Play Practice Play in Youth Soccer
If you haven't heard it yet, there is a new training methodology in soccer town called Play, Practice, Play. It's not really new. We've been doing it in the context of US Youth Soccer for more than a year now and you'll find correlation with an article titled Teaching Games for Understanding: A Comprehensive Approach to Promote Student’s Motivation in Physical Education published in 2017 (see Resources below for full citation). But it may be new to you. I know it's still new to many who are just coming into the sport and it can have a profound impact on how we look at the game. Let's talk about play, practice, play; what it means to players, coaches, and parents; and what effect it has on the way we look at the game.Practice Matters!As a former multi-sport athlete, the thing I remember the most and perhaps the thing that had the biggest effect on the rest of my life was practice. Games were fun and they certainly gave us a chance to measure progress being made in practice sessions, but practice is where the most growth and development happen. It's where we learn to work as a team, where we get the most guidance on work ethic and behind-the-scenes tips on how to play and improve, and where sweat is forged into gold. As a coach, I put a lot more time and attention into practice than I do into games. I tell my players that they own the games. I own the practices. I make the most difference as a coach on the practice field. That is my classroom. Games are players chance to show what they've learned. It makes sense to spend time thinking about practice & trying to find the best practice experiences that we can if we want to become better at the sport we love. It makes sense to emphasize practice if we want to maximize the development experience that youth sports gives us both on and off the pitch. This is what US Youth Soccer did when they re-designed the practice methodology. Play, Practice, Play vs the Four Phase SystemPlay, Practice, Play is now built into every grassroots coach's training education under US Youth Soccer. For coaches (and players) who have been around for a while, this new system of training stands in contrast to the older Four-phase system. It used to be that we were trained to deliver a warm-up phase to get bodies in motion without injury. That would be followed by three additional phases of training - each one progressively more complex than the last one, and all of them united around a common theme. An example of a common theme might be a focus on moving as a unit during a defensive phase of play in the defensive third. A progressive series might include warm ups, defending 1v1 down four channels, then defending 2v2 down two channels, then defending 4v4 down one channel, etc. In the fourth phase of this style of practice, we might execute a scrimmage with the hope of seeing the methods taught in training being used on the field in a game-like environment. This is a coach or curriculum based approach to training. It's designed to progress players through a series of increasingly more challenging scenarios so that at the end, players have hopefully acquired new skills relative to the main theme. this is the way I coached myself for several years and it's still being used in the more competitive training environments. There is nothing wrong with it, but modern thinking is that we lost a lot of players as a result. Especially in the grass roots programs, motivations to come play are not as focused on on structured development. Fun is a huge motivator. The four phase method of structuring training has more of a "work" based structure that Play, Practice, Play. Play, Practice, Play, on the other hand placed emphasis on game-like scenarios and fun. It's structured to put kids into game-like situations as soon as they show up on the field. The first phase of training is labeled the "Play" phase. It's the first thing that players are greeted with when they arrive. The thinking here is that if kids have "play" to ...
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