Positional specialization a must?

Discussion in 'Youth & HS Soccer' started by CornfieldSoccer, Dec 9, 2019.

  1. CornfieldSoccer

    Aug 22, 2013
    Question for those who've been farther down this road than our family has. How beneficial/important is it for a player to lock into a position by the time they're in early high school?

    My 2005 son moved to left fullback at about age 11 and thrived there until he entered high school (I started a thread about the wisdom of that move at the time), then was moved this fall as a freshman to a central midfield position (sort of an 8/10 hybrid, more attack and possess than than defend, but box to box) on his high school team and did well there and liked it.

    Now he's playing on a club team over the winter that plays in some higher-level competitions, and that coach sees him as a center back. In the spring, if my son goes back to his main club, he'll likely again be a left fullback, followed I assume by moving back into central midfield when high school practices begin next summer.

    He's made the latest move without too much complaining, but I think he feels a little whiplash. Does it hurt him as a player to keep cycling around? And does it hurt college-soccer ambitions (he's a nice player, not not anything like a DA-level or high-level DI college player)?
     
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  2. mwulf67

    mwulf67 Member+

    Sep 24, 2014
    Club:
    Chelsea FC
    A nice versatile player is > a nice fixed position player…versatility may never be a key factor when comes to getting recruited, but like grades, attitude, playing other sports, etc, I got think it’s a positive check-mark…not that my opinion means much and it’s probably a bit extreme and difficult to actually pull off, but I believe no one should lock into a position until they have reached the highest level they strive for…”locking in” limits growth/development imo…Locking in players to positions is done more for team management ,then player development...once again, imho...
     
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  3. sam_gordon

    sam_gordon Member

    Feb 27, 2017
    My son is now U17, he's basically played CB since U11. He played about 1/2 a season of MS at F or CAM.

    The pros:
    * He can read the field well
    * He's a solid CB. While there are times he makes mistakes, I think overall he's better than someone who spends limited time there.
    * He'll communicate (for the most part) to his teammates.

    The cons:
    * While he might know the bare basics of other positions, the depth of his knowledge is fairly shallow.

    We're starting the "pre college" looks now. I don't know how having him pigeon holed for the last 5-6 years will affect that.

    If I had to guess, being versatile is better than locked in, but I don't know how much.
     
    bigredfutbol repped this.
  4. pu.ma

    pu.ma Member

    Feb 8, 2018
    I would think colleges recruit by position of need so player needs to be a standout at a particular position.
     
  5. SuperHyperVenom

    United States
    Jan 7, 2019
    I think a lot of players that specialise from 14 have an advantage because they stand out and get the attention of college coaches. However, excluding GK's it's probably better for long-term development to not specialise.

    I've heard college coaches recruit players not positions. And this was our experience when my daughter was recruited.

    I wonder if this is the same for professional coaches.
     
  6. mwulf67

    mwulf67 Member+

    Sep 24, 2014
    Club:
    Chelsea FC
    Not to split hairs or be argumentative, but can’t one be a standout at a particular position and still be versatile? …you’re not suggesting that “standing out” positionally and being versatile are mutually exclusive?
     
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  7. bigredfutbol

    bigredfutbol Moderator
    Staff Member

    Sep 5, 2000
    Woodbridge, VA
    Club:
    DC United
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    I don't have any particular insight or knowledge, but FWIW my son played as a midfielder for both club and HS, got recruited by a Jr. college that gave him a scholarship--and played for two years as an outside back. The team had more midfielders than they needed and the coach really wanted my son on the field, so almost immediately he was converted and that's where he played as a full-time starter.

    His adult-amateur coach plays him as a an attacking midfielder and experimented with him as a forward in a scrimmage vs. a USL side. Not sure what to make of any of that, but being versatile certainly helped his "career" it seems.
     
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  8. mwulf67

    mwulf67 Member+

    Sep 24, 2014
    Club:
    Chelsea FC
    I’ll cop to some personal bias on this subject…my son (U17) plays CB (and has since ~U11) and is not particularly versatile…by most objective accounts, he’s a solid, if not, stand out club player at his position (relatively)…however, when moving to the next level (or the parallel level) of HS soccer, his lack of versatile hurt him…his HS team was already stacked with young, established CBs….other peers, even peers with subjectively less talent, were making the V team and getting playtime, mostly due their versatility to fill holds and needs…

    Not a perfect example, since HS and College very different in terms of not being locked into to a single school…had we been able to shop him around or transfer to a different HS, I have no doubt he could landed a spot on several local HS teams…but in any case, I see versatility as creating more opportunities and options when moving levels….
     
