What follows is an initial list of 25 things obstructing the US from becoming a soccer powerhouse.
The “what’s wrong” topic is always around and maintains a certain level of attention. Then, when our national teams flounder, the topic spikes and dominates the discussion.
And of course everyone and their mom has an opinion. Errrr … I mean verdict.
Well, the truth is nobody (at least that I know of) has mapped out all the issues we face. It’s not one, or two, or six. There’s a whole bunch of them with varying degrees of influence on each other, and on the final product that is our professional soccer player and teams.
So to get us started:
- Poor player selection at the professional and national team level.
- Low-level professional and national team coaching.
- College soccer is the main pipeline to MLS.
- No sporting accountability for college soccer coaches.
- Shortage of powerful player agents with a credible global network.
- European and south american clubs do not shop for players here.
- College soccer season is short.
- Coaching at the youth and collegiate level is pathetic.
- Pay-to-play at the youth level filters out much, if not most, of the talent.
- Parental influence at the youth level.
- Coach employment and club prosperity at the youth level is overly dependent on winning records.
- Business objectives are not aligned with player development at the youth level.
- We have people with no real soccer DNA occupying influential positions at all levels.
- The American soccer media, from match commentary to bloggers, lacks a rich understanding of the game.
- Thin scouting network.
- Unsophisticated scouts.
- An obsession with statistics.
- A docile fan base.
- Logistical problems due to US geography.
- MLS operates under a single entity structure.
- No promotion/relegation at the pro level.
- No significant MLS reserve league.
- No 3rd party ownership of players allowed within MLS.
- “Speed, strength, and power” is preferred over “technical, intelligent, and tactically rich” players.
- “Popularity” of the sport.
Again, there is no singular answer to the “what is wrong” question. They can all be supported or rebutted with anecdotes and, in rare cases, with pretty convincing data points.
This is going to be my base – the place I’ll be referencing in an attempt to map out the pathologies that keep us down. Each one of these items needs to be thoroughly dissected on its own, and its influence on the others understood.
It’s not simple, but I like challenges! How about you?
Gary — I think the list can be condensed. For example, #13 (soccer DNA) strongly influences (dependent on / funciton of) #1, 2, 15, 16. Yes, leadership matters! The collective US Soccer and MLS leadership can also drive the college soccer problem. If they provide a true alternative to college (for serious players who aren’t interested in college), MLS and US Soccer can support / champion growth of lower leagues. So again, I see this as leadership.
For youth soccer, #13 hits it dead on. But again, it’s leadership. The new Southern California Development League is step in right direction.
Broken record, but leadership is vital component. From nations, to companies, to pro leagues — poor leadership often leads to bad situations and great leadership often leads to great situations. There’s optimism with USSF (Ramos, Porter, Klinsmann), but MLS is same old tired faces acting like some third rate league that wants to be worldclass. As long as Garber is in charge, it will be status quo.
Gary Kleiban says
I agree with you on leadership and the dependencies between many of the things on this list.
But I want to be systematic about it, and completely map out all these dependencies and how strong the links are. I think we need to get away from the silver bullet, or 10 silver bullets, mindset. Things like:
* It’s the sports “popularity”.
* It’s the “leadership”.
* It’s “winning vs development”.
are great, but it’s all just talk and nobody has systematically documented or mapped out precisely what is it about these things that make them an issue (or non-issue). Or attempted to estimate the size of their impact. Or attempted to understand how they are linked to other factors/issues.
I want to build a sort of “biochemical pathway” of sorts for soccer. (Sorry for the nerd talk).
Once it’s all better understood we can intelligently formulate solutions. As things are, everyone has these nebulous concepts of what’s wrong without concrete deep-level appreciation.
In that respect I don’t want to consolidate the list at all. That’s a mistake. I feel it doesn’t take the movement anywhere. It’s not actionable! Nor do I feel it’s educational. It’s the same ol’, same ol’, complaining. The same ol’ 1, 2 or 10 things everyone writes a paragraph about, throws their hands in the air, and says: “There it is.”
That’s what the common folk do (no offense, because I think you understand these things Lalo). The common folk without any subject matter expertise, are ones who say things like:
* “If we had a better president, the country (I) would be much better off.”
Well, what’s a “better president”? How can a “better president” come to power? Is the original assertion even true? What is it about the country that get’s in the way? Is it Wall Street? Is it tax policy? Is it healthcare? Is it the transition from an economy built on the industrial revolution to one based on the digital revolution?
You see there’s a crapload of other macro-scale issues, each with their own set of internal problems. And they’re all linked to form the state of the whole.
Clearly the sport of soccer is not remotely on that scale, but it has it’s own set of inter-linked complexities.
I want to map those out! So this list above needs to grow tremendously!
No offense taken. Understand what you want to do, but do think many of these are symptoms rather than root cause. But you do need the due dilligence of putting all the problems down and then binning them into themes. Systematic approach I agree.
My only point was that addressing symptoms typically doesn’t fix the root cause. Like the gopher game: fix one problem and another pops up. In the end, I do belive “leadership and vision” are causes. But that depends on how you decide to bin them. Some subjectivity there.
I think leadership and vision (or lack thereof) are root causes. Entropy is something that comes to mind. That is, the disorder and randomness caused by lack of leadership /vision.
Gary Kleiban says
Certainly. And I want to try and capture as much of the subjective viewpoints as well.
As far as symptoms & root causes. Well, that’s an important exercise in taxonomy – one we desperately need. Let’s say we end up having 100 items on the list. One of the things that should end up happening is labeling each as symptom or root cause. But to do that we need to fully understand what’s going on. And that happens through research and debate.
For instance, can’t it be argued that “poor leadership” is symptomatic of some other underlying root cause?
You could be right about another root cause?
If I look at this discussion thread a different way, what’s the canary (canaries) in the coalmine? What really improves, gives renewed life to US Soccer and what kills, degrades or stifles it?
With all this said, here are some quick thoughts on what’s wrong with soccer in USA:
• Lack of focus on ball mastery at U12 and younger
• Transition away from small sided games starts too early (s/b around 12 before 11 v 11)
• MLS clubs to passive in identifying and developing talent and not engaged enough at the youth level. I want see MLS going after a promising youth prospect rather than the parent having to bring the kid for a tryout. For example, the LA Samba player (Ben) who got scholarship to La Masia. If he were still here, would LA Galaxy even blink at him? NOT! That’s a problem. How many Ben’s are rotting on some youth club team undiscovered?
• Not enough training. At about U12 or 13, practice s/b 3-days a week
• Not enough emphasis on one-two touch passing
• Related to above, not enough time spent by youth developing skills on their own time
• Lack of emphasis on license requirements and continuing education for club coaches
• We don’t use enough non-traditional teaching methods. For example, more “chalk talk”, review of film, or taking teams to watch pro or Academy games.
• Not enough opportunities for elite players. ODP misses the mark. Id2 is too limiting. I think the new SCDSL is good, but they could still tinker with Flights as they are unbalanced.
• Little to no focus on “the little things”. Such as positioning, understanding movement and support, understanding thirds of the pitch (what to do, when, and why), how to use peripheral vision, understanding angles
I could go in, but I think you see where I’m going. The root cause for majority of playing issues (e.g., lack of playing style, shallow pool of national team players, lack of technical players) can be traced back to what we don’t teach at younger ages. That, in and of itself will fix numerous problems.
Unless it’s championed by higher levels (USSF and lower levels such as Cal South), most of above will never happen. This is the organization issue that requires leadership and vision. Like hoping a monkey will type out Shakespeare if you put it behind a typewriter. They won’t spontaneously appear.
Brandon Elwood says
Interesting though on the LA Galaxy’s priorities for player I.D. But even more interesting was your comment about players like Ben rotting in a club some where undiscovered. My though is…undiscovered by whom? That’s the real question. No player scouting or I.D. is underway other that ODP and that is a huge, huge let down in our area. As a matter of fact after three months on the state team after regional’s we are finally hearing something about possible training sessions…..and they have the word development in their acronym. Pay to play is killing the pipeline.
Even if you rule out the America / MLS specific items, I’d guess many, many countries would fail this list. Countries that nevertheless produce top football players.
And the list fails to mention the #1 reason the US has been failing to produce top flight players.
I’d suggest starting over and making it a top 10 list instead.
Gary Kleiban says
Thank you Charles. See my response to Lalo above.
