We’ve now reached Part 3, the culmination of this series. The aspect that brings the other two together. The true starting point in player development. The part that, without it, the others are meaningless. Many people have heard about it. Some people think they do it. But most don’t.
If you have not already, check out Part 1: session planning, and Part 2: seasonal planning. Then continue on with this piece, which is about long-term planning, A.K.A curriculum development.
What is a Curriculum?
Most people have heard the word. Many people know that they should have one. Some claim to have one. But very few actually have one. Mostly because they don’t know what it is, or they don’t know how to create one. So what is a curriculum?
A curriculum, in the most basic sense, is the long-term plan of what players will learn throughout their experience within a particular program. It is what and how they will learn. It spans from the very beginning stages of playing, all the way to the more advanced stages of the game.
As we discussed in Part 2, a development plan tells us what sessions we should be planning every day. Similarly, a curriculum tells us what we should be including in our yearly and seasonal development plans. Ideally, it begins with what a player should be learning when he/she is brand new to the sport, then continues with a progressive pathway toward becoming a complete soccer player.
Why is it important?
Because without a curriculum, we are just teaching random topics. Without a curriculum, the coaches within a club are likely to repeat or skip stages in player development. Without a curriculum, players will have holes in their ability as soccer players.
Like a seasonal or yearly development plan, a curriculum provides the structure for our players to make systematic progress toward becoming complete players. But instead of being built session by session, a curriculum is built by seasonal and yearly plans. Each season and year is related to one another and each season builds on the last one, making steady progress forward.
Once again, I will use school as an example. Schools follow a curriculum – every grade has certain competencies that must be met in each subject matter that eventually lead to (in theory) being a well-rounded, fully-educated person. For instance, by the end of our schooling, we need to know a certain level of mathematics. How do we get there? Well, in 1st grade, we learn addition, 2nd grade subtraction, 3rd grade multiplication, etc. Each year gets a bit more complex, builds on the previous years, and eventually leads to calculus. The same goes for writing: first we learn to spell simple words, then we learn to spell more complex words, which is followed by punctuation, then parts of speech and sentence structure, then paragraphs, then more complex sentence structure and more complex paragraphs and essays, etc. Eventually we are capable of writing big reports or even books!
An effective soccer curriculum is very similar. Simply substitute dribbling for math and passing for writing. We begin dribbling with just learning how to manipulate the ball, then running with it, then simple moves, then more complex moves and turning, etc. When teaching passing, we might begin with simply striking the ball, then we learn multiple parts of the foot, then striking in the air, then bending it, then combinations, etc.
When we add all the pieces together of all the “subject matters,” we end up with a well-rounded, complete soccer player.
How do we create one?
As Stephen Covey always says, “begin with the end in mind.” First, we must ask ourselves “what is everything that a soccer player at the end of his/her youth development should know?” From there, we create a timeline of what the order in which everything should be learned. And that’s the bulk of it. If at the very least, all we have is an order in which all concepts should be learned, we are in pretty good shape. This gives us what we should be putting in our seasonal development plans and daily session plans.
But wait, there’s more! This timeline only covers what players should learn. It doesn’t cover how they should learn it. The “how” is a bit more complicated and can vary quite a bit. This is where we, as individual organizations, can add our own flavor or style. When developing this part of the curriculum, some questions to ask might be:
How do we want sessions to be structured? Does this change at different stages?
What style of play do we want to develop?
Are there any underlying principles or themes we want to implement across the board?
What is the primary emphasis at each stage?
How and when do we develop goalkeepers?
Ages vs Stages
You might have noticed that I have not yet used the word “age.” I’ve only said “stage.” That’s because the age of our players is nearly irrelevant. Just like in school, we use grades, rather than ages. We move on to the next grade by demonstrating competence in the content learned the previous year, not simply by getting older.
So when we say things like “10-year olds should be learning basic combinations and how to strike the ball in the air,” we are speaking nonsense. What if a 10-year old is brand new to the game? Shouldn’t he first learn the basics of dribbling before learning a wall pass or overlap? So when we establish an order of what players should learn, remember that learning the concepts in order is more important than learning what is ideally learned at a specific age.
Surely, the way our system is set up makes this difficult, and it might not be perfect. But we can, to the best of our ability, find a way for players to develop appropriately based on the order in which they learn concepts, as opposed to their age.
Implementing a Curriculum
I’m mostly going to leave this up to you. But this very well might be the most important aspect of having a curriculum. A curriculum is useless if it is not effective implemented and followed by the coaches. Implementing a curriculum depends on the makeup and structure of each organization, but at the most basic level, we need to ensure that each coach understands it and follows it appropriately. Whether it’s a preseason orientation, weekly or monthly meetings, or some other procedure, each organization needs to find a method that works for them to successfully implement their curriculum to develop players the best way possible.
Putting It All Together
So, as we reach the end of this series, let’s review what we have covered. In case it’s not clear enough, the “player development difference maker” is planning. Planning makes all the difference when it comes to developing players. Even coaches who are highly effective on the field will not help players reach their greatest potential without a well thought-out plan. So we begin with the long-term, big picture by developing a curriculum, then create our yearly and seasonal plans based on that curriculum and the players we have, then take time to plan every single practice session before going out to the field. If we can successfully do this, we will likely see much greater progress made by our players in even shorter periods of time.