  9. CornfieldSoccer

    Aug 22, 2013
    The winter team my son's on now appears to be made up almost entirely of kids accustomed to playing midfield or forward at their regular clubs or schools. My son has, I think, more defensive experience than most if not all of them. So I assume he's being used there to get him on the field (he's a starter). The CB playing next to him has zero defensive experience, but he's probably the fastest kid on the team and, I assume, the coach wants him out there somewhere.

    All of these observations are interesting. The move from fullback to more central positions has definitely helped my son's field vision. But like someone mentioned above, I'm not sure if that sticks if you move right back to your old, outside position, and moving around leads me to believe that my son will remain what he is now -- a generalist, adequate to pretty good at a broad set of skills, but not exceptional at any of them.

    I would like to hear from coaches on how they look at this -- the question addressed above about whether they tend to recruit for positions, or recruit what they see as the bets players they can get and adjust them. BigRed's son's experience suggests the latter, but could it be a mix?

    I'd like to hear from a panel of coaches on what they really look for, and (this is a pipe dream) I'd really love to watch a game or two with a couple of them and see how they evaluate the players in front of them. A dad can dream, I guess.
     
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  10. Backyard Bombardier

    Manchester United
    United States
    Jun 25, 2019
    I have similar concerns to those voiced above. My daughter (U14) is headed into HS next year with designs on playing lower-level college ball, but has next to zero playing experience anywhere but Left Back. She didn’t get into club-level play until she was almost 12, and her foot skills are below average…really, incomparable to the better ballhandlers on her current teams. She’s not committed enough to close that gap through solo practice, and I am not sure its worth the time and effort to try at this point anyway.

    It is what it is; not everybody can be a striker. She has nabbed the starting LB gig on every team she’s ever played for because she’s left-footed, an exceptional athlete, and never causes any drama. Lunchpail player; just handles her business game after game, never gets scored on.

    Coaches love that when they have it, but I don’t know if that’s something they’ll recruit in lieu of just moving their 5th MF or whatnot to the defensive line. How does one get noticed in such a scenario? :shrug:
     
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  11. pu.ma

    pu.ma Member

    Feb 8, 2018
    Like you, I believe that playing multiple positions is better for development. And I think the OP's son is in a good situation playing three different positions on three different teams. But to showcase one's ability to recruiters, may be better to emphasize the position the player identifies himself with.
     
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  12. bigredfutbol

    bigredfutbol Moderator
    Staff Member

    Sep 5, 2000
    Woodbridge, VA
    Club:
    DC United
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    This is just opinion, mind you--I would agree with @CornfieldSoccer above that it would be best to hear from some coaches. SPECIFICALLY college coaches and/or youth coaches who are good at getting players signed. I'm only speaking from observation, I'm not a coach myself.

    Honestly, if she's athletic and competitive and working out in this position--but not a perfectionist driven to improve her technical skills--and she's driven to play in college, then specialization at LB might be the way to go. Not every college is going to need a fast, hard-working left back who's a good influence in the locker room--but SOMEBODY will. Being left-footed and able to play outside is a nice edge to have. She doesn't need to be much of a dribbler; if she can whip some good crosses in that's likely enough of a skillset for that level.

    If your daughter had dreams of going pro or playing for the national team, you might have some bad news to break to her--but playing college ball is not at all out of the question. Specialization might be the ticket for her.
     
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  13. mwulf67

    mwulf67 Member+

    Sep 24, 2014
    Club:
    Chelsea FC
    Fair point and perhaps true…when putting together videos and when actually playing in front of recruiters (showcases, ID camps), I would be certain to emphasize one’s primary position…
     
    bigredfutbol repped this.
  14. Backyard Bombardier

    Manchester United
    United States
    Jun 25, 2019
    Ha! No, even at age 13 she's too pragmatic for that. She wants to play for her high school (watching the Girls team win the state title two years ago made a big impression on her) then play soccer and/or run track for small college, so she can get her Accounting degree without waiting tables.

    But...so do a million other girls.
     
