Performance Improvement Tip #34: What players aged 5-8 should focus on – a 4 corner model

ages-5-8In the future the best players will be those who can excel in a fast paced environment. There will be  even greater demands on technique, tactical understanding and physical conditioning.

Players today are faster and cover greater distances than previous generations. Passing combinations are faster and there is an increased importance on controlling possession. More goals are scored through quick counter-attacking play and decision-making is of critical importance.

I am often asked what young players, aged 5-8 should focus on. This developmental phase is preparation for the critical phase between ages 9-12. The rate of agility and motor skill development is very important as the young players learn the skills of adjusting their body shape to the path of the ball. This is also an important time for young players to begin to understand when to use certain skills during game situations.

Players must have fun and enjoy the learning process. The premise that players develop faster and experience more enjoyment in small side games is universally accepted and proven.


It is important to establish a good preparation phase of basic technical skills. The ability to dribble is critical since dribbling is the foundation skills and preparation for all other fundamental techniques of soccer, such as receiving, passing, and shooting. Young players aged 5-8 should focus on the following technical skills

  • Dribbling: Take risks and develop moves to beat opponents
  • Shielding: Practice quick changes of direction, with changes of pace.
  • Receiving: Practice receiving skills on the ground and in the air. Learn to take a first touch on the move
  • Shooting: Proper striking technique
  • Passing: Proper technique – Laces, Inside, Outside


Players at this age do not possess the analytical thought process to think ahead and plan their next play. In these age groups, being in possession of the ball is the most crucial moment during games. Players need to spend a lot more time practicing and not play too many games.

In games, young players should play a variety of positions to develop more game awareness and the basic principles of play.


There should be no focus on cardio fitness at these age groups and all activities should be fun and engaging. The areas that should be developed are:

  • Flexibility
  • Agility – with and without the ball
  • Speed – teaching proper running technique
  • Coordination – with and without the ball
  • Balance


  • Keep it FUN, enjoy the game
  • Learn to make decisions
  • Demonstrate imagination and creativity
  • Be disciplined to keep learning
  • Academics – Learn good study habits. Maintaining good grades and balance between school and sports are important.

Performance Improvement Tip #33: Be prepared to press, persist and possess

The modern game is one of flexibility. The game is more fluid than ever and the top teams now deploy “inverted full-backs and wingers”, false number 9s and ball-playing goalkeepers to deal more effectively with retaining possession and winning it back quickly. The game today resembles more and more the sport of basketball where the winning team typically is the one that has managed transitions between attack/defence better.

I have been reading Pedro Mendonca’s analysis of Pep Guardiola’s training methodology and last weekend I attended the Coerver Coaching Youth Diploma 2.  There is a central theme. The modern player is expected to win the ball quickly when it is lost. Pressing is becoming a very important part of the game. It can only be successful if it is collective effort and gone are the days when this responsibility fell to only the most industrious players on the team. Lionel Messi is expected to do it and scores many of his goals from Barcelona winning possession back quickly.


Coerver Coaching, the world’s leading teaching method for youth players has now added this aspect of the game to their curriculum. The Coerver method has always advocated a strong technical foundation to its curriculum and the individual player development of skill, speed, strength, spirit and sense is the DNA of Coerver. Their youth diploma course 2 has now added the box/trap system of team play to the curriculum so that Coerver teams can achieve success in both attack and defence. The box is how Coerver teams attack, the trap is how they will aim to defend and the box and trap are constantly forming and reforming all over the field.

The trap defence is a method for young players to be very active in winning possession back so that they can quickly go and attack. With Coerver’s trap defence, young players can now be encouraged even more to be creative and take greater risks when in possession (which supports the Coerver playing philosophy). This can be achieved when there is greater confidence in winning the ball back quicker.

The trap system is based on the 3 P’s – press, persist and possess. Young players are expected to immediately press all over the field and close space quickly when the ball is lost. They are expected to persist and break the rhythm of opponents in possession and once possession is gained they are expected to then probe for attacking possibilities and score goals.

