forward to hearing other attendees’ takeaways.