Developing Potential In Young Athletes

Youth soccer skillsWhat is a player’s potential? It’s tempting to look at an athlete, especially a young one and think we know. The truth is we don’t. I can offer a relative opinion about how I think one athlete compares to another and where they might end up or what they might accomplish but, it’s based more on assumption than fact and even then only on the limited information I have in the moment. And because it’s limited it’s often also limiting. How much potential goes undeveloped because of premature judgements on the part of coaches, parents and players? Our thoughts about young players’ potential are often about their potential to fit into a scheme that we have – a position, a system, a style of play, a stereotype that we’re comfortable working with.

We’d like to think that human potential can be sized up like the potential energy in the water behind a dam. Problem is there’s  no way I can know or predict all the variables when it comes to a human being; especially one that’s still developing. It’s like trying to tell you how much energy is stored behind the dam without knowing how deep the water is. GIRL LACROSSE

The fun part of working with young athletes and watching them develop over time is DISCOVERING that potential, watching it unfold and being surprised and even delighted at the forms it takes.

The role of the coach, parent, administrator, is to create and sustain the environment where that  discovery and development can take place. Part of creating and sustaining that environment is building a framework that helps us see the big picture and that also helps us focus our time,energy and attention. I keep coming back to four areas or dimensions of development: Physical, Technical, Tactical and Mental. I think of them as four overlapping circles. Each one expands and / or limits the others. Physical elements such as speed, balance, strength, coordination enhance my technical skills. Those enhanced technical skills open up more tactical possibilities. The mental skills support or limit my performance in the other three areas but, as my other skills grow and I can play a bigger, faster game  it helps me grow those mental skills as well.

Development Circles

The key is the overlap. That’s where potential is discovered and developed. That diamond in the middle is what I bring to the field. Development with young players is about growing those  circles and as the circles grow so does the overlap;  that space in the center where potential emerges.

One of the obvious implications is that those of us who work with developing players need to be connected and collaborating. Without that collaboration we can lose sight of the big picture, limiting our own contribution and the contributions of others and in the end limiting the potential of the players we serve. A poor example of  teamwork. When we work together we maximize each other’s contribution and the opportunity for the discovery and development of players’ potential. And, like any team, we get to celebrate those moments when it all comes together, moments of surprise and delight when the whole truly is greater than the sum of it’s parts. IMG_2998

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