Both the ‘freestyle‘ game and the ‘structured‘ game are critical.
But much like the rec & pro mindsets, each has their place.
This is the place for tons of experimentation and individual play.
This is where you “let the kids play”.
- Dribble all you want
- Long ball all you want
- Play on pavement, dirt, weeds, mud, … whatever
- Thread the needle as a center back
- Shoot all you want
- Meg people in your defensive 3rd
- Try all kinds of fancy stuff on any part of the field
- Go in hard or don’t go in hard
- Stay in, or stray out of, position
- Pass the ball whenever you feel like it
- Experiment with your shooting and step overs
… you get the idea.
These are the pick up games – the street games.
Much, if not most, individual technique, creativity, and needed swagger are shaped here.
Formal Structured and Competitive
This is the place for learning fundamental principles of the game. Meaning, deep tactical understanding (decision-making). The team game.
This is not the place to “let the kids play”, as described above.
Now, don’t go bananas …
read that again:
“… the place for learning fundamental principles of the game.”
Yes, a big component is making mistakes. But mistakes must be identified and corrected.
You absolutely do not let them persist and hope players will magically correct themselves with some misguided notion that “the game is the best teacher“.
- What a mistake is and its gravity, is guided by your philosophy.
- How you attempt to correct it; your methodology.
- Your capacity for rectifying; your coaching quality and environment.
But again I must repeat, this is where you should be learning the team game. This is first and foremost, the arena for development of the player in the team context, not the individual context.
Soccer is not “a player’s game“.
interesting idea. I coach U9-U10, and it can be challenging at time to get kids into that structured training frame of mind, meaning displaying enough focus and commitment to refining their technique and challenging themselves to do to better. That probably comes down to my fault as well for not watching the kids enough before tryouts to seek out kids who show the right mentality. At the U9-U10 age groups, in how much depth and consistency in terms of playing a certain way do you go?
Gary Kleiban says
I don’t know Rich.
The earliest experience we have is with U10s late in the year.
And those U10s were already in the ‘top-level’.
I think questions are better framed with respect to ‘level of play’ the players are at, instead of age group. Because what one should be doing with U10 bronze-level players is probably not the same as U10 premier-level players.
Some things depend on the level of the player. And you are right that some of the players at say U10 are advanced and ready to spend more time on certain things. But it is also important to remember that no matter the level of the players, age appropriate training is critical. At the level you are at Gary, your knowledge of soccer is of really minimal importance, it is obvious you are a top soccer mind, and have a great understanding of the sport. One of the things that many coaches miss is a solid understanding of the physical, mental and emotional of young children. This includes what sorts and levels of competition are appropriate, what sorts of training and training volumes are appropriate and what time/energy should be invested in building the person.
How is it that so many professional clubs invest millions of dollars in the development of young players, yet with a few exceptions so few of those players actually make it to the first team of the club? I think that as coaches at all levels we have to question these things. Who’s methods are the best? Is it Barcelona, Ajax, Manchester United? Then what about the methods are best? Is it the selection of players they recruit or the quality of their player development? Why do so many clubs spend so much on developing players when none of them make the first team?
How do we solve this problem as coaches? What role can we play?
Gary Kleiban says
Let me try to separately address some things. Up first is this:
“At the level you are at Gary, your knowledge of soccer is of really minimal importance …”
This is a damaging statement in that it sustains one of our country’s biggest fallacies, which I tried to hint at in the main post.
That is, the idea that this game is a “player’s game” – the idea that if you just have talented players … viola(!), all 11 will magically play remarkable football.
A big component of this site is dedicated to combating this insidious myth.
If the context of the word “development” is the production of quality pro players, we are talking precisely the level “I operate at”. And it is at this level that we don’t have coaches with tremendous understanding and the capacity for execution of that understanding. For our best players to have a snowball’s chance in the global game, this is of critical importance.
You are correct in that there are many poor coaches coaching at a high level. But that is just a fact we need to live with. If we are talking about the development of Professional Quality players though there needs to be a quality soccer knowledge but far more important than soccer specific knowledge is understanding the basics of youth development and designing a program that is age and developmental level appropriate. We can look at loads of quality soccer hot beds that have consistently produced quality professionals while using what many would consider to be poor soccer training methods.
Through your club how many players have you worked with that are now competing at a professional, age group national team, or full national team level? What is it about the successful players that made them more successful than the other players? When you look at the other systems players are coming up through here in the US to become professionals what are those groups doing?
Interesting points by both of you…the debate seems to be prioritizing developing a pro footballer and hope they also become quality humans or developing quality humans who become pro footballers? I am new to this site, so understand my bluntness, but Gary is your efforts developing kids to become Pro players or developing kids to become quality humans thru football? If your aim is to develop pros, what is your ratio of “great” club players who should turn pro vs “good” players who will go no further than their local high school team? I am sure you & Brian care about your kids, and you are “just” their coaches, not their parents, but the reality is we coaches today have a bigger role (interpret that as opportunity) in shaping kids than probably when we grew up (broken homes, both parents working, can not just turn kids loose on the streets, etc). Maybe we should put just as much emphasis on age appropriate child development like we do on technical/tactical development…but that is not very realistic. Gary, Barry, and others here, the question is this…what is your Aim….world class footballer or world class human (and don’t puss out and say both)!
It’s a loaded and thoughtless question if not completely rhetorical. It’s like Presidential debate question. Or how about this Johnfitz, would you kill 100 people to save 100,000? Your question is mindless! Read more of the blog and the answer will appear.
Sorry if my question makes you uncomfortable Tim, but trust me it is very thoughtful on my part & very poignant (at least to me)…how many kids have I had an opportunity to influence and have I really made the most of those opportunities? What about you Tim…what is your Aim?
Hey Tim, I did read this and I just re-read more of it. I believe this post is titled: Freestyle “let the kids play” versus Formal Structured Competitive??? My question absolutely relates to this post, and I do understand how it makes you & maybe others uncomfortable. Be clear on one point though…we are developing Children! We may use football as the experience, but that is not the only message…or is it? What I have observed (and been guilty of myself) makes me wonder where my Aim is…they are only kids for a short time!
I suggest you read this post: http://blog.3four3.com/2013/01/03/recreational-soccer-or-professional-soccer-development/
It is absolutely fine for your stated goal to be to develop quality human beings and there is absolutely a role for you in the soccer pyramid. However, that role is not at the top of the pyramid and you can’t claim to be at the top.
The lowest level is your local YMCA rec league where it’s all about exercise, having fun, and working on social skills. Then there are various levels of competitive play where the primary goal is still to develop good human beings with a secondary goal of helping them become good soccer players. Then at the top is the coaches who just care about the soccer and leave the child-rearing to the parents/teachers/religious leaders/ etc.
As much as I would love to be part of that top group, the reality of my location and population base does not afford me the luxury of only selecting the kids (and families) who only care about top soccer development. I know that I am somewhere in the middle of the pyramid where there’s a balance between developing people and developing soccer players. And I’m okay with that.
@ johnfitz ,from a parents perspective..I pay a coach to develop my son into a world class soccer talent, nothing more. Its my job to form him into a man of character, etc. Hugh problem in our schools today.
I see why you would ask that question, and in my context it is an easy answer, I coach players to grow and be quality humans.
Bill, a coach always needs to be teaching life skills in some way. They need at minimum teach the value of hard work, team work, and commitment. Coach John Wooden would argue that there is more a coach should teach but let’s just leave things there for the purpose of our discussion.
However for me this isn’t the point of my discussion here. Gary proposes that it is only people who don’t understand soccer who are a danger to our players development. I understand that point of view and in general it is an accurate part of the problem. But I see some of the most soccer knowledgeable coaches who simply don’t understand the science behind growth and development and as a result spend much time and effort on things that could be taught much quicker in 2 years. While they are spending extra time on things that are not important for that players developmental stage they are skipping things that are. The worst part is that these players then develop to become very close to the best players they could be but we find ourselves talking about what they are missing. He is a great player but not fast enough, not tough enough, lacks the ability to take people on 1v1, not fast enough etc….. On and on. The next problem is our soccer knowledgeable coaches look at these players and assume it is the limitation of the player him/herself, or that they had a poor coach, or some other factor. They never look and say they played too many games at 10 and 12, or we missed their first speed window just before puberty. We never “I bet had that player spent more time consolidating their technical abilities before puberty they would be much better off today.
Instead, out “top soccer coaches” are out bragging about the tactics their 10 year olds understand and can carry out. We are praising our players for playing beautiful possession soccer, when we have skipped important developmental steps to get them there. Then 3 years later the same top coach is. Recruiting players that have been developed by another club and coach (with a less successful team and less attractive style of play) who are now filling the spots of the players on his roster who, haven’t developed.
If we are on here we need to spend more time asking ourselves which coach we are. Where do we fit in? If you notice that you need to go and recruit p,ayers from other clubs faster the age of 13, then you can bet that you are part of the problem. If you are failing to develop who can leave your program and fit into a different system of play because they understand the BASICS, you are part of the problem. If you are traveling far and wide (more than 3 hours) for games and tournaments on a regular basis with players younger than 12 YOU are part of the problem.
Youth soccer development is about MUCH more than the X’s and O’s. it is about understanding what athletes need at each age and stage of their development to help them become top players. If you are only focused on what soccer skills they need, then you are missing the boat in a big big way. Take some time to learn what happens in talent hot beds in all sports. Look for ways to link those hot beds to your club or your team, learn from others. Gain some new ideas, understand how children learn, and what teaching methods are effective for what.
Challenge your self, challenge your coaching philosophy, and dare to move forward. Create a set of metrics that you will use to evaluate individual and team performance, test regulary keep records, and see when and where there needs to be more work.
Views like yours are both scary and damaging for sport as a whole. The truth is that without a doubt any true professional development program is very much about developing the person. As many top clubs it is also about selecting the right person not the right athlete. At a professional level each athlete is an investment, they are a value to the club they have signed for. Their performance has monetary value on it that many clubs rely on in order to continue to simply exist. Major clubs know that if they develop quality people, then those people will in the long run be better professionals.
If you ever question the development of players as people, then simply check out the schooling that clubs are now putting their players through. Look at the mentor-ship programs they are developing for their players, and look at the transition from soccer to life programs that the clubs have. The truth is that even the best professional academies in the world understand that only a small % of their players go on to become professionals at the highest levels. They design their academy programs so that players who are not able to go on as soccer players have large sets of skills to help them be successful in life.
The only place I have ever experiences the attitude you propagate is in the Pay to Play academies around the world. These are run by people who are taking your money to develop your child into a professional. They charge you so that they can travel to the biggest tournaments, they take your money so that they can take your kids to Europe and train and play at different clubs, then in some cases they even take your money so that your child can stay on for a trial with a professional club. They are not worried about developing quality people, and likely in many cases they aren’t all that worried with developing quality professionals either, if they were they learn a whole lot more about what it really takes to be a top professional.
“first speed window just before puberty”
Barry, would you care to elaborate on this one?
This can be very illuminating
How much time have you spent on this site reading, and sites like this….. I used to be you, but I also used to beat my head against the wall when my teams could only succeed to a certain point as well as my players….. I was failing them, no one is talking about harming kids but what is our goal, to build the player into an elite professional if possible, then the answer is yes!!!! 99% have no clue, it will look like a foriegn language, I was confused for a while, and stressed out when trying to figure it out, do I understand everything now, nope, but the standard “gold” one at that is the key…..
Ask yourself what this is all about……
I am sorry your post has me a bit confused?
Curious Larry says
IMO, you are attempting to “pull the horse by the cart” which is against the grain in which this web site (AKA Gary) is currently operating.
I know several professional level players in Top European teams, and I always ask them the same question:
What is it about the successful players that made them more successful than the other players? Common answer with all of them is Hard work and most important LUCK .
Unfortunately luck is a HUGE factor in becoming pro vs not.
Pancho Villa says
The most successful places to develop the best paid players are Brazil and Argentina. Freestyle play is the formula for all young players up to U14 or U15, I believe. How come no one ever mentions these 2 countries in these discussions??
Mexico is showing to be a force at the youth level with the most success in results in the last 6-8 years. They start their serious Academy programs at age 14. Mostly freestyle before that. The best players in the world talk about how they learned their tricks on the streets. Why is this still a topic of discussion ??
In USA we have the best example in Basketball. Where do the best players in the world cpome from?? The Hood. Do you see a structured, tactical environment there??
Is basketball a player’s game?? All team sports have a “team context” but all need and pay the most to get that individual player that owes most of his success to freestyle play.
AT U10 it is a complete joke to focus even 1/2 of the training on tactics. It should be tecnical and free play. Do as many tricks as you want. 3v3. That helps the individual. Especially in USA. How many of those U10’s do you think will still be playing soccer at 18 years old?? My bet is not that many. How many of those few left will actually have a shot at a college scholarship or pro ?? 1 maybe?? Wouldnt that one player been better off and more successful had he focused on his individual skills with freestyle play ?? Wouldnt the rest of his U10 teammates be so proud of him getting farther because of freestyle play they promote it as well with their own kids or teams they coach ??
Or will they say “well we won many state tournaments because we played as a unit at U8-U10, no selfich play, and thats what we are going to teach you guys but just dont expect to play pro.” ???
