by Tom Sauder
Today we want to focus on a debate that has been dividing soccer clubs, soccer coaches and even entire countries. The question is:
Should there be a unified system of play that is taught at all age groups, across all soccer clubs across a whole country? Or, should each team, coach and club be left to develop the system of their choice?
The Unified Approach
If an entire country adopts a unfied approach from the ground up, then players arriving at the national team will now the system to perfection and make the team stronger. For example, if a country chooses a 4-4-2 system with two central defensive midfielders, then starting from age 9 or so, all teams can train that system. Coaches will be taught how to develop players and as kids move up in age, they will be very familiar with their roles on the field. This allows coaches to focus on individual technique development, fine-tuning the system, teaching targeted variations. Coaches will not have to spend time retraining new kids arriving on the team with whatever system the coach prefers. Imagine you are taking on a competitive U17 team and everyone knows how to play their position. Or taking on a college team?
The downside is that teams become predictable to their opponents. Teams will find it difficult to adapt to a different system when the game situation calls for it.
The Individual Approach
At the youth level, players have different talents and skills and quite often the coaches have no influence over who shows up to play on the team. Since everyone wants the team to perform at its best, the coach needs to pick a system of play that best suits the abilities of the players and is most effective in their competitive environment. Therefore coaches train each team uniquely. The next year, new players arrive and a new system may be required. This keeps coaches thinking and trying to optimize performance. Players will learn different positions and different systems and become very adaptable. By the time kids reach adulthood, they should be able to quickly adapt to any system.
The downside is that you may develop generations of players who know a little bit about everything and aren’t expert at any one thing.
The Answer ?
We will not pretend to know which is the better way. We do propose that each country and club within a country or region thinks about this topic and makes a strategic decision as to how they want to approach player and team development. It could be a unified approach, an individual approach or a hybrid of the two. Once a strategy has been selected, stick with it and implement it with discipline.
Let us all be mindful, that the fundamental goals of soccer have not changed:
Prevent the other team from scoring goals
Score goals yourself
Then develop the strategies and programs best suited for your environment.