Coaching with Richard Alagich

Development phases in a football program

Richard Alagich

Richard gained his qualifications as a specialist football Coach from the University of Zagreb, Croatia.
He has authored five youth development books, endorsed worldwide by members of the FIFA Technical Committee.

A common question that I always get asked in youth development is at what age should football specialisation start?

My attitude is that football can be played at any age but specialised systematic coaching should start around the age of 9 to 10 years. At this age the psychomotor and intellectual functions are well balanced.

In other words the players are physically and mentally well balanced to start learning the technical-tactical elements of the game in a structured systematic development program.

I say that it is around the age of 9 to 10 years simply because there are biological differences between players even though they are of the same calendar age. For example, in a junior team, you will always have players that look older and behave much older than others even though they are of the same calendar age.

This is why there is no definite age when to start on the development program, just around 9 to 10 years. (This period of 9 to 10 years does not necessary apply to other sports.)

It takes almost a decade to develop a player so coaches should be patient with the development process and not try to ‘feed’ too much information in too short a time.

They should get away from the winning emphasis, where concentration is on tactical and physical development, and spend more time in the early phases of creating a solid working base with technical development.

In understanding this it is necessary for the coach to plan and execute structured coaching sessions with movements the player will experience in the game.

This modern tendency is called situational coaching.

My football development program is made up of 6 levels or 3 phases:
Level 1:                  5 to 8 years   – fun phase
Levels 2 and 3:      9 to 12 years – technical phase
Level 4, 5 and 6:   13 to 18 years – tactical – physical phase

First phase of development – fun phase

Level 1: 5 to 8 years
As mentioned the “ripe” age to start with systematic coaching is around the age of 9 to 10 years. Many will no doubt agree with this but will then ask the question – what do we do with players that have yet to reach this ripe age? If these youngsters want to play football then we should let them play.

At this level children should be encouraged to play football without the pressures of  winning and of being an instant success.

This is their fun period; training and playing should be for fun, with the competition being small sided and informal.
Small sided simply because there is more touch of the ball, less distance to cover between the two goals and all players are able to defend and attack over the small playing space. With informal competitions we get away from the pressures of winning.

What the players experience with small-sided games and informal competitions is fun and total freedom of expression. This is what the players enjoy most.

  • During this phase the bones are not fully developed, the muscles are growing in volume but are not firmly attached to the bones.
  • The players at this level have creative thinking and are courageous to attempt various physical movements, which is ideal for the introduction of basic elements in gymnastics.
  • During this phase they show a great deal of interest in playing football but their emotions and concentration span are very limited.
  • It has to be understood that players at this early age are not motivated to learn the repetitious technical elements of the game, have limited concentration spans and are very easily distracted.
  • During this phase I have the 5 and 6 year olds playing 3v3 – 4v4 while the 7 and 8 years play 5v5 – 6v6.

However the number of players, during this phase of development, will be determined by the National Coaching Scheme or your  local association. ( See the FFA National Curriculum)


PDF 60 minute structured coaching session Level 1 – 05 to 08 yrs – Session 03

PDF 70 minute structured coaching session Level 2 – 09 to 10 yrs – Session 03