Long term player development – foundation phase

In relation to Long Term Player Development, discuss the many issues that coaches will be expected to deal with when working with children between the ages of 5-11 years. You will need to highlight the physiological, psychological, technical, tactical and social issues that a coach will be expected to address.

We have to realise that human flourishing is not a mechanical process, it is an organic process (Robinson 2006).

Long term player development (LTPD) is a player-centred approach to achieving a player’s full potential. In each phase the focus is different depending on the perceived motivations of children in that age bracket.

A survey by Seefeldt et. al (1992) as cited in Hedstrom & Gould (2004, p. 21) of 8000 youths was conducted in which the children stated the reasons for participating in sport as;

• To have fun

• To do something I am good at

• To stay in shape

• To learn new or improve my skills

• To play as part of a team

With this focus in mind it is the coach’s duty to help the player fall in love with the game in what Bloom (1985) described as the “Romance Phase”.

The philosophy of Long Term Player Development is to take a holistic approach to the youth athlete. The coach must make every effort to incorporate different learning styles into their practices:

Effective coaches are those who adapt their behaviour to meet the demands of their particular coaching environment. Mastery of all different coaching methods and communication styles is the mark of a gifted coach and will be an essential requirement for the coach of the future (Nash & Sproule, 2009, p.121).

This needs to be balanced with effective learning as this age bracket is often described as the foundational or formative years. It is a “window of opportunity” (Glynn, 2010, p. 61) to develop physical literacy. Coaches need to develop practices that build in physical benefit for the players whilst providing a fun, safe environment.

You must remember football is a game to have fun, and you play for that  (Messi, 2011).


Addressing the physical literacy of children is one of the biggest challenges we currently face in society and coaches should help communicate the benefits of physical activity and a healthy lifestyle. (Glynn, 2010, p.77)

There are often reports of rising obesity in children and falling levels of physical ability. As sporting activity becomes less spontaneous and more prescribed there is a greater responsibility for coaches to develop “the building blocks of movement.” (The FA Youth Development Review, 2012).

Coaches can use ideas and activities from other sports to help develop these abilities such as agility, balance, coordination and speed.

…in those early years, 7-11, a child needs to be moving, experimenting and having the opportunity to experience a multitude of sports and activites (sic) which will give them a more rounded and improved multi linear movement which will improve neurological development (Whitehouse, 2012).

Players will naturally develop and grow at different rates and will require support and patience. This can be confusing for players as they see peers developing at faster rates than themselves.

This issue of physical disparity is also contributed to by the ‘Relative age effect’. It has been documented by the likes of Gladwell (2008) and Levitt & Dubner (2009) that success in sport (and other areas of education) is often related to the date of birth and position within the academic year. There can be a notable difference between a child born in September and a child born the following August but grouped in the same age bracket. The coach needs to deliver practices and manage match days that offset this effect. Players can be moved up and down age brackets to better suit their stature and/or to illicit different learning outcomes.

It is also important for the coach to address nutrition with their players which is essential for the maturation of the player and the provision of energy sources for activity. Often players have ‘sports’ drinks and sugary snacks and whilst these are not ‘bad’ in moderation, both players and parents need educating as to the need for getting the “foundation stones” (Ranchordas, 2013) right in diet.


The biggest atrocity of all is to indoctrinate our children into a system that does not value their creative expression, nor encourage their unique abilities. (Greene)

Current educational paradigms are beginning to show faults, particularly in neglecting creativity in children. As Ken Robinson (2006) states, “My contention is that all children have talents and we squander them.”

Kathryn Schultz (2011) explains how creativity is suppressed:

By the time you are 9 years you have already learned, first of all, that people who get things wrong are lazy, irresponsible dimwits, and second of all, that the way to succeed in life is never to make mistakes.

It is the coach’s duty to provide an environment that nurtures creativity and allows players to feel like they can make, and learn from mistakes. Players that are capable of producing unique solutions to the challenges faced on the field will be imperative as we are unable to accurately predict what the future game will look like. It is important therefore that players are given apt, individual praise not only for ability but for effort.