NOVA Mike says
Absolutely 100% agree. The role of pick-up / street soccer has been one of the most misunderstood – and therefore misused – concepts in the US youth soccer development conversation in recent years. The fundamental problem is that most see this as an “either – or” when in fact it needs to be both. The (rec-mindset) leaders of coaching education in this country preach incorporating pick-up into structured practice time, and they justify this with all kinds of quotes and observations which are 100% true but completely taken out of context. You can not find a world class player whose (individual) skills were not developed primarily by playing in the street. From Pele to Cruyff to Ronaldinho to Messi … there is always that element. Kids play, they experiment, and the sheer quantity of repetitions over time gives them that exquisite touch on the ball and what seems like instinctive ability to juke past defenders.
It is a quality that is obviously missing from the U.S. game, so there has been a plethoroa of books and articles preaching how we need more street soccer, pick-up soccer, free – play, etc… . It has made its way into coaching manuals, and a lot of places give lip service to it.
There is one huge problem though – as usual the soccer authorities are afraid to speak the truth. So they lie. They preach free play as the answer to all our nation’s soccer developmental ills, but they propose it as a substitute for structured practice time, when the truth is it needs to be a supplement. So instead of teaching the game they spend a significant amount of their practice time (and even game time) “letting them play”, encouraging poor decision-making (1v3 when you have options open, … oh, but he tried “a move”, so he gets “good try”), and teaching nothing. With a group of U5-U7s that is good coaching, but when I see travel/select coaches at U9/U10 doing the same thing (and the parents eating it up), it makes me cringe.
Another common problem is that clubs or teams will add in a paltry 1 hour per week of street soccer (usually with waaaay too much structure and adult involvement), and then write it off as just a fad because it doesn’t make any real difference in their players.
The truth about how the best players are developed is known to all who care to look. Structured team training several days per week with high quality coaches who teach the TEAM game, … AND hours and hours of freestyle pick-up soccer on the other days — all of the other days, … AND individual practice on top of that. Every day. All year. But that is a scary truth for American parents to hear – “your kid can’t really be good at this sport (according to the global standard) unless he plays around 15-20 hrs week all year”. So instead of telling the truth, American soccer authorities peddle a seductive lie — just replace one of your practices with a pick-up session and wait for the next Neymar to magically spring forth, because after all you can’t argue with Rinus Michels, the inventor of total football – “my position is this, street soccer is the most natural education that can be found.” So there you have it. No extreme commitment necessary, no sacrifice, no cutting into to precious video game time or pursuit of the “well rounded” multi-sport athlete, …. all B.S.
Dr Loco says
All good stuff! We need a CA Mike.
100 % agreed…
freedom from Restrictions is needed at the youth levels, though teaching kids how to be successful in any situation is lost once the competitive label is dropped on them , too many egos get in the way of player development in terms of creativity. Practice becomes structured as it should be, though not enough kids get to have free play. In the area that i am in, Pick up soccer doesnt exist like it should. we facilitate it with Fustal or Indoor, but then that becomes structured to win vs the freedom to experiment that is needed,
In the end Practices get a mix of structure and freedom, when only structure is needed, and then fustal and Indoor get too much structure and not enough freedom…
I say Ban all coaches, through out a ball and let the kids work out indoor and fustal. Ban all parents from practices, and let the educated coaches educate…
I wanted to address a small part of your post that I believe is a huge problem in the American development landscape. I have seen tribute paid to the idea that at the youngest ages all of a child’s experience with the game should be basically freestyle. There are assertions like this all over 3four3: ” So instead of teaching the game they spend a significant amount of their practice time (and even game time) “letting them play”, encouraging poor decision-making (1v3 when you have options open, … oh, but he tried “a move”, so he gets “good try”), and teaching nothing. With a group of U5-U7s that is good coaching,”
I would argue it is poor coaching no matter what age players are. In fact, within the American landscape it is essential that coaches begin to craft a players perception of what the game of soccer is and how it should be played from the beginning of a players experience with the sport. A child’s personal cultural experiences in life will largely dictate the way they perceive everything, from soccer to school to music to money etc.. Since general American culture lacks nearly all the key ingredients for interpreting gold standard soccer, coaches must carefully build a culture that shapes each players perceptions of the game from day one. In other places throughout the world this process may happen organically due to very different personal cultural experiences, but for the vast majority of youth players in the US these experiences must be artificially created with craftsmanship.
Think, for a moment, about a vector shooting into space trying to reach its optimum trajectory. If you can nudge that vector slightly in the right direction at the very beginning, by the time it is a couple miles into space your nudge has made a huge difference. We must start nudging American players development trajectory in the right direction when they come out of the womb because if you don’t, no one else will.
I know many people will claim that in doing so you are programming future robots or say that a 5 year old isn’t cognitively ready to understand soccer philosophy. The path of development is no different for a 10 year old as it is for a 5 year old. They both need a blend of freestyle play and deep tactical coaching. Watch this 3 minute video and tell me if coach Al is stifling his u5 players development.
NOVA Mike says
@ Hawk, I agree with and do pretty much everything you talk about in your post. Creating the right culture starts as soon as they touch a ball. Teaching the basic principals of attacking and defensive shape, what to do in the 4 phases, giving them a framework for decision making (penetrate if you can, keep possession if you can’t) starts as early as U6 for advanced players. The way I approach it is to ask the question – what does an 8 year old in Catalonia, Buenos Aries, or San Paolo know about the game? As you point out, they may learn it organically, but without that environment (in most families) here we have to fill that educational vacuum.
But …. there are significant developmental differences – social – cognitive – emotional – b/n a 5 year old and a 10 year old, and the developmental mix should not be the same. It is one thing to introduce some basic concepts (pressure and cover, support, width, penetration), and encourage the right style of play, but “deep tactical training” is not appropriate for 5-7 year olds, nor should their decision-making be held to the same standards.
The emphasis shifts over time, but at that age they really do need to spend the majority of their time in free play, pick-up type situations. To answer your question about Coach Al’s team, 1) those are the biggest U5s I’ve ever seen (U6s maybe?); and 2) only one of them came close to looking comfortable with the ball at his feet. Here’s what the global gold standard for U6 looks like: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONkoU8_QRXU.
When I watch Barca, the keeper and center backs are relatively static but on occasion one of them push into the box. The rest of the team has a lot of freedom and interchange positions frequently but in coordinated manner. They perfectly mix free flowing style with discipline understanding of what to do from thousands of reps. They know the channels and movements and how to show and what the next series of options based on movement of opponent and where they are on the pitch. All orchestrated and each knowing options and making it look free and natural. I think this is the ideal we aim for.
Coach Al says
NOVA Mike the boys are true u6’s and have been playing “structured” for about 6 weeks now (9 total sessions). The “only one of them came close to looking comfortable with the ball at his feet” is the only player who actually spends considerable time with the ball outside of this “structured” environment (and still falls well short of 15-20hrs per week, more like 7-10).
NOVA Mike says
It looks like you’ve done a great job, Al. Here’s some of my group when they were U6s. [Caveat: The tournament put them in an “elite U7” bracket so I added one U7 to the U6s just in case things got ugly. Turned out not to be necessary.] The video is meant to highlight a style of play – so the first couple of minutes is all pressure defending w/ cover, then there is a possession section, and the rest is just individual highlights. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7521TemijVM.
They’re U8s now so it’s probably time to get the video camera out again soon.
Your U6’s are big too. What are you feeding the kids up there?!
How many hours training do you advocate for U6’s? I saw Coach Al mention 15-20 ideal, with 7-10 actual. Seems high for that age.
NOVA Mike says
@ Jake: The video can be confusing b/c there’s a mix of age groups. The bracket was supposed to be U7, but the red team in there was actually mostly U5s (so we look big against them). Our team (in blue except 1 game in yellow), was all 6s with one 7 (who is head and shoulders above everyone else there). The other 3 teams were all U7s, and a couple of them obviously selected based on size, so that’s probably why some of the kids look huge. Our 6s are generally small for their age (the little blond is 15% on the age/growth chart, for example).
Back on topic. I don’t advocate 15-20 hrs of training for 6 year olds. For most I would suggest only 1 – 2 hours of TRAINING, but let them PLAY as much as they want. For the few who are extremely motivated they can probably up that to 3-5 hrs of training.
I think most who get caught up in the # of hrs and think it sounds extreme, just don’t really understand the pick-up aspect of things. Trust me, I get it. When I first met Kephern and asked him how much he thought my son (4 1/2 at the time) should be playing, his answer was “Every day if he loves it.” I thought he was absolutely insane! Then I looked at the 6-7 year olds he had out there, playing for hours every single day, and absolutely loving it, and I opened my mind.
Three years later and here’s a typical day for him. Juggle 15 min before school. Get to the field after school around 4:30-4:45 and juggle for 15 min before everyone else gets there. That’s about 30 minutes of actual work – but it’s work that he is extremely proud of. After that he just plays with his friends for 2 hours. When 7 o’clock rolls around and I have to clear the field for an older team, his friends and he are still playing as I’m breaking down the goals. I literally have to order them off the field. Then he’ll come up ask “dad, can I stay and shoot for a while?” So I let him hang out with a small group of friends and they take turns shooting on goal. At 7:30 I pull him off the field — usually with a great deal of effort on my part — because he has to eat and sleep some time. That’s how 3 hours a day happens at age 7. The vast majority of it isn’t training, it’s just kids playing a game with their friends.
Thanks for taking the time for that detailed comment Mike. It’s great information and has given me some ideas on how to find some pick-up and incorporate a little juggling into his routine. It sounds like you were in a similar situation with your 4-1/2 year old. I understand and appreciate the pick-up aspect, we just aren’t in a great situation for it right now. Your situation sounds ideal for your son now.
One of my sons is turning 6 and he has had a ball at his feet by his own choice basically since he could walk. His training has been about 2 hours per week and it’s going to increase to 3 hours per week in March. He’s played a game per week since about mid-September. I just haven’t found the pick-up. If we lived in DC he would be with Kephren everyday, if only to work on his dance moves!
We just moved to South Florida, so if anyone knows any hot spots for playing let me know.
El Memo says
Hawk, I agree with Nova. The video shows Messi dribbling and no passes. For inter dependence to occur first there must be self dependence. Coach Al is well intentioned, but he is mainly making himself look good. One must ask, how can I maximize development at every age as time is running out, even at U5. If the kid is not comfortable with the ball, either he works by himself or should not pass. I would not ask my U5s to pass, call me crazy.
I appreciate your criticism and shared the video for that purpose. Training kids at the youngest ages in a semi-structured environment is something we are experimenting with. You purposed a great question, “One must ask, how can I maximize development at every age as time is running out, even at U5”. This is exactly the question that has lead us to believe that within a specific context, structured training at U5 and U6 can be very beneficial. To date, the context where we have found this method most useful is: geographic region with no competitive soccer structure, white, middle class, soccer mom culture. If a real educator is responsible for development within this context we see it as a lost opportunity for said educator to spend his/her time chaperoning players as they endlessly fail on the field. That said, our experiments with this method at the youngest ages also serve as a platform for us to investigate executive functioning development through soccer. We are trying to use this method as a means to foster critical thinking processes found in the prefrontal cortex that will serve players just as well off the field as on the field.
Again, I do appreciate the criticism and we are not 100% positive that our hypothesis is correct, but be careful of statements like “he is mainly making himself look good”. We don’t spend endless hours of coaching and learning to make ourselves look good. We do it because this shit pours out of us 24/7 and we wouldn’t know how to turn it off even if we wanted to.
El Memo says
I appreciate thee response. I did not mean to imply that coach Al’s intentions were personal. I do understand the demographics can have an effect on dynamics, unfortunately it prevents further growth of US soccer level. One thing we can both agree on is that structured training at U5 is greatly beneficial. I would just concentrate on trapping / receiving and dribbling (with emphasis on moves) / quickness on the ball (with emphasis on stepping/manipulating the ball.)
Cactus Taíno says
Hi El Memo, it is great that you have a plan for the areas that you want to work on with the kids, but I would suggest to keep the plan flexible to make changes as needed. From my experience, I coach a U6 team, which is really a U5 and U6 combined, meaning I have kids as young as recently turning 4 and as old as one recently turning 6 (although most are 4 and a half or early 5. So you can see how difficult it could be to use a one size fits all approach when teaching them, not only skill wise they are at different levels, but it is also a wide range physically, mentally and on every other developmental aspect. Because of this and other circumstances, you’ll find some kids are ready for a bigger challenge and some are not. There are different ways to approach these gaps, but my approach has been to “plant the seed”, meaning I teach the concept, do some repetitions, then some drills so they apply it during a simulated game situation (that way they can also practice their decision-making skills), and then I just wait, patiently wait. For me the key has been repetition, both, verbally and on the field, and then lots of patience, when teaching new concepts.
Long story short, you may find some U5s are ready for more “advanced” skills, like learning to kick with both feet, passing to an open teammate, or even playing on a particular side of the field (instead of playing herd soccer). I am going to take the liberty to share with you a video of one of our recent matches where one of our players (he was 4 years old at the time of this match, and the second youngest on this team), made several passes/crosses into the box to open teammates. As you can imagine, I was a very happy coach because he wasn’t told to do the passes, he just decided to do them. As I said, this is the fruit of months of work and lots of repetition, verbally and on the field, and then patiently waiting for the planted seed to produce the fruits. Now, keeping things in context, on the very next match, the week after, this same kid had plenty of chances to once again pass the ball into the box to open teammates, but he didn’t do it. When I asked him why he didn’t do it that time, his response was that he wanted to try and score more on that match. Regardless or not of it being the right choice (not passing), at least he was the one making that decision, which at this age, is what I want to encourage, independent thinking on the field.