Pep Guardiola ‘s Barcelona and Bayern Munich teams have been the greatest examples of this style of play in recent years. Coerver are now advocating that this exciting style of play can be implemented at youth levels so that all players are engaged once possession is lost and not merely spectators until the ball is won back. Attackers are expected to close space quickly and press, midfielders are expected to support them quickly and defenders are expected to move up and condense the space that opponents play in. 

The key to this style of play is the shared responsibility of the group and shared rewards-no exceptions! Th first player that applies the initial pressure gets as much credit as the 2nd, 3rd or 4th player who finally recovers the ball.

The game is changing and all young players must embrace the idea that pressing and all the additional effort that this requires is an important part of gaining possession to launch attacks and score goals.


We are launching our own Talent Development Program to mirror the success achieved by Germany in Developing Individual Players

ian-editWe are launching our first centre in Burlington and are looking now at other areas in Kitchener and Toronto.

Our vision is that these centres would be accessible and affordable to all and staffed by highly qualified skills coaches.








Read about the Talent Development Centres in Germany 

For several years we have been advocating that North America implements a network of skills centres where young players can drop into on a regular basis to work on and improve their skills.

This concept is nothing new.

Essentially, it is the principle reason that Germany have developed so many talented players in recent years. This was a key reason for their World Cup Success in 2014.

Join us in changing the game in North America!












Technical Development should be placed at the cornerstone of youth development. If young players can successfully master the ball…….then they will have the confidence to consistently make the right choices and create solutions for themselves and others on the field.

Learn More

Performance Improvement Tip #32: Train like Ronaldo – Develop your Brain!

ronaldoAs performance coaches, we are always looking at the secrets of success for the world’s greatest players. What made them the players they are today and how can the young players of today learn from their experiences as they progress down their own development pathway?
Hard work is a constant theme! There is no substitute for this and it is an element that many young players overlook. While players like Ronaldo make the game look easy and execute complex skills effortlessly, young players have not seen the sacrifice, struggle and hours of deep learning that have been responsible for their success.

Mick Clegg was Manchester United’s power development coach for 11 years and worked with Ronaldo for six years. Clegg worked closely with Ronaldo and attributes his success to the following:

“I get a lot of lads who come in and say that they want to be the next Ronaldo. They say they’ll work as hard as him, but they’re looking for a magic exercise that will turn them into him. There is no magic wand. Ronaldo’s secret was hard work and variety. He was in the gym every day and trained intelligently for six years.”

Clegg always feels that training the brain is a key element for a top professional footballer. Based on his work with Ronaldo he feels that after technical skill, speed is the next important thing in the modern game. According to Clegg the brain controls everything and if it can be developed, then physical and mental speed can be improved.  In his gym in Manchester, Clegg now works with young as 5 years of age and combines traditional weight training and brain work using several cutting-edge pieces of technology.

In 2010, Clegg traveled to Canada and met with leading brain experts to try and understand the science behind top players like Ronaldo. He consistently switches between big and intricate movements in his training to duplicate the demands constantly placed on players on the pitch (field).  A lot of his current work also revolves around developing players emotionally and putting them under pressure to see how they respond. He said Ronaldo was very good at that and it is a big reason why he has achieved the success that he has.

Clegg’s innovative work is paying dividends and he works with a growing stable of academy players from Premier League and Football League clubs. Last year he worked with a 15-year-old called Thomas Sang, who had not played for 18 months due to a series of serious injuries. After 6 months working with Clegg, he was signed by Manchester United!

Look for ways to develop your brain….it can improve your physical and mental speed!

Source: Four Four Two Magazine, November 2016

Performance Improvement Tip # 31: Develop at your own pace, you don’t have to be in a certain program at a certain age

zidaneOne of the greatest impediments of youth development in sports is the pressure placed on young players, by coaches and parents. One of the greatest pieces of advice that I can pass on to young players is enjoy the game (it is a game) and focus on improving your skills. Nothing else matters.

Look at all sports at the highest levels and you will see that the top performers progressed at different rates of development and took very different pathways to reach the top. For example, Barcelona’s front three Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez all took very different paths.

