Helping kids learn about different football positions
Tue 22 October 2019
We Make Footballers News
When you ask a kid what positions they want to play on the football pitch, most will base their answer on who their favourite player at the time is. A lover of Lionel Messi? Then they’ll want to be that free scoring magician up front.
If they think that Manchester United’s Paul Pogba is the main man, then they’ll want to be a box-to-box midfielder. Manuel Neuer might have them dreaming of being a goalkeeper or Virgil van Dijk could give them ambitions of being the best defender in the world.
Many people think that the way to become the very best in a certain position is by devoting every hour of training to learning that role inside out. But does that really provide the most rounded talent?
A large and increasing number of the world’s best players played their youth and early careers in a different position to which they excel now. That means there is a lot to be said about teaching kids to play in a variety of roles throughout their development, rather than pigeon holing them into one spot and concentrating on one particular set of skills while neglecting others that can be equally useful.
The new England DNA shared by the FA encourages players to build their football memory and experience by playing in multiple positions throughout their youth.
Here are some of the reasons why you should help kids learn about different football positions.
Kids develop physically at different speeds
One of the biggest dangers with deciding on a player’s position when they are a kid is that these decisions are taken based on size and physicality. The tallest kid in the class at the age of eight might seem like a natural choice to train up as a towering centre back, but being big today doesn’t mean that they are going to be the biggest by the time they reach 15 or 16.
If you put all that player’s eggs in the central defensive basket, what happens when everyone else catches up with them in terms of size and suddenly, they might be more suited to a central midfield role? You’ll have neglected concentrating as much on the skills required for that position, leaving them a poorer player as a result.
It develops greater tactical awareness
Teaching kids to play in different positions is a great way of building their tactical awareness and building a better football memory. The more experiences that they have, the more familiar they will become with different game scenarios or events that may happen in a match.
After all, is there a better way for a defender to be able to predict what the striker they are marking might be about to do than by knowing themselves through their own experiences of having been trained as a centre forward?
This is something that Ajax are big on. All their youth teams play the same way as the first team and within that youth set up, players will rotate through a triangle of three positions in one season, playing right back, right centre back and right of a midfield three for example.
It improves their technical ability in football
Another reason Ajax rotate their young players is that it helps to develop technically superior players. If you want to produce a defender who is comfortable on the ball, what better way to give them the skillset they need to be so than by deploying them as a central midfielder for a third of the season during their youth career?
Given the excitement that a young Ajax team generated during their run to the semi-finals of the Champions League last season and the big money moves that the likes of Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong earned in the summer, it’s clearly a ploy that works.
Managers value flexible players in the modern game
Players who are comfortable in more than one position have become the most valued individuals for some of the world’s best managers over the past few seasons – particularly Pep Guardiola.
Phillip Lahm’s ability to play as a holding midfielder, a right back or a left back made him the key man as Guardiola’s Bayern Munich swept all before them in Germany. It also gave Jogi Loew an important weapon in Die Mannschaft’s 2014 World Cup success.
At Barcelona, Guardiola loved Javier Mascherano because he could play at centre back or in the middle of the park. For Manchester City, he’s used the same trick with Fernandinho and has suggested that at some point in the next few years, he’ll be attempting to turn Raheem Sterling from a fleet footed winger into one of the best central strikers in the world, capable of netting 30 goals every season.
By giving players the tools to succeed in a variety of positions at a young age, a coach can help to make them a valuable asset to any team for the time when they reach senior level. In addition to this, it keeps the game interesting, challenging and full of new learning opportunities for players.
It can help to improve weaknesses in a player’s game
Finally, using a young player in a different position to which they are accustomed can help to drive improvements in their game. Take the winger whose right foot is the best you’ve ever seen, but when they’re on their left it’s like watching Bambi on ice.
Asking them to play on the left wing will force them to use their left foot more. As a result, it will improve an obvious weakness in their game by putting them into situations where they have to use their weaker foot. It can also teach them the value of cutting in, something which became ever more important as managers continue to be keen on the idea of inverted wingers.
A stint at centre back will force that midfielder who doesn’t like to put a foot in to improve their tackling. The striker who doesn’t pass will have to do so when playing as a central midfielder. The full back you want to attack more can develop their crossing skills with a run of games on the wing./span>
For the good of a player’s long-term development, learning a variety of different positions can have huge benefits and we hope that this article has helped set out some of the key points.