Youth Sports Conditioning Goal Confusion – Part 2




Youth Sports Conditioning Principles

Soccer is no different than any other sport at the youth level – and I am not
inferring that anyone suggested otherwise – but every youth coach of every
sport, seems to think that the technical nuances of their sport are some how
more intricate or specialized than the skills of other sports… and that is not
the case.


And you can replace ‘Soccer’ with ‘Baseball’, ‘Basketball’ or any other sport
in the above paragraph.


The point of the Goal Confusion article can be summed up in one sentence –


Coaches and Trainers must learn how and when to apply certain teaching
techniques and when to let kids ‘learn’ things for themselves – and that is
especially true when we design drills in which we tell our players that the
success of a drill is based on the outcome rather than the form.


If you have been a subscriber for any length of time, you know exactly how
I feel about teaching skill – it is imperative and an ability that frankly, many
Coaches and Trainers lack (when in consideration of pedagogical science
and individual player temperament).


Having said that, by not letting young kids simply ‘have at it’ on their own
once in a while or at certain phases of development, we risk limiting free
nervous system adaptability at large – and this has been a prevalent problem
in North American sports for years.


We over-teach our youngsters and do not allow them free exploration
(which is at the crux of sport development) but then marvel at how much
more ‘naturally skilled’ international athletes often tend to be.



In Canada, the best hockey players are not in organized competition at a very
young age or under the technical instruction of a coach, they are playing on
the pond or local outdoor rink with their friends or family and doing little more
than guided discovery.


The same is true of Latin American baseball players and Brazilian soccer


If you are not familiar with Guided Discovery, it can be best summarized
as the pinnacle of outcome-based coaching.


It is when an adult (coach, big sister or Dad) simply presents a youngster
with an idea.


“Here Johnny, I’m going to set out some cones. I want you to take this soccer
ball and use your feet to bring it with you around and through these cones –
when you get through them all, see if you can kick it into the net and aim for
the lower right corner of the net”.


Now… let the kid (or kids) have at it. Offer encouragement and positive
feedback, but let them learn the ‘how’s’ and ‘why’s of making that drill work’.


At a certain point, if quality-coaching instruction is not entered into the
equation, the potential of that young athlete to excel in the sport in question
will certainly diminish.


However, sport exploration and guided discovery should be the essence of
youth sports conditioning and participation (especially during the young pre-adolescent ages).


And herein may be the confusion.


You have read many of my articles that discuss the fact that Coaches and
Trainers never TEACH kids how to perform certain drills or exercises, but
then get upset if the youngsters aren’t performing the drill properly.


And of course… that is 100% true.


The Goal Confusion article however, was in reference to YOUNG kids.


We have started having organized and lesson-oriented league play (in a
variety of sports) at the age of 4 and 5.


At this age, the entire premise of sport exploration should be based on
guided discovery and nothing more – while the nervous system is at the
height of its adaptability, kids should be encouraged to explore on their
own, and under the ‘rules’ of outcome-based activities only.


As the child reaches the age of 9 – 10 (although this can change based
on the kid in question), now more formalized instruction can be added
to the equation.


The problem I was stating in the article is that many Coaches and Trainers
will tell there young athletes that the purpose of the drill is to ‘kick the ball
into the bottom right corner of the net’, but than proceed to correct every
technical problem they see – that amounts to goal confusion for the child.


And if this type of coaching occurs at the truly young ages (as outlined above),
it can be disastrous from an optimal learning perspective.


I hope that this has helped in some way.



– Brian



P.S. – To truly understand the IYCA’s Sport and Youth Fitness
Youth Sports Conditioning Development System,
click here

6 Responses

  1. Todd DeWolf says:

    Shocking but true. Let the young’uns play! I’ve been following you for 3 years and hearing about the “type” of coaching these youngsters get. I took it with a grain of salt until I started coaching my 5 yr old daughters soccer team. My first foray into that world. Wouldn’t you know it, met all those people you were talking about. It really took me back. These kids want to have fun, the learning comes naturally when they play. The more fun they have, the more they want to do, come back for more and explore other avenues and sports.

    Just sayin, that’s what I see.

    Have a great day everyone!


