Finally! Tactics become a part of the game as players enter the mental state to understand spatial relationships and more complex topics. You will be able to see the immediate lightbulb go off in players as they are able execute upon topics and concepts directly after introduction. With that understanding of time and space on the field, you can also introduce player positions on the field with success and the expectation that players will be able to maintain personal control to perform their role.
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Players begin to ease into the fitness side of soccer by understanding their pace to be able to conserve energy when necessary and when they must go all out. It is really important that coaches continue to monitor player fitness on the field and make substitutions accordingly. Since players will feel “let down” by asking to be substituted, a coach needs to be vigilant for player fatigue. It is appropriate to dedicate some portion of your practice time to fitness, but the best coaches will keep a pace during the paces of practice to integrate fitness into the practice progressions.
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Soccer players at U12 should have a solid foundation of soccer skills. You can begin to build on that foundation by introducing more complex ball skills, passing, and moves to beat the defender. The foundational ball skills are always a focus for players, but even moreso as you layer on top the tactical concepts for the individual and the team. These topics must be addressed jointly to maximize player and team performance.
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The psychology of a U12 player really comes into focus as players head into puberty. Body changes result in a differing world view of themselves and a stronger sense and yearning for independence. Many times there will be a struggle between a player’s “righteousness” and a coach’s want to “help” the player. These can be perceived in different ways with the best of intentions – be patient as the player is learning to assert themselves in the world.
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The team management really changes at this age in three significant ways. First, their increased independence from their parents allows you to treat the players as “little people” instead of kids. Holding players responsible for conduct, player performance and attendance all shifts from parents to players. Secondly, the cognitive development allow you to introduce more complex topics and really begin to focus on tactics as a part of the game. Finally, their bodies are very capable of fitness development and – while not a total focus – should be assessed within the scope of practice to ensure players are ready to work hard come match time.
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