There are moments in the game, in the performance where stress inevitably arises and so it’s about how to deal with that, and one of the ways that coaches can help is to be consistently constructive with their comments and the language that they choose to use. (Bates, 2013)

This helps to build self-confidence and the motivation to repeat technical work.

Extrinsic motivation also needs to be managed and addressed. Parental influence can be both damaging and productive often unbeknownst to the parent themselves.

The most influential people in terms of a child’s psychological and sociological development are his or her parents. A child’s beliefs, values, perceptions, attitudes and goals are shaped by their home influences and have a profound effect in later life. (The FA Youth Development Review, 2012, p. 13)

Parents need to be managed and educated as to best practice for their child’s development. Not only because, “low perceived parental pressure was found to be associated with higher enjoyment of a season”, (Brustad, 1988) but also to avoid confusion between information given.

If handled well parents can help emphasise, “intrinsic goal orientation, where satisfaction comes from skill mastery and personal improvement.” (Hedstrom & Gould, 2004, p. 26)


A young player must be schooled in all the necessary skills in his formative years to have the right set of tools – both physical and technical. (Lewis, 2007, p. 5)

It is important that this age bracket gets plenty of opportunities to develop individual technique and ball mastery. Repetition and ‘over-learning’ of technique is vital for skill acquisition at later stages.

Fundamental movement skills should be practiced and mastered before sport-specific skills are introduced. The development of these skills using a positive and fun approach, will contribute significantly to future athletic achievements. (Balyi, 2004, p. 3)

The coach needs to develop practices that revisit and repeat elements of the game without monotony. Practices should also be at an appropriate level for both the individual and the group so as to offer a challenge without the anxiety of it being unattainable.

It is likely that there will be notable disparity of technical aptitude in any given group. Regular evaluation of each player to identify any gaps in technical development should take place. Practices need to be tailored to both the individual and the group needs, by using appropriate challenges and changes of position (e.g. play left side of field to promote use of left foot)


Players at this age are just beginning to gain an understanding of the game. Practices should be developed that allow for problem solving in (as much as possible) a game-realistic setting.

Small-sided games are a useful tool not only with developing technical competencies but also tactical understanding and is an opportunity to introduce (modified) laws of the game. It is important that the coach gives players the opportunity to take ownership of their learning and to try out potential solutions.

Rotation of positions can help a coach avoid the issue of early specialisation which can be linked with dropout through boredom (Baker, 2003) and injury potential (O’Sullivan, 2013).

The coach can also begin to introduce reflective practice and ask the players to consider the session and future performance. This will help players expand their knowledge and the ability to self-reflect.


Playing football can help children learn many life skills: co-operation, teamwork, communication and friendship are some of the benefits of joining a team and playing the game. (Glynn, 2010, p. 79)

Social development is one of the many benefits of sport participation. The coach needs to be a role model in social interactions and hold a strong philosophy. As Martens (2012) states, “what you teach may well be less important than what you demonstrate.”

He describes character education as, “a total commitment to educating your athletes about moral behaviour so that these are continually practiced, corrected when flawed, and celebrated when demonstrated.” (Martens, 2012)

How we coach is inevitably affected by our culture which needs to be put aside sufficiently to avoid unfairness in our treatment of players. Martens (2012) suggests the following to keep in mind;1)      Be sensitive to cultural heritage.2)      Teach respect for one’s own heritage and others.3)      Make sure any rituals and routines are inclusive of all your players.4)      Recognise that we each have the tendency to prefer people more like us.5)      Hold the same standard of (realistic) expectations for all your athletes.6)      Help your athletes dispel false stereotypes and prejudicial attitudes.

As with any other aspect of a child’s development there will be disproportion between player’s abilities. The coach needs to be skilled in nurturing the whole spectrum of social development.

If a strong team culture is in place managing social behaviour is easier. Time must be taken through tools such as ‘code of conduct’ documents to help define this.


