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Player Development Philosophy

Nashoba United is dedicated to the holistic development of soccer players, an approach that goes beyond soccer skills, and includes the physical, mental and emotional aspects of working towards both the success and failure of one’s efforts, the rewards and sometimes humbling experiences that result, and the friendships that are developed along this continuum.
This player development philosophy is embraced by our program’s coaches and it is essential to meeting the goals we have established as our mission.  These goals foster the physical, mental and emotional growth and development of youth through the sport of soccer.  We will accomplish these goals by:
  • Ensuring a safe and enjoyable environment to play soccer and for players to have fun while doing so;
  • Organizing and sponsoring teams to be entered into soccer leagues and tournaments;
  • Teaching the skills of the game of soccer;
  • Teaching the laws of the game;
  • Providing, encouraging, and promoting constructive coaching;
  • To gain for each participant the following benefits;
    • To learn to work with others in a team endeavor
    • To learn to be gracious in victory as well as defeat
    • To obtain a level of physical fitness and coordination that will benefit them in later life
    • The knowledge that winning is not a life or death situation
  • Instilling in our youth players the desire to make soccer a lifetime sport.
Player Development and a Winning Mentality
Winning has its place!
Everyone involved in our program, from our parents, players, and coaches to our program administrators – we all want to win – after all, the objective and fun of most games is to win and this basic principle of any sport/game cannot be ignored.  Players and parents must also recognize that there is a distinct difference between recreational and competitive soccer.  NU is a competitive soccer program, players (and their parents) wishing to join an NU team must already embrace this, or they must learn to embrace this distinction. Thus, one of our objectives must be to help players understand “what it takes” to compete beyond recreational soccer.  Having all of the fundamental skills of soccer won’t allow a player to succeed in a competitive soccer environment if they are not willing to add to those fundamentals a superior set of the associated intrinsic skills that are also at the core of the game (effort, aggressiveness, toughness (mental and physical), tactical awareness, etc.  Soccer is a contact sport, that, when played by a complete player exhibits all of these characteristics and more.  This composite suite of attributes to play the game well make it the outstanding / beautiful game that it is – the most played game in the world!  The desire to win cannot be replaced by a subset of these attributes; it must entail ALL of them.  The objective of the game is to have fun – but fun within the context of playing at a very competitive level of soccer, which requires all of the skills of the game, and all of the intrinsic qualities of a soccer player to have fun at that level of play.  The NU development philosophy therefore recognizes winning as a mental and physical characteristic, which we must nurture and support in our players – winning is not valued in the context of team or club records.
Development over winning short term vs. long term
The NU development philosophy also strikes a balance between two competing forces that must be acknowledged – 1) that players (and often their parents) want to win now, and 2) that to win and succeed later in a player’s career, a player’s development must progress through stages.  This must be addressed by ensuring that winning games does not come at the expense of a player’s development.
From a development perspective, winning must be accomplished through good training, teamwork and intensity.  A misdirected focus on winning results in poorly played soccer – a style of play and a tendency by coaches to exploit the raw physical abilities of early bloomers at the expense of their fundamental development needs in the pursuit of club or team statistics.  This approach will result in the failure of players by 1) failing to provide sufficient training in the fundamentals of soccer for the physically advanced player who is rushed through the system and often placed on competitive teams beyond their capabilities, and 2) by failing to provide the smaller but possibly more fundamentally advanced player with advanced training and the right soccer environment to succeed later when their size and physical capabilities mature.  This is not the NU philosophy.  The NU philosophy places development over winning and ensures that all players learn the fundamentals that are so critical later in a player’s career, and also ensures that a player’s development plan is scaled to each player’s long term development needs, which may evolve differently as each player matures both physically and mentally. 
Brining it all together
In short, the NU player development philosophy includes the development of the complete player – which includes their level of intensity and willingness to truly play a contact sport and be willing to except the physical demands of the game, as well as the development of the fundamental skills required to execute in the game.  No parent, administrator, or teacher would expect students to be performing college level academics in elementary school – but rather the student must master the building blocks of the more complex academic concepts before advancing.  At the same time, as teachers we are always trying to instill in our youth students the desire to excel through intensive study and dedication to learning – to establishing goals and achieving them.  The NU process and approach to developing soccer players is no different.
Player Development over Team Development
Soccer is ultimately a team sport and at the highest levels, team chemistry is critical to success.  However, every player at the highest levels of the sport achieves their success by obtaining the requisite technical skills.  The impulse to win encourages early specialization, locking players into roles on a team that delay their development as a complete player.  There is much to be learned through teamwork.  Learning cooperation and trusting one another are aspects of the team experience.  This second principle is about putting the player above the team.
Asking youth athletes to “sacrifice for the team” is not appropriate.  What does this sacrifice look like in reality?
  • A player who is kept in goal, because they are the best keeper, and we have to win.  Conversely, the NU philosophy recognizes that the modern keeper also needs to function as a player and lead the defense.  They’re a field player.  They don’t just stand between the sticks.  So if that’s all a keeper is doing, they’re development is being delayed.
  • A player sits the entire game, or only gets to play meaningless minutes because the team must win.  For NU, players come to play, they don’t come to sit. Players want to play, they have the right to play and in order to reach their potential, they must play.
  • A player is discouraged from advancing to more competitive teams because we need them to win games.  For NU, each player needs to be able to rise as far as their ability takes them, even if they leave the club.   It hurts when a player leaves for a higher level of play, but, in the meantime we need to remember that they are Nashoba Regional School kids who could potentially be playing for Nashoba Regional High School in a few years or better yet, at the collegiate level.  We must never discourage player development to satisfy a team need.
  • The younger age group, the more the focus on the individual.  We want young players to be “ball hogs” – usually extremely frowned upon or criticized on the sidelines.  Teams need players that are extremely adept and confident in their ball skills.  You don’t get this from passing the ball.  You get this by dribbling and learning to beat opponents.  It is rare that a “quality” team does not have one or more players that are both capable and willing to take on defenders and beat them.  One of the great advents of USA soccer in the last 15 years has been the reduction of team sizes at lower age levels so that our young players will by design have the ball on their feet much more often.  The next time you see a young player dribbling and wanting to dribble and beat someone in a game – applaud it – don’t yell to “pass the ball”.  If you watch players like Martha, Ronaldhino, etc – isn’t it fun to watch their magic – do you think this came from passing the ball all the time?
Our job is to develop players, and any system, tactic or team is only as good as the individual players within it.  Our coaches must ignore the impulse to move players to satisfy a team record in lieu of satisfying the club’s mission to develop the complete player.  This principle speaks directly to the NU approach to team formation – we will place players on teams that give them the best opportunity to develop over the formation of teams that are designed simply to win games, and we’ll ensure that those teams are placed in leagues that best match their competitive needs to progress and be successful.

