Tommy Sermanni is current coach of Orlando Pride in the NWSL. He has previously coached the Australian Womens National Team to the 1/4 Finals of the FIFA Womens World Cup as well as asst. coach of the Canadian Womens National Team in the FIFA World Cup and also coached the USA Womens National Team. Tommy has coached in the mens & womens professional game in Australia, USA, Japan, Canada, Malaysia & New Zealand. He has coached over 300 international national team games in his successful career and hundreds of world class womens soccer players. He serves as an advisor for Soccerbook Consulting and on the Advisory Board of PSV Union FC.
Q: Do you believe in fixed systems of play for youth players? No. I believe in teaching the game first. Young players need to be able to play and understand the principles of the game. This means that they need to understand the game first which means the ability to be able to be flexible as they develop technically. Later when the game becomes more structured they can adapt and be able to play in a variety of ways. As an example- most of the kids who play on the USA team now started out as midfielders or strikers and moved to the back. This is why small sided play is encouraged as players can all feel as though they can score and defend. They end up playing in every position and gain a better understanding of movement.
Q: At what age should players start to nail down a position? At approximately 13 years of age players should start to become more structured. However, players at this age should still be flexible. There are always exceptions as some players will be drawn to defending or attacking as their natural instinct comes out on the field. However there are many players who may take some years before they settle into a specific position. This again emphasizes why it's important to teach players technical and game skills at a young age, as opposed to stressing positional priorities.
Q: How important is it for players to be able to make up their own mind where they want to play? At some point you need to be practical. Maybe others are better than you at the position you want to play and maybe where you want to play is not always where you are best at playing. It might also depend on who is playing around you. This is why allowing younger players to express themselves is good for their development.
Q: At what ages should players start to play on larger fields? Generally, at 12-13 you want to get into 11 v 11 fields but it should be an incremental phase in approach as most fields are too big for young players. Keeping the field on a smaller size wont allow athletes to dominate and run away from others and it allows more players to get involved.
Q: You had a 25 yard line in Australia that you required elite players/teams to use when paying out of the back. What was the purpose of this? The purpose was to enable and encourage team's to play out from the back. We did this at our U12, 13 and 14 National Championships (this is where the State select teams get together once a year to play against each other). We put down a line of cones 25yds from goal. When the GK had possession the defending team had to stay behind this line until the GK had played the ball to one of her team-mates. This gave the team in possession a better chance to build out from the back.
Q: Do you think that players younger than, say, 10 years of age, should be punting the ball. No. Not aimlessly as it can harm more than help. If a GK punts the ball because the opposition is on top of them, then thats ok once in a while as it makes sense. However at the younger age you want players to focus on developing skills such as dribbling and passing.
Q: Would the same apply to long free kicks and corner kicks? Most players of this age can't effectively play the ball over a long distance. If you have a player that can then it can be effective and help you win games. However the emphasis should still be to develop players to 'play' as opposed to attempt to aimlessly punt a 'long ball' into a melee of players. .
Q: Converseley- should teams be looking to always play out of the back? Generally but not always. Look to do it but not just to play without thinking.
Q: There is a growing trend in youth football to 'force' players to play through the lines and not look to play it 'long'- How much flexibility do you allow players to decide for themselves and break the mold? It depends how capable players are. Can they pick out a teammate with a deliberate pass? There is nothing wrong with playing a long pass. This is different than just aimlessly punting the ball. As long as there is a purpose and skill set being applied a long pass, especially forward, is a positive attribute..
Q: Do you think that leagues and cups and more games make better players? Some ague that promotion-relegation creates competitive players while others don't keep standings or record scores. Promotion and relegation does not help develop players because winning and losing becomes the most important factor and it puts the wrong pressure on players, coaches and clubs. Let me emphasize that there is nothing wrong with winning. However at youth level it's important that the emphasis is more weighted towards development and not towards winning. For example the player who can kick the ball high and long in a younger team (say U'9-14) will have a significant advantage over the other players and this can greatly influence results. However by the time you reach 16 every player can do that so your previous advantage becomes redundant. Therefore by the time you're 16, if the only skill set you've developed is to kick the ball long and high then you will very quickly become an ineffective player.
Q; What are your thoughts on small sided game options?
All are important for player to play in tight crowded areas. The question is 'How they are told to play in those areas?'. If everyone is kicking each other its not good. Players need to be encouraged to dribble, pass and be creative on whatever surface...futsal or courts or grass etc. They are all good and not one of them is a single solution.
Q: what about 1 v 1? Very very important! It encourages attacking, defending and competition.
Q: Why do you think clubs often select the athletes at the youngest age groups. They win more games! The athletic differences are more extreme at a younger age therefore the better athletes are by default better and more effective players. However if you only depend on athleticism you're doing an injustice to both those athletically developed youngsters as they don't develop the other skill sets required when the athletic inequalities level off. Equally if you overlook the talented but under developed athletes then you can miss out on future talented players.
Q: Is an athlete at 8 going to be an athlete at 16?
Not necessarily. Players grow differently physically, emotionally. Generally by the time they get to 16 the physical differences have become closer. So players tactical and technical qualities take on greater significance, so the 'athlete' with less skills will get left behind. Cognitive and technical development takes time so sometimes the smaller and 'weaker' players catch up and overtake the natural athletes who have not put time into their game. This is why is very important to develop technical and game skills in all players.
Q: Its often seen that organizations throw away the old for the new? They seem to come and go but there isnt too much 'new' in football is there? In what way have all of these 'methods' and 'systems' changed football other than more structure and improved fitness. Has it helped create better, more creative footballers? There is more access to knowledge, information and resources today compared to before (tv, internet, news etc). Players are in organized clubs at younger age which has in general resulted in player improvement and understanding. However this emphasis on formal coaching and organization has in some ways diminished the opportunities for young players to explore and learn and play informally- When everything is structured you can take away innovation and creativity. I think it's important for young players to have time to 'just play' without coach interference.
Q: How can coaches or clubs encourage creativity
Let them play! allow kids to play after practice or encourage they play at home or with friends...
Q: What type of supplementary training/practice would you suggest players/coaches do?
Anything that improves touches on ball and gives them a challenge. Things such as soccer tennis, playing other games/sports to improve general coordination, playing against a wall, juggling; dribbling through cones. practicing moves. watching games, playing 'up' vs older and better players'; against boys etc.