And I failed to mention a lot of things! But don’t worry, they’ll get listed. We can start out by adding the “#1 reason” I missed. Please let us know what that is…
I have would tend to agree. You look at countries in Africa where kids grow up with a ball at their feet and have great technical skill. However, infrastructure and tactical development are lacking.
Here we seem to have an over abundance of infrastructure and some idea of the tactical but the technical is lacking. It would almost appear that there has to be a delicate balance of all of them for it to work.
Regarding poor player pool selections, do you think that having Porter leading the U-23s will significantly change the pool? Does Anthony Ampaipitakwong, for instance, suddenly have a shot?
Brian Kleiban says
WE are seriously hoping that will be the case Ben. Ampi or players of those characteristics is what is needed to play the soccer “a la Spain” that Caleb Porter talks about on the recent conference call he participated in on US Soccer. If the US u23’s wants to play that way in international competition you need to have lots of those types of players with technical quality and awareness on the field. 1 or 2 is not enough. I can’t wait to see the lists of players Caleb puts out for his camps in Nov, Feb, and March. Time will tell.
More Ampaipitakwong’s, less Brek Shea’s needs to be the US Soccer motto!
The last sentences above is exactly why I have this site in favorites, nowhere else in the world can I find someone who would say “More Ampaipitakwong’s, less Brek Shea’s”. I have said that exact sentence and been laughed at before. Break Shea the highly touted international that supposedly is wanted by Manchester United, but I just refuse to buy into the because I actually watch the guy play. Ampai unfortunately will not get the recognition from the masses even though he has tremendous quality because he gets shunted out to a right midfield rule in a team that has no sense for possession football, and they put him out there hoping he can “whip a couple crosses in” in his brief cameo apparences. Hopefully one day people that actually have the power to make these player selections will be heard saying that same quote “Ampaipitakwong’s, less Brek Shea’s”. When we have managers in the MLS and USSF with this point of view we will be truely moving forward. Maybe Porter will the first guy to take this stance!
Gary Kleiban says
It’s tough to speak up. It can be career suicide, or at the very least cause one all kinds of headaches.
Could you imagine someone in the mass public eye saying something as direct as that? Mourinho doesn’t give a shit and speaks freely sometimes. Look at the crap he gets from everyone. Recently Philipp Lahm created a firestorm when he published a book where he apparently (I haven’t read it) says Klinsmann is a tactical zero.
Even on the much smaller scale where this work resides, we’re risking things and have caught our share of grief from many people. Anger even!
And believe it or not, I’m holding back soooooooo much!
Bill F says
Indeed, I’ve said the same things about Shea and people look at me like I’m crazy. I’m just not seeing it with this guy. Poorly paced and placed passes, doesn’t caress the ball on his feet, etc, etc., he plays like your average big HS school player IMO. One of the things I do when I evaluate talent is how they would fit into Barca’s system. A guy like Shea would be completely lost where as an Ampai would at least understand the concepts of their play.
As a Sounders fan, I have seen Brek Shea completely shut down in multiple games by Zach Scott, who’s a nice guy and all, but not what you’d call a “world class” defender. That’s enough to tell me what we’re talking about here.
@Gary, you can also use ‘Open Systems Theory’ to map out soccer’s problems. Systems theory addresses how systems process its environment and become what it is and how it fends off negative entropy. In the case of soccer, the most integral shortfall of the sport is a lack of passion. With that lack passion comes decreased interest in the sport, minimal talent pool, cultural negligence and acceptance, poor management, disinterested participants, limited funding, etc etc. If any of these can be turned into positives, we will slowly see improvements in our soccer culture. My goal and dream in life is to be a soccer scout, so if anyone out there needs one, please let me know!
Gary Kleiban says
Hi Chad. I’m a physicist by training, so my mind wanders into all these areas trying to understand how best to model things. Hopefully you guys can help me create some meaningful work. Thanks for the great suggestion!
In terms of numbers, the US has a large pool of passionate soccer people. I tried to hint at that in this post: http://blog.3four3.com/2011/07/19/us-soccer-culture-problem/
If you agree that Ampai > Brek Shea in terms of technical and tactical quality, then eventually I’ll have a proposition for you. I’m going to need a network of people who can identify true quality.
Bill F says
Sign me up for the Midwest 🙂
Well, I agree with Chad that passion is the missing crucial element and furthermore all of the items on “the list” disappear once it is present. I also agree with Gary in his previous post that US has around 45 million soccer fans, or certainly enough to be considered a passionate soccer nation in terms of quantity. So what is the problem. I think we are at a cross-roads of answering the question “What is American Soccer”? People on this blog want it to be based on the international standard with an American stamp on it and preferably a winning, or even dominant reputation at the highest level. Me too. There may also be a higher percentage of those 45 million American Soccer fans that see it for what it has always been here which is “fresh air and exercise” for suburban white kids. Although, I do not see it this way I do see the merit in it. There is nothing like watching cute little 7 year olds run around in over-sized t-shirts chasing a ball in a pack as the September sun goes down and the night air gets crisp. It is good wholesome American fun that has kept a lot of our suburban kids safe, occupied and healthy between [baseball/basketball/name-your-favorite-other-sport] seasons.
The tipping point is coming though, I think, as I see more and more Barcelona jerseys on the kids at our practices. Last night the chatter at the field was all about Messi missing the penalty kick in the Champions League semi-finals and Chelsea gets though… with 10 men. More and more I see coaches explaining how to kick a ball in terms of how to hit a baseball and these same kids in Barcelona jerseys at practice say to the coach, “What if I don’t know how to hit a baseball?”. Soccer passion has arrived, for real, in many of the younger generation from the internet and international TV… maybe MLS too.
I have no doubt that in time soccer passion will fix every item on the list. My question is will it kill “fresh air and exercise for suburban white kids”? Or can this somehow be wrapped into a new American Style?
Correction – Fends off entropy.
Gary- With respect to Brek Shea, I believe he is a good player but not the type of player we need to move forward with promoting a cohesive team style. Shea is the type of player that needs open spaces up the flanks rather than methodical, disciplined team play. That said, I think I have an eye for talented smart players. I live in Maryland in the DC Baltimore area so there is a wealth of players here that are quality players. Just let me know what you need in the future and I will try to produce results. Thanks!
Gary Kleiban says
I look forward to it!
Matt Morse says
I want to offer solutions to these problems where I am. I know you will attack the list in time, however, here are the 2-3 from the list that affect me directly:
8. Coaching at the youth and collegiate level is pathetic.
What resources do you recommend i look into to become a better coach? Books, videos, websites, youth/adult/pro programs that are doing it right, countries to visit (of course it would be great to travel)
9. Pay-to-play at the youth level filters out much, if not most, of the talent.
I make half my living on youth soccer, do I walk away? How does one address this? Any thoughts on how to attack this one?
10. Parental influence at the youth level.
We have spoken about this one, these issues are at the root!
11. Coach employment and club prosperity at the youth level is overly dependent on winning records.
Basically the same problem as #10.
Also, I recommend you read “Soccernomics”, it addresses some of these items in an interesting way.
Gary Kleiban says
Thanks Matt. Off-the-cuff …
8. Record the best teams in the world. And then study the crap out of the games. Pause the video, slow motion, rewind, slow motion again. Over and over again and study the player positions and movement. For instance, how EXACTLY do they play out of the back? Where are the outside backs, center backs, and d-mid under every situation. So if Valdez gets it, where is everybody? If Pique has it, where is everybody? If Adriano has it, where is everybody? And so on. When you have that totally understood, then you try to implement it on your own teams with repetition up the ying-yang in training, games, and team/individual chats.
Additionally, whenever a truly badass coach comes to town. Go watch all his sessions, and take notes. Mourinho trains at UCLA every single summer.
9. That’s a tough nut to crack because PTP is the youth soccer model. Certainly in your case. Aggressive fundraising, subsidizing a club’s flagship team(s) with fees from lower level teams (usually only feasible in the mega clubs though), or finding a sugar-daddy (which of course comes with terrible baggage as well). Then again, US Soccer doesn’t need every club or team to be free – just a “good number” at the top of each age group.
neat, but this tactical drilling is more for the older ages? u12 and above say? younger than that the coach should focus on developing individual skills?
Gary Kleiban says
Good point man.
Yes, in general that sort of tactical stuff should become more and more of a focus with age.
How much and with what intensity is to be included at the younger ages – sayU9, U10, or U11 – depends on the level of the players. If the team is comprised of say the top 5 to 10% of the age group … then a coach should absolutely be doing this sort of stuff. If you’re dealing with Bronze, then not so much.
