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By Dan McAllister
Technical Skills are the foundation for every player in the game and is likely the biggest single area that will affect every player's opportunities to advance throughout their career. Technical proficiency is an ongoing process of first learning the proper technique of a skill, then the much longer process of perfecting it.
In an article by John Rennie from Duke University entitled "Taking it to the Next Level", John writes: "I view skill as receiving and playing balls under the pressure of defending players. A player must demonstrate skill under pressure in order to play at the collegiate level. Success or failure in this situation determines further evaluation." WOW!! If you CAN play with skill under pressure, then you have a chance for further evaluation. If you CAN NOT play with skill under pressure....WOW! Players must be constantly working on technical precision, or what I like to call "Ball Mastery."
The Michigan Fire Juniors, through the curriculum and guidance of the Chicago Fire organization, are committed to the technical training of our players. As the Technical Director, I have spent much of the past two decades studying what so many successful professional clubs are doing to develop their youth players. I have had first hand exposure to our own Olympic Development Program at the state, regional and national level and have paid very close attention to what our national team coaches at every level are asking us at the youth level to focus on and why. I have had indepth exposure to some of the world's most reknowned youth development programs such as the Liverpool Academy and how they develop their youth players in an attempt to prepare those players to play in the English Premier League one day. A huge amount of their focus is technical development.
Many of our US players do not get the opportunity to advance to the next level, which is different for every player, because of the inability to play technically fast with technical precision to match. Recently, my Cornerstone University Women's Soccer Team played the Haiti National Team. In assessing the play of their national team players, we determined that in virtually every element of the game, the Haitians were "faster" than most of our players. Their technical "speed" was effected by their supple, sure touches that so often put the ball just out of the reach of our defenders allowing them to maintain possession under our fierce pressure, dictate the flow of their attack without hindrance from us, and control the ball more than we were able to.
Another important element in terms of skill development is the focus on ball mastery of the basic skills, as opposed to the entertaining "tricks" with the ball that we all enjoy watching. While these are fun to learn, they typically have little to no application in the a game, and even when they are attempted in a game, they rarely do anything to positively affect the game. The most dangerous element in the game of soccer is Speed. However, it is not simply physical speed of the players that effect the game. Technical Speed, Mental Speed, Tactical Speed, and Vision are the key contributors to overall speed of play.
Our focus at the Michigan Fire Juniors in terms of technical development will be the foundation of our overall philosophy of Player Development. This year, with our U10, U11, and U12 teams (boys and girls) we are offering an in-season supplementary Technical Training session each week in order to further develop these young players technical skills. We have developed a skills monitoring program where we will offer testing to any of these players who choose to participate at least 3 times per year in 21 different skills. We believe this gives every player a good measure of where they are in terms of technical skills, an ongoing measurement of improvement, and a central focus on the most prominent skills the game demands from our players. We have also developed a "Skills Workout" package which is all available on the Michigan Fire Juniors website under Technical Training. All of these resources are openly available to all MFJ's players regardless of age/gender and all players and parents are encouraged to use them in your own development regardless of age or ability.
If you want to see someone special in terms of mastery of the ball, check out Messi here!