Website Manager

Proud member of the United States Youth Futsal Association

Developing Resilient, Skilled, Intelligent, Young Soccer Players Through Futsal

Player Development Articles

Juggling Journey -  Summary of Key Points:

 I believe juggling a soccer ball is one of the best ways to improve a player’s touch and timing. It is also a lifelong skill that is fun in group settings or individually once the player has a solid baseline. These articles were written based on my personal experience with learning this skill. However, I believe the findings would apply to any physical skill training.

1.       Training for 15-30 minutes on a single skill once or twice a week appears to yield better improvement than training more frequently and for 10min or less. (By single skill, I mean one surface or technique. In this case it was juggling with the top of the foot.)
2.       Progress from training does not occur in a linear fashion: performance can appear to be flat or declining for long periods before there is a significant improvement.
3.       The lack of linear improvement can be demotivating; especially for young players and cause them to stop trying if left on their own.
4.       It may be necessary therefore to implement a regular training period on a particular skill like juggling, to help young players achieve a successful baseline. This will probably be true of other physical skills as well. Setting aside 15min before the start of regular practice is one effective way to accomplish this. 
5.       It is easier to spot improvement trends if results are tracked and analyzed using more than one measure: High Score, Average,  or Sum of Achievements, etc. Documentation can be made easier by setting minimum attainment thresholds for recording purposes.

To implement the above ideas, I had my U11B players arrive 15min prior to normal practice just to work on foot juggling.  1st 5min were seated, and the remaining 10 were standing. I gave them little challenges while they practiced to keep it fun. They have all made excellent progress this season.

The two articles below contain charts and graphs that help support the above statements.


One Coach’s Juggling Journey-Part 1

I know of no better way for a youth soccer player to improve their touch and timing on the ball than by developing their juggling skills.  It has been an emphasis in my training program warm ups and activities for the past 12 years and I have always encouraged my players to practice on their own at home.  I have incorporated various means to make it both rewarding and fun. However, I was still not satisfied with the results. I was continually looking for ways to increase the rate of progress and percentage of players who master juggling. 

I had just turned 60 in August of 2014, when I decided to immerse myself in the “learning to juggle” experience to better understand and anticipate the challenges my own players would face. In the process, I not only improved my juggling but gained insight into what that learning path looks like and how I might improve the success rate of my players.  This article isn’t about juggling techniques or even juggling training methods per se, it’s more about the process of learning itself. I will share some observations but do not claim to have all the answers. If anything, I have more questions now than when I started. The purpose of this article is to offer players an understanding of what to expect when attempting to learn a new skill and enhance the guidance we provide them as coaches.

I have been coaching youth soccer for about 24 years.  I have a US Soccer “D” license, a National Youth License, and a Level 3 Futsal Coaching Certificate from US Youth Futsal. I primarily work with 6-12yr old players at both Academy and Recreational levels.  One of my goals as a youth coach is to get players to fall in love with the game. I subscribe to the philosophy that we tend to fall in love with the things we are good at. So, by extension I want to help my players get good at the skills required by the game and hence the emphasis on juggling.

METHOD & PROCEDURE

I chose alternating foot juggling for this exercise because it encourages development of both feet and resetting the foot properly between juggles.  (I also chose it because I wasn’t very good at it) I used the same process throughout the first year: 1.) I always started every attempt from a bounce. (I didn’t want mistakes from pick-up attempts to skew the results). 2.) All of my juggling was done barefoot since I encourage my players to train that way. 3.) I always practiced in the same area (kitchen) and with the same ball properly inflated for consistency.  (Again, I wanted a consistent environment but was fortunate never to have broken anything and would not recommend this with kids!). 4.) I documented every single attempt and organized them in 5min periods (Figure 1). (I used the 5min periods to see if there was a sweet spot in terms of training progress).  5.) All attempts were recorded in the 5min block of time they were started in. (Ex. An attempt started at 4min 50sec, would be recorded in the 0-5min category regardless of when it ended) 6.) I tracked the high score and the average of all scores (Figure 2). 

