INDIVIDUAL PLAYER DEVELOPMENT VERSUS TEAM DEVELOPMENT
The RDA Platform is designed to focus upon individual player development within a team model. Philosophically, this is a very unique approach in youth sports. While the Club reinforces and celebrates the positives attributed with ‘teamwork,’ the principle focus will remain on the course of each individual player within the system, and ways in which that course must be traversed in order to seek out the ultimate success of those individual players. After all, these players will all go on to live their lives, which will undoubtedly see them heading down differing paths, but hopefully guided by the shared lessons and inspiration attained through their involvement with the RDA.
With the focus upon individual player development over team success, discretionary decisions will be made by the Riverhounds from time to time that may result in parent/player confusion. This is most commonly related to decisions on moving players up (in age), or down, within training and/or competition. This can also involve decisions that see female players training and/or playing across sexes, within an RDA boys group. Any decision made by the Riverhounds in this regard, is at the discretion of the RDA Directors, and will be made in calculated fashion in order to stimulate positive player development.
Our Academy has a defined DNA that separates our overall team model into three distinctly unique but connected stages of development. These stages depict the pathway through which a player will develop in the RDA, focusing upon individual development and eventual advancement:
Discipline Stage: Consistent focus on technical skills, proper habits, and training culture; Technique under pressure – repetition and enjoyment
Nurturing Stage: Application of technical into tactical; Using skills in games within the Riverhounds philosophy of play; Confidence to try things; Falling forward, comprehension/implementation
Advancement Stage: Performance-based identification opportunities – preparation for the next level; Teaching tactical systems, player roles; Physical/emotional tests
PHILOSOPHICAL TRAINING APPROACH
The Riverhounds Development Academy (RDA) is a selective training program designed to progress our area’s most committed and elite youth soccer players toward their fullest potential. RDA training includes an age-appropriate, building-block approach to physical, mental and emotional development for players from 7 years old and older. With a focus upon goal-setting, RDA players will enhance the soccer abilities, athleticism and mental approach necessary to compete at higher levels of the game.
U-8/9 – U-11: Discipline, Energy, Habits, Creativity
- Discipline: The modern day soccer player is faster, stronger and smarter than his or her predecessors. This is the result of progressive training programs that build off of lessons from the past. While athleticism, technique and intelligence are variables that must be shaped through training, discipline is the fixed component of an aspiring soccer player’s makeup. The player learns to respect the game of soccer and all of the hard work that goes into development.
- Energy: When shaping one’s abilities through structured and repetitious programming, it is essential that the player maintains and cultivates his or her passion for the game. It is this passion that propels the player through challenges, fatigue, failure and injury. We stress passion through contagious energy that begins with the staff and curriculum and ends with positive reinforcement following each session.
- Habits: Just as an old dog struggles to learn new tricks, players struggle to alter their games as they age. To instill proper playing habits at younger ages is essential in developing an aspiring athlete. These habits are formed through focus, respect, repetition, and reinforcement.
- Creativity: The players must have a clean canvas on which to paint their picture. They should not be restricted. They must be allowed to make mistakes. This is how we learn to live our lives! Academy players will consistently be asked to show what they’re capable of on the field. It is through this trial-and-error stage that players begin to understand what is most and least effective.
U-12 – U-14: Creativity, Technique, Strategy, Tactics
- Creativity: As players begin to physically develop, their capabilities expand. At an age range where the physical development occurs at different times for different players, it is important that the staff enables players to enhance their learning curves through creativity. These players will learn in small-sided situations that stress touch on the ball and decisions (when to dribble, when to pass, when to shoot).
- Technique: Young players are visual learners. They must be able to SEE HOW before being TOLD HOW. At this stage, the previously established discipline begins to kick in, helping players through their struggles with certain skills/concepts. The coaching staff will demonstrate each and every skill and work with players to tweak their mechanics. Players will be asked to concentrate at entirely new levels, so as to address one of the most important aspects of the game.
- Strategy: As opposed to lining up players in a formation and ‘pressing play,’ here we focus on understanding strategy. What does it really mean to play a 4-3-3 versus a 3-5-2 or 4-5-1? How do we create space for outside defenders to join the attack? How do we define “support”? At such a young age, it is critical that players comprehend a system before playing that system. This demands patience. Without an understanding of strategy, players cannot possibly learn how to attack and/or defend outside of 1v1 situations. We prepare for 11v11 by breaking down the game into much smaller pieces.
- Tactics: With strategy comes a heightened focus on tactics and tactical training. Training sessions will begin to concentrate on how to play out of dangerous situations with composure and class, as opposed to erratic and forced long-ball. Defensive pressure is applied at this stage, in order to address two key concepts: speed of play and decision-making. Game results are not considered relevant at this age and will not dictate a change of tactics.