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  15. mwulf67

    mwulf67 Member+

    Sep 24, 2014
    Club:
    Chelsea FC
    I agree it would be best to hear from some college coaches….their input would be invaluable…although I do fear if you get 5 coaches, you will get 5 different opinions…talent evaluation and team building is so damn subjective…which is both a good thing and a bad thing…

    I am of the optimistic mindset that if a player is at all competitive and solid, and they willing to put in the effort, there is a college team/coach out there for them…competitive and solid is often the easy part; putting in the effort far more difficult…
     
  16. CornfieldSoccer

    Aug 22, 2013
    Not sure how far out into the field this might extend, but I've heard one college coach on the women's side say a fair number of mediocre-to-bad keepers find roster spots and even scholarships in women's soccer because so few players want to play there.

    As the parent of a once-and-future left back, I've heard enough players and parents talk about that spot as if it's the armpit of the team to wonder if what the coach said might apply at LB, too (and I thoroughly disagree with those parents and players and think they might not know soccer quite as well as they think they do -- it's a demanding two-way position on teams that play good soccer).
     
  17. Backyard Bombardier

    Manchester United
    United States
    Jun 25, 2019
    Seems like sound advice, but I think she would rather wait tables than play Keeper, lol.

    I am not knowledgeable enough about the sport to know what the "dreg" positions are either. A previous coach told me that the outside back positions are critical to playing the aggressive styles that are popular around here, but :shrug: . She and the RB never came off the field, and handled all the throw ins, CKs and PKs. Maybe its a backdoor to a college spot tho.
     
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  18. sam_gordon

    sam_gordon Member

    Feb 27, 2017
    I wish there were some retired coaches to come on here and give advice.

    I dont expect active coaches, but it would be nice to get advice from someone recently out of the game.
     
  19. SuperHyperVenom

    United States
    Jan 7, 2019
    There are nuances, patterns, off ball movements, etc specific to each position and if you play in that position consistently for a couple of years you can master those by the time college coaches are looking at you. If you play several positions from 13-17 years old although you may have the same skill/technique level as your teammates the ones who play consistently in the same position look more polished in games.
     
    CornfieldSoccer repped this.
  20. mwulf67

    mwulf67 Member+

    Sep 24, 2014
    Club:
    Chelsea FC
    I agree that polish and nuance at a position can only be achieved though steady/regular/consistent play at said position…However, whether a 100% at one position as opposed to say, 80% at that same position is actually noticeable and observable, I am not so sure about…certainly there would be threshold of playtime involved; clearly 50% wouldn’t be enough to achieve such polish, but 75%, 80%, 85%? Are those missing few %’s playing somewhere else going to really be noticeable/identifiable?
     
  21. CornfieldSoccer

    Aug 22, 2013
    At least for me as I watch, I think it might be the other way around -- what's missing I might not always be able to spot (unless it's glaring), but when you do see a player who has that extra mastery of those nuances, it might be noticeable.

    Re the glaring part, watching the brand-new CB playing next to my son last weekend, some of his lack of experience stood out. I saw him get beat by an attacker running toward the top of his box, use his (substantial) speed to quickly recover, but then only to make sure he was between the attacker and the goal rather than making sure he was in a position that wouldn't give the attacker space.

    With five or six feet between himself and the CB, the attacker got off an uncontested shot. I'm making an educated guess here about what the CB was doing, but he appeared to recover in a way that makes more sense in the middle of the field or at the other end (where he's more accustomed to playing), when it might be enough to initially just clog up a lane.

    All that said, that polish that SuperHyperVenom mentions is among the things I wonder if my son is missing out on.
     
  22. mwulf67

    mwulf67 Member+

    Sep 24, 2014
    Club:
    Chelsea FC
    Fair enough….I guess I just struggle with or not expert enough to fully understand the distinction between nuanced extra mastery and someone just being flat out better…I’d be curious how long it takes for that brand-new CB to lose his noticeable lack of experience, for it to stop standing out?
     
  23. CornfieldSoccer

    Aug 22, 2013
    Good question. My expertise is pretty limited, too, but we'll see how far he comes this winter, I guess.
     
  24. SuperHyperVenom

    United States
    Jan 7, 2019
    That all depends - for an inexperienced CB to play CB well it would probs require playing with another CB who is experienced and communicates well and a DM who knows when to drop back and the wingbacks understand how to cover. And a good GK that can play with feet.

    Timing and organising a back line takes months to master even on a good team and coaching.
     
  25. CornfieldSoccer

    Aug 22, 2013
    So your saying my son's back line may be lost all winter ... (I'll withhold further comment).
     

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