Do you remember what playing competitive sports was like when you were a child? Let me give you the overview. No matter what sport or organization, every age group had one team. You either made the team or went to play for a different organization. This approach was common practice for a long time, and many organizations still use this model (or an adapted version of this model). While there are some positives such as team camaraderie, there are to many negatives to make it successful. The main negative is that if you only have one team then how are you going to keep adding to the talent pool if you have no place for players to improve?
The most effective way to address the problem of development is by implementing a tiered structure for your organization. What this means is that players are placed on teams based on their current skill. For example, your best players would all be on the “A” team, while your next strongest group would be on your “B” team.
Let’s look at a club like Real Madrid for example. Real Madrid’s youth academy is commonly referred to as “La Fabrica” or “The Factory.” They have six different tiers within their academy starting with Prebenjamin, Benjamin, Alevin, Infantil, Cadete, and Juventil. Within each of theses tiers there are A and B teams. In certain tiers there are also C teams. Youth players must aspire to progress up the ladder if they wish to make an appearance for the first team. Real Madrid has even gone so far as to design their training center, Valdebebas, so that players must literally raise their level to get onto the next level of playing field.
The first team trains on the highest field so you must climb the steps in order to get there.
Developmentally this allows the coaches to place each player in a situation where they are going to be challenged. For example if a player on the Cadete A team is doing well the coaches can make him simply climb the steps to the next pitch to train with the Juventil C squad. This same format can be repeated at any age. What is important is making sure players are challenged at all times and are able to grow in experience and confidence. With such a set up players are able to stay with one club for an extended period of time.
This structure translates to all sports and all competitive clubs. The main issue that most organizations will need to focus on is that the result of the teams is not what is important. What is most important is the development of each player individually. That is a hard concept for many people to grasp. Coaches ego’s need to come from looking at how many players they develop to reach the next level of the game, not how many wins and losses each team has. If a coach is doing their job properly then their team will eventually start winning because they have been taught the correct technical skills and tactical awareness.