It always worries me when a 9 or 10 year old player tells me they are a full back – by no means am I demeaning full back as a position, but why would a young player that is being developed skilfully and has their whole career in front of them limit themselves to a specific position so early on?
I often watch English Premier League matches and find myself wondering………..Could a player like John Terry go and play comfortably and cleverly in midfield? Could a Micah Richards type player fill in as a right winger? Yet when watching Spain, Barcelona or the Brazil teams of a few years back I never questioned whether Dani Alves or Cafu could play higher up the field or whether Pique or Lucio could fit comfortably into midfield. Why is this?……..because first and foremost they were developed as great players not positions!
Are we concentrating too much on developing players to play certain positions or roles? At young ages are we too transfixed with the stereo typical criteria of positions – big tall centre back – pacey winger – workhorse midfielder? Players, and in particular young players should be developing the skill and understanding of the game style to go and play in any area of the field. By forcing players into specific positions too early they end up only developing very narrow skill sets and understanding, that is restricted to certain roles.
How often do players convert to new positions early in their senior career, Carlos Puyol – winger to centre back, Thierry Henry – winger to striker and Gerard Pique – central midfielder to centre back to name but a few. All of these players were able to make these conversions because their skill level and understanding was sufficient enough to cope with the demands of the game not just the demands of a position. It is very hard to tell at 12 years of age what positions a player will be playing at 25 years of age, so why try and make that decision so early?
Aside from the pitfalls of pigeon holing young players into positions too early there is also the limitations it can place on the game style at senior level. Skilful and Total football involving rotations and overloads requires players to cover and “fill in” a variety of different positions. How can your centre back get into midfield if your centre midfielder is not comfortable filling in for him? How can your centre forward drop and rotate back into midfield if your central midfielder cannot go and play up front for a spell? Why get your full back over lapping if they don`t have the skill and cleverness to be effective higher up the field? Great teams are made of great players that cope with the demands of the game in all areas of the field.
I believe our challenge as coaches is to equip players with the skill and awareness to be great all round players not specialists, to give players an understanding of the whole game style so they are able to play skilfully and cleverly regardless of where they find themselves on the pitch.