Beginning puberty early has interesting consequences as far as a player’s soccer development.
The immediate thought that comes to mind is a positive one. These players will have a physical advantage, and if they have at least average skill, they become dominant in their age group. There’s a lot of good things that come along with that. Here’s a list:
- Their dominance gets recognized, so they are “on the map” at an early age.
- Potential call into ODP or National player pools.
- Highly sought after by the “top teams” in the age group.
- Confidence builder.
- Player enjoys the sport more since he’s “good” at it. Hence, he’ll stick with it.
What many people might not realize, is that there may exist a very real threat to a players long term development. There are two main issues that you should be aware of.
The obvious one is complacency. The player will enjoy this advantage perhaps until he reaches the U-18 age group. By then, everyone else will pretty much have caught up physically, and if the player has not been working on his game over the years, he will no longer have an edge and will fall into mediocrity. All of a sudden he can’t just run by people, muscle them off the ball, or have a much stronger shot than the rest. Additionally, he never had to come up with, or master, alternative ways to dribble or defend. Which leads me to the second issue.
Let’s look at the picture from the “little guy’s” perspective. The little guy, whose body matures later, initially has that as a disadvantage. He has to learn how to cope with the bigger, stronger, faster opponent. As a result, he is obligated to quickly develop another compartment in his offensive and defensive game, while his larger counterpart doesn’t. For example, he has to be more elusive (body fakes), and he must have the ball glued to his foot while dribbling. In general, he is also forced to develop an overall smarter game. This pays huge dividends down the road when he finally catches up physically. All of a sudden, life is so much easier and he ends up being the dominant player with his technical and mental edge.
If not careful, by the time the U-18 age group or college is reached, the roles will be reversed. The original scrappy little guy will end up being the dominant one, enjoy all the nice things listed above, and perhaps make it to the highest levels of the sport.
If you have a child that is dominating – perhaps in large part due to physical size – you might want to consider having him play up a year or two. At the very least, let him know that he has not “made it” yet, and that he must continue to improve.
Please keep these things in mind! Try to focus not on size, but elite potential.
Never, never stop working on your game! No matter how dominant you think you are, there are others out there working day and night trying to get better. Pretty soon, you may find yourself looking back at your long gone glory days wondering what happened.