Most every team (and coach) is blessed with one special or elite player. This individual seems to understand the game at a higher level than the others. The edge may be technical, tactical, physical, psychological or often a combination.
The issue to face is how do we as coaches elevate the superior players while not ignoring the others who are obviously the majority of the team. The question must first be asked at what age, skill level, and seriousness is the team. What is the emphasis, interest, and ability of your coaching position? Is it for the lesser talented player, is it for the average player, or is it for the best player on your team?
After determining your team purpose (i.e. to recreate – give beginners a place to play, or to win at all odds – win a State Championship), the question remains the same – How do we elevate the elite player without showing favoritism or ignoring the other players?
To follow are several recommendations to enhance the special player, yet always be sure to re-instill his/her role in the team chemistry i.e. no one player is more important than the team.
Some of the elite players will be quiet and non-assertive while others will be loud and demonstrative. Depending on these traits, give the player varying amounts of responsibility or leadership. This player could be team captain. This player could take or organize all of the set plays. This player could occasionally lead parts of practices or warm-up. This player should be the one to plays a prominent role when the pressure mounts either towards the end of the game or when things are not going so well on the field. This player should make tactical adjustments on the field according to the needs of the particular game. Make this player accountable without pushing too much on his/her shoulders too early.
Talk about the player’s performances and hopes frequently.
Take time, at least before and after each season, to sit the player down and talk about what he/she feels about the game as a whole and his/her place in it. This should be done at times with the parents and definitely at times without the parents. Ask the player what he/she thinks of the level of the team and where it can improve. Inquire what the player feels about his/her own performance and discuss strengths and weaknesses plus ways to get better. If the player truly enjoys the game and wants a future in it, discuss his/her aspirations in the near, middle, and, eventually, long term future.
Discuss ways to get better outside of the team’s work.
The players who succeed at the highest levels decide at varying times in their youth that they want to be great, at a level much higher than where they stand at the present. This takes a mature acknowledgement as early as possible to be followed by a determined resolve to work hard and long to reach these dreams. The best players are tough to become self-satisfied, they always want to improve and reach higher. The player should go train with other teams to listen to other coaches, train under different systems, and play with other players. Obviously, training and playing with older, bigger, more experienced players increases the learning curve tremendously. Going to camps and clinics will expand the player as well.
Education off the Field
Encourage, but don’t demand, the player to learn more about the game off the playing pitch. This can include reading about the game, as in subscribing to magazines or watching instructional videos. This can include watching games on television. This should include going to games including older age groups, high school games, college games, and professional games. Hopefully the player will relish the game as a whole and you will be merely facilitating this hunger with more choices on the menu.
Good luck. Remember you are affecting many players in a positive sense, but try to help the best ones get even better.