alleycat developmental philosophy
To build confident, hardworking, intelligent, self aware, and creative people using the game of soccer as a vehicle for fostering those characteristics, with training and competition stages where young people can express themselves in a safe and supportive environment. We believe that coaches, managers, and parents are all guides on the soccer journey our kids travel on, and it is our responsibility to provide the roadmap for kids to meet their goals while giving them the freedom to choose their own path and provide support along the way. Kids learn best when given the support, love, and care necessary to thrive, and that is our most important job as educators in the sport of soccer.
While we value team development, we do so in the context of the team being a vehicle to promote individual growth, and that the two occur not in isolation of one another but in conjunction. Development does not occur when we are in our comfort zone, and we help our kids, families, and staff learn to be “comfortable with being uncomfortable” in order to promote learning and growth. We operate by being mindful of best practices in the coaching world, while also taking into consideration cognitive, educational, physical, and psychological theory and practices. We believe strongly that in order to be successful as a soccer player, thousands of hours of intentional and purposeful practice on skills are required, but that this needs to be done while holistically developing the traits to allow a young person to successfully enter adulthood.
Philosophy in Action
Everything starts in our youth academies, where the emphasis is on creating a fun, skill forward environment for our players to grow in. Individual skill and flair are both fun for players to execute at those ages, as well as developmentally appropriate. The youth academy ages (U8-U12 for us) fall right in the transition from Pre-Operational (egocentric worldview) to Concrete Operational (rule oriented, concrete logic) thinking. We try to take advantage of a child’s egocentric worldview at these ages by making the ball an important part of that world, and strive to help them fall in love with the ball. Also, knowing that kids at these ages can tend to be hyper focused on rules/logic, we are mindful to not over coach them at these ages, and focus on options as opposed to absolutes.
We introduce them to a variety of systems and tactics, and we encourage them to have fun in the game and continue to build their toolbox of skills as they grow older. These are foundational elements that continue to be woven in at the older age groups, with the understanding that children entering adolescence will be more capable of processing abstract concepts IF they were given freedom and creative license at the younger ages. Even as we implement more tactics of game play as the girls get older, ultimately having skillful, creative, dynamic players and leaders we believe will dictate tactics, not developing players to fit a specific system or style of play. From our experience, when we are able to successfully shape the environment in these ways, from our youngest players to our oldest, we find that we often are able to develop players that are confident, hardworking, intelligent, self aware, and creative consistent with our philosophy.
Like any developmentally minded club, we factor in the inter-play between individual development, team development, and competitive results. The reality that most clubs won't readily admit due to concern that it would label them as "not putting development first" is that without having consistent results, the competitive opportunities that can be provided to players and teams will be limited, and this will limit the individual and team development that can occur. Being competitive is not a sin and is something we strive to foster at a young age with our players, with that said, we are constantly looking at what is the proximal zone of development for our players, as education literature identifies that as the sweet spot for growth to occur. When you find the right level of competition, you don’t have to sacrifice results for development to occur. Some of our best seasons from a club standpoint have occurred when we finished middle of the pack in the league standings, as that means the girls were appropriately challenged.
Whenever our teams need to be moved up or down in competition level to foster growth, we have always moved teams to make sure that placement positively impacted development. Do we strive to win each and every time we go out? Absolutely, but when we consistently have success at a certain level, how we stay developmentally mindful is to identify the factors contributing to that success, and addressing them if they are potentially weaknesses. For example, if we are winning because of athleticism instead of skill, then we will find older teams to play to negate that or in the case of the girls find boys teams to play in order to reinforce the importance of playing with skill and negate any athletic edge. By thinking and acting in that matter, we ensure that we can always compete at a level that will challenge developmental goals of our players and teams.
We judge success through a variety of means, some of which is data driven, and much of which is anecdotal. From a simple level, we set clear, observable and measurable goals for our kids so that they can identify success in-line with the coaching staff. In the youth academy this can look like juggling goals, and our youth academy players will work to join the 100 Juggle Club, something we’ve done for many years informally in the academy. As the kids get older, while we continue to focus on process goals (i.e. skill development, tactical knowledge, fitness, etc.) and providing players with the environment to work towards these process goals, outcome goals become increasingly important.
Success with that in mind is helping our players reach outcome goals on an individual (making high school varsity teams, earning recognition and opportunities locally/regionally/nationally, college interest and opportunities, etc.) and team (successful EDP league season, competitive tournament/showcase results, etc.) level. As a club though, the most important ways we define success internally, even considering all of those areas important to the kids and families we work with, is whether we were successful with helping to build a love for the game, creating a community that will be available and supportive to our players, and instilling values and work ethic that will lead to success on and off the field in the future.
Developmental Level – Ages 3 to 8. The developmental player is learning how to use their bodies, move in space ,and the basics of game play such as movement concepts, and classroom cooperation. At these ages the focus is on the player’s relationship to the ball, as well as basic cooperation and comprehension skills in relation to fellow players and their coaches. The main focus at these ages is ball mastery, where repetition and ball control activities with both feet are paramount. As well as the beginning basics of the game, and most importantly, having FUN developing a love for the game of soccer!
Competitive Level – Ages 9-12. The competitive player at these ages is introduced to a more intense training environment with a greater focus on match play, and the continued building of their Soccer IQ. Children at this point are continuing to learn how to master control of the soccer ball, as well as beginning to focus on their relationship to their team and how to be a smaller part of a whole. Players are schooled in 1v1, 2v2, and 3v3 activities with an emphasis on speed and control. Creativity and fun are still heavily reinforced, and we work to strike a balance between learning to compete not only with passion but also joy for the game of soccer.
Advanced – Ages 13-15. The advanced player has mastered control of the ball, as well as the basics of small sided game play. The competitive player begins their introduction into the full 11 a side match and the tactics within, as well as a further rising of intensity within the training setting, and increased decision making. Competitive players typically are faced with choosing to play soccer as their primary sport/activity, and show a thirst for the game as a part of their everyday lives. They will experience more travel and large tournaments with their teams.
Elite – Ages 16 & Up. The elite player seeks to play at the highest possible level they can attain on the field. Soccer is by far an elite player’s primary sport. They are asked to play in multiple systems of play, and have narrowed their focus to where they feel most comfortable on the field. Players at this level look at the game as more of a career, rather than an activity. Advanced players seek either professional or collegiate play to further their careers, and aim to play and train at the highest level they can on a daily basis.