Neymar developed within the Santos academy in Brazil and only moved to Europe when he was aged 20. Suarez moved to Holland and signed with Groningen in the Netherlands (aged 19) after leaving his native Uruguay and Messi moved with his family (aged 13) from Argentina to Barcelona. All three players had very diverse upbringings and soccer experiences along the way. There is not one pathway that can made you a world class player.

There is pressure placed on families to place young players in certain programs at certain ages. In Ontario for example the provinces governing body, the Ontario Soccer Association, is mandating that young players must play in the OPDL (Ontario Player Development League) to quality for the Ontario Provincial team!

I often think of the story told by Daniel Coyle about the reigning Olympic and world champion in slalom skiing. Mikaela Shiffrin became the youngest slalom champion in Olympic alpine skiing history, at 18 years and 345 days. From age 9, US national team coaches were begging her parents to let her join the national team program. Instead, she stayed at home, lived a normal family life and focused every day on improving her skills.

Kirk Dwyer, Shiffrin’s coach and headmaster described her approach to becoming a world class athlete:

“She truly believed that the focus should be on the process of getting better and not race results. Everyone on the world cup team says they want to race like they practice, but how many do? Mikaela can because she’s not thinking about trying to win. She’s thinking about getting better”

Daniel Coyle likened Shiffrin’s approach to mastering skills, outside a traditional big program, to that of Tiger Woods and Serena and Venus Williams. He felt that all these top athletes shared these common experiences during their development:

• Athlete ownership of the skill-development process – freedom to try things and experiment. They stayed at home and worked with their parents, rather than National team coaches

• More adaptability – did not follow the traditional pathways of buying into being “lumped” with the masses – you must have reached level X by age Y!

• Fewer demotivating experiences – by not competing on the so-called big stages early on, less pressure was placed on results and more focus on skills improvements

• Embracing normality – Doing chores, homework and being a regular kid built emotional skills, resilience and confidence at a natural pace. This helped them all deal better with challenges in life and sport later

My advice for younger players? Focus on daily improvements and don’t let others pressure you into thinking that you must be at a certain level at a certain age, or join a certain program to progress to higher levels of play. It simply is not true!


Performance Improvement Tip # 30: Use your phone….and maximize your potential

trainerize-image-2-0In recent weeks several professional coaches have spoke up or taken actions against players being on their phones excessively. Pep Guardiola at Manchester City has removed Wi-Fi from Manchester City’s training group after allegedly coming across a player on his cell phone in the treatment room. Similarly, Mansfield Town Manager Adam Murray has banned cell phone usage at his club
“I don’t like the amount of time people spend on their phones around the football club. They (the players) don’t talk and then they expect to go into an environment where you have to talk and it will just happen.” Read More

US College coach Mike Gundy believes that the standard of play at the US College level across all sports is being affected. He spoke out this week about the lack of preparation by todays young athletes coming into the college game and that the standard has suffered, during the last five years, because young athletes today are spending more and more time on their phones versus improving their sporting ability. Read More

Don’t be one of those players! Give yourself an advance over others by putting your time in on the training field. Daniel Coyle has written about forgetting about 10,000 hours and just focusing on 10 minutes/ day. Read More  By doing this, young players will benefit from their time spent with a ball and will gain tremendous advantages over other young players who do not put this time in.

We have actually utilized cell phone technology in order to increase the amount of time that our young players are spending on improving their technical skills. We have designed some video content that they can access on a daily basis, via their phones or iPad, so that they can follow their own training program at home, on their own schedule. The activities can be completed within a 5 m x 5 m area and incorporates a testing portion which provides the players with feedback on their progress. The sessions take about 20 minutes a day and we have also included some videos with information on game understanding, mental preparation and physical development so the players ae developing all four corners of their game – Technical, Tactical, Physical and Mental. Learn More
Our high intensity “deep practice” workout followed the following type of format and any young player can follow the following structure to achieve significant technical performance improvements:

2 mins: Warm-up: Free play with tennis ball or skipping

30 seconds: Fast footwork activity #1

90 seconds: Active rest – light ball work

30 seconds: Fast footwork activity #2

90 seconds: Active rest – light ball work

30 seconds: Fast footwork activity #3

90 seconds: Active rest – light ball work

30 seconds: Technical Test #1 & 2 (2 circuits)

90 seconds: Active rest – light ball work

*Circuit is completed twice

2 mins: Cool-down

If you would like to learn more about our online training program, then please contact us

Performance Improvement Tip # 28: How to Prepare for Pathways to Europe

wolves-rae-you-next-v2-0As soccer nations, the US and Canada are still very young.

