This winning vs development argument always seems to revolve around technique. I discussed a bit in part I of this series how a coach can only go so far in technical development. But people talk over and over again about how our professional player’s lack of technique is the biggest problem. Again, we’re missing over half the truth.
It’s the Soccer IQ, Stupid!
What we are very slow in grasping as a soccer culture is that lack of technique is currently NOT our biggest issue. In spite of our systemic problems at the youth level, there are loads of players that have developed tremendous technique – albeit of their own merit. Where we fail is in providing them with a deep and rich understanding of the game (ie Soccer IQ) – which is particularly important from U14 and up. Why? Well again, our coaches don’t have it themselves.
Our coaches have their teams play direct, not necessarily because they want to win, but because that’s the only thing they know how to do. That is the lens through which they see soccer – not possession. Again, attenuating the pressure to win ensures nothing if our coaches are complete amateurs.
Our international and domestic (MLS) quality suffers far more from lack of soccer understanding than from technical development in the pre-teen years. Our player’s decision-making on the field, which in large part comes from improper player selection and coaching instruction at the college and professional level, is among the worst in the world.
It is presumed in this country that there is no resort but to play vertical at the higher levels if you don’t have technique of the highest caliber. This is just wrong, and I’m very happy that Caleb Porter from Akron has shown the country what is possible. That coach and his team are a beacon of hope in an ocean of misguided ideas. And guess what? His players traversed the same youth system that favors winning. The difference is he knows something most everyone else doesn’t. He selects
“the right” good enough players and instructs them properly. He understands the value of possession, he understands quality, and he understands that it’s the Soccer IQ, stupid!
By contrast MLS and the NT’s are not representative of the best this country has to offer – neither in players nor in coaches. We continue to favor athletic capacity over Technical Quality and Soccer IQ.
We still can’t comprehend that at the highest levels this is a game of chess, not checkers. Consequently, our player identification, selections, and instruction at the higher levels reflect that.
So while the youth system is definitely part of the problem (winning being just a component), our college and pro ranks are just as culpable.
What do you think of this? Can we see there’s more than meets the eye here? That pointing the finger at winning doesn’t encapsulate our problem?
p.s. For those that don’t follow college soccer, I highly recommend watching the display Akron put on against Michigan in the college cup semifinal. You can find the December 10 replay online here. I think it’s the best performance I’ve seen by any American team.