Also, keep in mind that the early ages, specially 5 and under, is when kids are creating all of those very important brain connections that will last with them pretty much forever, so I would suggest to use this short window, and try to teach them as much as you can, within what is possible and expected from your players, eventually (maybe years down the road), you’ll see the fruit of what you are now planting, and all the planting, watering and waiting is all worth it when you see them apply what you’ve been teaching them for months/years.
I guess the point I am trying to make with this very long post is that you don’t have to ask your players to pass the ball, you teach the concept to them, and then when they are ready, they will start passing the ball to one another. If you think some of your players may benefit from some passing drills, go ahead and do so, you never know, they may surprise you one of these days.
Here is the video I mentioned earlier on my comment (our team is the one with the Maroon jerseys):
Maybe im crazy but watching u6 players execute a cross because you trained them to is missing the point of developing youth soccer. When a player that age could just as easy take a player on and kick it, have it roll in the goal…your cross becomes useless and it takes away from a childs creativity, if he chose to cross it on his own thats fine but that age ball mastery and individual control is the only needed focus, dribble dribble dribble, then again im bias as i see soccer in a different light then most,
Cactus Taíno says
Thank you for feedback. I am trying to become a better coach so I can teach my players the right way to play, which is why I come often to this site and read as many blogs and comments as I can, so I really appreciate your comment.
But remember, you are just watching a video created with a very specific purpose, that only shows a very specific type of situation, so obviously you can’t conclude anything about the team, the kid, or how we try to teach/develop our players. I mean, you will have to watch many of our practice sessions, and then see our team during matches so you can begin to understand how and why we have arrived at that specific moment in time, and why is very special to me as a coach.
The purpose of this video was just to share with El Memo (and encourage him, if I may), that it is OK to teach U5s to pass the ball, just teaching the concept and encouraging them, but not forcing them to do it. That is what the video was for, nothing else. It wasn’t the first time that this kid or any of our players had passed the ball, but it was the first time it was done in a way that looked like a cross into the box, and to top it of, it ended in a goal.
To address your concerns, first regarding development, our practices have lots of dribbling and touches. I make it clear to the parents that to me that is the most important skill at this age, dribbling and ball control, so we do specific dribbling drills to start the practice. Then as we add other skills/concepts, those indirectly also lead to more dribbling and touches, along with the concept I am trying to teach that week.
On your concern regarding teaching kids this age how to cross, we don’t do crossing drills, nor we teach them to cross it, nor we use that language with them. We teach the concept of passing the ball, and as I said, the kid decided to pass the ball at that moment, and it happened to look like a cross, but we don’t teach crossing at this age.
As far as taking away creativity, well, this kid is a very offensive minded kid, he usually scores about 40% of the goals for our team, most of the time he takes on 2 or 3 players (or all players) from the other team on his way to try and score a goal. Actually, in that particular game he scored 3 goals, so the fact that he made several passes, well, I would say that it adds to his creativity, instead of taking it away, since now he has a lot more options to choose from (that helps develop his Soccer IQ, which is mentioned a lot on this site as well).
But then again, I can explain all of this and more, but you still would have to see our practices and our matches to understand the why behind how we go about developing our players. I definitely don’t know it all, but with the help of sites like this one, and some others, it helps me to keep myself in check to make sure I am on the right path.
As I said before, it is good to have a plan of what to expect from the kids at certain ages, but you always have those that excel and need bigger challenges, you can’t limit what you can teach them just because he or she is only 4 or 5, if they are ready to take on more, then they are ready. That is part of your job as a youth coach, to constantly assess your players and decide if and when they are ready for more. Then you test the waters, you try to teach the new advanced concept and if they receive it then fine, if they don’t then you remove it from your drill list until you think they are ready, and then you try again. Like someone said, I am finding this is an art, and at these early ages, it is also a trial and error sort of approach. Thanks again for the feedback.
Totally get where your coming from and the full explanation of what you are trying to achieve is never on display in a video, I get that.
The Age group you are working with can be taught to mimic what the adults do and it looks great at times, my only concern is that passing the ball at u5 doesnt lead to more successful players at U8 U9, etc. In truth your that much more likely to burn a kid out with any kind of structured training until likely the elementary ages. But I will say if you kids are truly having FUN enjoying the game, there is no parent pressure on you to teach the kids to play soccer, then okay you can be successful at what your doing. EVERYWHERE IN THE WORLD these ages are strictly playing pickup with not much instruction, and they produce world class players, in this country we have the argument about when structure should start but have yet to produce talent on a consistent basis,
Crossing and finishing is a U9/U10 topic IMO
With all this said Parents suck and are the real problem if they try to demand anything from the coaching staff at this age other than teaching the kids the “joy” of the game
Cactus Taíno says
I appreciate your concern and passion on this regard. I can tell it is very important to you.
Please understand that my original post to El Memo was in regards to a specific comment he made about not teaching passing to U5s. I was just sharing my experience on how it has gone for us and what the reaction from the kids has been towards the concept of passing the ball. My point is that we have to be careful with blanket statements and one-size-fits-all approach, since what may work for you and your team may not work for me and mine, and even within a team, what may work for my most skilled player may not work for my least skilled players, and viceversa.
I am not proposing that we should treat passing as a basic skill we teach U6/U5s, but what I am saying though is that if you have a player that is clearly above the rest, skills wise and with a very good understanding of the game (according to his age), then why not push that kid and try to teach him or her a few more “advanced” skills.
In regards to the kids having fun at this age, I agree that they should have fun, but I don’t agree that it should be just all fun, I think there has to be some structure as well (I believe that changing bad habits is harder than it is to teach good habits in the first place). Having said that, we (myself and the other team coach) are as silly or sometimes even more silly than the kids at practice. We prepare the sessions in such a way that the concepts that will be taught are presented to them as games, so as far as the kids are concerned, they are just playing and having fun, but as far as I am concerned, they are having fun, but also learning the basics of the game.
We are definitely not teaching our kids to mimic adults, we are teaching them to think for themselves when they are playing. But if they choose to do things that seem like they are mimicking adults when on the field, well, they really mimic us all they time, the way we eat, the way we talk, the way we are nice or mean to people, etc., so this should not be any different.
Also, I find it interesting that it is a big deal for adults that we don’t keep score at this level (which I agree with by the way), but do you know who the first ones are to tell me if we are winning or losing and how many goals each team have? The kids are, they usually know if we are winning or not, and if they don’t know, they want to know so they ask me. I find that very interesting. Sorry, I digress.
You say “…my only concern is that passing the ball at u5 doesnt lead to more successful players at U8 U9, etc…” But how about a kid that can take on another kid 1v1 with his/her dribbling skills, but at the same time knows when to pass the ball to an open teammate for an easy scoring opportunity? Will that be a better player by U8/U9? I will think so, and that is what we are working on. We are not interested on presenting skills as an isolated situation, and then programing them to do them like robots. What we want to do is teach them that they have multiple options, then providing opportunities for them to practice choosing between the options (building up the soccer IQ) during our practice sessions. Everything of course age appropriate, but also based on what they show they are capable of doing.
I believe that the earlier you expose them to more advanced concepts, the better it will be in the long run. To me, advanced is whatever they should be learning in the next level up, so for this age group would be passing, playing on a specific side of the field (instead of herd soccer), getting open to receive a pass, etc. You slowly introduce these skills over time, you present it to them every now and then, just so they get familiar with them, with no real expectation of the kids performing them right away. That way by the time they really need to learn them, have already seen them and are already familiar with them, have already practiced them a few times, and maybe even shown improvement in that area already. Obviously I can’t fully explain my logic and approach in just this one paragraph, but I hope that you get what I am trying to say.
You know, maybe I should not have used the word “crossing” on the video, maybe that is the source of the misunderstanding. I used that word because that is how that play is usually called during matches, but that is not a word, nor a play that we teach our players. We just talk about passing the ball when appropriate. And the kid chose to pass the ball in that moment, and it was very appropriate. So as far as I am concerned as a coach, that is a very good thing.
El Memo says
We are talking about U5 & U6. So, while I agree that you normally can’t make general statements, I think that at this ages it is safe to do so.
I have coached these ages, and do not reprimand passing, but do not promote it. If you look at my suggestions on which skills to work on, I don’t mention passing. HOWEVER, trapping / receiving is HUGE. By trapping/receiving the ball, the player has brought a “problem” upon themselves (having to dribble the ball). It is a “good” problem, that they’ll become better at resolving. Again, I am not against passing, but I would rather have them dribble as much as possible. Now, the set-up you show on the video is another problem in itself. The players are already playing with relatively large goals and with goalies. At U5/U6 I’m not sure that goalies should be introduced. I’m not sure what benefit that serves. Finally, we talk about dribbling, like it is just pushing the ball forwards. It is not that simple. Can your U5/U6s perform scissors, stepovers, cruyffs, pullback 180’s, ronaldos, elasticos, drag backs, maradonas, pull/push, drag back fakes, ronaldinhos, mcgeady’s spins, etc., etc., consistently, and fluidly? (1v1 moves and COD / COP moves) Again, ball manipulation with quickness would be my focus. I have done this with good results. One thing I also pushed was “dribbling” the ball into the net/goal. We are now struggling with shooting (at U10/U11), because we didn’t work or focus on it early on. I’m still sticking to dribbling, but would allow some shooting when near goal. This is my approach and I am sticking with it. Finally, I think that some tactics at U5/U6 are OK so that my players regain possession and have more opportunities to handle the ball.
As a player, from experience, I can tell you that passing and moving is way easier than beating someone 1v1. I can also say that if you can dribble, you almost certain to know how to pass. So, passing to me is something that I can teach dribblers in a few sessions. Whereas, teaching dribbling to passers will take more than a few sessions. It can be done – just that it would take more work.
BTW: I don’t think US is near where they need to be in ball handling compared to European/South American players on average.
Cactus Taíno says
Thank you for replying back, I appreciate it. I agree with most of your post, and even made some notes on things I can add to our practice sessions, so your comment was very helpful to me.
I do have some follow up questions to make sure I understand what you are saying, but before I get to those let me address your concerns regarding the goal size and goalies. This video is from a non-club rec league our team played in this Spring, since the club we usually play with didn’t have a Spring season. Yes, I agree that these are very large goals for this age group, and although I wished they had used smaller goals, I don’t think it is too much of an issue for our team in the long run, since during our practice sessions and during club season we use smaller goals (and no goalies). As far as having a goalie, same thing, I don’t think it made much of a difference to our team, if anything I think it was helpful to us, because it forced our kids to use their brains a bit more when trying to score than just simply kicking the ball into an empty goal. (Just to give you an idea what I am talking about, our team scored 88 goals for the season and only conceded 4, in only 8 games, so I think having to score against goalies/defenders was good for their development, since scoring on an empty net has become to easy for them). Granted, the competition in this league wasn’t that good, but our team didn’t win games just because we were bigger, stronger, faster and just booted the ball up the field, that is not the style of play I want the kids to learn (nor we were the bigger and stronger team, half the players on the team were 4 years old when we started this U6 league). Our kids did it by having better ball handling skills, and by having better game and situational awareness than the other team. When we go back to club season, we will still be a U6 team, so we will go back to smaller goals and no goalies. By the way, I am not a paid coach, nor am I affiliated with a particular club. I am just a volunteer/parent coach. And yes, I know what bad a reputation parent-coaches have, specially with the people that frequent this site, but I am really working hard to educate myself to teach the kids the right way to play and hopefully be in that 0.01% percent of good/decent volunteer coaches.
I do know that dribbling is more than simply pushing the ball forward, but it seems to me that this is a skill they will be working on for as long as they play soccer. So yes, I definitely focus on dribbling, it is the main skill I try to develop for my players, all of the drills/games that we do during practice involve dribbling, but I also try to introduce other concepts; how to stop a ball, dribbling and not just booting a ball, shooting, etc. I believe that dribbling is a skill that they can (and should) work on their own time (with the help of their parents, of course) if they really want to learn to master the ball. It doesn’t matter how much time I spend during practice on dribbling, if they don’t practice at home they won’t be able to master the ball (just like academics or leaning an instrument).
By the way, my approach on how to train/develop my U6/U5 team is very similar to the one you described. The main differences I see right away is that I also spend time practicing shooting with them, near the goal (front and angle), a few yards out (for leg/kick strength), using both feet, and under pressure/first to react (game situation). I also encourage passing to a teammate, although there is no expectation on my part that they will.
Now, it seems to me that we are quick to dismiss passing as simply kicking the ball to a teammate, but passing involves much more than that, as there is a mental component to it, I mean, understanding game and situation awareness, decide if a pass should be made or not, if yes, then decide when to make the pass, who to make the pass and how to make the pass, the angle, the weight, etc. And then processing all of that at game speed, while dribbling a ball. Any kid this age that can do that will impress me, there are even adults that can’t do it. So if a kid this age has that capability, how is that a bad thing? How is giving him the chance to also develop that area a damaging to his development? How is that hindering his/her development, if the player has shown certain ability in that area, and if it is coming out of their own brains? I am not saying it has to be the main development priority, but it can certainly be developed in parallel with his/her dribbling skills and other skills as well. This is what I’ve been trying to say (lost in translation, maybe?) If passing was something so easy to learn and do, then everybody would be a Xavi or Iniesta or Goetze.