This is something else I need to work on. Some sort of guidelines. Reyna’s curriculum touches on this, but I want to go further.
Brandon Elwood says
As a parent of a player I would love to hear more about point 11. I have to say parents of high level players are kind of looked at negatively in my experience. As though we are like the Joe Jackson’s of soccer in the US frothing at the mouth on the sideline at games and practice. I strongly believe that our older players have a coldness to them that comes from being whisked off to places like Bradenton to be turned into robots. It shows in there play and even seems to permeate into there off field personalities. I’m not sure how they do it overseas at academies like the La Masia. But I’m pretty sure that the parent is allowed to be at the pitch and is kept well informed of what is happening. These are just kids still and they need to remain attached on some level to the family dynamic to grow. And many of them want to win and make there family excited and happy like they have been doing all there lives. Most of them play so much soccer that they still goof around like kids when they have a bit of free time. No parent is going to completely shut off about soccer with there kid. From talking about coaches, practice, and the general experience….period. Its part of the package. It is something that should be looked into. The ODP experience in AZ this past January was a disaster from a parental view point. At one point the person who was occasionally communicating with parents had the audacity to tell us we are not allowed to speak with our kids between games and if we felt compelled to speak to them than we could wave at them….12 year old’s…really? I do think that parents have to check themselves, and I think there could be much more to learn about being a parent of a player. Rather than being shut out of the equation because realistically that just does not happen. They should be brought in and maybe even given advise on the matter if they choose too. I stopped trying to teach soccer theory to my son a couple of years ago..because I have no idea if what I am saying is right or wrong. Now I drive him 10 hours a week down and up I-5 to get him to those coaches that I trust will show him what he needs to know. I have noticed that as the level play gets higher and I meet more parents from higher programs,,,they actually seem to be very interested in there kids progress but reasonable. As apposed to lower level soccer where the kids are just dropped off. I am simply a facilitator. Plus we get to spend quality time rocking out to our new favorite station 94.7 out of Davis, CA.
John Pranjic says
I came across a pretty decent code of conduct for parents, coaches, and players. It’s worth taking a glance at. I think someone posted something about this club on one of the 3four3 threads awhile back. http://manhattankickersfc.com/mkfccode/index_E.html
I’ve always asked parents to stay away from practices because I feel like it’s a time for kids to be free. Sometimes kids will act differently with their parents around and can’t let loose or be themselves. Of course, at young ages you want as much parental support and supervision as possible. At 14, 15, 16, and 17… it’s almost like a 2 hour escape for the player. That’s how I explain it to my parents. I would never tell them that they can only wave at their kid from a distance, though!!! Sounds horrible!!!!
I do enough team functions like team dinners, fundraisers, pre/post games activities to make my parents still feel pretty welcomed. I also send out weekly emails detailing what we are working on so parents can learn with us. It helps the parents talk with their players about the game. If the parent has an idea of what we’re working on… it’s easier for them to communicate at the dinner table instead of playing 20 questions and the player getting annoyed. (that’s a personal experience of mine at least! haha)
I guess it comes down to how you approach it or look at it. You can’t block parents out, but you don’t want them in your face.
I realized today that my obession with soccer has hit a critical point. I realized this while watching a news segment about the earthquake in Turkey. The news report showed massive rubble, crying people, emergency workers, and a tents where people are staying. I gasped at the latter sight, but not out of pity or sadness for those homeless people in tents, but because the tents covered an entire soccer field! I’ve hit a new low in my moral character.
Papa Bob says
College is becoming prohibitively expensive for many students, leaving graduates and/or their parents with thousands of dollars of debt. Why does it make sense for a gifted player, like Kelyn Rowe, to complete his education rather than move on to a world class training program. I don’t condone dropping out of college for everyone, but if Kelyn can get true world class training by leaving college – he should do it! In fact, he never should have started college. His education should be in futbol, rather than psychology, or finance, or even physics (sorry Gary). I think its perfectly fine to send the gifted ones to Europe or South America for training with the goal of someday building a large base to players, trained abroad, bring their gifts home. We see the reverse in other disciplines (medicine, science, technology, etc.) where students come here to learn and take their knowledge home. Gifted players should be encouraged to forgoe college. Bachelor’s degrees (with $100,000 of debt attached) are over rated.
Jim Froehlich says
Great article and great comments. I’m always impressed with the level of conversation on this site. Even if I don’t always agree, I always walk away having had my own beliefs intelligently challenged. Kudo’s to your followers.
Regarding the “List”. I completely agree with the more detailed approach you have taken. For me, the usefulness of it lies in the fact that each item either is or can easily be turned into a concrete “To Do”. It’s time to get beyond philosophizing and this list makes that jump.
The one item that could be expanded is attacking the docility of the US fans. It’s not just that they are docile but they have been indoctrinated so much with the physical style of play by coaches, media and their exposure to American football that they actually don’t know how to watch a game. (It drives me nuts when I’m watching a game with friends and they think that midfield play is the time for conversation — only activity in the box is worthy of their attention.)
Regarding Brek Shea: I’m afraid I’m not as negative about him as most of the commentators. While I certainly agree that he is not in the Barca mold, he brings more skill to the front than most of the other options, and for me that’s progress. While I take second place to no one in my love of the Barca style, I think we need to be a bit more pragmatic at this stage. If we tried to field the 11 US players who best fit the Barca model at this stage, we would not only get slaughtered but would set back real progress for years, maybe forever !!! We need to begin immediately to start feeding the Amphi’s into the system but we aren’t at the stage where we can forgo the real talents, such as they are, of a Brek Shea. I believe that we have a short window to show “some” progress, some wins, before the dinosaurs rear their heads. Just remember Klinsmann is not “beloved” by everyone.
BTW – while I don’t have the scouting credentials that many of your other readers have, I do have contacts in Chattanooga and Florida that would easily help your project. Please let me know how you plan to proceed.
“It drives me nuts when I’m watching a game with friends and they think that midfield play is the time for conversation — only activity in the box is worthy of their attention.”
Love that comment! It reminds me of the crowds that start to boo whenever the teams start working the ball back and forth between the mids and back, or across the backline. Its absolutely pathetic.
Jim, good points overall but this statement is conflicted and a reason we are still not progressing as a country in my opinion.
“If we tried to field the 11 US players who best fit the Barca model at this stage, we would not only get slaughtered but would set back real progress for years, maybe forever !!! We need to begin immediately to start feeding the Amphi’s into the system but we aren’t at the stage where we can forgo the real talents, such as they are, of a Brek Shea.”
-So are you saying have both Shea’s and Ampai’s in a team, or a whole team in the “Shea model”? Either way I think this is simply a shortcut, we will not get slaughtered playing in the Barca style except maybe the rare occasion against a powerhouse which will slaughter us anyways, and how can currently playing a style that would be your end goal set us back other than some short term results? . And all this is really is a shortcut, we are sacrificing long term development to reach a world class level in support of a few meaningless, maybe slightly better results by playing and promoting players like Shea and Edu rather than an Ampai or a Torres.
Another comment I have is in response to the increasing fees of the college game, the short season of the college game. How many players every year that are very strong players at the U18 level, but aren’t found, aren’t quite ready, or whatever it might be to get a scholarship to play college ball end up simply playing adult leagues and working a regular every day job? Many brilliant players can’t afford to go to college , and they can’t afford or don’t consider trialing overseas, which is the only pro option really because American teams get all their players from overseas pro teams or college teams. The two suggestions I have, and I don’t know if either of them are feasible, but it would prevent this massive number of players falling through the cracks: -Year Round PDL league is one thing I believe would work. -The other thing you could maybe do is extend the Develoment Academy to U-23, go straight from U-18’s to U-23’s. And another thing you could do is you could add MLS reserve teams into this league, with either a year round PDL league, or a U-23 Development Academy established. You could even have players who are attending colleges play in these leagues if they desired to, opposed to only having inrtamural soccer or club soccer. The problem is that if players don’t end up playing college soccer here after they graduate high school, they are finished. The roster’s on MLS teams aren’t large enough to have a lot of young guys, and not everyone can afford to play college which means a lot of potentially great players are falling through the cracks after they graduate high school, and there is probably a better option but I think the two I came up with (Year round PDL League, and establishing a U23 Development Academy Age Group) are two very good options just off the top of my head.
