What Players Do We Want To Produce? Top 10 Traits

Traits of Genius Soccer Players - How To Coach Them?

I have scoured the internet since England’s demise in the 2010 World Cup reading many, many articles about the poor quality youth development in the UK. From a personal point of view it was great to see individual skill prominent in the successful sides in South Africa. The South Americans displayed some outstanding performances in the Early rounds only to be outdone by the Technical European sides of Spain, Holland and the New Germany.

I have been studying teams such as Arsenal, Barcelona and Spain over the past two years trying to define the traits of their systems, philosophies and individual capabilities. Many of these Traits were again vindicated by the Successful sides at the World Cup.

In this article I’ll look to describe my ‘Ten Traits of the modern day player’ in hope of improving my own and the readers capabilities in youth development and in hope of producing Individuals over teams. We can continue to discuss what we’ve been doing wrong or we can take action and change the stereotypes of English youth development I read about.

“Without action nothing changes, let’s go for it!”

Firstly, I must say I am a self confessed addict of the ‘beautiful game’ but not only because it aesthetically pleasing but because if done correctly and supported by a strong out of possession and transition organisation it is successful. My comments and thoughts have been confirmed over the past two seasons by Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona who have been an inspiration to me. Barcelona have a clear philosophy on play and a DNA which spreads through out the club, and their success at bringing world class players though their Academy (no matter what point of arrival) should be an inspiration to all us coaches on youth development. The likes of Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, Pique, Busquets, Valdes and those who went on else where, the likes of, Arteta and Fabregas. They all show the similar Traits and are players high in technical competence.

My top ten traits of the players we must strive to produce are:

1. DECISION MAKERS: Ability to play in the future, a vision to know what to perform before execution. Do players know how to look? what to look for? And can make decisions upon next action depending on vision.

2. AWARENESS: Preparing self to receive ABC’s, A-Angle being available to receive, B-Body Shape never square but open to the pitch, C-Check looking over shoulder before receiving creating his vision

3. PASSING TECHNIQUE: Mastery of passing details, including the Height of the pass, the Weight (speed) of the pass, the Line (direction) of the pass and the spin of the pass.

4. PASSING CREATIVITY: Has a whole range of Passes. Can make any pass, of either foot, of any surface, over any distance at any time!!

5. Plays with DISGUISE: Hides his intentions by; playing with little to No back lift, doesn’t give clues with his Eyes or body shape, executes look away passes

6. CONTROLS THE TEMPO: Has a forward thinking mentality. If playing backwards or square will predominantly do so on one or two touch. Player is always looking for best passing opportunity often through defenders.

7. Masters COMMUNICATION in a chaotic environment: Use of hand signals to show preferred receiving positions and an indication of movement.

8. SCREENING THE BALL. Playing in tight areas, have the ability to ‘hide’ the ball from the opponents using their body to screen and protect the ball, waiting the correct moment to free the ball. Can play late and clever in the tight.

9. INDIVIDUALISM: players with the ability to recognise the space to beat an opponent with a trick or feint and have the explosive pace to get away from them.
Also the ability to travel with the ball into and through space. Sometimes forwards to break defensive lines and create overloads or finishing opportunities, sometimes diagonally across space to move defenders and create new space to exploit and even sometimes backwards out of tight positions with the ball to keep possession or move defenders.

10. FIRST TOUCH-VARIETY: Players with the ability to have a shifting or moving first touch, often the first touch moves ball away from pressure and either brakes a defensive line or opens up a passing channel previously shut off. Also 1st touches that ‘hide’ the ball and 1st touches with deceit, disguise and deception.

Now we have these traits how can this impact upon how we coach our young players?

How does it effect our Elite player recruitment process?

How many of these traits can be taught and how many are a innate gift?

We all sat back and admired the Champions league quarter final 2010 between Arsenal and Barcelona (which was billed as Art) in which Barcelona came out on top 6-3, and now we praise the Spanish for their technical ability their strength in depth in their squad. Yet why do so many coaches fail to encourage their young players to play this way?

– This is a guest post from Coach Aaron Danks, U12-U16 Manager at West Bromwich Albion’s Academy. You can contact Aaron on twitter at http://twitter.com/coachdanks or leave a comment or question below:

  • Good post, really interesting. I don't know why but decision making always stands out for me. I think it's one of the very tangible aspects of a football which can really make him or her stand head and shoulders above the rest. How often do you see technically gifted players playing at a low level and you question why? However, once you see them play you realise it's because they make some really poor decisions time and time again - they keep hold of the ball for too long, they cross when they should shoot, they shoot when they should pass, etc.

    It makes me wonder if this kind of intelligence can be taught, I guess it can but I also think it depends on the individual - were they born with this natural ability to make correct decisions? Can they learn it by reading about football? Can they learn it by watching lot's of football. I guess I refer to it as a "football brain". You see players with it, you see players without it but the higher you go the less players you see without it...
  • Great point Simon, it's a real differentiator once you get into the top 10% of players.

    I think we have to trust that this is something that we, as coaches, can help to develop through carefully organised practice and by allowing players the opportunity to make mistakes and self-correct in training sessions.

    And whilst it has certainly helped me develop as a coach, I wonder if there's any research suggesting that reading about the game could help players' decision making? Something to look up!
  • EMG
    Nice article. I coach my players for decision making first, as technique takes many 100's of hours to perfect, and game intelligence only comes with playing games. The mental side of the game is the quickest to be built, but must be combined with technical development at a constant rate, as well as the required age-appropriate conditioning. Cruyff said it best when he said that any coach who gives their players more than 2 options doesn't know what he's talking about. And it is this ability to reduce choices and decide quickly which makes players
  • Aaron, I'd be interested to know, given your experience, in which order we should be coaching/developing these traits in our players.
  • Aaron Danks
    Yeah very good question Andy, bit of a Chicken and Egg scenario. VISION vs TECHNIQUE if players see but cant execute then they wont become elite players; but if they have good techniques but dont make good decisions on time and space they wont play at the highest level also. In my opinion players need to practice in game like situations where they have to constantly make decisions whilst developing techniques. Keep unopposed drill based work to a minimum i.e warm ups etc.

    So in answer to your question i have no order but practice environments are crucial.

  • Excellent top 10 traits. Particularly agree with screening the ball being included-vital skill in modern game as teams aim to condense midfields to stop creative players affecting games. Spain's ability here was particularly evident in this area during the World Cup final with the Dutch committing so many fouls because of players like Iniesta and co. being able to move the ball so quickly and use their body's to protect the ball in tight areas. Holland's eagerness to win the ball then meant they were going through players to win the ball-therefore committing fouls.

    Good screening in my opinion relies heavily on good vision and awareness of where opponents are and a clever and good first touch into an area where the ball can be screened with the body.
  • Great post, am myself an admirer of the Barsenalona/Spain style of play, people say Spain didn't score too many goals this time, but don't realize that what the rest of the teams are doing in order to 'kick' players off their stride...

    I firmly believe that most of the above traits can be taught, but you do need to be born with a certain 'sense' of space and of the ball, the ball is really your best friend on the field, besides the 10 playing with you.

    The Dutch master, Cruyff put it best really

    "When you play a match, it is statistically proven that players actually have the ball 3 minutes on average. The best players – the Zidanes, Ronaldinhos, Gerrards – will have the ball maybe 4 minutes. Lesser players – defenders – probably 2 minutes. So, the most important thing is: what do you do those 87 minutes when you do not have the ball…. That is what determines wether you’re a good player or not."

    'Nuff said I guess;)
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