How much training?
Although soccer may be a passion for many young soccer players, there are other obligations in life that requires attention. School should have the highest priority.
A good balance is important because when one priority doesn't get the attention it requires it can lead to stress that has a big influence on performances elsewhere.
This being said, there is nothing wrong to play with a ball every day if you give your body and mind the rest it needs. Intensive training days should be followed by light training days or rest. The body should be given the chance to recover well and while two hard training days in a row can happen, it shouldn't be the rule. Sharpening ball skills by means of ball mastery drills is an excellent way to help recover your body while at the same time make a profit of all the advantages these drills have to offer. A consistent training schedule with alternating training intensity can even prevent injuries.
Light stiffness the day after an intense training session is normal and shouldn't be an obstacle to do some exercises with the ball. On the contrary, doing these drills will deal with the stiffness very quickly. However, when an inexplicable pain can be felt deeper in the limbs, then training is an absolute no-no.
Focus on the weak points first
Coaches, parents and players should keep this in mind:
Maintain a good variation during training sessionsTraining sessions with a very narrow focus won't do any harm once in a while, but normally sessions should show some variation in focus or purpose. Too much focus on ball control drills is not a good idea because:
- Inadequate variation in training sessions is a guaranteed way for young players to lose their focus and interest. Monotony is the fastest way to get rid of all concentration.
- When too many new drills are practised for too long in one session, the result could be lower than expected and even have a negative influence on the development of the player. The player unconsciously mixes up several moves or parts of the moves or has to focus too hard not to. This is of course not what we intended. The result is that the procedures which handles the coordination between central nervous system and our muscles to execute the movements might be stored incorrectly in short-term memory. Even moves which were picked up recently are vulnerable when combined with too many new drills or moves.
- When the focus is gone, lots of mistakes will start to surface which could lead to frustration. From then on it is just a waste of time.
Keep the law of diminished returns in mindThe law of diminished returns is also valid in soccer. The progression a player makes for a certain move or drill diminishes when the invested time increases. In other terms, it is getting harder and harder to improve and therefore requires more time to reach perfection. As a result, a player can obtain a more overall progression when he targets his weaker points.
How many times should we focus on ball mastery skills?
To be short, as much as possible! It is a universal law that the more we practise something, the better we get at it.
5 to 10 minutes on training, during warm-up before a game and on other days at home.
The more the better, with an emphasis on frequency, not duration. Better 10 minutes every day than 1 hour a week.
Why? Everytime a player practises ball control drills he goes trough a cycle of loading the corresponding procedures out of long-term memory while the new improved procedures will be processed and stored to memory during the next sleep. The more cycles we do, the better it will stick!
Never introduce too many new moves at once because the procedures the central nervous system uses to fire the required signals to the motor-units in the muscles can easily get intermingled which could stall the progression. Recently picked up moves are also still fragile and vulnerable to get mixed up. As a rule of thumb it's better to focus on 1 to max 3 moves at once until they can be executed proficiently.
As soon a player masters a whole collection of drills and moves, they should be repeated every now and then. So, it is a good idea to introduce scheduled repeating sessions.
Again, the more cycles we do of loading, processing and storing the required procedures in memory, the better it sticks!