What should a player learn in the foundational level?

foundational level

Over the years of coaching different age groups you get to see the excitement on a player’s face when they’ve finally got a skill down pat. It’s an incredibly rewarding experience for any player to achieve something, and it’s fundamental for the players just starting out! One of the most important things in the foundational level is pure enjoyment and fun. The players who start young and fall in love with the game, work hard at the right time with the right mindset. In fact, fun and enjoyment are necessary for learning! If a player is to learn well, a positive environment with a positive mindset will help a young player’s concentration and deep thinking, both of which assist a player’s ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.

It’s no good pushing young players to reach ridiculous targets and get them playing opposed drills that make them feel too challenged too soon. Focusing on winning at an early age can be at the expense of long-term development. The flame can quickly burnout.

How do we create an environment that enables them to learn in the foundational level, while having fun? For players between the ages of 4 – 7, building a strong football foundation is about falling in love with the game, basic motor skills development, coordination, ball control and skill development. At this stage, coaches, parents and players must practice patience. It’s important for coaches to allow the correct form to be practised and to take each move slow and steady. Once their form is correct, muscle memory will always take them back to this correct form.

Our curriculum helps to create this kind of environment

Stage 1Unopposed drills/IQ Ball Training
Stage 2Unopposed drills with:
– reduced thinking time, OR
– increased variables
Stage 3Opposed drills
foundational level

For all learning, at any level, but especially in the foundational level, it is important to allow players the opportunity to learn the drill/skill/movement without opposition initially (stage 1) so that they can learn to an autonomous level. The next step is to add to the complexity, specifically targeting the cognitive functioning of the player (concentration, memory, decision-making, special awareness etc) (stage 2), then to add opposition (problem solving) (stage 3).

In stage 1, training with the IQ Ball in conjunction with unopposed drills allows players to develop autonomous, self-regulated learning. Stage 2 increases the difficulty of performing drills by 1) reducing thinking time or 2) increasing variables. Both methods work the cognitive functioning of the player. The final stage of a players training is opposed drills/small-sided games. This is when the player will showcase whatever they have learnt in stage 1 and stage 2 in a competitive environment. This is where decision-making skills will specifically be developed.

All these stages are done under the “Player-centre Model”. This model focuses on guided discovery, using the game as the teacher, playing late leagues and small-sided games.

With these stages in mind, and with the overriding technique of training through the player-centred model, these three areas are imperative for a player to learn in the foundational level:

1Motor skills
2Coordination
3Ball control and skill development

Motor skills | Foundational level

Players need to be able to take it slow when it comes to learning basic motor skills. Being able to control and manipulate a ball with your feet is an incredible motor skill that uses and creates many neural connections.

As neuroscientist, Jeffrey Holt puts it, “Soccer is a triumphant display of the incredible plasticity of the human brain. More than any other sport, soccer requires a brilliance that redefines the cerebral cortex because the soccer player is limited by one simple rule: No hands!”

When I coach four-year-olds, or kids a little younger, I’ve noticed how often they will pick up the ball, because their brain is telling them that there’s an easier way! They’ve practised using their hands. Their feet haven’t had as much practise. The more they get used to this new skill, the more neural connections are formed and the better they will be able to kick the ball.

Other motor skills like learning how to do good throw-ins, changing direction in their running and ‘dodging’ quickly, as well as running and sprinting should all be focussed on, even if it’s just in the warm-up.

The main thing is to get the form right, and have fun learning.

Coordination | Foundational Level

Coordination with and without the ball is really important for a player to learn in the foundational level. Being able to move your arms to balance yourself, while moving the ball in the right direction is a fundamental skill that can make a player. Thiago Alcantara, the Liverpool player, is a great example of expert coordination. He makes it look easy, but it’s not, it’s a skill that must be learnt.

Ladder drills, moving in formulated patterns on the field, jumping and hopping in differing patterns are just some of the coordination drills.

Utilising the IQ Ball in our training allows us to improve players hand-eye coordination, and ball specific coordination.

Ball control and skill development |Foundational level

Players can begin to gain technical skill in the foundational level. Drills such as passing and receiving, manoeuvring the ball with the inside of their foot, the outside of their foot and being able to kick the ball into the goal are all basic skills that players should learn in the foundational level.

It is of utmost importance that the activities and sessions are pitched at the right level so that the age group is able to have fun, feel competent but also be challenged and learn new skills. Each child is uniquely intelligent. We believe in coaching the child, not the champion.

Ball Control, Brain-boosting tips, Brain-centred Training, Children, coordination, discipline, Football, foundational level, improve your performance, IQ Ball, IQ Football, Mindset, opposed drills, performance, physical fitness and health, Positioning, skill development, Skills, Soccer, Soccer Academy, technique, unopposed drills


Sean Szabo

Recognised as a leading brain-centred football coach in Gauteng, Sean Szabo is an English FA qualified coach who has worked internationally assisting player’s motor and technical football skills, as well as their cognitive development on and off the field. IQ Football was founded in 2015 by Sean as an amalgamation of his passion for football coaching, mentoring, and brain-centred research.

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IQ Football SA | Developing Intelligent Players

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Criaghall Park
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