Jim Froehlich says
You’re right, there is a conflict in my thinking. I am generally a very pragmatic person and silver bullets immediately put me on edge. That’s why, as much as I love Barca, I don’t think that we can allow ourselves to focus solely on their style as our short term selection criteria. There have been and always will be great players that don’t quite fit the Barca mold. One of my past favorites was Dennis Bergkamp; big, skillful, and silky smooth. As much as I liked him I don’t think he would fit into the Barca team. A more recent example, Ibrahimovich, who was a definite square peg in a round hole, but we certainly wouldn’t bypass him for the USMNT. The lesson I take from Barca is that the core of the team MUST first be skilled passers and then very comfortable with the ball at their feet. However,I would leave room for the pure striker like Bergkamp, Ibrahimovic, or even Klinsmann.
Regarding Shea and Ampai (thanks for ignoring my misspelling in the first post), at this stage, I want them both. If Klinsmann is able to turn around the development ocean liner, it will still be a couple of years before the more skillful players can make their way onto the conveyor belt.
Any real disagreement we may have can probably be laid to the fact that I am old and a lot less optimistic than you are. I am scared to death that if Klinsmann doesn’t show progress in his first year that the establishment hounds will be after him (he’s a foreigner you know !!!).
I have a very cynical outlook about soccer success — ugly teams can and do win! It takes a skilled team to successfully and continuously defeat bigger, faster, and more athletic teams. If not, why would most colleges and England generally have stubbornly refused to seek out the more skilled, but smaller players —because they can win playing ugly. For me that is what is at stake here — if we can’t show some progress by winning, the establishment will be back. We have a limited time to flesh out the USMNT with the largest number of skilled players available and then we take the best of the rest !!! I am just not that optimistic about finding sufficient players in the Barca mold over the next year or two. I pray that I’m wrong.
SoCal E says
Kevin I agree with you. This is what I wrote to Gary when he first emailed me the LIST:
“Great List! I would add there is no true level for players after U19. Especially for non college players. Need a true U23-25 league with development as the main objective. The cost to the team needs to be reasonable. PDL too expensive and season is too short. No training for top players, whether they are in college or not.”
I have been involved with the Academy and we pushed for older levels at a town hall meeting at the end of the first year. We were told that they were going with youngers since olders had college. So unless we as a soccer community don’t start at league and involve the Academy teams it is not going to happen.
It’s a great list, but I would add this and make it #1: Kids don’t play enough soccer. Not nearly enough. Not even close to enough.
Some quotes from Klinsman I think are spot on:
“The foundation is youth. What is really missing compared to the leading soccer nations around the world, … is the amount of time kids play the game. A kid in Mexico might do 20 hours of soccer a week — 4 training and 14 playing around with his buddies in the street.”
“One thing is certain: The American kids need hundreds and even thousands more hours to play. That is a really crucial thing.”
The only thing he’s wrong about is the “hundreds” part — it’s definitely thousands. Consider some math for a moment. Lots of people are fond of citing the “10,000 hour rule” these days, as in – it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. Now consider that in soccer, skill mastery really has to be complete by about 17 years of age. So spread those 10,000 hours over 12 years and you get this reality:
Between ages 5-17 kids should be playing an average of 16.5 hours per week, 50 weeks per year = 825 hours per year.
This is what people miss when they say things like “we have X million registered youth soccer players in this country yet we haven’t produced a single world class field player.” How many of our millions of youth soccer players even come close to 16 hrs/week of year-round training b/f they reach their mid-teenage years?
At U5-U8 following the “standard curriculum”, they get maybe two 1 hour practices + one 40 min game per week x 10 weeks per season x 2 seasons per year = 53 hours per year.
Then let’s say at U9 they make a travel or select team and up it to maybe 3 x 90 minute sessions per week. So if they train year round at that rate they get a whopping 250 hours a year. Still less than 25% of what’s needed. Yet if you try to tell one of those parents that their kid doesn’t play enough soccer they’ll look at you like you’re crazy and start prattling on about “burnout”…
I know there are exceptions (Kephern’s JogaSC here in Northern VA is one of them), but they are still the minority. Some clubs give lip service to the idea of street / pick-up soccer and maybe put together 1 session per week during the spring and fall season, but it all comes woefully short.
That is spot on Mike. I coach U14 boys and I often ask them in practice if they watched a soccer game that week or played on their non-practice days. The answer is almost always no. Most only watch the World Cup or only play when we have practice or games, which amount to only 4-5 hrs a week. Its one thing to play soccer, but to live and breathe it is a whole different animal. That’s what I was referring to when I posted up top about being passionate about the game. Playing soccer and having a passion for it is totally different and most kids in the US just play to play and do not play for the love of the game. I play pickup games in Maryland as well. Sometimes we get 30 people playing and I am usually (95% of the time) the only natural born American playing. Its sad that a 36 yr old man plays more soccer than a 14-18 yr old. Youth is wasted on the young I suppose.
We can fix this problem!
I agree that our kids don’t play enough soccer. The parents of soccer kids are a big problem too. Most don’t play and never have, but week after week they are driving hours to these games and have no appreciation for what they are spending all of their spare time and money on… but this can be corrected!
We’re starting to do it in my league on the East Coast and it is growing week by week. So can you.
On Sunday evenings after 5:30pm or 6pm when the league play has ended have parent-child pickup games. Keep it small sided and casual, but stick to soccer principles. If more people show up than 5 v 5 max then have 2 games. If interest grows require cleats and shin guards for the main game to segregate the more serious players and have the rest on the next field playing casual pick up. Some other advice; players choice to bring the ball back in, no goalies to keep everybody running, touching the ball, and scoring. Have a neutral player if you have an odd number or somebody who doesn’t want to run. Keep it soccer league parents, their children, and family to keep it from turning into a pick up soccer free for all on your league’s field.
We got this idea when vacationing in Florida this summer after tourists left and local families (mostly hispanic) gravitated to the soccer fields around sunset to enjoy the cooler night time air and play soccer. There were four or five games going on every night. All ages of members of the families came out and had a choice of an appropriate game to play in. There was much teaching and appreciation for soccer going on right here in America! I was floored.
Hey, the fields are there right in your neighboorhood and they are sitting idle on Sunday evenings! Use them with your children and spread the word. Soon enough you will have a crowd there every week.
If you do this in your town you will benefit by:
1. Kids will average 2 more hours per week during the good weather months. In my area that is probably 7 months so lets say 30 weeks. 60 more hours per year x 10 years = 600 more hours. Not 10,000 but it gets you closer. And the kids don’t have to change clothes.
2. You will attract foreign parents who are too intimidated to volunteer to be board members or coaches of your soccer league, but may be phenomenal players. They will love to play and show their stuff to kids. I’ve seen it happen here.
3. Soccer parents will get to know soccer. This is perhaps the greatest benefit. We have one parent who never played but his son does. He is totally into MLS because of his son’s involvement in the sport. He sort of knows the game from TV. He loves to play now and gets a real taste for how physicially demanding it is. He tries a lot of the moves he sees and begins to appreciate how incredibly hard it is to use your feet to run and control a ball simultaneously. Also, he has begun to see how incredibly clueless his son’s coaches are at teaching contemporary soccer to our kids.
4. We all learn that soccer is incredibly fun at all age levels, not just for the under 7 years olds out there for fresh air and exercise.
I know it’s possible, and it is happening in a few small pockets here and there, but until Klinsman I had not heard anyone from high up in U.S. Soccer squarely address the quantity issue.
You’re right that pick-up / street soccer is the way to get there, and ror players not lucky enough to live in a community where they are immersed in a soccer culture, that means that the clubs have to step up and fill that void. A year and a half ago I started running 2 hr pick-up sessions every week for my son’s age group (U5 at the time). The next thing I knew I was volunteered to be the director of training for the club, so now that program has expanded a bit. 🙂 In the summer and winter we do three 2-3 hour sessions every week of U5-U8 pickup. During the season we cut it down to 1 session per week, but players also have 2 rec team practices per week, plus a game on the weekend, and an additional 2-hour session for advanced players on Sundays – which is 20 min footskills, 20 min possession games, 80 min 4v4 free play. It’s a start.
The example I follow was set by Kephern Fuller of JogaSC here in Fairfax, VA. Here’s how he makes sure his kids get the hours in. He trains U10&U14 travel teams that each practice 3 times/week (M-W-F). By coordinating field requests and then sharing space, he’s able to extend each of those practice sessions, and some of the best U10s get to train with the U14s after their own practice is over. On T-Th, he runs true street soccer sessions – futsal on outdoor basketball courts, from 5:30 – dark. So that’s 5 days/week, plus games on the weekend, all year round. It helps that he’s also a first class coach. The result is some pretty nice looking football: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCAdcf1ReiE.
