The “obligation” of positions and winning in Youth development

by Filipe Teles (Soccer HUB Content Specialist)

Very often I hear parents saying that “my son is amazing striker”, “my son is like a defensive wall”, and that makes me think about some mistakes that some coaches may be doing. At grassroots development ages until 11/12 the kids are like sponges absorbing everything that somebody tries to teach them. For the same reason at this ages in school, they started to learn different languages and new concepts, because their brains are 90-95% developed already.

The cognitive period of operational thoughts is very important on the development from the players. At this stage they stop think about them and start understanding the world around them, thinking more as a teammate. This is the perfect age for them to start understanding the positions/rules in the game according with Piaget Theory.

Should we limited a player of this age group to one position only in the field? In my opinion, NO, if we do we are only “closing down” the limits of the development. I personally like to have my players doing all the positions (between this ages) for them to understand the game and reality of all them in the game.

Same examples of players that they were “forced” into play in one position, and after they became better in a different.

  • Gareth Bale – was a full back after he became Striker/winger.
  • Thierry Henry – was a striker, after Wenger made him a winger.
  • Kompany – was a Defensive midfielder, now is a Central Back.
  • Toni Kronos – was Attacking midfielder and winger, now is Defensive Midfielder.
  • Pirlo – was a #10, finished his carrier as #6.

Just some few examples of players that after some years and some experiences got adapted to play in a different rule in the field. We all know histories like Rui Patrício (Portugal National Team Goalkeeper) that started to play as striker, but by 11 years old the coach was “forced” to put him in the net, and now is a World Class Goalkeeper. This changes are only possible after some experiences and rotation. I can’t understand why I coach can say that certain player (at 8 or 10 years old) will be a great defender/striker. Did he tried him in different positions? The kids all develop in different ways, and time. Some players grow up early, same late, some understand faster, some slower, some can be considered teenagers by 11, some only by 14.

When I see I coach using one player in only one position, that shows me two things.

– The coach is not thinking on the Long Term Player Development, he’s not allowing the player to absorb as much information as possible about the other positions/rules in the field.

– The coach is just interested in win the game. Winning games are important, but development is way more important. Victories at this ages are “Ego Massages” to the coaches and some parents. The most important thing should be How did the players did? What did they learn on the today’s game? What do we need to work during the week?

Everybody likes to win, but the process is more satisfying than the victory. If the coach work properly the players and the processes, the results will show up naturally.


  • You made some good points.Players should play a variety of positions throughout their development
    However, we must also keep in mind player’s characteristics (TECHNICAL,PHYSICAL,COGNITIVE AND MENTAL ) and put them in positions on the field where they can express themself at their best.
    An 11 or 12 years old player with speed and dribbling abilities should, maybe play in wide areas rather than centrally.
    Coaches need to train players positionally in the game format they play introducing general roles and responsibility so that they can learn how the game is played and how to play within a team.
    However they should have the opportunity to try different positions based on the above concepts.

    • Filipe Oliveira
      May 31, 2018

      Totally agree with you, after 12’s… Until them, use rotation on the team, that will help them in the development.

  • Mark Woodhouse
    December 6, 2019

    Solely long term gains for me, everything else is just a quick fix at which point you are managing not developing.
    100% agree Felipe, I think maintaining a positive environment and maximising experiences is paramount for long term gains, especially from a reverse psychology perspective enhanced by physical experience.

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