There is no one-size-fits-all approach to player development. Young people develop at different ages and stages of participation, and at different rates throughout their journeys in the game. Therefore it’s vital that we individualise our approach to player development. In this article, Fulham FC coach Gabriel Flores explains how he uses strength-based training to help players maximise their potential.

In This Article

Understanding Strength-Based Coaching

The best youth programmes seek to individualise the way they work with players. For Flores, one of the best ways to reinforce this approach is through strength-based training. This means identifying the areas in which players are strongest and helping them to make those attributes even stronger. “Every individual will have something,” he explains. “For example, it might be technical, or something related to intelligence or leadership.

“Whatever it is, it’s important to give kids opportunities to express themselves and get some reps in. For instance, if they excel in the area of game intelligence, maybe we can let them lead part of the teamtalk. It’s about giving them ownership of that attribute and letting them meaningfully practise it. We’re helping them take their outstanding attribute and make it elite.”

Of course, to take a strength-based approach, we must know our players, recognise their key attributes, and understand how to get the best out of them. “It hinges on the relationship between coach and player,” Flores says. “As coaches, we must know the different technical, tactical, psychological, and physical elements of their game, and then put them in environments where they can improve.”

Additionally, we must design sessions that give them appropriate levels of challenge. “It’s necessary to expose individuals to tough environments and stretch them, but we must strike a balance,” Flores continues. “We want to ‘stretch’ their strength, but we also want them to experience a mix of success and failure.

“Fortunately, there are a number of different ways we can do this.”

Giving Individuals an Appropriate Challenge

One of the most effective ways to regulate the level of challenge that players experience in our sessions is through manipulating task constraints. This means altering things like the rules, playing areas, and objectives of a task in order to nudge learning outcomes in certain directions.

“Consider someone who excels at dribbling,” says Flores. “Maybe they’re the wide forward in an exercise and have a fullback overlapping. We could remove the fullback so that they’re isolated. Or we could place them in a 1v2 scenario, so that they have to deal with the overload.”

Another great way to challenge players, Flores adds, is to be selective in which opponents we match them up against: “A simple but effective approach is to put your best defender up against your best attacker. Then they’ll both get stretched.

“Again, it comes down to understanding our players — and how we can pair them up within our sessions to give them appropriate challenges and repetition practising their strength.”

The Benefits of a Strength-Based Approach

The benefits of strength-based training are manifold, and often extend further than we initially realise. “Imagine your goalkeeper’s biggest strength is their shot-stopping,” Flores says. “Put them in an exercise where they’re relentlessly shot-stopping against your best strikers. They’ll face a variety of shots that they might not experience during the goalkeeper or squad training. That intensity can create accelerated learning, and really compound learning over the course of a season.

“But the strikers will also find it hard to score, and have to perform better,” he continues. “That realisation of levels is invaluable. If they’re taking their best shot and the ‘keeper is saving it, they need to find something else. So they naturally stretch themselves — for instance, by trying to add more curl or power.”

Ultimately, this kind of approach will not only give players lots of challenge and repetition while working on their strengths, but also help them to become more adaptable. “On gameday, players must be comfortable finding different strategies to be successful,” Flores concludes. “So our training needs to prepare them for that.

“Simply put, we want to help our players take their best attributes, make them even better, and feel comfortable using them in challenging circumstances.”

The Key Points

  • We should individualise our approach to player development.
  • It’s important to help players identify and then develop their strengths in a range of different circumstances.
  • By giving players an appropriate level of challenge, we can expose them to a mixture of failure and success.
  • We can manipulate task constraints in order to influence the developmental outcomes players receive from our practices.
  • Appropriately matching players can provide valuable repetition of specific skills while also enabling them to challenge and elevate each other.

Image Source: Pollyana Ventura from Getty Images Signature

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