LTPD is critical to the setting up of appropriate practices for youth athletes. Whilst there are many issues the coach will need to deal with, it is about providing more children with the chance to learn the fundamentals that are essential for lasting enjoyment of the game.


Baker, J. (2003) ‘Early Specialization in Youth Sport: a requirement for adult expertise?’,High Ability Studies, 14(1), pp. 86-94.

Balyi I,. Hamilton A. (2004)Long-Term Athlete Development: Trainability in Childhood and Adolescence. Windows of Opportunity. Optimal Trainability.Available at:http://www.athleticsireland.ie/content/wp-content/uploads/2007/03/bayliLTAD2004.pdf (Accessed: 15/03/14)

Bloom, B.S. and Sosniak, L.A. (1985)Developing talent in young people. New York: Ballantine Books

Brustad, R. J. (1988). Affective outcomes in competitive youth sport: The influence of intrapersonal and socialization factors,Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology

Gladwell, M. (2008)Outliers:  the story of success.New York: Little, Brown andCo.

Glynn, P. (2010)The Future Game: Grassroots.London: FA Learning

Hedstrom, R. & Gould, D. (2004)Research in Youth Sports: Critical Issues Status Available at:http://www.educ.msu.edu/ysi/project/CriticalIssuesYouthSports.pdf (Accessed 14/03/14)

Landolina, S. (2011)GoalAvailable at:http://www.goal.com/en-us/news/88/spain/2011/04/12/2438253/barcelona-star-lionel-messi-i-do-everything-through-instinct(Accessed: 15/03/14)

Levitt, S. & Dubner, S. (2009)Superfreakonomics: global cooling, patriotic prostitutes, and why suicide bombers should buy life insurance.New York: William Morrow

Lewis, R. (2007) A review of young player development in professional football Available at: http://assets.ngin.com/attachments/document/0001/3697/ReviewofYoungPlayerDevelopment1_1_.pdf (Accessed 15/03/14)

Martens, R. (2012)Successful Coaching.4th edn. Champaign: Human Kinetics.

Nash, C. & Sproule, J. (2009) ‘Career Development of Expert Coaches’, International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 4(1), pp. 121-138.

O’Sullivan, J. (2013)Is it wise to specialize? Available at:http://changingthegameproject.com/is-it-wise-to-specialize/ ( Accessed: 14/03/2014)

TED talks (2007)Sir Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity? Available at:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9CE55wbtY (accessed: 15/03/2014) TED talks (2010)Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the learning revolution! Available at:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9LelXa3U_I (accessed: 15/03/2014) TED talks (2011)Kathryn Schulz: On being wrong Available at:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QleRgTBMX88(accessed: 15/03/14)

The Coaching Manual (2013)Soccer Coaching Psychology with Tom Bates. Available at:https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Pq_8dSICo0c (Accessed: 15/03/14)

The Coaching Manual (2013)Soccer Nutrition with Mayur Ranchordas. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=d3vRq7yf5AA
(Accessed: 15/03/14)

The FA Youth Development Review (2012)U7/U8 Their Game Youth Football Development Available at:http://www.thefa.com/~/media/my-football-resources/youth-dev-review/u7-and-u8-ydr-booklet.ashx(Accessed 15/03/14)

The FA Youth Development Review (2012)U9/U10 Their Game Youth Football Development Available at:http://www.thefa.com/~/media/my-football-resources/youth-dev-review/u9-and-u10-ydr-booklet.ashx (Accessed 15/03/14)

Whitehouse, M. (2012) ‘The key factors involved in creating an elite footballer’,The Whitehouse Address,Available at:http://whitehouseaddress.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/the-key-factors-involved-in-creating.html (accessed 14/03/14)

Williams, P. (2009)Expert FA Coach Educator Peter Glynn On Making Your Practice More Effective. Available at :http://betterfootball.net/2009/08/01/fa-coach-peter-glynn-age-appropriate-practice/(accessed: 15/03/14)


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