How does Barcelona train their young players to become top level soccer players? A couple things that Barcelona do that’s unique with their youth soccer teams is they don’t worry about winning game or focus on fitness. Instead, that focus on playing good soccer, keeping possession of the ball, making the right pass, and playing as a team.
Pep Guardiola said, “We want them to learn how to run little, but run smart.” So their teams aren't playing in a wild or uncontrolled way. They want their players to think before they run and pass. Barcelona also do everything with the soccer ball in training sessions.
I think focusing on getting comfortable on the soccer ball while under pressure and learning how to work as a team and help one another are two of the most important things that youth players at Barcelona learn how to do. Moving to support teammates and make runs is a crucial aspect of playing good soccer - so it's key to understand this at a young age.
So you want to know what soccer drills and practice routines Barcelona coaches are running their young players through at La Masia?
Well, here's a video showing what a Barceona youth training session is like. To me, it seems like a big focus for the Barcelona coaches is on quick feet. Where these young soccer players, who look maybe 8-10 year old, are moving at the same pace as some of their senior players. Yes, it's amazing how quick and coordinated some of these young kids are. I'm sure the next Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, or Xavi is in this group. You never know. Take a look at the Barcelona youth training videos below.
This first video is training without the soccer ball, almost like a warm up drill. The idea here is to get the legs moving at a quick pace and then focus on work with the ball. In youth soccer, developing agility and coordination at a young age helps the players with skills on the ball as they get older.
Even at a very young age, youth soccer players can start to work on their soccer moves. However, what's key, which is evident in the way Messi dribbles the ball, is with every step you need touch the soccer ball. This way the ball is alway close to you. Also, change of pace after you perform a move is key - to go slow, do the move, and then burst past the defender.
But you don't want young soccer players to become mindless machines without any creativity. It's good to just let kids play on their own, in pickup games where they can try things without soccer coaches around.
Also, when working on dribbling skills, young soccer players should focus on the ball while at the same time be aware of what's going on around them - learn to look up before one gets the ball and have head up a bit when dribbling, eyes sort of up and aware of what's going on around you. That's why it's good to work on dribbling moves in a group, where players dribble in and out of one another in a crowded space.
In the end though, you want young kids to have fun playing soccer. Learn how to get comfortable on the ball and mimic their idols - that's the fun part of soccer, making the ball do what you want to do and taking other players on and doing tricks and so forth. So it's a balance of working on soccer fundamentals but keeping things fun. The idea is to get kids to love playing soccer who then want to work on and improve their skills on their own.
Here's what Lionel Messi had to say about the youth soccer development program at Barcelona:
"Barcelona have given me everything. I was educated with the values of La Masia and I am what I am thanks to the values I learned in the youth setup. Seeing so many players from the youth setup in the first team is an example to everyone.
We’re always happy for the players who graduate and come to train with us. I want them to enjoy themselves, that’s what this sport is all about. If they work hard, make sacrifices and put in the effort, they can realise any dream they set themselves."