Player development is a philosophy of coaching that is a departure from the “win at all costs” mentality. The main focus of player development is on the learning process. In a player development environment, players are motivated by the acquisition and mastery of skills.
The Washington Area Girls’ Soccer League (WAGS) has long been a proponent of the player development philosophy. In 2004, WAGS was the first soccer league in the Greater Washington D.C. area to introduce small-sided games beginning at the U11 age level. Small-sided games are a key component in player development. In 2006, to further their commitment to player development, WAGS opened League play to U9 and U10 teams from their member clubs.
While there was resistance to the player development philosophy, WAGS held firm in their conviction that this was important to the future of the women’s game. In 2007, WAGS implemented the "Club Pass System" for the U9 through U11 age groups. The Club Pass allowed clubs to offer players exposure to different levels of competition, to match their developmental level. In 2009, the U12 age group was added to the Club Pass System.
In 2009, WAGS continued to foster the development of players by offering member clubs the opportunity to bring in a third team in the U9-U12 age groups. This rule change opened up opportunities for young players to play at a higher level of soccer, but at their own developmental level.
With the success of the club pass system for the U9 through U12 age groups and with the concept of player development ever at the forefront, the leadership in WAGS made the commitment to make the club pass system a reality for all age groups. In 2011, the WAGS leadership worked tirelessly with the Virginia and Maryland state associations to get this system ratified, not only at the state level, but at the national level. With the passage of this rule, the impact on WAGS players in the D.C., Virginia and Maryland was epic.
WAGS continues to support and promote player development. As recently as spring 2012, the League introduced POD scheduling for the U9 through U11 teams within a club.
The benefits of POD scheduling are many. Foremost, it allows player development to be the priority for clubs. The club pass system is easier to implement in such a setting as is the ability of DOC’s, TOC’s and Head Coaches to watch up to six club games in one location, in a compact time span. The POD system also promotes a greater sense of “club” as different age groups of the same club are together, supporting each other.
The U9 through U12 age groups play a non-results oriented system. While the transition to a “results oriented” atmosphere could appear counter-intuitive to player development, WAGS continues to promote player development by creating divisions of “like” competition in the U12 and older age groups.
WAGS continues to reflect on player development and how to foster it in an on-going basis. Beginning in the fall 2012, WAGS will no longer create U12 fall divisions based upon the U11 spring results. The pressure will ease on coaches to “win at all costs” in an attempt to influence the team’s placement in the fall. Rather, the League will consider placement of like competition with like competition, the best recipe for player development.
The Washington Area Girls Soccer League has remained true to their convictions despite resistance to such ideas as “player development”. The League has, since its’ inception, been a pioneer for the women’s game and will continue to do so in all areas of the game.