So it’s definitely possible. It just needs to happen on a much wider scale. Kephern’s a true believer on a mission, and charges just enough to cover (barely) the cost of gas and a meal. Pay to play is no impediment to talent in his program. Unfortunately there aren’t enough like him, which is where volunteer parents like us come in. I have been fortunate to have the support of our club, but I know others who have tried similar programs elsewhere and run into a wall of resistance. I still face the problem of getting consistent support from enough parents – many of whom fear that playing too much will make their kid hate the sport.
All of which is why I think the more voices of authority (U.S. Soccer Fed, Klinsman, Claudio Reyna, 3four3) who come out and say that young kids need to play every day, the better.
Charles Kerr says
Yes. That’s #1 by a country mile. The other 25 points (many of which I’m very skeptical of regardless) are only important in how they impact the motivation of 7 year olds and their parents.
Relegation? 3rd party ownership? Who cares? Whack all those from the list.
How do you get 7 year old boys and girls playing 5 times or more soccer than they are now? That might really maybe the only question that matters.
Gary Kleiban says
I hope you stick around Charles.
There’s far more than meets the eye.
Sunday sunset sessions are perfect pick-up soccer opportunities. Nobody is at the field Sunday just before sunset. That is the perfect time to cultivate fun “street-style” soccer, no coaches, no pressure, just a ball and your friends on these beautiful fields that we have all over the country that are empty every week at this time.
Forgot one more HUGE problem: Over-dribbling! Something I think Alberto complained about. At the time, I thought Albert was speaking about the players who try to get past five defenders and dribble box to box. I don’t see the very often.
The over-dribbling I do see very often players taking three, four, five touches in fairly tight spaces and under immediate pressure just to make a pass. They get the ball and are clueless what to do next. This inability is at the root of many fundamental problems that plague youth soccer. Add to this lack of focus on ball mastery, and we’ve got serious fundamental issues.
It starts with thinking ahead. Reading the game and being physically and mentally ready to receive and pass before you actually get the ball. Knowing what to do before it happens. If a player cannot do this, it leads to poor passing, loss of possession, slowing down of game, poor technique, no combination play, and panicked play as opposed to calmness over the ball. There’s more . . . but I think you get it.
One thing I think we all agree on is USA has yet to develop truly technical players. I’m talking the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Silva, Kaka, Pirlo, and so on . . . . It could be that by U12 and definitely by U14, our system (be it coaching and / or lack of proper player identification) disregards and overlooks talent rather than enable and nurture it.
I think 95% of youth players don’t understand that ability to maintain possession is more important than over-dribbling. I don’t claim to be the La Masia / Barca expert, but you can see the quality of their youth products. Numerous other clubs / countries regularly pump out these type of players (Ajax, Argentina, Roma, Madrid, Portugal, Brazil, Man U, Inter, Milan, etc . . . .) They get it!
I’ve yet to see one IMG product even come close to true quality player. Could it be that IMG is not to blame? Maybe the funnel is already hemorrhaged much earlier from its source. I think that’s the case.
You’re right that this is a mental issue, and I think it’s one of the primary problems in the US game. The vast majority of players in the US have a slow thought process. Watch any MLS game and you’ll see the same sequence over and over: the ball is passed and the recipient traps the ball, often clumsily, and then starts looking around for somewhere to send it. Contrast that with a game from a top European or South American team: the ball is passed, the recipient either passes it again immediately, or deftly traps it and immediately makes the move he’s decided on, even as the ball was on the way to him.
That awareness and advanced decision making is simply out of reach for most US players, but it’s not magic. You get there by finding the kids who get it to begin with and then by giving them the best coaching.
Carlos — In addion to playing daily and practice at home, development includes watching games on TV. For example, the only games I tell my son to watch is Barca. We spend the time analyzing movement, where players are, why they moved here or there, why they made a run when they did, why they tracked back, how they positioned themselves, how they received the ball, and so on. Try to stress the “why”. Kids can learn so much from that (much more than they get at teampractice). I highly recommend it.
Totally agree w/you about MLS and contrast to Europe. I truly belive most, if not all, soccer mistakes are mental. The physical mistake we see can often be traced back to mental prepardness (lack of mental memory, situational awareness, not thinking ahead, recognizing situaitons or knowing what to do ahead of time).
Something else I forgot to mention is stressing balance, control, and calmness over the ball. But again, these are a funciton of ball mastery and ability to think ahead.
The speed of play, one-touch passing we see from eliter players — can and will never happen in USA until there is a strong emphasis on this at young ages.
Lalo, it sounds like you’re giving your son a good base.
One of the things I’ve been struck by is how simply the top players play most of the time. If I had to guess, I’d say that 90% of touches from Barça players are basic traps or passes that every player learns. The difference is that they’re executed perfectly and without the delay of the player figuring out what to do next.
There’s a quote from one of the Dune books that goes “The difference between a good administrator and a bad one is about five heartbeats. Good administrators make immediate choices … [that] usually can be made to work.” It’s very much the same with soccer players.
Carlos — I think some coaches over complicate things. Your Barca observations (simplicity) is dead on. Breakdown a socer match. Only 2-mins with the ball. The other 88-mins is movement off the ball. Out of the 2-mins w/ball, 90% of that s/b one-two touch. The moments of brilliance are rare. So the takeaway is learn the basics (pass, receive, control, passing, movement).
As I heard Ray Hudson (GolTV) say: “A gigabyte of skil in a nano-second.”
Good point, and it’s particularly apparent when the USMNT actually tries to play possession soccer. Our players move, receive, … and then take 2-3-4 touches while they are deciding what to do next. Over and over and again. You could say that slowness of thought is practically a defining characteristic of our soccer. In Barcelona it’s often 1-2 touch for long stretches, and when they do dribble – it’s decisive. It’s either an attack (ex – Messi or Iniesta) or a few assured touches to play out of pressure and find space, all the while the head is up and they are thinking, thinking, thinking (ala Xavi). Mentally – it’s like we are playing checkers while they are playing chess – always thinking 3-4 moves ahead, and at breakneck speed.
When we do try to speed it up and put together some 1-2 touch sequences, it breaks down within a few passes because our players currently just don’t have the technical ability to execute with the kind of consistency needed to play that way. If you were grading them on 1st touch and passing accuracy, our players would be mostly C or D students, with a couple of Bs.
For speed of thought and technical ability to play possession soccer, the role model has to be Xavi, above all others, but take any of the Spanish players. We don’t have a player on the full USMNT who can measure up, in terms of Soccer IQ and technique, with any of the players on their U21 team. Their formula is really not that complicated – (1) excellent youth coaching according to an accepted national style that values form over results; on top of (2) a technical base formed from a very young age by hours upon hours of playing in the street/playground/wherever ….
Most of you have probably seen these articles about Xavi, but for those who haven’t they’re worth a read. Especially the parts that talk about his pre-Masia football education.
“When he finished school at 12:00 he was at the football pitch by 12:15. In the book “El Nuevo Barça”, he describes how football left his mom without bread: “Mom gave me money and told me to buy bread on the way home, I told her that she could trust me. But the bakery closed at 14:00 but 14:15 I was still out playing football. When I came home, mom asked me were the bread was, then I remembered that I had forgot it!”
Xavi was a great kid but football often made him forget about other things. This apparently happened often and one time, on New Years Eve, his mom called for him to come as the clock was turning twelve. Xavi told her he was on his way but soon forgot about it as he was playing football on the street with some friends. They had played all day and the result was 51-50.”
The stories of every great footballer all have that element: their talent – the touch, the close control, the moves, the instinctual parts of their game, all get forged by playing hours upon hours in the street. Good coaching at 10+ polishes that, and develops the mental side. In the US for the most part we lack both.
Spot on about Xavi, enjoyed reading that
Thank you Lalo, you’ve explained it better than I could.
Wanted to share a few more thoughts in hopes in helps in whatever end product you put together.
There are numerous isses as we’ve seen. Certain clubs may initiate a coaching curriculum that fixes some of them, but that’s random. This ad-hoc, uncoordinated approach will result in differing results.