  2. SoCal Brian says:

    I get what you’re saying! It’s my own honest opinion we as trainers, parents, coaches and espeicially friends need to encourage the fun in exercise and sports. I think that “guided discovery” is essential in the development of a good young athlete. I know that “g/d” is what I followed when I was young, heck we all followed that principle 20 to 30 years ago. Unfortunatly today parents and coaches want to skip too many phases of learning and want results yesterday and they push specific physical training on our sometimes too young children!
    SoCal Brian

  3. Michael Wolfe says:

    Well said, Brian. Many parents and coaches get too caught up in the end result rather than the process. The limited understanding or misunderstanding the 2 groups have about youth is part of the issue (as you have said in the past). Its a shame many don’t want to listen or at least seek to understand. I applaud you on your movement. If more could only approach youth fitness in a “general” training approach rather than specific. This would solve some of the problems kids face latter in life. Overtraing is a big one. I remember years ago playing youth baseball. The good pitchers where like workhorses! Their arms were always sore and painful at times but they would avaoid telling their coaches. Some felt they were letting the team down if they complained. It was as if it was ingrained in their head. One friend of mine complained of arm pain and fatigue years latter as a late teen. Thankfully, pitch counting is now apart of youth baseball. The way pitch counting became a requirement, I believe the IYCA principles will become a universal requirement. It’s refreshing to see the truths being taught to our youth. See you at the Top.

  4. Adam Spring says:

    I couldn’t agree more with goal confusion. Children with any sporting ability these days are taken at to young an age by coaches or parents and put into a specific development program to try and make them the best at there sport. They’re are missing out on something very important. Learning for themselves. Coaches are taking away the fundamentals these kids learn in the back yard, not to mention the fun of just playing the game. In Australia, there is less of the ‘back yard’ muck around game and more of the set training programs. For example, a small footballer will learn and develop the skills needed to beat a bigger apponent if they are tired of being beaten in the local park (after school) footy match. They will develop their own way of getting around the obstacle, be it speed, agility or just plain fear. But they’ll do it. Coaches should be encouraging children to develop these self taught skills. Every child is different and just because their skills do not follow the ‘manual’ doesn’t mean they won’t excell down the track. This is where a childs goal is created and usually they don’t even know it. They’re just having fun.
    Thanks AS

  5. Christian Isquierdo says:

    Brian, I think you’re selling soccer short. We are one of the only sports with a National Federation which licenses coaches (USSF) to go along with a National Youth organizing body, the USYS, which provides every level of coaching courses based on the philosophy that we let the “game within the child” teach technique and reveal problem solving solutions. As a Nationally licensed coaches our activities and games include age appropriate exercises and objectives. We don’t teach our 4-6 year olds “moves” we let them discover their own, and demonstrate to the group–we ask them to dribble through gates and discover which part of the foot is the fastest, which part is the most challenging, etc. etc.

    I think you need to differentiate between professional licensed coaches and the inexperienced volunteer parent who uses drills that may suggest goal confusion. I work extensively with U11 players and I break our sessions into coordination basics (training with or without the ball), individual skills( dribbling, ball striking, wall ball) and then rely primarily on coaching within the game using a variety of 1v1 through 4v4 formats (8v8 is the small sided game that 11 and 12’s play in our state).

    I use a variety of different games to draw out the techniques that is within the coaching vision for each team. For example, a four-goal game that is 40×25 yards with the width being the longest will bring out long ball passing. Different game situations within the 25 -45 minute activity will present the need for flighted balls, driven balls and quick short passing, the players need to figure out the best “skill” to sovle the problem. I use the saying the “more techniques I know the more problems I can solve the more skill I have”.

    As a coach I focus on providing technical coaching points as the players play the game, coaching points for the individual and the group come in a variety of ways, but to say that there is goal confusion in this type of coaching style and format is to generalize the sport and misunderstand the progress that soccer has made in the highest level of coaching philosophy’s. The effort of the National instructors to try and advance these methodologies is trickling down through education of parents, coaches and volunteers, but to lump soccer into your general attack of coaches is unfair and uneducated. We are using many of “your ideas” already and I’ll say when I have integrated some of your ideas into the coordination program of the practice session we are having some success with creating better athletes.

  6. Loren says:


    I am wondering how you would apply the idea behind this article to my sport…volleyball. The typical player enters the realm of volleyball after age 10 (something many in the US are trying to change). So do we allow for an period of guided discovery only, even though they are past the age when you state formalized instruction is necessary?

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