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  • Daniel Kamenetzky



Most clubs selected for the new MLS development project follows the former US Soccer DA's curriculum. Since the termination of the program, that model of player development is lacking governance authority. At the same time, the MLS did not publish yet their own new model for the clubs joining their project. Every academy now is alone to decide their own best strategy for a 10 years soccer player developmental plan.

This suggests that any player involved in a club that did not develop their own model of teaching and training has, since the DA finalization, decreased his/her future competitive opportunities. Individual clubs and the MLS will need several months to design a new curriculum. The process of research, analysis, and design needed for its creation requires particular knowledge and a great amount of time.

Following my previous article “YOUTH SOCCER DEVELOPMENT IN UNITED STATES IS ADRIFT," here I present the analysis of the DAs Curriculum second group: “Basic Stage (U9-U12)”. This series of article's aim is to be an example of how a curriculum can be analyzed and refined to be the club’s master guide for player development, coaching education, and processes evaluation.


It is important to recognize that any limitations in the training process in previous stages will be carried out to the following age groups. Therefore, it is essential to design consciously the developmental strategy starting at an early age. It is also important to secure that any youth that gets incorporated at any time in the process had had a proper stimulation required in each stage group (talent identification and selection process).

Here I present a few age-specific characteristics to frame the current analysis. There are many developmental aspects to consider like physiological, neurocognitive, social, psychological, etc.

1. The biological and psychological variability between 9 and 12 years old is considerable. It is also different among sexes. Some boys at 11-12 years old might have adult biological characteristics and others still presenting young kids features (Tanner Stages of maturation). Among girls, a high percentage of the group might be already adult-like biologically developed. Therefore, the information presented here has to be adjusted for each player’s condition.

2. This is the "Sensible Phase" for new skills acquisition. A great variety of movements should be encouraged with no need for technical mastery yet. It will allow the best responses when solving soccer competitive problems.

3. This is the time to initiate the organized stimulation of a few conditional capacities: explosive force, aerobic endurance, reaction time, and mobility-flexibility. The “anaerobic system” is not yet developed therefore any attempt for high-intensity physiological development is not recommended (speed and strength of middle and long duration). It is recommended that intense activities last less than 20 seconds (approximately depending on each kid’s biological maturation). Endurance and mobility are the main conditional variables to focus on.

4. This is the “Concrete Operational Piaget’s Stage”, hypothetical skills are not yet developed therefore will be difficult to “listen” how to achieve complex techniques or tactics instead of “experimenting” them.

5. Solving problems becomes more logical and is the time to introduce the abstract concepts of time, space and quantity through concrete situations. Also, they start to accept “other’s” perspectives.

Analysis: “Season plan by age: Initial Stage (U9-U12)”

Objectives Section: this section is divided into five main developmental areas. Consider that any model of sport’s performance includes the following areas: technical, tactical, conditional, psychological, and morphological (body composition). The scrimmage is an activity used for the integrated experimentation of the learned skills under different objectives. Each coach might have goals to achieve during games, but it is not a performance component. It is the opportunity for the players to express their acquired knowledge and capacities, and for coaches to evaluate performance.

1. Scrimmage.

Even though the scrimmage is an activity and can’t be considered a developmental objective, we will analyze the suggested goals.

a) U-9/10 Scrimmage: “it is expected to efficiently occupy the space in the field.” Proper space selection is a tactical response to the “reading” of the other players’ distribution in space and ball spatial location. Also responds to the personal capacity to forecast the game’s progression and the behavior that the rival and own team might have. This is a complex task that is beyond the current developmental capacity (Point 4 above).

b) U-11/12. “Possession” implies control of the ball (technique), and space (tactic) difficult to achieve at this age. Players want to use the ball by themselves. It is still difficult to share it with others except if there is a clear personal gain (the ball will come back immediately, or a goal might be imminent). “Transition” is also a tactical skill that requires seeing in advance or adjusting fast to an unseen situation. It is unlikely to achieve these goals at this age without a forceful external “encouragement” that is not suggested for the player’s proper emotional development and enjoyment.

“Collective defending” requires an awareness of space and the other players, as mentioned above, inconsistent with the current perceptual capabilities.

2. Tactical.

a) U-9/10. The “creation of space” requires first to manage the concept of spatial player’s distribution and a sequential plan for the future. Those are abstract concepts not yet developed. At this stage we still see players running in-group following the ball. The player’s focus is on the “object” and their main objective is to make goals. There is not yet recognition of teammates as options for advantage gain. “Space location” is just a route for obtaining a personal reward: the goal.

b) U-10/11. “Attacking and defending principles” at this stage are concepts not yet recognized. Their only objectives are making a goal and recovering the ball back to have fun. There is not a group organic organization yet and should not be encouraged, allowing the players to solve problems on their own without prefixed scripts. This will create a more creative and independent player that can solve a variety of soccer problems in the future.

c) U-11/12. At this age is when it is expected to start organizing the game and initiate the structure of attacking and defending. It is suggested to let them “find” organically those new strategies. Even though during the previous stages the concepts have been presented playfully, now is when the intellectual concepts of attacking and defending can have a real significance. To get to the desired objective of making goals and preventing them, there are more or less efficient organizations that the players start to recognize. The new concepts are well received because they have the appropriate intellectual development, the desire to learn how to do new things. The player sees more difficulties in achieving their goals and starts to ask the coach for new strategies that can help him/her.