A well known phrase by Peter Drucker (Management / Leadership guru) is: “Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right thing.” The former is managers doing things according to plan, doing what told, not questioning things. The latter is leaders acting outside the plan, initiating needed change, setting precedent to correct things they know are aren’t working. I believe Klinsmann, Ramos, Porter and Reyna of this leadership mentality.
On a larger scale outside this blog (US Soccer as a whole down to club level), if we ignore the issues this blog has identified or do nothing about them, they will still be there festering and getting further entrenched and that more difficult to change. Even the greatest soccer minds won’t enable change things if those at the top don’t champion it. That’s when individual clubs and regional organizations (e.g., Cal South and it’s equivalent across the country) pursue their own paths. Then we’re back to randomness. We end up more knowledgeable via the exchange of ideas, but still nothing changes. Inertia by upper leadership / management makes any good idea die on the vine. This is why I harp on leadership so much.
Once your list is finalized, what do you plan on doing with it? Share with USSF? Don’t laugh 🙂 They are probably too removed from grass roots to even consider outside input from peons? I’m totally clueless to the inner workings of USSF.
I’m sure the new USSF regime already know 98%+ of what we’ve spoken of in this blog. But most everyone learns something new every day or at least exposed to different perspective on things (angles they never considered). So I’m hopeful. If not, we’re just hot air on this blog.
Gary Kleiban says
Your posts, along with everyone else’s, get my juices flowing. Thank you!!!
You have a lot of great points and each one deserves, and will get, an entire treatise. There’s so much to discuss, so much in my head.
I’ll publish something fresh by tomorrow morning.
Roby Stahl says
Well said…it is time to shake up the tree!
Kamal de Gregory says
Hello Esteemed Gentlemen,
Everyone who has posted, has shown a deep concern and love for the game of football. One that I share also.
I grew up playing youth soccer in Florida, then at the University of Central Florida and then with the Bahamas National Team. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamal_Degregory
The reason I make mention of my past is because it demonstrates intimate knowledge of the US system. I have also played professionally in Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica and Brazil. Each system has its own unique challenges, which I studied in depth during my time in each country.
Gary has put out an excellent list detailing root and secondary inefficiencies in the US system, as a colleague, I offer my findings, knowledge and possible solutions.
The core problem beyond any other is education at all levels. When it comes to soccer education, each one of those countries I mentioned, (save the Bahamas) has the U.S. licked.
Each country has a soccer knowledge floor that is much higher then the US, meaning the average soccer knowledge each citizen has, in general, is higher then the average American. So when a Costa Rican father instructs his son, there is more substance. When a Brazilian coach instructs his u8 futsal team, there is more expertise there. When a Mexican scout must decide between players to represent, he is more savy on what comprises a champion.
Education, Education, Education is the game changer. If a player is educated on how to beat a player on the dribble (individual attack), he will love the game more, because he is mastering the game. He will want to work more, because there is the feeling of progress and accomplishment. That builds love, the kind of love that gets players to achieve professionalism.
Making it as a professional soccer player in the U.S. is hard, actually too hard, that is why I left this country after college. Anyone who can make a living playing soccer in the US has my respect.
Whether they are Breck Shea or someone with more crafty, silky skill, its the system from the bottom up that produces the individual. The streets of Brazil produced Pele’ not Santos. Same with Messi, he only found education and growth hormones at Barca. Regardless if we say we want 10 Xavi’s, Iniestas or whatever, that can only be produced through a compilation of human and educational resources.
The U.S. can build the best players in the world, but not by just producing 10 outstanding field players. We must build 1000 through a coordinated system that makes the knowledge floor rise.
Okay, so how do we educate players to the level of professionalism that covers these 25 system flaws.
My suggestion is two fold.
1. Improve individual education – 2. Improve processing system
1. We need to adopt new field training systems that bring players and coaches onto the same page, so communication is improved. For instance, when we speak about Barcelona and their passing, that is too vague. What is happening on the field should be explained through, Attack, Passive Attack and Escape movements in and out of space. Students need to learn to decide to do one of these three actions in the moment with fluidity. We need to focus on creating soccer artists who can display their souls on the pitch, regardless of physical dimensions. More information at http://SoccerCourse.me
2. Now how do we process millions systematically? Stakeholders from players, parents, coaches, organizations and fans have their own needs and fuel the global economic system in a specific way. We divide this system and subsequent soccer experience into three main areas. Each main area is further divided into sub levels that continue to serve specific stakeholder needs. To see this model in Action – go to http://PlaySoccer.me
From here on in, quality can be measured and quantified. Human resource can be managed and educated on how to contribute their uniqueness, whether it is Brazilian or English methodologies all in one place. This model is a mixture of commercial and open source.
Gary, I am indebted to your work and would be honored if we can collaborate in the future.
I have also made reference to the preceding list in this soccer business article: http://www.playsoccer.me/index.php/business-net/1129-bank-on-emotional-equity
Gary Kleiban says
I too believe that is at the heart of our issues:
Education at all levels.
Hence the mantra of this blog: “Soccer Development through Education”. 🙂
Thank you for the link on your site, and of course I’m open to collaboration.
I’d like to send you an article I have written that speaks to many things on the list. But I want some feedback before I look to circulate it. How can I send it to you without opening it up to the entire forum just yet ? Do you have an e-mail address I can use ?
Gary Kleiban says
Any chance I could get a copy:
Uninvited Company says
I think there is a great deal of truth and relevancy to nearly all of the items on your list.
My comment is that I think one of these, or more accurately the idea behind one of these, is really the cornerstone for all of the problems that you describe not just in this particular post, but throughout this site. The definition of cornerstone—the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation—is particularly apt here since all other stones are set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position of the entire structure.
The cornerstone item is contained within item #12—business objectives are not aligned with player development at the youth level. More broadly, the rules of the market as it has been defined (by laws, regulations, and supply and demand) here in the United States result in a series of cascading direct and indirect effects that lead ultimately to, well, your list, or something pretty close to it.
Just to pick one example, the level of parent involvement at the youth level (#10 on your list) stems from “pay to play” (#9), which is the only option available since no “ownership rights” are granted to those programs or organizations who develop a player—so there is no market incentive to justify large investments in youth development programs (#12). Parental involvement leads to a focus on the pursuit of college scholarships, which results in an emphasis on winning more so than development (#11), and the easiest short cut to winning, especially for coaches who fall into category #8 (“pathetic”), is to play a conservative counterattacking style (AKA kickball) which relies on athleticism rather than skill and technique (#24).
I have far more knowledge about youth soccer than I do about the MLS, so I will tread carefully in my comments about the MLS, but it seems to me that it is the rules of the market which dictate relatively low player salaries in the MLS (I believe the league minimum is around $42K, with median salaries below $75K, and many “stars” earning $100-150K), and similarly since the revenue streams of MLS franchises (few of which are profitable) are relatively modest, there are constraints on things such as coaching (#2), scouting (#15, #16), and league structure (#21 and #22).
Given the level of salaries in the MLS, college scholarships at places like Harvard, Duke, UVA, UCLA, etc. can easily be worth as much as the gross salary of an average MLS career (typically just 3-4 years or so). This feeds back into parental involvement (#10), and parents, as I mentioned above, push local clubs/associations to improve their “reputation” (winning tournaments, their state cup, etc.) since that has a tendency to lead to college scholarships. This behavior is perfectly rational in economic terms, I should add.
The whole situation is, in short, a mess. But the fact that it is a mess really should not surprise anyone, given where the cornerstone has been placed.
The sad part is that it is really difficult to have positive change with regard to any of the areas on your list without moving/replacing/fixing the cornerstone, which dictates the rules of engagement for soccer here in the United States to a large extent.
Looking at other countries who do not have this set of problems, it appears to me that addressing the cornerstone requires direction from a large actor (e.g. the government—changing laws/regulations regarding ownership rights, or funding certain aspects of youth development, to give just two examples), or a group of smaller actors (e.g. billionaire owners who are willing to spend/lose lots of money in order to build a MLS franchise), or changes in society or culture that cannot be easily directed (e.g. increased consumer demand for U.S.-based professional soccer, new cultural preference for true possession-based attacking soccer, etc.). I do not see much potential for near-term solutions in these areas, unfortunately. I did not set out with the intention of being quite this pessimistic, but these sorts of changes constitute a “heavy lift”.
However, I do think that there are some things that can be done to improve the overall situation, even without moving the cornerstone. The simplest way is to go about this is to (1) develop ideas that work, (2) apply those ideas somewhere, (3) demonstrate clearly that those ideas work, (4) tell people about items #1-3 in a detailed fashion (on this blog, for example), and (5) encourage people to plagiarize the ideas/model, and apply it wherever they have the opportunity to do so.