I set an initial goal of 30min practice per day, but changed it after realizing how much my performance dropped off after 20min. (As my stamina and skill improved,  I increased my time per session by 5min increments as the charts will show.)

I engaged my U10 girls’ team about 1 month after I started. I wanted to track their progress using the same method for comparison but based on a 15min per day cycle because of their age (Figure 3).  The goal of the exercise was to document how quickly a player could improve through regular daily practice and provide a benchmark for other players to follow.

Figure 1: Results from all attempts in 3rd 5min period, Days 5-15 (elapsed calendar days from start, not the actual days of training) 


 Figure 2: Average per 5min periods, overall average for 20 min period and highest score, Days 5-15.


Figure 3: Average and High Score for 15min period U10G player


OBSERVATIONS

After 1 month, I had my first insights: First, daily practice wasn’t clearly producing better results than practices where there were gaps between the training; (sometimes the improvement after gaps was better. Compare the results in Figure 4).  Checks of the players’ results were similar despite the age difference. This makes sense when you consider that both muscles and memory improve through the use of periodic or spaced training. (It also can improve compliance if the players don’t have to devote every day to it.) Thereafter, I instructed my players to spread their home practices with 1-2 days off between sessions. 

Figure 4: Comparison of 4 sequential training sessions


Second, high scores alone could be a frustrating measure of progress. After achieving a new high score, I would often go weeks before achieving that score again. In fact, it would sometimes feel like I was going backwards. In Figure 5, you can see an example by comparing the results on days 28, 29, and 31. Then consider that there were 16 days equaling 10 training sessions before I was able to do as well or better than my high score again. (Note after the 1st month I increased my training session time by another 5 min but continued to track the 20min average as well as the new average for comparison. I did the same with each increase in time.) This suggests that progress isn’t just based on the hours of practice you put in, even when it is a “deep practice”. More importantly, a young player experiencing this type of set back or lack of progress, could easily grow frustrated enough to stop trying. Even when I was struggling to achieve a new high score, I could still see improvement in the averages which helped to keep me going (Figures 4, 7.)

Figure 5: Example of time between high scores


Learning a new skill such as juggling is an up and down process with progress not always obvious or linear. Consider days 241-269 in Figure 6 below vs. the overall trend for the Max score.

Figure 6: Progress viewed graphically


Third, as shown in Figure 7, there were times of significant performance drops, sometimes associated with longer training gaps between training sessions, but not always. I had no independent way of analyzing why my performance occasionally dropped so precipitously. I suspected the following as potential causes: overall fatigue, low blood sugar, pinched back nerve, stress, distractions, and changes in my technique. (Note to evaluators: It’s clear that not all days are equal, when it comes to evaluating performance.)

Figure 7: Significant performance drops


My fourth observation was that the 1st 5 min of each practice were generally the lowest performance period of the whole session. You can see this example in Figs 7 above.  I began to think of this as a necessary warm-up period but almost a throwaway when it came to tracking improvement. In addition, there were only a handful of instances where my performance was best in the 5min-10min period. It suggested to me that I needed to encourage my players to devote a minimum of 15min per session practicing a specific skill if they wanted to achieve & see meaningful improvement.  The results in the other 5 min periods varied significantly from session to session, with each one sometimes being my best as shown in Figure 7.

Fifth, as my performance improved, so did my rate. It took me 42 training sessions to break 50, 33 to break 100, 20 to break 150, and 7 to break 200. The increasing rate of success builds its own momentum, so helping players push through the first levels of achievement could be a key to their long term mastery.

Finally, although I had the players maintain their logs while training with me, getting them to do it outside of training remained an issue. The most common reason they gave was conflicts with other activities, school, etc. However, those who had the most success and early improvement continued to make good progress.   