With that comes a lack of structure at the professional levels of the game, when compared to the more “mature” soccer nations of Europe. There are fewer professional playing opportunities for the young North American players and a lack of clear pathways to play professionally.

Major League Soccer (MLS) does provide some options for young players; however, with only 20 teams for all of the US and Canada, opportunities are limited. MLS academies typically train 3-4 times/week with one game (which duplicates European academies) but this type of program is typically limited to players within a 1-1.5-hour drive time of the team’s training facilities.

There is a similar drive-time restriction at various age-groups for young players in England attending professional club academies, but the difference is that there are 92 professional clubs in England, meaning that the majority of young players are within a relatively short driving distance.

I have been fortunate to observe team players and the academy sessions at several European clubs and would conclude that young North American players have good technical ability and up to ages U12 can more than hold their own.

A gap appears from U12-U14, though, on the male side of the game, as the young European players at these ages tend to understand the game better. They take more responsibility during the game for their own performances and those around them. They demand the ball, have a vision for what they want to do, and are more capable of executing moves at a high tempo on a consistent basis.

I would say, though, that North American female elite players of any age can, on average, hold their own against Europeans. By the time they get to the U14 age the young European male players are quicker, stronger and much more physical in their play. On the “development” side of things, they also have sports scientists monitoring their development. In addition, they have a clear pathway to a career in professional football and are hungry to succeed. We are still lacking most of these things in North American soccer.

In my opinion, there are a couple of key ingredients young North American players must have if they are to successfully pursue playing options in Europe:

• Accessibility to an EEC passport, through parents or perhaps grandparents, as this makes it easier for European clubs to sign them within European Union regulations

• Commitment to focusing on improving their technical skills up to U12 levels

• After U12, be in an environment that mirrors the European model for development — player development over winning (MLS or private-academies)

• Opportunity to train in at one of the professional club academies or receive instruction from academy staff of professional clubs (For example, through our affiliation with the Wolves FC academy our young players receive a min. of 6 hours of training from Wolves academy staff in Canada each year with the additional options of being invited to attend a 3 days’ residential camp (Rome, Georgia) or  1 week training at the Wolves FC academy in England)

• Competitive games focussed on improving soccer education versus winning games. Within these games, players should learn what it takes to play multiple positions

• Develop confidence in their ability and mental strength to challenge themselves in training and impose themselves in games

• Opportunities to travel and play in Europe for an extended time i.e. greater than 1 month. These opportunities may also combine education with training as part of an overall development model.

If our young players are good enough and follow this process, then I believe that they can create opportunities for themselves to play overseas.

It is a very competitive environment in Europe. It is also more difficult for North American players to get signed as they do have to be significantly better than local players. But it is possible and with hard work and dedication, it can be achieved.

Just remember: “Hard work beats talent…especially when talent does not work hard”.


Performance Tip # 28: Supplement Team Training with Individual Training









Several studies have confirmed that the number of hours of “deliberate practice” play a greater role in the development of young players that go on to play at higher levels, rather than innate talent.

A positive linear relationship was found between accumulated individual plus team practice time and the level of skill when a group of international, national and provincial players were assessed. ( Helsen, W., Hodges N.J., Winckel, J. & Starkes, J., (2000) Journal of Sports Science)

We have all heard about the 10,000-hour training rule — the theory, as advocated by Malcolm Gladwell and others, that if you truly want to be good at something, you have to devote at least 10,000 to practicing it.

While training volume will help assist young players maximize their soccer potential it is the quality of the training that can have the greatest impact. Practice must be intensive, focused on training goals and players must be receiving the correct feedback in order to make the correct refinements in order to excel.