Having said all of that (sorry for the little rant, I just feel I am being misunderstood), I am here to learn, so I want to run a few questions by you, or anyone that is willing to share their experiences with a rookie coach, as we all try to row in the same direction.
1. Can your U5/U6s perform all of those dribbling tricks you mentioned? If so, what kind of drills/game did you use to introduce them to the kids?
2. What would you do with a kid that just takes over a game, meaning, he is always the one to get first to the ball, is the one in possession of the ball most of the time, can score pretty much at will, and again, is doing this not because of physical attributes, but because his skills and game understanding seem to be well above the rest of the players? Other than finding better competition, which we have tried to, but the options are limited, and playing up is probably out of the question for another year or two, since he is still too young and at this age group the gaps between U6 and U8 are too big and could be too dangerous, since he is skinny and probably average size for his age, what else could you recommend can be done with such a kid? And I am not talking training wise, because I know more time can be spent with him improving his skills, but during a game, what would you do with him? I’ve tried to ask him to only try to score with his non-dominant foot, but in the heat of the moment he forgets and shoots with his dominant one? What other things do you suggest I could try?
Dr Loco says
“you don’t have to ask your players to pass the ball, you teach the concept to them, and then when they are ready, they will start passing the ball to one another. If you think some of your players may benefit from some passing drills, go ahead and do so, you never know, they may surprise you one of these days.”
The USMNT rarely surprises me. They still don’t know how to pass the ball. Perhaps some may never be ready with your approach.
Dr Loco says
“plant the seed”
“then I just wait, patiently wait”
“all the planting, watering and waiting is all worth it when you see them apply what you’ve been teaching them for months/years.”
Real development is serious farming to produce specific results. Nothing is left to chance!
I would agree with both of the above statements, the issue is when do you begin to decide what seeds to plant, I believe the US tech ability is a lack of individual ball skills from early ages where they were taught to pass and then forced to do this vs the individual exploration of the ball which leads to greater ball mastery, As I have said before a few players have this technical ability and the only home grown one would be Bradley for the NT, Everyone else is an import, Jones, and the rest of the germs, guys like Torres are still out there but cant find a role yet either,
Dr Loco says
“the issue is when do you begin to decide what seeds to plant” This seems to be a mystery only to US coaches.
The USMNT has the technical ability. The problem is they never progressed beyond the elementary stages of the game.
“The USMNT has the technical ability.”
This is a flat out wrong statement, When our back line can successfully settle a ball and find a teammate vs lump it up to some flavor of the week , I would agree. It has gotten better but by no means is it good as a whole,
CT do you feel that U5/U6s need anything besides individual ball skills, and Joy? do you share tactics or concepts with them?
Dr Loco says
The USMNT is not the best technically but good enough to compete against the majority of world teams. US coaches in basketball, baseball, football, and soccer focus way too much on the individual instead of the team.
“by no means is it good as a whole” ==>>TEAM play
Cactus Taíno says
“…the issue is when do you begin to decide what seeds to plant…”
You as a coach know your players, you know what they are capable of, what they are lacking, what they need to work on, their strengths and weaknesses. Based on all that information that you have as a coach, you decide what kind of seed needs to be planted and when.
Dr Loco says
“Based on all that information that you have as a coach, you decide what kind of seed needs to be planted and when.”
NO…that is where you have it all wrong. A coach’s role is not to decide and experiment with players. Coaches must follow a unified approach to the development of players based on a high standard. You can’t just do things just because. Everything must be pre-planned and organized to produce top-level players otherwise your end product will be a failure. There must be constant testing to assure quality is maintained at every level of the development process from U5 and above.
This post is about the need for both structured and unstructured soccer that must be defined in a player development curriculum.
El Memo says
Without a defined style of play, any progress in any areas will be lost in the “noise” (unless you have strong personalities and push it to the limit like the Kleiban’s.) Besides, it will be just pockets of quality material. I’ve been arguing this point with our club. All we share is fields/uniforms. We don’t have an identity.
This goes to my previous comment of implementing a Declaration of Independence of what you stand for and your approach. This must first be defined. Then the curriculum will follow.
Dr Loco says
“Besides, it will be just pockets of quality material.” Yes, that is how you create an identity.
Where is your post on your Declaration?
Exactly, define what you stand for (rec, comp, pro, leisure, health & fitness, daycare, BS, …)
Cactus Taíno says
I read the link you posted, and I agree with most of it. I also think that every club should have a curriculum, write down their philosophy and have their own identity. No disagreements with you there.
I have never said anything about not following a unified approach to develop players based on a high standard, actually the high standard is my goal and I like the idea of having a unified approach, nationally if possible. Nor I have said that you should do things just because. As I have said on some of my other comments, I have a clear plan as to what things I want to accomplish and what areas I would like to help develop/improve on my players for the season, and that serves as a building block for the plan I already have for the next season, and on and on go the building blocks in order to help achieve to ultimate goal of developing high standard players. I definitely have clear short term and long term goals, so it is not up to chance or experimenting. But in my short “career” as a coach, I’ve learned that this is an art (as someone once said) and there is some trial an error involved, but all of that within pre-established plans and expected results. Once again, my conclusion is that you an I have similar goals and similar expectations on how a player should be developed.
One question I have for you is, you mentioned that “…There must be constant testing to assure quality is maintained at every level of the development process from U5 and above…”
Could you please elaborate on this statement? How do you do it, how do you make sure the quality was/is maintained on the teams that you have coached? How do you know you are achieving the goals you had set at the beginning of the season or for that year? What kind of testing do you do to quantify this, to prove it? What is your measuring stick? What do you mean by constant, every 6 months, every 3 months, etc.?
Thanks in advanced for sharing your experience, I am really trying to learn and improve.
Cactus Taíno says
Dr Loco, I was just trying to use a metaphor, sort of an analogy. If you know what goes into growing a plant, then you’ll know little is left to chance. Not only you have to plant it, but also care for it and water it daily, sometimes even protect it from the weather and/or animals/insects, but most of all, you have to be patient, the bigger the plant you are trying to grow, the longer it takes, and the more patience and more work it is.
As you can see, I never said to leave anything to chance, but the opposite. I was comparing youth development to serious and hard work, expecting specific results (in my analogy, the type of tree/fruit you are expecting from the seed you planted). I would say you and I are on the same page when it comes to development.
Keep in mind that youth development is a long road, it will take years to actually see the fruit of the work you are putting in. You can see glimpses from time to time, but it will take many years before you can see the final product, therefore why I said that you have to patiently wait.
Dr Loco says
“Keep in mind that youth development is a long road, it will take years to actually see the fruit of the work you are putting in.”
US coaches are not farmers of futbol talent.
You will have to wait much more than patiently to ever see any fruit worth eating. Be careful some might be toxic in nature.
Cactus Taíno says
Dr Loco, let’s make sure we don’t take things out of context. That comment was made in reference to a U5/U6 age group. Obviously as kids grow up, so does the expectations on how they should play and what decisions are acceptable and which ones are not.
Dr Loco says
“Obviously as kids grow up, so does the expectations on how they should play and what decisions are acceptable and which ones are not.”
How do you quantify this? test? reevaluate?
Please tell all the college, MLS, and NT coaches.
Cactus Taíno says
Not sure how others may do it, but this is how I do it. At the beginning of each season I establish goals for that season, specifically goals on what areas I want to focus on with the kids. Then as the season progresses I constantly evaluate (at practice and at games) the kids, individually and on how well they interact with their teammates on the field. If I think I set the goals too high or too low, then I adjust accordingly, but ultimately as a coach I want to see that the kid shows improvement by the end of the season compared to when we started. And again, with the wide range of ages and developmental stages that we have within the team, the area of improvement I am looking for on each kid may be different from one another.
Gary Kleiban says
What can I say Mike, you brought a lot of “beneath the surface” meat and truth to what’s going on in the US.
Coach Kev says
Great post. I’m also from NOVA. If you were ever interested in sitting down over a cup of coffee one day and talking soccer let me know.
Nova MIke’s comments: “The way I approach it is to ask the question – what does an 8 year old in Catalonia, Buenos Aries, or San Paolo know about the game?” and “The emphasis shifts over time, but at that age they really do need to spend the majority of their time in free play, pick-up type situations. …..Here’s what the global gold standard for U6 looks like: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONkoU8_QRXU ”
I don’t believe that you can look at a 2 minute video of Messi at age 5 and make the argument that 100% of his development came from only playing street soccer when the video clearly shoes him in an organized game where the 5 year olds obviously have been taught a basic tactical understanding of the game. They are not all gaggled around the ball like a typical US recreational game at age 5. You imply that 8 year olds all over the world never receive any coaching or are taught game understanding at an early age which is just not true. Messi would not be the same player today if he had not went to Barcelona at age 13 and you can’t disregard the influence of coaching he had at early ages in Argentina. Cristiano Ronaldo would not be the player he is if he had not went to Sporting CP at age 9. If you look at the scientific evidence from researched summed up in books like: “Bounce: … the Science of Success”, “Outliers: The Story of Success”, “The Talent Code:…”, and “Talent is Overrated”. The conclusions are clear that the three key ingredients are: Deep Purposeful Practice, Expert Coaching, and Self-Motivation/Desire. What do Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, and Lionel Messi have in common: they never once took time to think that they were the best, the greatest, or at the top of their game. Instead they singly focused on the belief that every day they could get better and they purposefully practiced with that objective. Here is Messi’s interview on the 60 Minutes Showtime Special: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ci4B3Ivy-Xw Watch from 3:50 “No on the contrary I always want more, whether it is a goal or winning a game. I am never satisfied. I always push my limits and I try to get better every day.” That desire can’t be taught by any parent or coach and so we should not be talking about concerned about the next Jordan or Messi. What is the common thread besides the innate desire and hours of practice? All of them had access to expert coaching during their development and that is what 3four3 is all about.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AieW3xIdF0Q FC Barcelona ‘ 60 minutes’ special : Watch from 4:05 and the critical takeaways are: “ There is homework, then training, and more training, then recreation of a sort (Xbox FIFA)” and “These tykes are 8 years old, the do not mess around…they have been taught the Barca doctrine, keep passing that ball, correctly, learn to love it, they are magicians in the making…it seems like every boys idea of fun but it is very hard work, more seminary than summer camp….” Eight year olds play like the first team, if that is not the gold standard than what is?
Our goal in the US can’t be to create the next Messi or Ronaldo. We should want to create players who love the game and understand it at its highest level which at its most critical element involves 11 players working together. Game understanding at age 12 cannot be achieved the same way in mathematics you can’t learn expressions and equations (pre –algebra) at age 12 without learning number and operations in base ten, etc. from ages 6 to 12.
I meant to include that I do believe that pick up/street soccer is also a critical element to developing kids individual skill, creativity and love for the game just like play ground basketball is where NBA players start their love for the game. You would be hard pressed to show me any current or future NBA players who have been solely developed on the playground and didn’t participate in camps, AAU, or have expert coaching during at least their high school years. Michael Jordan started out playing 3 sports as a kid and as we all know didn’t make his high school team in the 10th grade. Soccer is different from basketball because the set of skills and game understanding that you need at age 14 probably can’t be developed if you only start playing at age 12. At least that has been the history of the game to date.
NOVA Mike says
“I don’t believe that you can look at a 2 minute video of Messi at age 5 and make the argument that 100% of his development came from only playing street soccer.”
Todd, let me know if you find someone who has made that argument and I will give them a piece of my mind. 🙂
Read the rest of my posts. I am in complete agreement with everything you wrote above.
Central point of Gary’s post: “Both the ‘freestyle‘ game and the ‘structured‘ game are critical.” Each has their place, and it is important to know the difference and not substitute one for the other.
Central point I have tried to make: “Both” = “a lot.”
Pancho Villa says
Nova, I agree. To add to that, when a kid loves to play he puts the video game controller down on his own. He will look and find more time to freestyle. USA does not have that environment because we think its a waste of time or cant be done if not adult supervised. Culture.
We think 2 practices a week with a guy with an accent that charges $2500 a year is going to do it and fell lucky we can afford it and almost feel we have an advantage over other people.
Then reality hits. Then our local Academy satrts recruitning all these small club players that we bumped into everywhere before but never really paid attention to them. And by we I mean too many people but not me. I was lucky enough to figure this out right away.
I started a club and simply did whatNova is talking about, played my best players on 2 teams. One where they can freestyle, have fun, and one where we competed as a team. They loved it and improved Dramatically in both aspects. Guess which one parents loved and which one they hated??
They all left to those Top Acadmey clubs as starters but stunted their development , again, dramtically and the 2 that stayed with me, my daughter and son, are now top players in the country !!
We divide training and free play in 1/2 over 4-5 days a week plus 2 games each also divided in 1/2. We pay more for 2 teams but its defenitely worth it. I think thats the closest we will get to Brazil as possible in USA which is still not even close.
@ NOVA, Man I have thought that for years. I coach club soccer and I hate how many clubs in the area even in my org. lie about what is really needed. If the truth was known, we wouldn’t have as many players to pay everyone. There has been a big blend of rec within the club structure. Great post.
Gary – I love this site and look forward to reading it. Even if I don’t agree with everything you say, I like the thought provoking posts and the discussion by the people in the comment section. When you (or whoever else sees this) gets a chance, can you post some links to other sites that are dedicated to coaching education that you think are worthy? Thanks.