U-15: Tactics, Strength, Reinforcement, Competition
- Tactics: In transitioning from strategy tactics to playing tactics, players learn to assert themselves in the game through a clearer understanding of responsibilities, refined abilities on the ball and confidence to play out of trouble while maintaining team shape. These tactics will be tested through competition.
- Strength: In this stage, players must be strong. In one respect, this refers to the physical strength of the player. The staff will push players to develop both relative and absolute strength. These players, however, must also build mental and emotional strength. Additionally, the players must learn to deal with failure and rejection. These concepts are part of the game and part of life, and it is the response to failure and rejection that defines the player.
- Reinforcement: As we begin to play, it becomes very easy to lose focus due to the free-flowing nature of soccer. Without timeouts and only halftime to gather thoughts and assess play, it becomes crucial that we consistently reinforce discipline, proper habits and strategy in training so our players are always PREPARED TO WIN. Actual game results will not serve as a metric for success.
- Competition: Players will begin to compete, so as to express their individual abilities within a team environment. The staff will stress the spirit of competition and the approach to competition. From there, the players will demonstrate and showcase their craft.
U-16 – U-18: Competition, Opportunities, Focus, Preparation
- Competition: Players must become aware of opponents and reference the opponents’ strengths and weaknesses in training. Friendly matches, tournaments and league play will be organized according to the standard of play, as determined by the staff. Here, competition serves as a platform upon which our individual players can prove their value on the field.
- Opportunities: The focus is, has been and always will be the player. In this stage, we seek out opportunities for all individual players and provide the necessary resources to broker and advance opportunities. These opportunities must align with the players’ goals. Staff guidance and evaluations will help in setting these goals.
- Focus: In these sensitive years of social development, players are exposed to many off-the-field influences. These are all experiences that add to the substance of one’s life. However, it is the focus of the player that must remain strong and intact throughout this stage. It is essential that the player has a positive support system to call upon, so that the decisions made during these years are conducive to success.
- Preparation: Based upon goals set by the individual players, the staff becomes an enabler, preparing the players for what lies ahead. This takes place through a sharing of experience. This ‘veteran leadership’ must be passed from staff to players, as the players must ultimately pursue their goals.
U-19 – Professional: Preparation, Winning
- Preparation: Professional players must maintain technical ability and tactical understanding through a consistent, professional environment. The approach into every training session must match that into every game; this approach is built upon every aspect defined above. Under-19 players must be prepared to enter collegiate or professional soccer with an understanding of HOW TO WIN. As such, players in the Under-19 RDA age group will be prepared to focus upon winning in training sessions, as that will ultimately influence their response in match play.
- Winning: Here we see the very first mention of a powerful aspect of development. It should be understood that ‘winning’ in this context refers to the result of a competition. Professional players are paid to win games. Players who represent their country in international competitions are prepared to win. While the age at which a player becomes a professional and/or represents his or her country can vary, it should be understood that all of the aforementioned intangibles construct a player who is capable of winning. However, winning is not to be considered a priority until a player reaches this final stage of development. RDA coaches at the Under-19 age group will emphasize winning heading into each match, ensuring their players are prepared for the winning mindset that will be demanded at the next level (collegiate/professional).
PARENTS: COMMITMENT, SUPPORT, EXPECTATIONS, RESPECT
- Commitment: RDA Players come from areas all around western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. The program seeks out the most committed and elite youth soccer players, so as to establish a powerful training environment where the best are consistently among the best. As a result, there is significant travel time associated with RDA involvement. In pulling together these top players for consistent programming, we aim to create an environment that demands a staunch commitment to excellence.
- Support: According to the African proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child,” there are forces beyond the immediate family that contribute to the development of a youth. Here, we call upon the family, coaching staff and environment. Each component plays a vital role in the development of our young players, supporting their efforts through compassion, education, guidance, discipline and accountability.
- Expectations: When something is changed, expectations often times remain the same, hoping the change will fulfill these expectations. When something is entirely different and new, new expectations must be formed. It is important families recognize an absolute change has taken place. This is a developmental program geared toward individual player growth and achievement. Thus, the approach, calendar and associated expectations must be completely different. Rather than expecting to compete in this league or that tournament, RDA expects to help progress its players toward the fulfillment of their individual and collaborative goals. Deliberate steps were taken to align with the requirements of the ECNL. While this demanded years of development, internally, the end result sees RDA teams competing in an extremely high-level, national league with high expectations.
- Respect: When participating in a selective program, players are judged subjectively by staff members. This process is not perfect, but must be supported and respected by all families involved. This becomes most difficult at moments of perceived failure. Players who are not selected to participate and/or continue in the program must continue to strive toward the fulfillment of their goals with the support of family and Riverhounds SC staff. While decisions made may not always be liked, open communication will lend itself to these decisions being respected.