Allow me to introduce one of the many scourges in US soccer. What I like to call the “Freshman Syndrome”.
A lot of high school and college coaches suffer from this idea that simply because you are a freshman, you should smell the fresh-cut grass from the bench, or not at all! Sure, in general a freshman has had less experience and time to develop, but there are many that are better soccer players. Unfortunately, they may not be recognized due to their coach’s syndrome.
This can manifest itself in many ways:
- They don’t even make the team (player is relegated to Junior Varsity, cut from or redshirt on college team, dropped to the reserves or the bench on a pro team).
- They only get playing time in a game that is not considered important.
- When a game is “on the line”, coaches resort to their seniors.
- No consideration for awards.
- Penalty kicks, free kicks, corners, etc … all go to the upperclassmen regardless of quality.
- You are the ball boy and water boy.
What’s the Problem?
The first, and what I believe to be the root, is that these coaches don’t see the full extent of a player’s quality and how he can lift a team’s performance. Instead, they once again focus on size and speed where it’s likely these freshman or rookies are a bit behind their colleagues.
Yes, I’m sure statistically there are few elite freshman that come around with the necessary quality to make an immediate impact. But just because this is historically the case, these coaches should not turn a blind eye and predestine them without a proper evaluation (if they’re even capable of accurate assessment). This is actually what happens!
In other cases, some coaches may just flat out be chicken shits. Maybe they have identified a freshman as having the potential to make an impact, but …
“How would it look to the upperclassmen if one of them is displaced or their overall playing time and responsibilities are diminished?”
This could introduce a rift in the team, especially if the coach has not been running a merit-based ship! Also, consider that the players themselves likely have the syndrome – they are not immune. As a result, the coach’s judgement may be called into question. Who wants that?
Finally, there may be a cultural component for this syndrome. The working class in this country, as opposed to the executive, entrepreneur, or expert in a field, likely works in a seniority based or politically charged environment – promotions and benefits come to those who are senior or well connected. Merit-based environments are rare.
This issue transcends coaching of course. Last year I was attending a Cal State Fullerton game where one of our former club players was on the field as a freshman. He was playing, to the coach’s credit (though he is not entirely cured), because his quality was absolutely undeniable. Were he not to have played, the coach would have proven to been a Supreme Donkey – maybe King of all Donkeys and been immediately institutionalized. In any case, the player lined up to take a free-kick and a person nearby in the stands said
“Why are they letting a freshman take it?”
I wanted to kill myself!
You may have a jewel on your hands, or at least someone better than what you already have. Please try to maintain your objectivity. You are hurting your team and our future stars!
Parents and Players
Those of you who are looking into college soccer … try to do your homework on coaches and look at their track records as far as freshmen are concerned. It may or may not be indicative of the “freshman syndrome”, but having the information is better than going in completely blind.
This is curable! Keep an open mind and continue to educate yourself. And by all means due not perpetuate this idea – it is highly contagious!
What are your thoughts? Have you seen this syndrome up close? Do you think I’m completely crazy (if so, either I’m wrong or you may be infected … hahaha)?