This is an awesome site:
Hope you like it. The subjects are widely separated though. Some point out coaching, and others point out other aspects of development. But an awesome site for coaches in any sport to take part of.
Gary Kleiban says
I’d like that list of sites too!
Jon Burklo writes good stuff here:
Thanks for the shout Gary!
Some Coach says
Good points to discuss. For the past 8 years I have been big into the free style and letting the kids play, doing many mistakes such as using practice time for players to play, adding an extra practice for free play ..etc. And I agree its not effective, it enforces some bad habits.
Structured training with a team concept training where I make my coaching points clear, allowing the kids to learn. Teaching the game’s fundamental principles (or trying to do) has been more fruitful.
Try this experiment …get 11 kids from your club (from different age groups i.e U11-U13 or so). Put the players on the field give them a role, give the team a little plan or scheme. And let them play. see who actually looks to play the game no matter what, and look for who tries find excuses (ie, I am not a right mid, and I not a Center Back ..etc) and see who actually learned the game, and tries to apply what he learned. Well, maybe this player does not have the characteristics to be a center back, but can this player do the principals of the game in defending (not dive in, pressure, cover, can he balance, can he stay connected, shift, reads pressure …).
So now, “letting them play” part became a vital part to see who is learning the theory of the game. Who is becoming tactically aware. Learning when to take on 1v1, when to combine, when to switch the point, when to penetrate and when to keep it …
Gary — You’re right, its not a player’s game. But guess what, basketball and football are highly structured. That’s why there are street ballers who dominate the court but cannot operate in structured environment.
However, our kids do need an element of unstructured street ball. The stuff you describe above are the individual skills and abilities great players call upon on moments of brilliance. All the greats in all sports have it. The only person who remotely comes close in USA soccer is Donovan. There are many in youth ranks who have these abilities, I’m not sure they are on USMNT radar. Either that or by the time they are 18, club soccer effecitvely neuters that ability.
What is also not talked about, street soccer is most important and common in the U4 – U14 age group. That is my experience growing in outside USA. Even in Europe and SA, most kids are too immersed in club soccer to have much time for pick-up games on regular basis. The other factor is futsal. Again, a key element of development, touch, creativity at U4 – U14.
US soccer is too far right in terms of strucutre. I don’t blame clubs for that. That’s not their mission. And it shouldn’t be. We pay clubs to develop players in a strucutred environement to teach fundamentals. Same all over the world.
Becoming street smart is up to the individual. The culture / society he grows up in and frends and parental influences affect that. I recall Dr. Loco saying we need kids with swagger. He’s right! Swagger comes from showing up you friends at the local park or in open futsal game. This translates to confidence on the pitch in a competitive game. Training with your youth club doesn’t allow this freedom. Hence, almost impossible to develop that swagger (confidence) in key moments when individual skill is needed.
Dr Loco says
“US soccer is too far right in terms of strucutre. I don’t blame clubs for that. That’s not their mission. And it shouldn’t be.”
No!!! Blame them. Stop the lies.
If kids don’t go out to the streets, clubs must bring the “street” to them. Clubs are responsible for everything if they truly want to develop players. If players/parents don’t want to get street smart then let them stay home in their sheltered environment.
It’s possible so stop with the excuses.
NOVA Mike says
Absolutely right. Stop the excuses. Volunteer your time. Ask your club for field space. It’s not that hard: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151318039274758&set=o.265968046786858&type=2&theater.
Clubs should have nothing to do with free-style. If they provide a space for pick-up games, we’re opening the door for coaches to step in. Free-style s/b completely free of coaches and club.
Coaches can “allow” players to “do as they wish” in pracitce, but not same thing.
Dr Loco says
A professional club would implement whatever changes necessary to develop a professional player based on their own environment and reality. If a player needs street soccer, psychological counseling, nutritionist, doctor, education/tutoring a serious club would provide it. It really all depends on what the player needs not what the US rec coach or comp club wants.
NOVA Mike says
You are right in a sense. Making it a schedule activity – happens at a specific time, parents have to drive to – and the presence of adult supervisors changes the dynamic as opposed to being true pick-up. If it were a choice between kids staying in their own neighborhoods and playing pick-up games with their friends for a couple of hours every day b/n school and dinner time, it’s a no brainer. There would be no need for what I do.
The reality though is that does not happen. In our club this winter kids 6-8 are playing 2 hours of pick-up soccer 3x per week (plus 1 structured practice and a futsal match). The places in the US where that is happening without club sponsorship are very few and far between.
FYI, the fact that adults are present doesn’t have to be that bad, as long there is strong leadership who understands the purpose of pick-up (outlined in Gary’s post) as opposed to a structured training session. Don’t knock it ’till you’ve tried it (or at least seen it), is all I’m saying. Take a look at this video clip again. How much coach involvement do you see? A few parents standing around talking to each other, but mostly the kids are just playing. @ Dr. Loco – 1 thing not on this video that I know you will love is usually there is a radio blasting an eclectic mix of dance music. I just forgot to charge the battery that day ;( http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151318039274758&set=o.265968046786858&type=2&theater
NOVA Mike — Respect your opinion and glad it seems to work for you. But agree in USA in rarely shappen naturally in environemnt absent parents and coaches. ZEven at school, teachers keep watchful eye (lawsuits from some kid getting hurt). Anything structured with parents or coaches nearby limits things. It’s an artifical, contrived situation. And I don’t think parrents can just be quite and watch or walk away. But at least your club is trying to do what it can. Best of luck.
Kana, I think we must look more specifically at what characteristics the freestyle environment adds to professional player development and how these “street ballers” who never make it themselves, play a huge role in developing the next generation of professional ballers.
Street Ballers are the source of ignition for kids who want to become the next messi, ronoldo, kobe, vick, etc.. Sure watching these superstars on TV is important too, but when you can walk down the street and see similar skill mixed with an excess of self expression, that is what ignites a passion leading all the way to the pros. When a child sees it with their own eyes, that is often the moment when their inner monologue reads something like ” That’s what I gotta do, I wanna run that court one day”. The same method of passion ignition holds true across all fields including, music, art, business, computers, etc.. The street baller helps frame a child’s perception of what the game is and how it should be played.
Freestyle soccer and street ballers develop two very specific qualities needed to perform gold standard soccer at the highest levels: self expression through sport and core fortitude. Both of which Landon Donovan severely lacks by the way, and that is why for all his talent he plays for the LA Fallacy and is currently on hiatus “searching for himself” at the age of 30. A big reason for his current situation is the lack of freestyle play in his experience and a lack of contact with true street ballers. Landon doesn’t know who he is or where he is going because he hasn’t spent his life expressing his true self through the game, but rather spent his life expressing everyone else’s perceptions of the game. Without playing next to badass street ballers growing up he never learned how to be comfortable being uncomfortable. To this day when he talks about going to Everton the first sentiments he expresses is how comfortable they make him feel there and how now he feels even more comfortable because he knows his way around the streets. This world is full of 12 year old girls with more core fortitude than Landon Donovan. Rather than make a move to Europe years ago because although it might be uncomfortable at first he wants to measure himself against the best, the dude decides to play for some dog shit team where his delicate American suburban sensitivities won’t be fucked with. If he grew up playing next to some badass street ballers his suburban sensitivities would have been used against him every day, street ballers would have seen that as a weakness and attacked it, Landon would have had to either get over them or quit. This is the development of core fortitude, learning how to take a figurative or physical punch and not give a shit, but actually enjoy it because now you’re motivated to ball out even harder. The less time a professional coach needs to reinforce core fortitude in his players, the more time he can teach them how to play.
Contrast Landon’s development experience with the game (suburban nocal) vs. Dempsey’s development experience ( deeps south texas) where he grew up balling with the local Hispanic population when he wasn’t making a 3 hour drive to Houston. Clint’s experience with freestyle soccer leads him to be a self expressive dick on the field who plays with and against some of the best in the world vs. Landon who “needs some time to think” and plays for the team where real ballers go to die. This isn’t about Landon and Clint as much as it is about understanding how important self expression and core fortitude are in pursuit of being “the best” and how the freestyle environment brings those attributes out of a player.
“Freestyle soccer and street ballers develop two very specific qualities needed to perform gold standard soccer at the highest levels: self expression through sport and core fortitude.”
That is along lines of where I was going Hawk. Thanks. Do you need to be a street baller to have self expression and fortitude? No! But it odds in your favor more so than strictly club scene where self expression and owning the court mentality does not exist. Frowned on. Can a club-bred footballer turn into someone with self-expression and fortitude? Yes! But I have yet to see it in USA.
All that said, we may be talking in circles? If a club-bred baller comes about (say Messi or Ronaldo who grew up from about 12 in a club environment) how did they get to be symbol of self expression and fortitude they are? Natural? Taught? Combination of both? Answer is always “depends”.
This is where coaching and proper environment come into play. Getting with a coach who can bring out a diamond from the raw piece of coal. Messi is a perfect fit for Barca. He was nurtured to fit the system. Same for Xavi and Iniesta and Pedro and Cesc.
Bottom line: there are numerous factors that affect optimal development. One of these is free-style and its influence on end product. Works for some but not necessarily a required ingredient.
NOVA Mike says
From Kana: “Bottom line: there are numerous factors that affect optimal development. One of these is free-style and its influence on end product. Works for some but not necessarily a required ingredient.”
I’m going to have to call you out on that last part. Unless you are talking about true “free-stylers” / pure street soccer specialists (tricksters), but in that case I think you miss what Gary’s post is about (or maybe I do). I think he is talking about free play – as in kids of various ages getting together to play soccer – call it pick-up, call it street soccer, whatever. Informal free play – and lots and lots of it — absolutely IS a required ingredient of creating top players. I noted earlier that Rinus Michels quote is often misused by those who want to substitute free play for tactical training instead of supplement it, but that doesn’t mean I disagree with him. As quoted on Kephern’s website: “Ages 5-8: Joga Street Soccer
‘My position is this: street soccer is the most natural educational system that can be found.” – Rinus Michels, Famous Dutch Soccer Coach and Pioneer of the ideal “Total football”
From ages 5-8 Joga Academy focuses on street soccer being the primary education tool in producing the players in order to give them the confidence, skill, and ultimately love of the game needed to become a technically gifted player.
“The street taught us,” Cruyff added. “Messi grew up like this.” Barcelona’s clever little Argentine also drew an appreciative comment from Bergkamp. “Messi taught himself instead of a coach saying ‘run from cone to cone with the ball, do this, do that’.”
“The Street creates the player, The Academy develops them” http://jogasoccerinc.com/academy.html.
In Gary’s words again: “BOTH the ‘freestyle‘ game and the ‘structured‘ game are critical.” By saying free play is “not necessarily a required ingredient” it seems like you disagree with this. So I challenge you to give me one example. Name one world class field player who did not spend a significant part of their early childhood playing pick-up soccer. The examples you named above? Ronaldo, Messi, Xavi, Iniesta? Try again. All were developed by professional clubs but the technical base that makes them who they are was created on the street. Research their childhoods. Xavi for example: “Xavi has been playing with footballs for as long he can remember. 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.” http://www.totalbarca.com/2011/opinion-pieces/the-evolution-of-a-legend-xavi-hernandez-part-1/#ixzz2KKGG5Vxz.
Look into the background of any top player – past or present – and you will find the same type of stories. It is most definitely a required ingredient.
NOVA Mike — Not sure if we’re splitting hairs? I do agree free-style / street soccer / pick-up (whatever we want to call it) is valuable. What I’m saying from my quote you references is top players can still be developed in an academy environement with limited “street soccer”. Messi and Ronaldo at club from U12. I can’t prove it, but pretty sure they were’nt running the streets at Sporting Lisbon or La Masia playing pick-up games with any frequency (if at all). Street soccer does help (w/o question), but if players in right club environemnt, I think it can replace and surpass what they learn on the street. Of course, this is opinion and impossible to prove other than my Messi and Ronaldo examples. And reading what they guy Carlo from Italy recently posted, I don’t think i’m far off track.
I know from reading biography of players like Messi, Pele, Ronaldo, Zidane, Maradonna — they played loads of street soccer as kids. But when they went to club, I don’t recall them hitting the streets to play pick-up games. They may have, but I’d bet it was more limited. If this is true, then the take away for me is pick-up games are good at young ages to promote confidence and self expfression and then at club they learn to play properly in structured environment and thus produce players who can be successful in a system but retain the ability to show 1v1 skill and confidence to do so in certain situaitons.
I like to keep quotes from books I read. One of them is from Carles Rexach (Tech Director of La Masia). I don’ have it with me but I know it’s someting about “wanting players at La Masia who play the Barca way but have the skill and confidence to take on opponenes 1v1 in right situation.” I think street soccer best pulls this out of kids. It’s like learning a language. Harder when you’re older; easier when young. Brain synapses connect for form you by U14 or so. Harder to lear new skills after that. If kids don’t play street soccer, it’s much harder at 14 or 15 to develop creative players if their whole life was structured club scene.
Dr Loco says
“If kids don’t play street soccer, it’s much harder at 14 or 15 to develop creative players if their whole life was structured club scene.”
Right. Imagine this. If a kid has freestyle skills by 16 no college team, MLS team, NT team can ever take it from them. Under pressure, we revert to what we know. It will be a joy for American soccer. Freestyle instead of kickball or jungle ball crap.
