Suey Smith, FA coach development officer, explains why it’s important to continue developing receiving skills with 12–16-year-olds.
When we think of the 12-16 age group, many of us will start to coach in more detail, look at game-related practices as sessions and discuss technical roles and responsibilities within the game. Of course, it has a place in this age group, and with the work that has been done between the ages of 5 and 11, your players may be ready for the information and type of practices that are being delivered.
But they don’t only develop as football players. Within this age group, players will start to go through puberty, and you may see growth spurts occurring. Some changes are visible to the coach, like sudden changes in height, or you may even notice a speed decrease. Other signs of them hitting puberty are not so noticeable; they may start to have injuries as their bodies change, and their energy levels may decrease.
But before noticing these changes in detail, the coach may only start to see that, in the technical corner, their players' performances start to change; the ball passes them by, they mistime their first-touch, or they’re beaten for pace.
Therefore, revisiting receiving skills as a constant type of practice may support your players and help them in their stage of development.
Research suggests when a player grows through puberty, they lose agility, balance and coordination - the skills which help them to play.
As the coach, you can support your players during this time. As well as taking into consideration our top tips for developing receiving skills, it’s important to note that a change in the physical corner will also impact the other three corners (technical, social and psychological). As the coach, try to plan sessions to support all four corners.
Top tips to support receiving skills during growth spurts.
Practice Provide players with the opportunity to repeat basic receiving skills. Height, speed and timing will be altered during their growth. Build 10 minutes into your sessions where the players can refine and maintain their skills.
Environment The players will need confidence and support. They’ll be aware they’ve not controlled the ball, and they may also show signs of frustration. Allow mistakes to happen, talk to them as well as their parents and reassure them. Create an environment that will allow them to feel safe.
Rotate positions They may have enjoyed being a defender, then suddenly, the ball keeps going over them, they mistime their jump or turn slowly. When playing as a defender, these mistakes are highlighted more, so give them a chance to play in a different position where that mistimed touch isn’t so highlighted. Let them try being a striker or in midfield in training or on matchday.
Agility, balance and coordination Think about how we pass a ball and how we then receive it. The majority of the time we’re stood on one foot keeping our balance. During a growth spurt, it’s important to revisit these areas. Use tag games and balancing games as warm-up activities, and where possible use a ball. Make this area fun. We don’t need long lines of players doing ladders; be creative with how you can include the ball and develop their ‘ABCs’ again in this age group to work on motor control.
Continue to work in the four corners – remember the saying, to teach John and Josie football; we need to know John and Josie!
Using the information below, we can also tailor practices to support receiving skills. Think about constant practices but remember the trade-off if we spend too long in that type of practice.
Practising a technique in constant conditions
- Gives constant returns.
- Predicable, unopposed or very limited pressure.
- May be useful when learning new techniques or revisiting them.
- Can give a feeling of success.
- Contacts with the ball are controlled and guaranteed.
- Narrow focus/specific.
- Could be used as a starting scaffold for more complex practices.
- Controlled physical outcome.
- Low social aspects.
Practising a technique in variable conditions
- Gives variable returns.
- Fairly unpredictable, can be unopposed or part opposed.
- Ideal for refining skills already learnt.
- Wider physical returns.
- Wider perceptual returns.
- Elements of tactical development.
- Touches can still be guaranteed.
- Wider social aspects.
Practising a technique in random conditions
- Gives random returns.
- More unpredictable, unopposed or opposed.
- Good for long-term learning.
- Very wide practice of perception skills.
- Wider tactical development.
- Success not guaranteed.
- Initially slower success.
- Wider social aspects.
Image courtesy of Philip Oldham/BPI/REX.