Young Soccer Players And The Stages Of Learning

When a new skill is learned there are three stages of the development, the mental, practice and automatic stage.

Throughout these three stages your input into the learning cycle will differ according to the phase the player is in.

The Mental Stage

When a player first learns a new skill their key goal is to understand what to do to perform the technique correctly. They draw upon all of their awareness to search for information to map the correct technique.

It’s more about internalizing “mentally” the physical technique of what’s to be done. The mental map is made from previous activities, similar actions and looks, visual input as the player attempts to make neural connections so that their physical body can perform.

Coaching during the Mental Stage

Patience is the key. Some players will make the connections a lot quicker and will be able to perform the technique sooner than others.

Only key information should be given to the players at this stage as there is a tendency for player to become overwhelmed with information if they are given too much instruction.

Visual indicators are very important during this development phase, which is why we encourage you to demonstrate new techniques and skills.

The Practice Stage

The next phase of mastering a technique is to have a go.

There is some overlap with the mental stage here as the players will be having a go at the technique, but they will still be making mental connections as the neural paths start to give information too.

Refinement is the key here and so the more opportunities that the players have to execute the skill the better.

As players practice the errors they make should start to reduce over time as the sensory, visual and touch functions will start to give feedback to the players on how well they are performing the technique.

For example, when under 6’s practice dribbling just keeping the ball close is a major battle, any adjustments they make can often lead to the ball being toe poked away even further!

But as the young players see the ball moving away from them, and make small jumpy movements to keep the ball under control, all of the feedback signals will be computing and assisting in their development.

Coaching in the Practice Stage

Observation, accurate feedback, encouragement and praise are all key skills during this phase.

Very young players will need more feedback whereas youth players should be able to self analyse their performance; some well structured questions can also assist.

The Automatic Stage

As practice continues so the players become far more proficient at the technique; this then frees up some mental capacity to take the learning even further.

This is why some techniques lend themselves to a chaining type coaching method, or when using a functional phase practice and build it through to extended play.

Players in the automatic stage know when they have made mistakes and also have the knowledge internally on how to put things right without much input from the coach.

However, complacency can creep in, so to can over-analyzing a technique which can be harmful to performance.

Coaching in the Automatic Stage

Rather than coaching specifics, the coaches duty now shifts to present more challenging situations to practice the technique and develop it into a full functioning skill.

Refinement is the key to develop truly magnificent players.