CONCLUSIONS

In summary, I recorded this information to assist my players in setting appropriate expectations for how long it might take them to master the art of alternating foot juggling.  I believed this knowledge would translate to the other types of juggling and ball skills they were working on. I also hoped that it would help me as a coach provide better guidance on how often and for how long they should work on this skill at home. It was definitely helpful to relive the process of learning as an adult and it has made me more empathetic as a Coach. I share this information in the hopes it may benefit others. It also helped me become a much better juggler. Over the course of 111 different training sessions throughout the year, I improved from an average of 3 and a High of 9 to an average of 57 and a high of 230. (Proving that you can teach an old dog new tricks!)  As mentioned earlier, I have many questions still to be answered, such as what is the ideal gap between sessions. What is the impact of splitting session time in a day? Is there an ideal time of day to train to maximize learning? If you are having a down day performance wise, should you continue to practice or stop and come back? Can the factors that cause the big drops in performance be identified, tested for, or mitigated? What additional steps can be taken to encourage younger players to spend more time juggling?

More research and more data wil be needed to verify the conclusions above and to provide the answers to the questions listed. Hopefully all of this wil lead to improvements in our understanding of the learning process.  

For those of you like me who want to see the data, I am attaching a link to the complete tracking spreadsheet: Complete Spreadsheet

Cheers,

Paul Roderique
Director, TrueFutsal
Southeast Regional Director US Youth Futsal

Special thanks to the following players from my U10G Barefoot Academy Team who assisted me by recording their data and working to improve their juggling: Bella, Emma, Jeanette, Jolie,  Liesel, Lyric, Peyton, Samy, and Skylar. 


Copyright 2016 Truefutsal

One Coach’s Juggling Journey-Part 2

When I first began to track my juggling practice efforts, getting to a high score of 100 was my BHAG (stretch goal!) By the time I approached that objective though, I had realized that getting a high score of 100 was not the same as being able to juggle 100 times whenever I wanted. Looking at the data, I was surprised by the wide variability in performance among my individual attempts. (See Figure 8 below.)  I was bothered by this lack of consistency in spite of the overall high score and improvement.

Figure 8: Selection of consecutive individual attempts 


I therefore began to explore some alternative options for measuring progress.  I wanted to come up with a simpler documentation method for the players.  I also wanted to place more focus on consistent performance.

I settled on the following method: Assign a target that would be a stretch goal. Document the exact score only when it meets or exceeds the goal (Figure 9).  Keep track of the number of times the target is exceeded, the high score, and the sum of all recorded successes (Figure 10). (I later noted that the two most meaningful numbers were the sum of the total scores recorded and the high score.) The total amount of time spent juggling would remain the same. The advantage was in spending less time recording results and fewer numbers to track.

In Figure 9 & 10 below you can see my initial results. (I set my goal at 50 based upon my prior average.)

Figure 9: My initial performance results. (Note: I started tracking the actual date and day of week for each session in 2015. Now the Day represents the number of the session, whereas, it used to be an elapsed time measure)


Figure 10: Summary of above results.


Figure 11 below shows the summary of results under the old system for my last 3 sessions. For comparison purposes, Day 359 was 8/26/2015. My best performance using the new metrics was 11 attempts “> 50” with a sum of 1269 and a high score of 230 on day 344.

Figure 11. Final 3 Summary of Results under old system.


I was in the process of changing jobs and relocating, so my training frequency and performance suffered at first. I am now at Day 44 as you can see in Figures 12 & 13 below. I have highlighted the cells in Figure 12 that represent new high scores for me in each of those categories.

Figure 12. Attempts greater than 50


Figure 13. Summary of above results


OBSERVATIONS

First, the new system definitely made tracking my progress simpler. Recording the Sum also gave me a useful metric besides my High Score to track improvement. You can see in Figure 14 below an example of where the Sum shows progress and the High Score does not. (Why have the extra metric for progress? It’s human nature to keep doing things we are getting better at.) Recording the # of attempts greater than 50 was not really necessary since it tended to track with the Sum.

