2001: Year of the Youth


By Horst Wein

Understanding complex team sports such as soccer, basketball, volleyball, field hockey or team handball can be best achieved through the use of a logical progression of simplified games, with a gradual increase in the numbers of players on the teams. Just as young players are growing physically and mentally, the difficulty and complexity of the simplified games are growing as well.

Simplified games have these characteristics:

* Reduced number of participants

* Reduced dimensions of the playing field

* Simplified rules that are flexible and adaptable to the existing conditions

* Limited numbers of game situations

* Simplification of the problems

* Easier contexts for coaches to be able to observe, analyze, evaluate, and correct the performance of all players in the game

These qualities that characterize the simplified games have a positive impact on both coaches and players for several reasons, including these:

* Exposing children to simplified games with teams of only two, three, or four players leads to far fewer technical and tactical errors when later competing in more complex games (e.g., 7-on-7 or 8-on-8 soccer).

* Frequent execution of skills stimulates the acquisition and perfection of proper techniques, as does having less distraction by many other teammates and opponents. Moreover, with fewer players, there is more time and space available, facilitating the correct way to play.

* To become a good player, a child must learn to perceive with acuity and a wide field of vision the current game situation: the position of the ball, teammates and opponents on the move, location of the goals, and lines on the field. Simplified games not only aid the progressive development of perception, but also enable young players to analyze game situations and make correct decisions—thanks to the game knowledge they have gained through practice.

* The frequent appearance of the same basic game situations allows players to experiment with different solutions until they are able to resolve the problems presented in the simplified game. Later, when the same or similar game situation reappears in a more complex competition, the player is likely to recognize it and instantly recall a good solution on their own.

* The reduced number of players allows less-skilled team members to become more readily involved.

* Because each team consists of just two to four players, simplified games progressively develop the capacities of communication and cooperation between players. These are essential aspects of top soccer performance that have often been underestimated in the past in many other sports.

* No premature specialization for any playing position occurs; the simplified games make every player play every position on the field; defense and attack, both wings as well as in the center of the field. Simplified games help develop complete and intelligent field hockey players.

Children do not need a high level of ability and capacity or specific game knowledge to enjoy training and competing with simplified games. The simplicity of the game itself immediately attracts young players and encourages them to resolve the problems they find in it.

After a certain amount of practice, if a coach observes a deficiency (technical or tactical) that is limiting the children's playing capacity, he or she interrupts the game, isolates the problem aspect, and presents the children with corrective activities or exercises. The goal is to overcome the deficiency discovered in the simplified game that could be a problem in a full-sided match later on.

For the children, using simple games is different from traditional drill-based training. Instead of training by rote on a predetermined skill, the child, having discovered that he or she still lacks something to win the simplified game, is motivated to learn that particular skill.

So the mastering of a skill is perceived not so much a prerequisite for playing a game but as a complementary part of it; the training has the clear purpose of raising the level of performance in the game in order to win.

This way, practice does not "kill" the enthusiasm of the young players whose main wish is always to play -- and also win -- rather than mastering a determined skill. By using simplified games, a bridge is built between the learning of a new skill and its application in a complex game situation.

FIH Master Coach Horst Wein works with the Centre of Research and Development of the Royal Spanish Football Federation.