And the higher the level at which this can be done, the more effective it can be. I know even less about college soccer than I do about the MLS, but from everything I read here, Caleb Porter’s program at the University of Akron is a success story. The more details that can be made available about what he did and how he did it, and what the results were, the better, because people who are passionate about soccer—particularly possession-based attacking soccer—will do their best to replicate that.
And the more time and energy that your blog spends in support of such an effort, the better.
Speaking broadly, much of what you have written here on your blog is focused on identifying problems. I think you have done a great job of doing that, providing a level of frankness and detail that I have not found elsewhere.
What I have started to see recently (January of 2012) in the comments, though, is an interest in what comes next—for those who agree with you, what should they do to start fixing these problems, and how should they do it? How should parents of skilled players evaluate the options that are available to them in terms of clubs/associations, coaches, and training opportunities? How should youth coaches expand their knowledge and learn how to develop players the right way? What should executives in state associations or with college programs do to become more “Caleb Porter-like”? What are the right metrics to use in evaluating players, and how do we define them, so that we can all speak the same language when discussing player pools, whether at the state ODP level, or for the USMNT?
Yes, as some have pointed out elsewhere in the comments, it is perhaps arrogant of you to think that you have the answers to these questions, and it is no doubt arrogant of me, given my resume, to think that my analysis above is correct, or that the questions I pose are the ones that need to be addressed.
At a minimum, I believe there is value in their discussion, and I think that sharing information on these topics allows for people to make up their own minds as to what is needed.
I do think that we (people frustrated with the soccer landscape in the United States) sometimes lose sight of the fact that most people involved in the sport, including many who may appear to be defenders of the status quo, all want the same thing—greater success for the USMNT, a higher level of play in the MLS, better college programs, and better youth development opportunities. In many instances, they may be trapped in a cycle of, “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have,” and they may not have the information they need to change things. Again, this is where your blog can help.
I am sorry for the “curiously long post”, to borrow a turn of phrase from Joe Posnanski; I guess it is a result of my being a regular visitor to and reader of this blog for two years without having commented previously.
I also apologize for the pseudonym, but as I think you have found since you started the site, there is a tendency for some to make the debate about the person presenting the opinions and ideas, rather than the opinions and ideas themselves.
Great points. As you said, so much that is wrong flows from the fact that clubs can’t have an ownership interest in the players they develop, which would give them a market incentive towards long term player development instead of short-term winning. The European policy of the “solidarity contribution” where youth clubs get a percentage of later transfer fees for players they trained as kids (depending on how much time they spent of the club) has a huge impact on incentives and how coaches are ultimately judged. Take Arjen Robben as an example (b/c he was the quickest I could find on Google:)). Developed by his hometown club FC Groningen, played a couple of seasons for their 1st team before they sold him at age 19 for $6.1 mn to PSG. Then every time he got sold – to Chelsea, Real Madrid, and finally Bayern, Groningen got another cut. The last transfer, from RM to FCBayern, was worth $788,000 to his youth club, and that was 7 years after he’d last set foot on their training pitch!
One of the biggest hypocrisies in US sports is the fact that our child labor laws (from what I’ve been told) prevent such practices, supposedly to avoid the exploitation of young athletes, and yet the NCAA makes billions without giving its athletes a dime.
Concur. There is nothing amateur about the NCAA. It’s basically a black market for atheletic talent. And if a high school athlete decides to skip college so he can actually get paid for all the work he does and all of the attention he brings to an organization, he is looked down upon. It’s sad.
I enjoyed your curiously long post. Finding this blog has been a real eye-opener. I would be interested in your opinion on a debate I am currently having with another parent. An academy that my son is to try out for in May is moving to a 10 month season. The other parent says this is crazy and that the youth soccer association is only doing this so they can charge more. I say that the 10 month season makes it is more in line with how children growing up in other countries experience the game, as a way of life, not just a season to pass through. I further argued that a 10 month season would make the academy prohibitive for those children who participate in other sports and thereby, only the children who were committed to soccer would want to participate and this could only move the level of play upward. Would you care to weigh in?
Let your friend know that it is not just 1 academy or youth soccer assoc – this was a US Soccer move for all it’s Developmental Academies (http://www.ussoccer.com/news/development-academy/2012/02/development-academy-moves-to-10-month-season.aspx).
It is a good move. Yes, 10 months cost more than 6 (3 in the fall, 3 in the spring), but leaving pay-to-play aside for the moment, 10 months are also better than 6. The idea of soccer as a “seasonal” (i.e. – Fall & Spring) sport seems to be an entirely U.S. creation, made to make it fit into the landscape of other American sports (football in the fall, basketball, in winter, baseball in spring, etc…. ). I suppose at some point in the past that made sense to increase the popularity and acceptance of the sport, but that time is past. It is already the most popular youth sport in the country. It is time to get good at it. Part of that means getting people used to the idea that it is a year-round sport.
I completely agree and will share your points with her. The break between fall and spring drives my son nuts. We usually end up organizing games and practices during the break just so he doesn’t tear the house down. I do worry about the price going up though. I feel the academies now are leaving good players out in the cold. We do some fundraising here, but I know there are kids who aren’t getting the opportunity to play.
Great post Melissa. I wish more parents thought like you think, we would be much better off as a soccer nation.
Uninvited Company says
My short answer is that if your son has a passion for soccer (meaning that he enjoys playing soccer anywhere and everywhere–whether training on his own, practicing with a team, playing pick-up games, playing organized league or tournament games, etc.), enjoys competing, and is serious about becoming the best player that he can, he needs to be playing and training all year. As you point out, that is how it is done everywhere else in the world.
Yes, this makes it more expensive, given the pay-for-play landscape here in the US. As I pointed out in my earlier comment, though, that is a function of the legal definition of ownership rights and the economic rules of the road in this country. It is not reasonable to expect those few knowledgeable and dedicated youth coaches that we have to provide their services for free (and no, I am not a coach). For those players who are skilled, dedicated, and whose families are not in a position to pay full price, some clubs and some non-profits have a limited number of partial or even full scholarships available. As players get older (13+), they can also offset the cost of training by getting certified as a referee, and working either for their club, or independently.
This does not mean that it is somehow “wrong” to approach soccer as something that is done 6 months out of the year on teams that practice once or twice a week. But those that take such an approach cannot expect that it will develop players who can compete on the world stage.
If you want to be serious about soccer, and about player development, that requires a dedicated and serious approach. If you want your son to get exercise, be part of a team, and enjoy playing soccer as a form of recreation and entertainment, that is fine, too.
Think about what is the best fit for your son, and then find a club that can meet his needs. It might be the club he is on, or it might mean you need to get involved with your current club to push for changes, or you might need to find another club.
Best of luck.
Wow, Gary! Love the list. It has so accurately organized the random thoughts that roll through my family’s head as we send our 9 yr old out on the field. The first time my Costa Rican husband and I attended a Wake Forest University soccer game, I thought he was going to walk out. He said he didn’t recognize the game he was watching. For someone who had studied and played the game his entire life, at a superior level in his own country, it was sort of sad. The look on his face is one I won’t forget. And the sad thing is, there are people all over this country just like him, who have no influence and no voice in the way their children are developed. We hope you are very successful and that your voices are heard loud and clear throughout the youth soccer world.
I think a lot of these are connected.
For instance 18) Docile fan base. For me this is directly connected to 20) single entity and 21) no pro/rel. Like a lot of US soccer fans i tried to support MLS. But i just can’t do it anymore. I can’t support this single entity system that Is responsible for hindering so much of our development as a soccer nation. If we look at many of the problems with US soccer so many of them can be tied right to single entity. It’s just asinine that we have a league where the teams are not independently owned. When you don’t have competition for players it affects everything.
Thanks for the list. In my opinion:
#1-25: We lack the culture of soccer.
Kids left left to their own devices can create a very good framework of skill and comfort on the ball. There is nowhere kids can just show up and find an unstrucrured game to play in. Part of this is due to to suburban sprawl in the US and part of it is just lack of an unorganized soccer playing culture.
Look at basketball players here who grow up with this. An earlier poster was complaining about not being able to find anywhere for her kid to play between seasons! That is our biggest problem in a nutshell.
College Soccer is irrelevant. Most of those players are largely finished products skillwise by the time they’re 18. From there you can mainly improve physically and psychologically.
