skip navigation

February 2020 - Stages of Player Development

By Steven, 02/15/20, 9:45AM CST


NWI Lions United Community,

One of the goals at NWI Lions is to increase communication and engagement with our players and parents, hopefully giving you some insight into what our club, teams, and players are working on during the year and why.   All of our activities are centered around components of our mission but we’ll also try and tie the work back to national and global trends happening in the broader soccer community. Our initial thought is a monthly email but certainly open to your input/feedback.  

To get us started, I’d like to share with you our club’s mission statement, which basically lays out ‘why we exist’ and ‘what priorities are important to the club’.

Our Mission Statement

Northwest Indiana Lions United are dedicated to providing the best soccer training in Northwest Indiana, and giving every player a unique opportunity to experience the world's most popular game. Our club is committed to offering every player the opportunity to play at the highest level that they are capable of. We are dedicated to creating an environment that not only allows the players to become successful soccer players but also to become important parts of society. We will do this by teaching the technical, tactical, physical and psychological side of the game whilst always instilling respect, integrity and honesty.

In summary, you could break the mission statement down into the following four points.

  • Positive Environment

  • Player Development

  • Sportsmanship

  • Creating Passion and Confidence

For today’s post, we’ll speak to ‘player development’ and more specifically, ‘The Stages of Player Development’ – which the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) laid out in 2018 as part of their ‘new’ Player Development Initiatives (PDIs) Program.  

Details/stages are listed below but in short, PDIs were implemented to:

  • Shift the focus of youth soccer from results based to individual player development

  • Standardize rules and regulations for youth players to develop on a level playing field 

As a member of USSF, NWI Lions United believes in and has implemented these PDIs as an integral part of our player development process.  Over the past 2+ years, we have found the adjustments in field size, number of players, and other rule changes to have given our club players the opportunity to develop skills at their own pace, while also fielding competitive teams at each level.


4v4 U6 - U8 - Stage 1 - The FUNdamental Stage

  • Players learn to love the game

  • Focus on dribbling and 1v1’s

  • Allowing players to explore the game

  • Teaching basic laws of the game

What does this look like?

  • Encouraging creativity anywhere on the field

  • Allowing mistakes to happen

  • Creating a dribble first mentality

  • Playing time will be balanced for all players.

7v7 U9 - U10 - Stage 2 - The Foundational Stage

  • Players continue to develop their passion for the game

  • Introduction of Attacking and Defending principles of play

  • Players still encouraged to dribble and take on 1v1’s

  • Team tactics and shape introduced

What does it look like?

  • Players will play in named positions (Left or Right defender, Left or Right midfield, center midfield, forward).  Players will play in all positions throughout the season.

  • Encouraging creativity anywhere on the field.

  • Dribble first mentality, but starting to encourage players to get their head up and be aware of the space around them.

  • Playing time will be balanced for all players.

9v9 U11 - U12 - Stage 3 - Learning to Train Stage

  • Players begin to be held accountable during training

  • Individual roles within the team are introduced

  • Situational decision making introduced - When to pass? vs When to dribble?

  • Team tactics and Shape becomes more apparent

What does this look like?

  • Players will not play in all positions over the season, we will start to play them in 1 or  2 areas.

  • We will be training them to have more awareness as groups of players and spaces on the field.

  • Creativity is still encouraged but we help them learn the correct areas of the field for this.

  • Playing time will not be equal for all players but everyone will play meaningful minutes per game (The goal is for each player to get 50% of available minutes balanced throughout the season).

11v11 U13 - U15 - Stage 4 - The Training to Train Stage

  • Players begin to hold each other accountable

  • Players begin to learn how to incorporate individual creativity within the team

  • Proper Principles of play and Tactical decision making are critical

  • Team Tactics and Shape are structured

What does this look like?

  • Players will primarily play in 1 or 2 positions for their primary teams. 

  • We will be training them to be aware of how their role impacts the whole team at all times. 

  • Reinforcing the correct areas of the field for creative play. 

  • Playing time based on ability, attendance, and performance. 

11v11 U16 - U19  - Stage 5 - The Training to Compete Stage

  • Players are training to get a result

  • Players play a role in the team and are asked to make decisions

  • Tactical understanding within the game and responding to opponents play is critical

  • Teams are organized to compete and win

What does this look like?

  • Players will play in 1 primary position, but may move to other positions based on team tactics and opponents. 

  • We will create a training environment that encourages players to compete and replicate game like scenarios as much as possible. 

  • During games team changes will be made based on player performance, game scenarios, and team needs. 

  • Playing time based on ability, attendance, and performance. 

Below are links where you can find more information about The Stages of Player Development.

United Soccer Coaches - Player Development Model

USSF - Player Development Initiatives

Inside Soccer - The Development Phase

Valley Isle Soccer Academy - Stages of the Framework

US Youth Soccer - Player Development Model

This is our first attempt at hopefully providing you with interesting/helpful information.  If you have other topics that you are curious to learn more about, we would love to hear from you! Please let us know, by emailing me at