While in modern football technical skills are only one of the many qualities a footballer needs, we can still state that all the skillful footballers are technically capable, with no exceptions. From a coaching standpoint even the most physical, disciplined, hardworking and smart player can’t help your squad in a game if that player is not able to control the ball, pass or perform other necessary techniques. This is indeed closely related to the level of the competition as well as the individual’s specific role in the team, but nevertheless all the players need a certain degree of technical ability to be able to play their own role, and function as a unit in a competitive environment. Obviously, the higher the level, the higher the skills.
Now from a player development point of view:
- How important it really is to start developing technical skills from a young age?
We can find a better answer to this question by taking a closer look at the process in which professional players become who they are. It is worth mentioning that the majority of the players who get a decent competitive opportunity (to play in college, professional or even semi-professional) go through a development process very similar to what I am about to describe here; indeed, there are always exceptions.
Ideally young soccer players go through four main phases in their overall skill development process. Let’s focus on how Technical Skill Development occurs at each phase in this process:
- Under 7 years old: Technical skill development starts from the first time a child interacts with a soccer ball. In this very early stage kids enjoy playing a variety of engaging and exciting age-appropriate games and activities; constantly and purposefully interacting with the ball.
- 7 to 12 years old: by the time a player is about 13 years old, they should be able to perform all essential soccer skills with comfort and relative consistency, from dribbling, controlling and passing to shooting long balls and heading. So around the age of 7, and until the age 12 is when players gradually learn how and understand when to do certain techniques; before starting to play the actual 11v11 game of football at around 13. Many professionals refer to this period (7 to 12) as “The Golden Ages” of development, not just because players have more time to work on their core technical qualities but mainly because they can adopt new habits at an incredibly fast pace.
- 13 to 17 years old: If technical development for a player happens mindfully and hopefully professionally in earlier stages (7 to 12), these skills provide the player with a decent technical foundation as well as ample time to continue focusing deeper on position specific concepts for the next 4 to 5 years before turning 18. This is usually when players gradually figure out their actual position and learn how to utilize their techniques for their specific position. This is the period that professional guidance becomes more crucial. Alongside team training and games, every player needs at least one or preferrably a team of knowledgeable professionals who are able to carefully design position-specific individual training programs, in order to channel all qualities of the player towards mastering one or few position/s of the game.
- 18 to 21 years old: Without focusing on and mastering all the technical aspects of at least one or maybe few positions, it is hard to imagine that a player would be able to execute tactical instructions in a competitive environment. From a coaching perspective, a skilled 18 year old footballer is no more busy thinking about how and when to do certain techniques or even how to utilize their techniques for their specific position! Coaches assume these qualities have already become second nature for the player! This period is when coaches are mainly concerned about how their players collectively solve problems and whether an individual’s qualities benefit their collective strategies or not.
Technical players usually have the technical ability to perform in more than one position, however they are masters of one specific position which is best suited to their natural abilities. You can find numerous examples of technical players at the highest level in football. For example, in Manchester City FC, Brazilizan international Fernandinho’s specific position has been CDM (Central Defensive Midfielder) for the past 8 years however, his technical versatility as a seasoned footballer allows club manager Pep Guardiola to occasionally take advantage of his remarkable qualities as a CB (Center Back).
Technical skill development is a necessity for any footballer. Without having a clear understanding of the technical development process and its phases (especially for youngsters), it is going to be very difficult to priorities, plan and make any progress.
Want to know more about the youth soccer development process? Check out Who Goes Further In Football? (Understanding Soccer Skill Development Process for young players)