Soccer Free Play Model

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When we talk about soccer player development there are numerous methods and models that are discussed and debated. Some bring up the Total Football by Johan Cruyf and the Netherlands, which is today a huge factor in developing players at La Masia in Barcelona and Ajax in Holland. Others mention the Belgium model and the changes they’ve made since 2002 after missing the World Cup. Many will point to Spain and their use of Futsal to improve player development and win the 2010 World Cup. Speaking of Futsal, there are also the South American countries like Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina who use Futsal and street soccer to develop young soccer players. Then you have the youth development models of France, England, and Germany that produce magnificent players year after year.

However, one thing is for certain, the majority of players that come through these great academies and training methods share something in common. They put in countless hours of “Free Play” when at home and near their neighborhood. Ted Croeten was interviewed in the first episode of the Youth Soccer Evolution (YSE) Podcast, which you can listen to below. The video is only audio.

Ted Kroeten takes us through his journey from playing pond hockey to revolutionizing the way we look at soccer player development. His struggle to understand the Free Play model and the obstacles he encountered when he started implementing it in his soccer club. Ted also discuss how Free play developed players such as Roberto Ayala. A conversation with Roberto Ayala led to understanding the amount of time Ayala put into his development outside of the formal training hours.

Ted also discuss his encounter with Zlatan Ibrahimović in Sweden and how the 10,000 hour rule had a huge impact on the development of Zlatan. When Ted first met Zlatan, hew as a skinny teenager developing at the Malmo Soccer Academy.. We all know what he grew up to be.

Ted continues his discussion about the deliberate practice vs Free Play model he uses today to improve youth soccer player development. He must allow the kids to play without coaching them too much. The kids should be allowed to make mistakes and learn from them.

He goes on to explain how the use of Futsal can be incorporated into training and development of youth players. Futsal is a very formidable game that allows players to defend and attack with constant repetition and transition. The big moment that changed his mind about free play and a  big reason why we don’t have finishers in the USA.

In the Second part of the interview, which you can listen to below on the YouTube video with audio only, Ted explains the difference between the Acquisition and Deliberate Practice Phases in youth soccer development.

In episode 2, it is the 2nd part of the interview with Ted Kroeten from

 Ted continues discussing the acquisition phase in youth soccer development. He jumps into comparing the difference between the acquisition phase and the deliberate practice phase.  You can get more information about the Deliberate vs Aquisition model at

Check out the different types of Free Play Balls that are used for the development of young players.

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What are the Keys to Free Play Model

Acquisition period must be pure, be very careful when implementing.

Don’t move out of acquisition period too quick and don’t move into the deliberate practice phase too quick. Be patient.

Create High Motivation technical problems for kids during training sessions.

Ted discussed his ideal Youth Soccer Player Development Model. What are you waiting for? Why haven’t all the clubs implemented this already? Ted lays it  out right here and free of charge just for you.

5-6 year olds need to stay home and play with parents, to grow through organic development. As mentioned before throughout this blog and recommended, the development for young players should be at home. Cut down on traveling and play at home with parents and siblings and even neighbors.

7-9 years old, play with friends, 2 v 2 and 3 v 3, move away from concrete stage of development; play as much as possible, as close to home as possible, use barefoot with different balls, get introduced to Futsal balls. Continue staying close to home and avoid long travel, it’s just not that important at this age.

11-12 years old, start deliberate practice, but continue free play, watch others, 20 hours of free play a week. See the model used by JOTP at You might be thinking that 20 hours is alot, and it is, but that’s just what it takes to become elite. Many people think and try to skip the 20 hours by buying clinics, camps, and other personal trainings, but there is no way around it, you must play and play as much as possible.

Continue Free Play until 16 years old. Pele, Cruyf, Messi, and Maradona played close to home and they turned out ok.

Also check out the Rice and Beans program at JOTP

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