At youth levels we all come across players who have great talent. Some of these players can be very dependant on their physicality and size. What we must remember in our training and player development is that it's not all about size.
Many a time we've come across an 11 year old who is almost 6ft tall, or the 13 year old taller than most adults watching the game. It is quite common that these players will be dominating the match, physically imposing and able to influence the match greatly.
Quite often these players are lauded, given high praise for their ability and fantastic influence on the game. However, for the players benefit, we shouldn't just be happy about their current influences and performances. Each player physically develops at different stages of their adolescent years, but once they reach the adult game, the majority of players have caught up to similar sizes and physiques as us all.
What is important in youth development is that we don't just focus on size. All players need to be technically good on the ball, able to control and move it where they want to, under different levels of pressure. We shouldn't look at a player and think they are great purely because of their size, we should actually be looking at their technically ability.
Some clubs may pick up players at 11 or 12 who are physically very dominant, which allows them to control and influence the game, but for these players we must not focus on the success they are having in the here and now. We must focus on how we can develop their technical ability for when they are older, when their physical size doesn't give them as much an advantage as it once did. If a player of a larger frame has regularly been able to physically protect the ball, shield it, or strike it over further distance than their contemporaries then they are relying on their physical prowess. One day these players who are physically smaller will become larger and more developed, making it much harder to exert any dominance over their opponent. We as coaches, or players, can't believe a player is very good just because of their size, we should always work on their technical ability.
For these more physically dominant players we need to make sure that we realise the importance of technical training, but what about those who are smaller in frame and stature?
How do we help them progress?
The answer to that is exactly the same as the answer to the more physically developed players, technical training. We can't speed up the development of players with smaller sizes so we must make sure that we do as much technical training as possible. At these younger ages it is vitally important to get players taking as many touches on the ball as possible, on both feet with plenty of changes of direction. Practising this from a young age will significantly benefit the players as they get older. When players are smaller than others we can't expect them to be physical, or physically competitive with opponents who have larger frames. Sometimes they might find it intimidating, but providing technical training will allow players to realise that they don't need to be intimidated by those stronger than them, all they would need to do is to move away from them with good movement and technical skill. This technical training will allow the smaller players to become more involved in the game and confident that they can compete on their own terms, moving away from the physical battles with technical ability.
This will only help the more physical players. If they realise that players are turning with the ball with much more control, more confident in their first touch and technical ability, then they will notice the importance of being good on the ball. Developing this side of their game will only make them better for when they are older and when other players have physically developed.
How many times have we seen a former team-mate who was fantastic at a young age, largely due to their size, seemingly have much less of an impact as they reach the senior levels?
On the other side of the coin, how often have we seen players who seem to be late developers, those good on the ball when they are young, but with little impact, who seem to flourish and develop when they have physically grown?
The key to it all, no matter what size, speed, or stage of physical development, is technical training. Train players technically for their benefit in the future. At these young ages we shouldn't worry about the instant results, or the here and now. Let's focus on developing these young footballers as much as we possibly can with technical training, benefitting them when the results really do count as they reach open age football.
One area of technical training that will be very important for the development of players is ball mastery. Take extra touches on the ball with specific movements and routines. Over time these movements will become second nature to the player, allowing them to turn away from their opponent, manipulating the ball without even thinking about it. Ball mastery will have trained the players thought processes, reactions and skill on the ball, allowing them to be comfortable on the ball, in all situations.