Player Development

One hears the phrase "player development" in youth soccer quite often. The discussions surrounding it, however, can become very confused because the people involved in the discussions do not always use the phrase as having the same meaning. To one group it means one thing and to another it means something quite different. The result can be very important because the confusion generated by different people using the same phrase as having different meanings without being aware they are doing so leads to misunderstandings of the goals and objectives of those involved.

There are two basic observations that should be made concerning the phrase "player development." The first observation looks to the meaning given the word "player." It asks is that word being used in the singular or in the plural? In other words, are we talking about developing a player as an individual separate from others or are we talking about developing players together as a unit? If the phrase is being used to mean just individual development, a major component of the game in relation to the player is being ignored. That component obviously is the idea of being part of a team. In the situation of using the phrase to mean an individual, considerations of the interrelationships among players simply does not matter. The duties and obligations owed to other players and the benefits — which are the benefits to be obtained for youth from participation in youth sports such as socializing, learning to work together, and accepting responsibility — are simply not part of the discussion. Although there is currently a major assault underway in youth soccer on the concept of players being on a team and on the idea of teams in general, it should be anticipated that the principle of teams and soccer in particular as a team sport will over time weather the current attack. This means it remains relevant and important to know if a person using the phrase "player development" is using it to mean an individual player or a player in the context of a team and whether the person is including in the discussion the idea of offering the player and his or her parents the benefits of youth sports.

The second observation in understanding in what sense a person is using the phrase "player development" focuses on the word "development." This is critical for purposes of understanding discussions about youth sports because it goes to the very core of what someone is trying to achieve. Is the person using the word "development" to mean development of the player exclusively as a soccer player? If so, the concern being addressed is very, very narrow as it is confined to nothing more than acquiring and honing unique technical and other skills whose utility is limited to a soccer field. Matters such as the importance of educational achievement, learning to work with others, interrelationships, and accepting responsibility towards others are of minimal, if any, concern to those using the word in this sense. Or is the word "development" being used in its larger sense to mean developing the youth soccer player not just as a player but also as a person? If used in this latter sense, the focus is much broader and higher purpose. Then the discussion is including concern for the overall well-being and the "development" of the player, not only as someone useful on the soccer field to advance a competitive goal but also as someone who grows and matures as person in the multiple facets necessary for success as they mature into adulthood. When the word "development" is used in this sense the undertaking for those involved is much more demanding and difficult — and certainly less personally lucrative for some — than when it is used in its narrow meaning, but then it is also much more worthwhile.

"Player development" has become one of those catch phrases that has different meanings to different people. To avoid misunderstandings and to make sure the speaker and the listeners are talking about the same thing, it would good idea when the phrase comes up to spell out in what sense it is being used. This can be done by simply asking the person using the phrase do they mean it in the singular or plural and are they talking about the narrow meaning of soccer techniques and skills alone or about overall development of youth as people? The answers will allow everyone involved to understand and actually evaluate what is being said or proposed.