A Case for the Long Term Player Development Environment
Posted by: Brian P. Kelly | U9-U10 Girls Programs Director
It is common to hear terms such as Long Term Player Development (LTPD) among sports communities, and soccer is no exception. Soccer as a team sport is a late specialization sport, meaning the development of a soccer player is a long process in which players progress gradually from a simple to a more complex understanding of the game. This development process is better represented as a squiggly line, cyclical and reiterative, than fashioned as a linear timeline.
A player’s lifetime should not be measured in years, but in the quantifiable stimuli a player is exposed to during the learning process. The rate of adapting to new changes impacts the developmental domains of the psychomotor (physical), cognitive (learning), and the psychosocial (emotional). Therefore, the practice environment must contain elements of variable physical demands and preferably with the ball. Additionally, today’s coaches must intentionally provide a problem to be solved, where the players must be encouraged to think for themselves. A player with the physical attributes and decision-making skills to play the game must understand the ramifications of their actions to those around them. Through play, children become aware of others and learn to control emotions, exclusion, and dominance, and to collaborate with one another. In short, they learn teamwork.
Many adults involved in the game forget the purpose of LTPD. Since the majority of players in our Rapids community are children and teenagers, we make an assumption that their peak performance is during their early teenage years, when in actuality the documented peak for soccer players is their mid- to late-twenties. The developmental domains have a +/- 3 year range from a player’s chronological age. Such that, a U9 player can emotionally be a U6, physically be a U12, but with a U8 ability to problem-solve. The range of maturity among the other teammates further complicates this.
Parents, coaches, and players must work together to provide a level of participation that is stimulating, while also delivering a qualified sense of enjoyment captured by perceived physical, mental, and emotional growth. They garner a self-recognition of progressing to the next level of learning. There is no guarantee that a player will reach the next level of their potential at the same rate as their peers, but it should be our intention to provide the appropriate environment to facilitate each player’s experience.
As a result, we offer many different training and playing options to allow for player growth over the long term. Within our age group divisions, there is a concerted effort to ensure the environment opens the door to the next level. The Rapids Youth Soccer player is encouraged to grow not just for today but for their future.