Dr Loco says
Can’t take away the freestyle.
damn that can’t be easy to do with a basketball.
NOVA Mike says
” the take away for me is pick-up games are good at young ages to promote confidence and self expression and then at club they learn to play properly in structured environment and thus produce players who can be successful in a system but retain the ability to show 1v1 skill and confidence to do so in certain situations.”
That has been my take away and conclusion as well. That is the consistent pattern seen in the background of elite footballers across different cultures.
Last two paragraphs “Agreed” 100%
Loved that post Hawk!
Gary Kleiban says
I don’t know Donovan, but the essence of your post is on the money!
Kephern, Gary, Mike, Kana,
Thanks for your responses, here’s my question:
With regards to “freestyle” play development we know that this situation happens naturally in specific socioeconomic cultures around the world. However, in the US the majority of players occupying the middle 50% of the bell curve do not share a culture that embraces such an environment. If you accept the “essence” of my above post on the two characteristics that a “freestyle” environment develops ( self expression, core fortitude, and probably technical proficiency as well) , then based on this post: http://blog.3four3.com/2012/07/24/3-main-cultures-influencing-soccer-development/ my experience tells me that a coach in the US needs the 2 micro cultures to be aligned to facilitate a mentality that will allow for the “freestyle” game to develop self expression and core fortitude.
1. Living in American culture where the macro and majority micro family culture are largely out of alignment with the “hardcore” mentality, can a coach create a culture that not just contradicts everything the macro and micro family culture stand for, but also converts the micro culture to the “hardcore” mentality.
2. And If so, any thoughts on how to change such a worldview?
NOVA Mike says
Hawk – that is an excellent post and great questions. Some thoughts:
Changing the micro cultures starts with leadership. Someone to inspire and show the way. Someone brave enough to speak the truth, and charismatic enough to make others believe it is possible. For us that has been Kephern. My role has been to copy what he started and get club support for providing the opportunity on a larger scale.
You can’t do much without a place to play. With the population density we have it is very difficult to find that (esp in the winter) without the support of a club. Our soccer director and fields director have been very supportive of the free play concept, and that has been essential.
I think the micro-cultures get changed one at a time. Initially most parents are skeptical but when they see the results in the players who have been doing this for a while (the products, if you will), it opens a lot of minds. Not all, but some is better than none.
Another great article, Gary. Love the concise and crystal clear explanation of a topic that is always controversial, i.e. freestyle vs. structured. It lays out the groundwork for a methodical development plan for all explaining why you need both to develop players properly.
After Rage 2 broke up, it became painfully obvious to me that the Kleiban development was such an effective way of getting the kids to elevate their games. For the last couple years, I have seen the boys that left that team slowly degrade in their development and slowly succumb to the “donkey” development machine because of the incredibly strong wave of pressure from the inept coaches that they have been training under. My son has had involvement in no less than 5 or 6 coaches (including academy and ODP!!) in the short two year span after Rage 2 and every last one of them have been just plain terrible in developing him to be a better player. I wish he had never met you and Brian so we would have been ignorant and in bliss!! (not really)
Gary Kleiban says
It’s unbelievable what everyone is swimming in! And they don’t even know it.
I’m thinking the country’s hope might lie with young and motivated upstart coaches who have not been thoroughly indoctrinated by the hacks.
NOVA Mike says
“I’m thinking the country’s hope might lie with young and motivated upstart coaches who have not been thoroughly indoctrinated by the hacks.”
I don’t know Gary. I waffle back and forth b/n optimism and pessimism on this one. Even young and motivated coaches who adhere to a quality possession-based philosophy seem to have a hard time avoiding the indoctrination that comes by way of licensing courses, most of what passes for coaching education, and other sources of “wisdom” passed down from on high. For example a U12-U13 coach – very experienced, licensed up the wazoo, Barca fan — questioning why our U9’s were being taught “negative passes” so early (never mind that none of them would even know what a “negative” pass is, they just know they are supposed to try and keep possession and move the ball around until they can score a goal). But conventional wisdom says it’s not appropriate to teach “tactics” b/f age 13. Before then they should just be working on individual technique because without a sound technical base tactical intelligence is useless. Such seductive reasoning, as half-truths so often are.
If there are young upstart coaches who have not yet been indoctrinated yet, it is awfully hard for them to compete, because the conventional wisdom makes a great marketing pitch. “Don’t bother with that coach over there who is forcing kids to pass and move. He’s just focused on winning, whereas I am focused on the individual technical development of YOUR child …..” Never mind that individual development needs to include the development of tactical intelligence as much as individual technique. Never mind (for those who have read the Talent Code) that myelin doesn’t know the difference b/n the development of physical skill and mental skill.
Consumer education is so huge – which is why I am among many who are so grateful for this post.
NOVA Mike: There’s a club in MD where I took my son to a club organized “free play” over the summer. My son had just turned six. It was mostly 3v3 or 4v4. My son would dribble when there was space and look to pass when he didn’t have space. All the other kids just kicked the ball far out in front of them or tried to dribble through everyone. If the keeper got the ball they would usually drop the ball and try to dribble through everyone.
I asked the DOC afterwards what his club did with kids like my son and I specifically mentioned trying to get other kids to pass with the goal of maintaining possession. The DOC said it looked like my son had a good understanding of when to pass/when to dribble, but the club works on developing individuals that are creative and can dribble. He said they don’t worry about passing until about u12 – he told me passing was the easy part and that our country fails to develop creative players that can beat people.
Gary Kleiban says
Well, your DOC is just like the 99.9%. Backwords!
Passing is the hard part. And our country fails to develop passing players that can beat people with their brains.
Gary: I agree. He’s not my DOC. We never went back!
Gary Kleiban says
But anything younger than U10, I don’t know. I tend to lean towards just playing everyday and developing the passion … more freestyle than anything else.
Yes, passion is huge! But I think the essence of “passion” been watered down to through the American industrial cultural legacy which is now reinterpreted by Zombiebots? There is something larger at player here than the rhetoric of child development specialists. I don’t know for sure that u5s or u6s should be being learning the “foundations” of the game in a structured setting. But why not, especially in the American landscape? What I am sure of is that cultural forces are massive in any development.
Shouldn’t we teach players at the earliest ages that when you see yourself running into a wall, don’t try to power your way through, but rather find a new path around. And doesn’t this idea cut to the heart of American cultural indoctrination? A worldview that continually attempts to build bigger, stronger, faster to get through that wall while eking out thinner and thinner value, rather than building new cornerstones that your competition hasn’t thought of yet; thereby creating thicker value.
Perhaps trying to accomplish this at the youngest ages is merely shifting costs between freestyle development and structured fundamental development of players. But in a country that continually ups the ante every time it runs into a wall, shouldn’t we be trying to engrave new methods of thinking into our youth as soon as possible and stop banging our heads against the wall in the future?
Gary Kleiban says
All good questions man.
I simply don’t have any expertise in the youngest of ages.
I do want to make it a point that yes, the “essence of passion” (or use of the term anyways) has been watered down across the board. And yes, I believe it has a ton to do with what the [American] industrial complex has done to us.
Well Gary … love 3four3 and especially your last comment – “I’m thinking the country’s hope might lie with young and motivated upstart coaches who have not been thoroughly indoctrinated by the hacks.”
Had to comment on this because that is ME totally … and I am willing to start a new club with one team if necessary. We do have several established clubs … all the experts … all the typical BS.
For the record .. I do have much to learn but feel comfortable at U7 – U10 (for now.)
I did try to see if I could be affiliated with (your club) B-USA – through their collaborative program … and had the door slammed even before I could send requested info. I mentioned “new club/start up” and that was it. Probably had something to do with small #s …not sure as no reply when I asked specifically WHY ?
Perhaps Paul Walker should read 3four3 more often. I know you have nothing to do with those decisions.
I’ll pave my own way … but would have been easier with B-USA’s blessing.
great points. And even greater read.
Need some advice. I have a 15 yr old son. Plays on a quality U16 ‘indy’ team in east Texas. Team training 3 days a week. (5 hrs.) Plus hispanic league games on Sundays. Tournaments/friendlies against other youth teams.
While he is technically sound, he is more than likely a holding mid or defender.
At this stage of development, how should he allocate his time towards self training? How much devoted to physical training (speed/strength/agility) versus pure technical work?
Excluding games, it comes down to 8-10 hours per week.
What should the priorities be?
Appreciate in hearing thoughts/opinions. Especially from coaches.
Like always, practicing the fundamental principles of the game requires interaction with team mates and opponents, so that’s something that is hard to practice on his own.
When it comes to technical/skills practice vs agility/speed/coordinative practice it’s always dependant on what he as an individual needs.
I’d say that when practicing on your own (by your self), the most effective type of trainng is agility, speed and coordination.
If you as a dad can help out, you can also practice isolated technical, passing and power related skills (crossing, shooting etc).
You can ofcourse combine to make the practice as effective as possible.
An agility, physio course that involves passes and shooting for instance are good. Or as good as it can get.
The best practice is always the exercises where the upcomming situation is un-known, but that requires team mates.
One good thing to practice is perception.
If you can help him out (need to be at least 2 in these types of drills), and you got a wall or similar close at hand on a surface good enough for soccer, do like this:
Your son face the wall, around 10-15 yards out from the wall, and you are placed behind him, acting as a goalkeeper (to save shots), or as a team mate to recieve a pass.
Your son pass the ball towards the wall, and as soon as ve passes the ball, (you hold i.e a blue blanket in one hand a white in the other) you raise one of the blankets above your head.
You can put rules like the blue blanket means he can turn and shoot, while the white blanket means he have to return the ball towards the wall with one touch.
This force him to pass the ball, and before he recieve it again (from the wall), he need to look straight behind him at you to decide what to do. This is devloping individual skills as well as developing the ability to note and to act.
This was just an example. You can put up any (football relate ofc) rule. Let’s say blue means turn left, and white means turn right etc. Only your imagination set the limits.
And on top of this, this type of practice will be physically tough if you do it without stop for 2 minute intervals.
It also put a lot of focus on the footwork and balance.
So if you can help him out, you can do much more compared to if he’s on his own.
Hope that gave you some ideas.
Thanks Dennis. I have actually done things very similar. “Speed of thought” drills.
I usually start out with working on control with no reisitance. Then add resistance.
Also, lots of ‘wall work’.
Very little 1v1 dribbling work. (Although that is something that needs improvement.)
The sessions usually generate anywhere from 1,000-1500 quality touches on the ball. Two to three days per week. (This supplements his 2-3 team training sessions per week.)
Also usually plays pickup with (mostly hispanic) adults one night a week.
I think this is a good mix.
Unlike most kids his age, he’d rather play simple 1 and 2 touch passes.
Coach J says
What I see far too many times at a typical practice is this scenario……Coach runs a few drills, runs a few more drills, maybe one more drill…and then it’s time to scrimmage! During this time the Coach “let’s them play” and sees how they do with the drills they just worked on. The problem is the drills do not always translate to something tangible that the kids can incorporate into the scrimmage time. It was a neat set of drills they did and maybe even helped the player with some indinidual skills, but there was never a time in which a CONCEPT or STYLE OF PLAY was ever discussed.
THIS is the biggest problem in youth soccer…..most coaches do not know HOW to teach a coherent style of play. Most coaches do a set of drills and then it’s scrimmage time. They never TEACH the kids HOW to play attractive soccer. Do you think Gary/Brian’s team plays such attractive soccer because they have the magical drills that will make a team play good looking soccer? Hell no! They play the way they do because they have a CONCEPT and a PHILOSOPHY that they are 100% committed and they know HOW to teach it. They rehearse and choreograph how they are going to play, OVER and OVER and OVER again until the kids can do it in their sleep.
It’s this structured coaching style that allows them to play as organized as they do. If players know EXACTLY what their options are when they receive a pass they can play quicker and with more confidence because they know their teammate will be there for sure! It’s a carefully orchestrated system that creates tremendous results because of it’s consistency.
99% of soccer in the US is a slightly upgraded version of a pick up game. There is no system in place to fall back on. It’s just roll the ball out there and hope for the best. If the US wants to get better we need to train kids HOW to play in an organized manner…..not just run a few drills and hope they learn to figure it out, because they won’t.
I think if more coaches knew how to teach an organized system you would start to see more attractive soccer being played instead of the kick ball that is so prevalent right now. The key is educating the coaches on how to teach this style of play.
Dr Loco says
“They rehearse and choreograph how they are going to play, OVER and OVER and OVER again until the kids can do it in their sleep.” It’s called technical automation.
“The key is educating the coaches on how to teach this style of play.” This is virtually impossible. I have tried with many coaches but they are unwilling and/or unable to break their pre-programmed mindset. It is the same automation that players experience. Coaches cannot break their bad habits. It’s the difference between voluntary and involuntary behavior. Under pressure we all revert back to involuntary behaviors and habits in order to reduce our levels of stress.
Well count me as one that is trying to break the pre-programmed mindset – but it’s not easy as I am a product of the same environment we are trying to overcome! I’ve posted this before, I was a low-level player back in the early to mid-70’s, taught by a parent-coach how to play kickball. Although I spent most of my life watching the game, I’m still pulled back to “what I know”…this includes my coaching training which was … KICKBALL!