Young players at the top academies in Europe, including the famous La Masia training academy in Barcelona typically only complete 70 minutes of team training per day per day. However, this leaves time for less formal individual or small-group training that will engage the players more and be completed at full-pace. In this environment the players have to be technically, mentally and physically on the edge and repeatedly making correct decisions while executing skills in small spaces. Read More

Players typically learn within a team setting by following the typical coaching process:


However, the challenge becomes when the coaching process is not specifically linked to an individual player’s own goals. Team coaches typically plan practice activities with the objective of improving the performance levels of the overall team, rather than focusing on improving the individual performance levels of their players. It has been proven that effective goal setting can accelerate the development of elite athletes so it is important that young players are in an environment where their individual goals are being determined, monitored and a plan is put in place to achieve them.

In addition, just like a young Messi when he was coming through at Barcelona, young players should set time aside to practice individually. Or, alternatively, they may also wish to seek out an Individual Performance Coach to tailor a training development program specifically for them.

More and more players at the professional and amateur levels are now beginning to work with Individual Performance Coaches. Arsenal player Theo Walcott, after not making the England squad for Euros 2016 realised he was neither fit enough nor strong enough and started working with Performance coach Bradley Simmonds. He is now playing the best football (soccer) of his life and has scored five goals in eight games this season. This form has now earned him a recall to the England international team.

What is Performance Coaching?

Performance coaching can best be described as a process to help players to maximize their potential and achieve their individual soccer goals. The objective of Performance coaches is to help players:

  • Set practical, achievable goals
  • Develop new skills
  • Identify and maximise strengths
  • Develop tools to overcome weaknesses
  • Identify road blocks to achieving their true potential
  • Aspire and drive towards a higher level of success

The best players in the world were developed as a result of combing team coaching with a significant amount of individual training.  It has been a proven method of player development for many generations and it is important that all young players are combining both, in order to maximize their full potential.

Performance Improvement Tip : Be smarter than other players

cruyff-quote-simple-footballMen’s Health magazine reported in 2012 that research by Predrag Petrovic (PhD and lead researcher at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm) concluded that soccer players score

within the top 2 to 5 per cent of the population when tested on memory, multitasking and creativity. Soccer is a rapidity changing game with quick movements of the ball, teammates and the opposition. It is a random game when compared to other North American sports such as NFL football or basketball where there are more stoppages and set plays. Petrovic argues that adapting constantly to a changing environment (which elite soccer players do) develops skills that are easily transferable to executive business functions such as changing strategies and suppressing old, out-dated plans.

We often assume that elite athletes depend upon their physical attributes more than their mental capabilities. However, to play sports at a high level, players face both physical and mental demands. Players require a high level of cognitive skills such as attention, memory and visual processing to read situations and make good decisions. They must also be capable of taking snapshots of information on the field, identifying patterns of play and making decisions on the best way to confront specific opponents. 

In soccer, players have no option but to multi-task. They must combine agile physical movement with the ball with processing information on what space to exploit and how to respond to the efforts of opposing players, in order to keep possession and build attacks against the opposition. In an effort to teach multi-tasking we frequently ask our young players to juggle or pass a tennis ball while executing soccer movements. This is something that every young player could practice at home by themselves – juggling a tennis ball in their hands while dribbling at the same time.

The ability to successfully manage change is also an important attribute that should be developed by young players. Change in the soccer environment is not restricted to the rapid movements on the field. Young players have to be capable of adapting to changing positions and formations that they play. Their teammates may change from week to week or season to season, and the coaching staff that they work with also typically changes on a frequent basis. One minute they may be playing with a team in form, who are dominating opponents, and the next their team is struggling to keep the ball during games. Many young players also play on several different teams. For example, they can suit up for a club or academy team, a representative team (like district or regional) and a school team — all in the same week!

There is an old saying in soccer that if you stand still, you will be quickly overtaken. Young players should not avoid change, they should learn how to embrace it. Developing the ability to successfully manage change and improving memory, multitasking and creativity skills will see young players develop quicker than their peers. They will be “smarter” on the field than their opponents and this can give them critical performance advantages.