The best players reach 10,000 hours of practice at a very young age (see Malcolm Gladwell). If you read bios of the top world players they all had omni-present street soccer available and played every day, all the time. We don’t have this.
Players such as Rooney, Ronaldo, Messi etc. would likely have become the players they are regardless of their youth coaches. Good players make themselves
Coaching is largely irrelevant in player development. As self-congratulatory as youth coaches can tend to be, their best role can be more as a role-model who can invigorate a kids passion to grow as a player. Of course they may bemoan the “system” of youth soccer in the US that is keeping kids down, but remember they often have something to gain here. If they can elevate their perceived level of expertise, parents will pay them more money.
We just don’t currently have the culture to foster consistent top-level talent.
R10 fan says
Pick up games aren’t everyday. No one is really playing on the strrets. THERE IS NO FUTSAL! Unbelievable, futsal pushed aside for for crap they call indoor soccer
There is lots of futsal going on in Northern California- there are Futsal leagues that lead up to a Regional Championship, then a National tournament in Anaheim/Disneyland- Its a great combination with the outdoor soccer and you can play all year round, Qualifiying for Nationals is a big feather in a kids cap! My sons teams compete in Futsal the day spring and fall outdoor season ends. They train just as hard for futsal as outdoor soccer- Tennis courts in the summer and gyms during the winter for training…Here is a link to the Futsal.
Here’s a comment I can sign under
“Can we please look at the bigger picture. The NCAA and NAIA need to make changes to the way soccer is being play. It is hurting the development of players, the flow of games and it is deviating what real soccer is. We do not have to come up with new rules, soccer rules are written by FIFA, we just need to follow them (like the rest of the world). Please STOP with endless substitutions, and stopping the clock. This is not Hockey. We need savvy players that can play for 90 minutes, that can read the game and manage the tempo of the game ( Like the rest of the world). I know we have a wave of English coaches that are training their players to run like maniacs and tackle everybody to win games, but please it is time to change.”
Great thoughts, but I think college is harder nut to crack than ODP or youth club soccer. NCCA is one large bureaucracy of idiots that are clueless ot soccer in rest of the world. Not so much the coaches, but the administrators. How can any 18 – 21 year old expect to be of any pro level quality when they play 3-months and have to juggle school, exams, work, being on their own first time, and chasing women? A lot to handle. Even if they did away with endless subs and clock stopping — we still have fundamental problem with style of play, level of competition, lack of external pressure on coaches to develop better product, limited season, limited off-season playing opportunities, and over focus on rankings (which drives the win now mentality).
John Pranjic says
What about players being the advocates for change? If players voiced that they wanted to be better prepared for the next level, for the professional and world stage, then those clueless suits might listen. If the players voice their concerns about not being prepared properly to take on the next challenges… heads would turn. The NCAA would freak out if they started getting negative press from the players. Coaches are to pussy to say anything because they’re collecting six figure checks on the regular and don’t want to put that in jeopardy. Players are the ones that are getting hurt. Badly.
Good point John. Too bad college doesn’t have a players union. Someone to champion the cause. Not many college players suceed in MLS and even fewer straight from USDA Academy. Not convinced MLS cares to get better college product? They could light a fire, but needs to be some financial incentive. MLS could offer financial incentive to USDA, but that’s not in place. College could work, but somene needs to be catalyst for change. Wish I could, but have no influence.
I’m not really deep in the know of inside collegiate athletics, but it seems the suits would go along with coaches:
It seems to me that not enough quality coaching at that this level is at core. If you are clueless current college rules help you. The rules are not the root of the cancer, rather a syntom but they compound the problem big time. Time to start tackling all this nonsense face on.
johh pranjic says
College athletics is infested with little idiosyncrasies that harm development in ALL sports throughout the NCAA, NAIA, and NJCAA. The problem is that soccer is one (if not the only) sport where we are not a world power. The other sports can get away with small rule differences and what not because the United States controls the market at the next level (NFL and NBA being the prime examples). Those college athletes that perform well in the NCAA setting have a guaranteed spot in the next level down the street. Unfortunately, that is not the case with soccer.
The United States does not have a choke hold on the world soccer market.
The US not qualifying for Olympic basketball with a college coach and college players would send the NCAA front office into disarray. The US not qualifying for Olympic soccer with a college coach and college players seems like it didn’t even phase the suits. When in all actuality, they should have been completely embarrassed. Other coaches, players, and the suits themselves should have been in an uproar.
Imagine a college basketball star telling ESPN that they weren’t prepared to play a game consisting of 4 quarters because they have been playing games that were 2 halves. Imagine that statement coming immediately after a loss knocking the USA out of Olympic Qualifiers. ESPN would have a fucking field day with that and analyze it until their viewer ratings dropped to zero.
That, of course, is an extreme example. But its the principle.
Dr Loco says
”My feeling is that the role of a college is educational rather than developing players for the international level.” –classic
Jim Froehlich says
John P — great observation! Unfortunately, many of the “players” came up through the current system and aren’t really that convinced that the “system” needs changing. The good news is that there is a minority that in my experience is BEGINNING to speak up. Definitely need more of them.
My U14 son and most of his friends who are seroius about a career in soccer understant that college isn’t best route. They wish we had European or SA model. Maybe 5 or more years ago, players were “happy” with college model. But not now. And as the sport grows and new generations smell the stink of college, the voices should grow and force change.
Coaches, players, fans, admns who now the “true” need to get their act together, speak up; expose the frauds so that we can start see some changes that help us all. Does anyone know of any serious iniciative/campaign going on to change college rules that I can join?
I was going through youtube watching various tournament and state cup games. usually u14 and u12, and one thing struck me. These games are almost totally irrelevant when it comes to featuring talent or skill. The play was just so slow, and bad. And these were teams that were winning, basically if the team had a kid that could shoot from distance, they could win. And holy crap was the defending bad… no concept of how to close down and press and attacker. It’s depressing. Would you ever tell an american football team to just go out and play… that it’s “their game”? I’m just looking for a way to convey to clueless people about the game, what’s wrong with youth soccer. The play is so simple and basic, no sophistication, so even if you have a great player on the team, it doesn’t really matter because the rest of the team hasn’t a clue. 1v11 against crap competition. It’s not impressive.
Dr Loco says
“basically if the team had a kid that could shoot from distance, they could win. ” –exactly
If you have 2 kids that can shoot you dominate.
If you have 3 kids that can shoot you are state cup champions.
Exactly, that’s why I disagree when someone said dribbling makes people stupid, in my opinion it’s shooting that makes people stupid, and is the biggest fault on the small sided game in that players always have the easy way out of attempting to shoot from midfield or beyond.
Dr Loco says
always learning 😉
shooting then over-dribbling
The defense is almost irrelevant. Back 2 or 3 = worst players. Beat every time 1v1… no urgency to close down a longer shot. I’m officially depressed.
you hit the nail right on the head!
Yes Steve: you are right on. Just as many of us have lamented in this forum over the years. This is what provokes an existential crisis. This is why we subsequently keep coming back to 3four3: for therapy.
NOVA Mike says
Looks like finally a step in the right direction to address # 22 on the list – no significant MLS reserve league: http://www.goal.com/en-us/news/1110/major-league-soccer/2013/01/23/3695619/major-league-soccer-usl-pro-announce-reserve-league.
Gary Kleiban says
Good choice of words Mike. 🙂
NOVA Mike says
Ha! They were carefully chosen. 😉
When I first read it I thought the MLS reserves were going to be added to the USL teams to form one big league, which would have added a lot more games to the MSL reserves schedule. DC United’s reserves last year played a total of 9 games between May and October. The USL schedule is 26 games.
At closer inspection though, it turns out that for it is only going to add 2 games to for most MLS reserves – a home and away with a single USL side. Not exactly a huge step forward there. Some MLS teams will have the option of scrapping their reserve team altogether and entering into an affiliation with a specific USL team instead. Under the affiliation agreement the MLS team has to keep a minimum of 4 players on loan to the USL team. Those players can be called up at any time. So there will be a minority of MLS reserve players who will be able to get regular competitive matches, with the incentive of getting called up to the first team if their performance merits. All in all it does seem more like a loan to a 2nd division team than a true reserve system though. .
For more on how the affiliation partnerships would work: http://www.revolutionsoccer.net/news/features/2013/01/revs-pursue-usl-pro-affiliation-under-new-partnership
Another question is how does this impact the prospect of promotion/relegation?