The Ingredients of Successful Youth Soccer Player Development

Lloyd Biggs

The Ingredients of Successful Youth Soccer Player Development | Lloyd Biggs, Santa Barbara SC, one.Soccer Schools, player development

Lloyd Biggs is Director of Coaching at Santa Barbara SC and co-owner of one.Soccer Schools. Photo courtesy of Lloyd Biggs

Youth Soccer News: Player Development – The Essential Ingredients

What does it take for a soccer player to be “the best”? Is it talent or dedication? Nature or nurture? Or are both required for success on the soccer pitch?

Lloyd Biggs is a talented and successful youth soccer coach who is the Director of Coaching at Santa Barbara Soccer Club and co-owner of one.Soccer Schools. He holds a UEFA ‘A’ License, USSF ‘A’ License, NSCAA Premier License, and BSc Hons degree in sports science. Biggs has been coaching youth soccer players for the last 21 years. Prior to moving to the United States, Biggs worked within the Professional Youth Academies of Charlton Athletic and Gillingham FC. Biggs has been with Santa Barbara SC for the last eight years as the DOC. We asked Biggs for his thoughts on youth soccer development and found his response refreshingly up-front and honest. Lloyd Biggs says....

In the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell tells the stories of many successful people. In my opinion, he highlights the fact that successful people all have natural “God-given” ability and a passion for their field of expertise. Gladwell also talks about major turning points in their lives where they as individuals recognized the opportunity in front of them, seized that opportunity and then displayed a high work ethic to reach the pinnacle of their given fields. These people were blessed with a natural talent, were high achievers and recognized that they were in the right place at the right time.

This article explores the development of the player and asks the question: Is it the role of the coach to develop the player or to create the environment that allows the player to develop?

This ignites the question; for a player to be successful, are there some ingredients that he/she needs to bring to the table as well, and what are they?

There is no doubt that the successful and experienced coach requires many skills to create the environment for successful player development, and coaches that lack management skills and soccer knowledge will hinder player development.

That said, in my opinion the success of a player is much more than that and is based around two major concepts that are completely out of the coach’s control.

The first is the natural “God-given” talent that the player brings to the table. I call this the players “Talent Potential.”

The second is what I call the player’s “Learning Potential.” What I mean by that is the overall drive of the player, his or her personality and work ethic. Is the player a high achiever or not?

From my perspective, when we discuss the “Learning Potential” of players we are talking about their desire to become the best they can be. Players with a high learning potential have a true passion for the game, it is always in their thoughts, and they love to watch the game when they are not playing. These players never miss a training session, and best most dedicated players treat every training session and game they play like it’s their last. All these youth players' focus within the session are always high and they ask questions of the coach about the tactics.

Players with “Learning Potential” have no issues getting constructive feedback from the coach – they want feedback, and they have a thirst, a hunger to learn. They are strong mentally and can deal with and bounce back from disappointment. They are patient and understand that the journey towards success is a long one.

In essence they are “High” achievers. Players (and parents) that have and understand the traits required of a high achiever are not only a coach’s dream, but will have a much higher chance of success.

I use the term “Talent Potential” to discuss the “nature versus nurture” topic. Daniel Coyle, author of the book, The Talent Code, discusses this topic of talent in depth. What comes across from the book is that talent is a function of “deep practice,” “ignition” and “master coaching.” Greatness is not born, but it is grown. (If you have not read this book, I recommend it; it is a must for coaches, parents and players.)

Although I agree to an extent that talent can be developed, from my experience coaching youth soccer players I believe they are born with a “Level of Potential” that we as coaches do not control. Coaches nurture that potential, refine it and guide the player to success. For the purpose of this article I will categorize the level of potential of these players into Type 1, Type 2, Type 3 and Type 4. I believe that from a young age coaches and parents can easily identify these players, they are:

Type 1:  This is the young player who has the natural athletic ability (genetics) and an innate soccer insight and technical ability for the game. You know the one I mean; the player who naturally is not only quick, but has quick feet and a quick mind. He or she has had very little training at this time, but all that are watching cannot help but applaud the skills and physical capabilities of the player on show. This player has been blessed genetically with a talent potential to play at the highest levels of the game.

Type 2:  This is the young player who is a genetically gifted athlete, however currently falls short in regards to the innate soccer insight and technical ability to excel within the game. In the correct environment, and with a high learning potential, this player can both compete with, and evolve into, the “Type 1” player.

Type 3: Unlike the Type 1 or Type 2 player, this player lacks the natural physiological traits required at the higher levels of the game but does display the innate soccer insight and technical ability for the game. With the correct environment this type of player has the potential to play college soccer, but his or her lack of natural athletic ability will hinder their chances to play at the higher levels of the game. This player requires a very high learning potential to achieve his or her goals.

Type 4: This player falls short on natural athletic ability and the innate soccer insight and technical ability for the game. Although this player will have the same opportunities to compete and enjoy the game, unlike the other types of players this player does not have the talent potential to play at the higher levels of club soccer and will generally not be good enough to play college soccer, no matter how high his/her learning potential is.

I should point out that when I discuss the physiological aspect of a player, I am not talking about the height and build or size and strength of a player, but more about the soccer-specific agility, mobility, speed, strength, power and endurance. An example of two different player types would be Ronaldo and Messi. The two are so different in their physiological make up, but both possess incredible athletic prowess on the soccer field.

When we discuss the “talent potential” and the “learning potential” of players I challenge coaches and parents to have more open and honest conversations concerning the ingredients the player is bringing to the table. I challenge players and parents to look deep inside and ask the question: Where am I/where is my child on the talent and learning potential scale?

Everyone has the ability to develop the skills required to become a “High Achiever.” Playing soccer creates the perfect foundation for success in life, not just soccer. Many players will realize their dreams and play college soccer, while many will not. But let us not forget no matter what player type, with the correct attitude and a high potential to learn, every player can strive to become the best they can be and have many enjoyable years playing the beautiful game!

Whether the reader agrees or disagrees, I hope that my perspective of what I believe are the primary factors of player development provoke some food for thought and at the very least reminds every player that their quest to greatness is to some extent in their own hands!

Related Article: One-on-One with Lloyd Biggs of one.Soccer Schools

Related Articles: Lloyd Biggs on Youth Soccer

At one.Soccer Schools, Biggs and co-owner Jeff Johnson have developed a unique set of residential and week-long summer soccer camps that take place around the country. The company is based in Santa Barbara and brings together the accumulated talent and experience of Biggs, Johnson and a team of highly-trained and successful youth coaches. Visit their website for more information about one.Soccer Schools.