“Combination of plays” is only possible if the tactical concepts described above are well established, what it is unlikely at this stage. Combinations are complex acquisitions result of high-level spatial reading, and timing and technical capacity. At this stage will be inadequate to have players that master those skills and will be an indication of pressure to perform and limited exploration time.

3. Technical.

This is the best biological window for the exploration and acquisition of a great variety of technical and coordination skills.

a) U-9/10. This is the age for exploration avoiding fixing any kind of coordination structure. The player needs time to try its own models of movement and problem resolution. Requesting “accuracy” during the exploration phase can create frustration and fear to try new ways of doing things.

b) U-11. Coordination of new techniques is still a work in progress; “speed of performance” can be stimulated however not expected with efficiency and accuracy. “Collective techniques” are just starting to appear as the result of new tactical interest and game demands (see above).

c) U-12. Technical “quality” requires a level of control inadequate for this age and sport. Techniques are still drafts that allow the player the cause-effect exploration. They play with them creating a number of different results for the vast variety of problems that the coach and the game present.

4. Physical.

a) U-9/10. This is the Sensible Phase for the stimulation of endurance and mobility through games (avoiding structured training). Stimulation of movement’s speed is suggested, without “lactic” physiological loading.

Balance is one of several coordination capacities to stimulate at this age stage, however, the only one mentioned in this Curriculum. It is important to maintain a proper proportionality among all variables of each capacity avoiding emphasizing too much in a few of them (balance for example) in detriment of the others.

b) U-11/12. This DA Curriculum proposes, during the four age groups of this stage, to stimulate the same conditional variables. However, around 11 years old there are in many kids, and mainly in girls, significant hormonal changes that create new limitations and opportunities for training. It is the time to start introducing through games and general activities some types of strength training at the time that endurance and mobility increases in volume and intensities.

Since the groups are heterogeneous in biological development, it is crucial to establish individualized stimulation with careful analysis of personal possibilities and limitations.

5. Psychosocial.

a) U-9/10. The emphasis proposed is in the “interaction between the team during games,” however kids are very busy trying to solve individual complex problems. To be aware of the teammates and interact with them is difficult and an extra distraction to their main interest: the ball. It is only under pressure that they can pass or be interested in their partners.

b) U-10/11. “Cooperation and awareness of the group” is starting to develop. Games and competition are good opportunities for the exploration of group interactions. However, the “group coordination” is limited in most cases. Individual performance is what dominates this stage.

6. The DA Curriculum expects that by the end of this stage players:

a) “Perform soccer technique at speed,” what is incongruent with the technical exploration phase;

b) “Apply attack and defense principles,” that players are just starting to learn around 11 years of age. It creates the pressure of performing unnecessarily structured game strategies preventing the creativity of the player to take form;

c) Apply “agility, coordination and speed movements,” when kids are in an exploratory and multi-techniques learning process. It might accelerate the solidification of techniques that should still be elemental and fluid.


As a consequence of the DA’s Curriculum’s proposed goals for this group, the coach is oriented towards the design of activities that are in contradiction to the possibilities and opportunities that kids actually have. The biological capacities might be overstressed. And the window of opportunities for capacities’ acquisition might be lost, with no real advantage for the future of the player, while increasing the risk of injuries.

Today, the epidemiology of young soccer players shows a number and type of injuries avoidable if those considerations are taking into account. It is also significant that even though there is an undesirable early emphasis on tactical and technical mastery, the variety of skills and the game comprehension is inferior compared with players of the same age group in other countries.

In my opinion, is not the “soccer culture” or the “early immersion” in the game that differentiates other regions in the world with US soccer as it is suggested in the media, but the methodological proposal that the players find in their soccer institutions. A soccer curriculum has the purpose of guiding the management and coaching staff with a methodological criterion allowing each institution’s own soccer player development strategy.

The DA’s Curriculum that we are analyzing, is guiding the entire country’s soccer community towards a process of player development that has an inaccurate participant’s characterization. It advises the academies and coaching staff towards the perpetuation of a low-grade product: players that can’t compete at the international level and a local professional competition not yet attractive for the international market.

Almost “retired stars” from around the world that join local teams might stimulate MLS consumption. But they are the past of soccer. Fans want the local, the new, and the exciting. Our professional players must be developed at home! My personal and professional involvement in the soccer environment follows this perspective. I believe that the only limit that we have in the US today to become a soccer international power resides in the scientific and methodological offer to our players and fans. That is the terrain where I enjoy participating. The next article will explore the concordance between the DA’s Curriculum and the US Soccer coaching license model.


Please contact me if you have any question and make sure to let me know your opinions and topic of interest for future articles at



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