So I ask this again – and I understand that there’s a real competitive element here – but technical automation is an alien term to me. Is that running through choreographed tactics? Is there a video demonstrating a snippet of a session so we have an idea of how to do this without “losing the kids” in terms of mental focus? I’ve seen something from Randy Waldrum (ND coach) that I believe is similar…but not sure.
Remember, most of us are products of the American system. It’s comparable to trying to learn French from someone that learned by watching TV…it’s not going to be…”right”.
I practice first touch, quality passing, and movement off the ball. Again, with players that aren’t elite (eg, we’re not developing pros), but they are competitive at the level we play, but that just means my ability to profess and teach must be exemplary…and I’m south of that at the moment.
For sure, we try to reduce our own stress level, I did that for years, and everyone once in a while I catch myself doing it again, when I do I fight it, it is funny to run into the players I have coached over the years and they see my teams now and laugh as they are unrecognizable to what I used to do, change=stress….. I loved the way you put it….
Gary Kleiban says
“99% of soccer in the US is a slightly upgraded version of a pick up game.”
That’s a pretty accurate way of looking at it..
And let’s be clear, this is just as applicable to teams ‘at the highest level’.
J – you took the words right out of my thoughts. We all ready play “free play”, “pick up”, “freestyle” soccer here almost all practice long and it’s because 99% of all coaches do not have a knowledge of quality soccer philosophy. What I witness from other coaches…run, couple drills, scimmage, run. I never see other coaches choreographing situations like playing out of the back, forward runs, restarts and corners (unless it’s just knocking it into the box). The coaches “let them play” and the brand of soccer is garbage, kick ball soccer that is untechnical, uneducated, and without thought.
I would go one step furthre VDub. Since we’re talking pay to play situation, clubs often have kids who will never get to a brand of soccer that is technical, educated, thought-based. To do so you must first be able to dribble, receive, think without looking down. A good percentage of kids (U14 and above) cannot do this. They play in a circle 10 feet in diameter and lack the calmness (due to lack of technical skill) to think. It’s all connected. Basic skill breeds confidence. Confidence enables head up. Head up begegts vision and reading the game. I’ve seen so many kids at U14, U15, U16 who lack basic pass, receive, dribble. They move on from age to age not even mastering the basics. Impossible to teach educated, intelligent, tactically smart soccer at older ages. I see it on my son’s team. Maybe 2 or 3 kids can actually play with head up. Even older kids (this is a USDA club) rely on physical ability (as a crux) becasue they either weren’t taught basics at young age or some just don’t have the natural talent.
ok, here is a question, if you are a half knowledgeable parent or board member on a club, how can you tell when a coach has an philosophy, what are the key questions? If I ask, do you teach a possesion style, almost all coaches will say yes. So what other questions should I be asking?
great post, best in a while, IMO. one thing though, is free play that valuable when the other players aren’t that good?
Most coaches claim to play possession soccer, but the proof is in the pudding. Watch the game. Do they play out of the back? Does the team use the keeper’s feet? Are there negative passes? Are there 2 players on a corner? Are the players showing to the ball? Is the coaches number 1 priority having a brilliant first touch? Does the coach stress ball control? Do they play keep away games and rondos (monkey in the middle)? Does the coach talk to the players about keeping possession?
VDub — Yes, coaches do that in practice, but not in games. Coaches are all over the players in practice to play 1 – 2 touch, move, and so forth . . but in games that sort of talk goes out the window. That is my experience.
I think the best thing is to try to see one of his teams play and count how many 5+ pass sequences his team had in a game.
Ask: What is your philosphy of soccer? Don’t lead them down the road of possession….. If they say possession ask what does possession look like on their team…… Also I believe one of the problems with the US and it is a big problem and Gary has brought it up before, Non- Soccer people ie. parents….. making the decisions for a club as Board of Directors…..
Also MG has it right go watch the team play…..
Second question. Where do the dutch style SSGs that are attempting to duplicate tactical situations fit into your philosopy? I am thinking the games in Horst Wein’s books or the Dutch soccer manuals. Those seem to be mid way between freestyle and choreography. They are meant to replicate a tactical situation but still be game like. Do you use those approaches, or are those too unstructured for you?
I like Horst Wien and a lot of the Dutch stuff because it tends to be geared towards decision making and teaching kids to read tactical situations. Players still need to think and make choices, even if you are emphasizing “automatic” patterns of movement and play.
Dr Loco says
Gary excellent post. You’re unbelievable attention to detail and uncanny ability to explain is what sets you apart from the pack. Coaching is all about the details and you kill it!
What do you do when the coach doesn’t allow ‘freestyle’ type of play? ‘Keep it simple’. Sole of the foot is a big no-no unless it’s a simple pull back.
Get a new coach. I heard a trainer tell a U10 don’t ever…fill in the blank. Let’s just stifle more creativity from players instead of talking about the situation/options (Oh, that would entail coaching).
I have worked with and watched a lot of players who were the products of a bad street soccer environment. I have worked with and watched many more players who were the product of a bad organized training environment. As Gary points out, both are necessary components of development (one for learning the team fundamentals, one for learning “swagger” and individual technique) but the key here is that both the pick-up games and organized sessions must be QUALITY ENVIRONMENTS, and these are seriously lacking in the US. Just rolling out a ball and saying “play” is not going to create a great pickup environment any more than having a bunch of great drills or going to a coaching course is going to create a great training environment. I only had bad coaches growing up, so I didn’t understand the game at all until I started to go out four or five days a week to the field behind the Burger King where all the best players in the city gathered. This was a great environment and even though it was informal, it actually had a very complex structure and hierarchy to go along with the great players. There were also a lot of unwritten rules in force that served me well later on, such as when a good player serves you a ball on a platter and you waste it, or when you make a poor decision with the ball (the cardinal sin) you are not going to see a ball for a long time unless you go out and get it yourself. In that environment, you either improve or stop showing up. Now I work with a lot of school based players and one of the goals on our mission statement is to establish a culture where the kids learn to play on their own in a constructive way. As with a great formal training environment, you can’t create one unless you know what one looks like and understand how it works. it takes a lot of patience, planning, and hard work. The upside is that if you do establish a strong culture it can potentially help build players long after you’re gone.
Great reminder of how we used to play “street soccer” and how it could be used…especially the unwritten rules! How do we bring that experience back in our modern time…especially without a soccer culture??? Aloha, John
Gary – Thanks so much for this post! I’ve lurked around a lot, only posting once or twice and think your comments are spot on! Your blog continually gives me a more nuanced way to explain our training philosophy to others (mostly to parents continually begging for more 1v1s in practice) or when asking for field space from our club.
Gary, I like the post. I love the discussion, but I think that you guys are still missing parts of this. Too much talk about being open to other ideas, and then at sentence about how bad the “establishment” is. The “establishment” here in North America is doing what they consider best considering that 99%+ coaches don’t even bother to read blog posts like this. So they have a massive hill to climb. For those of us taking the time to educate ourselves and learn new ideas, we can simply build on the knowledge of the “establishment”, leave some of it in the dust and take some of it to the next level. We have lots of great opportunities.
As always I think we have grabbed onto the point here and twisted and taken it way too far. We need to look at player development as a bunch of skills that need to be taught based on what we know is best systematically and scientifically. Far too many coaches do use the “let them play” concept way too loosely and as an excuse when they simply don’t want to coach. This is not acceptable. But far too many coaches don’t understand the importance it plays and at what age/stage of season/level each approach is appropriate.
For those of you saying that U9 and U10 kids should not spend a significant amount of time on “free play” you are flat out wrong. Sorry to tell you this but it is simple it is true and it is scientifically proven.
At every age and level we know players learning has to extend past the club training sessions, and into other sports, and other self directed activities. Kids need to experience free play to develop, and the more they experience away from the club the less that needs to be done in the club. Simple as that.
As coaches we need to figure out what % of importance goes into each of these categories:
% Creative Free Play/Self Directed learning
% Technical Training
% Tactical Training
% Physical Training
% Mental Training
There is no perfect mix of % and they will change week to week, month to month and year to year. The younger the athletes are the more time they need to spend on free play like activities, and fun game like activities, as they get older this becomes less important. Also the period of the season plays an important role. When do you plan to instill all of your choreography, and systems of play? When do work on creativity and thinking outside the box, at what point in the season are players encouraged to take risks? All of these are important things and can be sub % of other things listed above.
How you lay out the % importance will be dictated by your coaching philosophy and your strengths as well. Remember creating a well choreographed team, that looks great in games, and dominates leagues, means nothing if we are not developing players with the decision making ability and tactical awareness to play professionally or internationally. Can a player step from your strictly choreographed system, and play in a different system or in a different position? If he can’t maybe you could afford to shift the % of time on choreography to give your players a better chance at success.
On the surface this seems pretty straight forward….Free Play = better Technique= better success in Tactical/Positional play…combined with Physical & Mental training and voila in 5-10 years…you have a superstar right? I am sure coaches have been following a similar plan, or have they?? How many even agree/let alone pursue Free Play = improved Technique = better Positional play? Once again, it seems to come down to “What is your Aim”…what are you really pursuing, your Philosophy or your Clubs Realities?
Coach J says
There definitely needs to be a balance between “free style” time and “structured” time. What some of us are saying here is that 99% of coaches in the US do too much “free style” because they don’t even know how to teach the “structured” kind.
They do not have a CLEAR understanding of what their philosophy is, therefore they can’t teach anything of substance. If you don’t have a system of how your team will play, you will get glorified pick up games. If you don’t know exactly how to play out of the back, how can you coach it? If you don’t know what the role of the Holding Mid is, how are you going to instruct him on how to move the ball around?
Most coaches don’t know these things, therefore the product they produce is junk. I went to a practice the other day of the #1 ranked girls U11 team in California. They spent 45 minutes rehearsing how they play out of the back and then transitioning into the attack. He was explaining EXACTLY how the ball should move from one side to the other, it was a system. He explained what the role was of each position…”This is what Holding Mid does, this is when the Attacking Mid should show for the ball, this is when we should try to find our Center Striker……” He was showing them how he wants them to play and giving them the direction needed in order to pull it off.
When they went to the scrimmage time at the end, they played beautifully and played out of the back very well.
IMO, we need to be teaching our kids MORE of the structured, choreographed, tactical things, not more of the “here’s the ball, go figure it out!” style.
Barry I dont agree with this 100%, Soccer has so many variables, that teaching things like this at U11 limits the players ability to figure it out, when coaches go through these and create perfect little robots that function just as you saw, what happens when the unthinkable happens… what happens when its time to play a 12-20 yard ball instead of a 8-10?? Improvisation is something that only comes from free play. It can be applied to tactical understanding, but to think that coaches should create robots doesnt work for me.
P.S Best team in Cal changes on the daily and its not always about the coaching. do good coaches get good players if so how much coaching are they really doing? do good players make good teams, if so how hard is the coach really working to improve them, best coaches in my eyes are the ones who do the most with the least,
Dr Loco says
Improvisation appears like creativity to the untrained eye but it’s not. They are automatic movements (learned through repetition) that a player involuntarily performs for a given situation.
At the professional levels in any team sport football, basketball, soccer little is left to improvisation and letting them play. If that happens most teams lose. Does that mean the players are not talented and creative? No.
I agree that at the pro level improv doesnt always happen, and that its all past experience, the point is you limit the amount of past experience a player would have had when you create robots,
At the Pro level though the great ones still improvise when neeeded,
You are right the coaching is the problem. We FAR too many players for the number of experienced soccer people let along soccer coaches, so the massive quantity of crap coaching is only going to grow especially considering they don’t want to learn.
As you point out players do need more structure in some cases for sure. They need to understand patterns and then be able to make decisions I agree. For me this needs to become more important at older age groups, for example at U10 my time spend on real serious structure may be 10-15% while at U14 it may be 50%, and at U17 75%, just as an example. Understanding basic brain development tells us that U10’s can be trained to be robotic but don’t really connect the concrete with the abstract until they are closer to 14 or 15.
As for improvisation, I think that it is a mix. If you look at something like Jazz music which can have a very high level of structure and improvisation all in 1 package, it is simple for the musicians. They need to have the technical ability, then the base knowledge of music and the principles of sound, then they have to have the structure. The test of a great musician is their ability to be high performers in several different genres (systems). You can get together 5 guys/gals, practice, practice, practice and learn 10 songs, so you now have a show. Does that make you a musician? No it means you can play 10 songs. You need the technical ability, understanding of song structure and musical styles and then all of a sudden you can play with ANYONE and improvise with anyone. So you can understand the chirography of things because you understand the base underlying structure not because you have rehearsed the music over and over and over. Soccer is no different.
NOVA Mike says
It seems like the question many here are interested in is – if a 10-14 yr old is only going to play 4-5 hrs week + match, what % of that time should be spent on free play vs structured training?
My answer: 1st recognize that is rec mindset and disregard all information and discussion foccussed on the development of high level professionals. Then tailor a program specific to the needs of your players. If it were me, I would not waste time on 1v1 stuff or free play, b/c with such a low level of commitment those kids are never going to develop into those types of players anyway. The technical training I did would focus on passing, receiving, tackling, and shooting, and spend the rest of the time on possession and tactical work, and fitness.
There are no shortcuts. It takes a certain amount of time to do good tactical work and if all you have is 4-5 hours per week then that’s just about all you have time for.
When players get up to about 15 hrs per week the mix can get more like 50/50, with an additional 4-5 hrs of individual technical work on top of that. Crazy right? 10,000 hrs b/n ages 7-17 = 20 hrs/week x 50 weeks/year. And on top of that it has to be quality – intense, focussed, reaching, “deep practice.” Someone else mentioned “The Talent Code”. Excellent blog. Even better book.
