In every team, there are one or two players who stand out from among their team mates in their athletic performance. This affects all age groups and is not always of advantage.
The performance of these players is often accepted as is, and every coach is happy to have such players on his team as their abilities lead to additional victories.
Most coaches let the issue go at that and get back to business as usual. A bad mistake, since a soccer trainer is responsible for fostering the development of talented players in an appropriate manner, and this also includes building character.
The problem is to recognize talent. Among the very young, exceptional players are often those who are physically superior to their peers. In later years, this will be reversed and often, the player who had been the „star” of U7, U8, U9 or U10 because of his early physical development, is now only a mediocre performer. A bad mistake has been made in case one has supported this player and thus lost out on talented late bloomers.
Let’s take, for example, FC Barcelona, probably the world’s best soccer team. During scouting, only the technical and creative skills of the players are considered, and the edge of their physical development has not been a criterion for many years, as it eventually disappears. In other countries, this is still completely different, even on national teams. There, of course, coaches are under pressure to succeed and therefore accept those players who can bring about short-term success.
When a coach thinks he has a talented player on his team, his work is only beginning. Gifted players must be trained independently. Ideally, the club commissions one or two trainers to take care of these talents. The coach himself might be able to implement this on his own but often time is the problem when he works as a volunteer.
In case individual training is not possible, one should consider transferring the players in question to a club which can offer the required conditions. Possibly, there could be a team in the player’s own club on which talent is demanded and supported. Nobody likes losing their best performers but the main thing is not the coach’s ego – the sports personality of individual players is at stake.
A coach is fooling himself if he thinks that he will be able to keep real talents on a team that is not performance-oriented. Either will these players eventually transfer anyhow, or they will discontinue because they are not sufficiently challenged.
Often talented players are aware of their special position, and this frequently results in arrogance.
In these situations, it is important that the coach does not overrate a player’s capability but moderates his response. From the sidelines, these players are often hailed while their team mates are criticized or being told to take an example from player X. During practice, the gifted player is mostly the one to demonstrate drills and in a worst case scenario is permitted to break rules, something for which his team mates are scolded right away. In addition, a gifted player is always deployed, not matter whether he attended practice or not. When the talent is in possession of the ball, the other players start turning away as they cannot expect to receive passes. At an early age, this refusal to pass may be correct and even show resolve. But the “team” slowly dissolves, and jealousy appears.
Another creeping process begins: As the young player’s character is still developing, such behavior frequently triggers a flight of fancy. Arrogance, disrespect for fellow players and the awareness of occupying a special position are results for which the coach is responsible, too.
Again and again, the coach should talk to players individually and make it unequivocally clear to them that they belong to a team and that the team is one. But explanations to that extent are not enough, and the trainer must adjust his behavioral approach accordingly.
In case negative behavioral patterns repeat themselves, the coach must take action. Already being replaced or not considered in case there is a lack of respect for practice can send a clear signal to the entire team as well as to the player in question.
After having read the last paragraphs, you could be under the impression that a gifted player is the „boogeyman“. But such a player is not responsible for the development of his character – it is controlled by the behavior of the adults. Especially the coach, but also parents and fans, should give this some thought.