Coaching young soccer players has its unique challenges, and one of them is getting players to accept playing a position new to them.
Some players will embrace it, others will resist. Others still will shut down completely.
“I don’t know how to play there,” they say. In reality, other than positioning, there is nothing new they need to know. They just need to be a soccer player. No matter what position they are playing, the skills they need don’t change.
If you have a player that’s panicking about a move to, say, defender, or center midfield, you might want them to see what Crystal Dunn has to say about it.
An attacking player in youth soccer, Dunn was asked to play defender at the University of North Carolina in her freshman year. She did it and was named the Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year. All she did was try her best and use the skills she already had.
She played defender, outside midfield and forward with the Washington Spirit of the NWSL and the U.S. national team.
“When I speak to young players, I tell them whatever position you think you are going to play, there is a really good chance that you will be playing a different position at some time in your career,” said Dunn who recently signed to play with Chelsea in the English Women’s Super League. “The sooner they get that in their heads, the better it will be for them. It won’t be so much of a shock.
“I think what keeps me as sane as I can possibly be is just keeping the basics of the game the same. It’s always about your first touch. It’s about preparing yourself for the ball. It’s about creating space on your own. It’s about being able to receive the ball, and turn and face and play a good pass. The basics of the game are still there.”
Dunn viewed any position she played as an opportunity to learn and feels she has gained an advantage from the knowledge she acquired.
“The benefit is that you get to work with so many different parts of the game, things you didn’t think you had in you,” she said. “Playing different positions has allowed me to see the game from so many different perspectives.
“For example, I understand exactly what I would want the attacker to do if I was defending her. I understand what is easy to mark. If there’s a forward standing on the back line, I’m thinking, ‘Great, I can stand here all day with her. But if she is active, it’s more difficult. And when I am playing forward I can use that to know what it takes to get behind a defender and what makes it hard for a defender. If I’m playing outside mid, I know exactly what my positioning needs to be to help my outside back, because I played that position.”
So next time a player tells you they don’t know how to play a position, just give them the basics and tell them to be a soccer player and learn from it.