The NY Times has an in-depth article about what goes into the making of ‘super athletes’ and some of the unexpected places they come from and train. Read the entire article – it’s worth it as the author looks into a variety of possible factors, both culture and bio-mechanical. Now I’m not saying we youth coaches are just worried about creating superstars, but a couple of passages stood out for me as a coach. The first was from one of the Russian coaches at the Spartak clinic the article centers around:
If Preobrazhenskaya’s approach were boiled down to one word (and it frequently was), that word would be tekhnika – technique. This is enforced by iron decree: none of her students are permitted to play in a tournament for the first three years of study. It’s a notion that I don’t imagine would fly with American parents, but none of the Russian parents questioned it for a second. "Technique is everything," Preobrazhenskaya told me later, smacking a table with Khrushchev-like emphasis, causing me to jump and reconsider my twinkly-grandma impression of her. "If you begin playing without technique, it is big mistake. Big, big mistake!"
This is something you hear in soccer coaching classes over and over. Tactics can come later or should be a small part of your practice regimen. Technique is everything. Note that ‘the first three years of study’ for these players is usually between 4 and 7 years of age. Another interesting quote related to practice regimens:
In a moment of towering simplification, "The Handbook" distills its lesson to a formula known as the Power Law of Learning: T = a P-b . (Don’t ask.) A slightly more useful translation: Deliberate practice means working on technique, seeking constant critical feedback and focusing ruthlessly on improving weaknesses.
"It feels like you’re constantly stretching yourself into an uncomfortable area beyond what you can quite do," Ericsson told me. It’s hard to sustain deliberate practice for long periods of time, which may help explain why players like Jimmy Connors succeeded with seemingly paltry amounts of practice while their competitors were hitting thousands of balls each day. As the tennis commentator Mary Carillo told me, "He barely practiced an hour a day, but it was the most intense hour of your life."
Read the entire article. Even though it’s about tennis primarily, I thought there were some common threads with what we face as youth soccer coaches. Not in terms of developing uber athletes. Rather working on technique instead of tactics at early ages and instilling a desire to continually get better in our kids. I can’t say this article teaches anything concrete, but it was an interesting read as a coach.