Age Appropriate Development
NU’s philosophy is to promote training activities that recognize that kids play for fun (and hopefully we instill in our players the desire to continue to play as adults).  Small-sided games that scale down the adult game to an appropriate size will maximize touches for the individual player, make it easier to interpret situations requiring player decision-making, and keep the game simple and fun.  Imposing the 11v11 adult game on youth players too early will frustrate and impede their development.  The Development Stages table within this document outlines the focus of each age group and player characteristics that must be taken into account when developing the activities used to train our players.
Quality Training and Instruction
Just because we’re not a professional program with salaried coaches doesn’t mean we’re not coaching professionally.  We expect each of our coaches to obtain US Soccer licenses, at a minimum, the D license (or equivalent training – playing is not a substitute for coaching education), and we will support our coaches with resources that provide them with the best educational resources to make sure our program remains successful.   Coaching is a skill that demands continuous improvement, and we will subsidize all costs associated with keeping our coaches educated and continuing their education.
Long Term vs. Short Term Development
Leaders begin with the end in mind.  The end of all this effort is to develop a well-rounded player who is technically competent, physically able, who is game smart, who loves the game and wants to impart it to others either as a player, coach, or administrator.
What would be more rewarding?  To have a trophy at U12 or U14, because you kept the best keeper in the goal, let the “subs” ride the bench, and kept “your team” together?
Or rather, watching the High School program continue to thrive because the Club is advancing players who are ready,  or welcoming back an alumni player who is coming back to coach in our club?  Or even watching a Nashoba United player reach the highest levels of the game?
What is your trophy as a parent – you play an important role in the organization’s player development philosophy via your support and encouragement of each player?   When we are developing and promoting excellent players, players who continue to pursue the game competitively, for the pure enjoyment the game has to offer, to coach youth, or to continue to enjoy the friendships of those with whom they played while with Nashoba United - that’s our reward!

Stages Age Group Player Characteristics
(3v3 to 4v4)
U6 Very young players from 5 to 8 years of age love to play. Therefore, all practices should be based on fun games.

Players must spend the maximum time possible in contact with the ball and experiment by themselves.

For the first time the player has to build a relationship with other players. Give different responsibilities to the players in order to develop a sense of team.

Basic motor skills like walking, running or jumping have to be combined with ball handling and ball control.
U9 Pre-pubescent players from age 9 to 12 years have a special ability to learn.

Therefore, this is the right age to work on specific soccer techniques and skills. Developing good technique is essential at this age.

1v1 and 2v1 attacking and defending situations are important to develop individual skills as well as the passing techniques to develop the necessary team game.

Use small-sided games to develop basic attacking and defensive principles.

Other important aspects of tactical training are possession, combination play, transition and finishing in the final third, as well as zonal defending. Players will rotate in two or three different positions to avoid early specialization. Speed, coordination, balance and agility are the main physical aspects to improve at this stage.
U13 At this stage, training sessions are orientated more toward tactics and the player will practice in bigger spaces. Players must practice all different types of techniques at this stage.

Strength and endurance should be part of the fitness training. Coaching methods have to consider and preserve players’ health since they will be experiencing many changes due to puberty at this stage. Warm-ups and cool downs are essential as is dynamic flexibility.

Players must develop discipline at this stage by following the instructions of the coach both during and outside training sessions.