Figure 14
 

Second, my year-to-date training frequency has been well below year 1, but I have continued to make improvements in my performance. As long as I did not let more than 1 week elapse between training, I would usually be okay. If the gap was more than a week, my performance would typically drop and I would have to work my way back up. I am not sure if once a week would have been sufficient all along or whether it is only now adequate because my baseline is higher.

Third, having a target threshold definitely made a difference in the early going. Initially, I would start to panic as I got close to the target (Nothing is more frustrating than making a mistake at 49 juggles and not getting to score it as a result!) That panic quickly turned to focus though and I started to have more frequent success. Regardless, it is difficult to determine the true impact of this method on consistency. There is still significant variability among my various attempts. I had initially intended to adjust the minimum recording threshold upward on a regular basis, but held off for consistency purposes. I believe regularly adjusting the target would be the next logical step.

CONCLUSION

As stated earlier, I started this project to increase the rate of progress and percentage of players who master juggling.  I completed my relocation to Virginia in November and then set up my Futsal training program in the winter. So it wasn’t until this Spring that I had the opportunity to put my latest ideas into practice. I was asked to coach a U11 Boys soccer team at Central Virginia United in February. I met with the parents and explained to them the importance of juggling to their child’s development. I requested their cooperation in having their boys at the field 15min prior to our scheduled practice time. (This was to overcome the inconsistency of players training at home.) My basic assumption was as follows: if I could get the boys to train 15min consistently, several times a week, just juggling with their feet, they would see enough progress by the end of the season to motivate them to continue on their own. Also, I believed that focusing the skill on just the feet, rather than juggling with any surface, would generate more improvement in the timeframe we had to work with.

The plan was as follows:

1.      Train for 15 min prior to normal practice on Mon and Wed and 10min prior to our games
2.       5 min of seated juggling to work on proper technique of locking the ankles and small touches.
3.       10 min standing foot juggling
4.       Players were encouraged to work on both feet, although an alternating foot pattern was not required.
5.       To keep the activity interesting, I would give them a variety of basic challenges: 3 on one foot followed by two on the other, two low juggles followed by one high, etc.
6.       I also introduced various pick up methods and stalls
7.       If a player arrived late to training, they could not join the rest of the team until they had completed their 15min of juggling activities on the side.

It has been about 10 weeks since I started this practice. In our initial training session not one of the players could get more than 10 juggles with their feet. Fortunately, CVU has a program of recognizing U9-U14 players on their web-site and Facebook page when they complete the following levels of foot only juggling: 25, 50, 100, 250, 500. Three of my players recently achieved the 1st level of recognition and several others are very close. Two of the 1st 3 are actively working on their own, to attain the 2nd level (which is exactly what I hoped would happen.) It’s my goal to eventually get every one of my players to the 1st level. Regardless, the benefits can already be seen on the field in their improved control.

If you are a coach, I hope this information will assist you in improving your own players’ performance. If you are a player, I hope you will be inspired to master this skill on your own. Finally, if you are a parent, I hope this information will give you a tool to guide your child through the ups and downs of developing their own skills.

Cheers,

Paul Roderique
Director, TrueFutsal
Southeast Regional Director US Youth Futsal

Special thanks to my CVU U11B players for devoting the extra time this Spring to work on improving their juggling: Brady, Caleb, Christian, Collin, Felix, Jared, Logan, Mack, Noah, Nick, Riley, Travis, and Tristan. 

Also want to acknowledge the assistance provided by Coach Mary Rea throughout this project. 


Copyright 2016 Truefutsal

Conditioning Articles

Click on this link to read a comprehensive set of articles by Jacky Anderson on Soccer Training and Conditioning https://www.sport-fitness-advisor.com/soccertraining.html
Copyright © 2020 TrueFutsal  |  Privacy Statement |  Terms Of Use |  License Agreement |  Children's Privacy Policy  Login