This ties into my question from earlier.
My 15 yr old has played pickup with adults for nearly 4 yrs now. While he still enjoys it, I think it is time to move onto other aspects of the game. (His technical base is there….especially and most importantly control/first touch. ) A very simple 1 and 2 touch player.
I think technical skills still need to be sharpened. That said, I think position specific tactical study and practice should be more of the focus now. (Or am I wrong?)
Also, when does the physical side of training/development come into play? Like I said, he’s wired to be a defender. He can certainly get forward and create. But I see him evolving into a holding mid, outside back or centerback.
You are right in general regarding starting to get into a bit of position specific training, but don’t get too hung up on that, particularly if he is a defender. Right now what we are seeing is at say a U20 international level, the kids who have come up as “defenders” are being phased out because they are being replaced by strikers, wingers and attacking midfield players, who simply don’t have the strike rate to continue in those positions at the top level. So if he is a holding midfielder at heart don’t settle there just yet, continue to experiment in both attacking and defending positions. Unless he is VERY good. Players all over the field now need to have all the tools. But it is a great idea to start to understand those defensive positions inside and out.
Physically depending on what his physical attributes are now, he should be continuing to build on that. Build the athlete – Fast, quick, strong, balanced, physical etc. So assess what he needs to work on and then start working on that. As a 15 year old find a trainer who is concerned with movement and mechanics, make sure that his movement is quality and efficient then from there have him progress into more strength etc. If your trainer tells you that he will be bench pressing, squatting, or lifting more weight in a month on your first meeting, then take him somewhere else.
I totally get what you’re saying. Only recently (last few months) has he been ‘converted’ to a defender. Always been a central and winger for the most part. The coach recently told me his 2 positions will be outside back and holding mid. The way the team plays he will get plenty of opportunities to get forward in the attack. Especially at outside back.
This is why I am still focusing on technique mostly.
Is he good? Well, he’s not ynt caliber…yet. But with a Dec ’97 birthday it will be another 2 years until the relative age effect is diminished. If he was 2 weeks younger, I’m sure he would be national pool level as a 98. or damn close.
As a u15 playing up, his speed is exceptional. (More so off the ball than on. But still very good there.) As a defender, he very rarely has to ‘clear the ball’. Brings it down and plays a simple pass.
Well sounds like things are good for your son. I would continue to work on technique speed of play and understanding of body position, particularly as a central player, good body position when receiving a pass can really make the difference.
I think that still physically work can always be done to improve. How is he with change of direction, how does he do with 1v1 jockeying, how confident is he at winning the ball and launching an attack straight away?
Don’t underestimate dribbling. Most of the best players in the world play simple 1 and 2 touch, until they need to beat someone. So keep working on the 1 and 2 touch thing, but also ensure he is able to beat players when he wants/needs.
Change of direction and jockeying are good..but always room for improvement.
I’d say winning the ball and launching an attack are probably his best assets. Along with 1v1 defending and tackling.
Combines well. Needs to improve his 1v1 attacking. The only time he generally runs with the ball is when he has plenty of space to do so.
Only real concern for me (not him) is being a right footed left back. Very challenging for any player to cross the ball accurately with the weak foot. (Should he overlap the winger.) Although his club team generally keeps the ball on the ground. (Unless switching the field.)
Most of our individual work revolves around receiving the ball under pressure.
Club coaches don’t allow free-style. Once in a while they have a “fun” practice, but coaches often can’t help themselves and just bark a bit less. We need more free-style for sure, but can’t see it happening at club. Coaches too anal retentive and would have heart attack at taking shots at will, dribbling nonstop, just playing like uncaged cats. My son only gets street soccer at school during recess. No pick up games going on in our neck of woods.
Juan de Dios says
Good stuff! Just a couple of things, watching young kids play beisball, bball or American football, I see most of coaches dedicate time for tactics, drills etc etc… I haven’t see anyone over here (Oklahoma) yet, that has tactical drills, they say is too confusing for kids, but yet they do them in other sports??? So I don’t get that… I agree with almost everyone, it’s a combination, just like school you go to school and then you have homework, believe me if kids could practice in their club (school) and then go home and do homework (pick up games) they will improve so much!!
In baseball, good coaches practice tactical drills all the time. man on 1st and third ball hit to the outfield, who is the cutoff man, who backs up where, etc. Its simpler in baseball, though, becuase everybody does everything the exact same way.
You are training every “soccer” player to be a quarterback, that is the best comparison for the American masses. Quarterback is the most difficult position of all American sports to learn.
Juan de Dios says
Another thing, young kids 10-14 need restrictions, Barcelonas Academy teams is full of restrictions, 1 or 2 touches drills, 1 neutral, don’t pass the line, now play inside line, don’t lose position, etc etc. when you limit the kid you make them think more, faster! You also have to teach them criteria, when is one touch one is 2, then in the game is “no restrictions” they have to use that criteria they have been learning, you will be surprise!!
Great article !!!
On that same idea:
Soccer….currently tries to gets kids to be “creative” to eventually become “structured”.
Music and dance,,,,,start with “structure” to eventually become “creative”.
“Just let the kids play” is a very wide term. And one thing (street soccer/pick-up) does’nt have to be in contrast to the other (organized). In fact, both are very important for development.
When it comes to the organized and structured football practice sessions, we need, as the author say be strict. Discuss around decition-making in line with the fundamental rules of the game (I have’nt seen this term beeing used here before, and I’m happy the term is beeing used now. Former, it was the much more vauge word “tactics” that was used, which is something else if you brake it down), correct mistakes and build our practice sessions to put players in these decition-making situations as much as possible.
An example of such types of drills are that the action is’nt pre-determined. The choice should always be made by the player as the situation unfolds.
This is fundamental for learning, and understanding of how to play the game. It can’t be done in pick-up/street games. Sure, players learn by just doing, but it will take much longer for the player to adapt and play according to the principles by “just playing”. The reason for this is that the principles are “hidden”, that’s why we sometimes can read frases such as “the football secrets” etc. It is’nt obvious in the same way as a more eye catching fient or dribble, effectively making the pick-up/street games beeing in-efficiant when it comes to decition-making, but effective when it comes to the development of individual skills foremost..
Then there’s the discussion regarding the games only. Let’s say we have a dedicated, ambitious and skilled group of players, beeing instructed during the practice sessions in the correct way, and the group are developing.
When in the game, screaming and giving instructions from the side tend to stress the kids which will block the learning process.
By giving the right instructions in practice (where the Coach can freeze the game and discuss), with the right type of drills, the kids will play according to what the practice have been focused on. But during a game, which we can’t freeze, the kids will be stressed and blocked when parents or coaches scream “do this”, “do that”, etc. Even more creative and thoughtful instructions tend to stress the kids.
So in this aspect, “just let the kids play” is defenetly a way to go, even in the more structured and academy like teams.
The kids will play as they are tought. Let the game unfold, and from that, decide what to put focus at during the comming week for example.
When practice sessions are structured and well executed, what you see on the pitch during games is at what level the kids are at. Do not use the game as a practice session. The 2 are separated in it’s structure. The practice is structured for learning, and the game is structured for competing.
The perfect mix is ofcourse, if we talk about 12 year olds for instance, to hold 2-3 structured practice sessions with the team each week where principles are beeing tought, and thru good such sessions, the kids love the game and play some street soccer outside of the organized activities to nurce the individual skills (I’m not saying that the structured practice sessions should not include skills practice just to clear that up).
In combination with a game/week and some playing with friends (not football) to end up in the perfect mix of practice.
So that would be:
4-5 hours structured practice/week.
2-3 hours of “street football”/week
1-2 hours of games/weak
2-3 hours of just playing catch or similar with friends
This is 9-13 hours of practice/week, and I think this is a good mix of structured, playful and spontanious play for a 12 year old to maximize the learning and development process in multiple areas of development.
So to sum it up: 9-13 hours of structure practice each week is not the best way to nurce development (apart from the fact that it will result in injuries with such an amount of specialized training in such young years). The kids will most likely get fed up (even if he/she for the moment thinks it’s soooo fun).
9-13 hours of puck-up/street football will not develop the principles of football in a satisfying pace.
In my club in Sweden, we have 55-60 youth teams, and all of them are beeing instructed in the principles of the game from 9 years of age. Every training session is structured, and the pick-up/street football mentality is not present in the activities organized by the club.
However, playing for fun outside of the club/team activities are encurridged by our coaches.
Both got it’s place in the development process for young football players.
And most importantly, one does’nt rule out the other.
NOVA Mike says
Given 9-13 hours per week I think that is a nice mix. At least an hour of individual work like juggling would help to. As you said, that will do a good job of nurturing their development without an undue amount of stress. Just to be clear though, if the goal is truly the highest levels of the sport, I don’t think that’s enough. The difference was clear two days ago in Sweden’s friendly vs Argentina wasn’t it? How much do you think Messi, Aguero, Di Maria and Higuain played at that age?
First of all, I’m the last one who claim that Sweden are doing the right thing when it comes to youth development. I fight every single day so that we can change the way we educate. I’m currently trying my best to implement my own curriculum in a club in Sweden, that are not in any way in line with what and how we do things in Sweden at the moment.
The system we’ve been using for the last 30 years (the very same system I see that many here want to implement now in the US), have prooven inefficient. And it’s exactly the same (in general) in Sweden, Italy, Spain, England, you name it.
Yes, Spain do develop great players, but is that a proof it can’t get better?
I know it can get better.
I’m not going to go too deep here, cause I wrote you a looong answer that was lost when my phone decided to update the page when I was about to link to my sources.
Swedens result in the friendly game against Argentina the other day has nothing to do with what I’m trying to do. The 4-4 result in the WC qualifier away against Germany in our latest points game is’nt either. Nor the fact that we’re split in 1st in our WC qualifier group along with one of the best teams in the world, Germany.
When it comes to 9-13 hours of practice/week, it’s enough to produce world class players, as long as the practice is’nt specialized, meaning that you practice those 13 hours hard in a controlled enviroment all week.
I don’t got that report in english, so there’s no reason linking to it here. But what it comes down to, is that the amount of organized practice and specialized practice can not exceed 13-15 hours a week (it depends on the individual ofcourse). It put too much strain on not yet developed bodies. It’s outright dangerous to practice that hard.
However, 5-7 hours of speciaized and organized practice, with another 2 hours playing a game, a few hours playing for fun, and an hour or so playing catch with friends are perfect when it comes to the development of a child/kid.
I’m not sure at all how many hours Higuain played at 12. I really don’t have a clue.
And if the case is so that every kid in Argentina did/do practice 20 hours/week, do you have the numbers of how many kids who had to stop playing the game because of injuries?
Do I need to mention that that is totally in contradiction to the UN’s child convention, which I believe is well respected and followed in a country as developed as the US.
How much is it worth?
How many young kids should have their lifes ruined just to produce 1 Higuain, especially when scientific reports show that by following what they’ve come up with will result in even better (yes, even better) players in greater numbers?
This is well documented in reports, and no matter what was the exact case when it comes to Higuain, the reports stay. We are part of a well developed world, who invest tons of money in to scientific and academic reports. We always welcome these reports with open arms when it comes to everything but youth development, which frightens me.
Is it because the mentality of “I knows best”? If so, I can only say that it’s sad.
Here are 2 really good reports done i the US on youth development, early specilization, talents and injuries. It also shines some light on UN’s child convention. Which in some cases are not taken in to concideration when working with kids.
I’ve been asking for reports that show the opposite for several years, but still have’nt been linked to one. Not one!
If selecting players and loads of practice (15-20hours/week) would be the golden route to the golden standard, that must’ve been documented somewhere, right?
And I mean documented as in a well respected report, not an interview where Xavi says he played a lot of soccer on his spare time when he was young.
To say: “Look at FC Barcelona” is not a proof either. The only proof that is is that they know how to educate players, from a base selected from 1000’s and 1000’s of kids, with a good methology.
It works for them, but if you truly want to change American soccer culture, and how it’s educated, you need to realize that trying to copy barca (I’m not saying you NOVA Mike are saying that, this post is most in general terms) will not bring up the numbers of highly educated and skilled players.
Only when you get a great number of such players, you’ll start seeing players with the gold standard reaching out and above the masses.
The you’ll see the standard going up in the MLS, US national team, as well as a greater number of players reaching the bigger clubs in Europe.
Gary Kleiban says
“The system we’ve been using for the last 30 years (the very same system I see that many here want to implement now in the US), have prooven inefficient.”
I think you need to be really careful with all these things you’re stating for a TON of reasons. I’ll share just a measly two:
1) I’d say 99.9% of people who themselves have been involved with soccer in the US (deeply and at all levels), don’t even have a clue what’s really happening with the sport in our country. How can you claim to really know what’s happening here?
2) Formal academic reports can certainly be stimulating and helpful, but they can also hurt and mislead. Context matters.
And it’s academic. There’s a chasm between academics and the real world.
I don’t claim that I know exactly how US soccer is structured.
I have stated many times in this blog that I do understand that there are differences.
However, when it comes to the selection procedure, and how to work with children, the general view in here lean towards the recruting/cutting/selecting route. The competative route.
The route that puts pressure on the kids that does’nt do them any good when it comes to development and the learning of the game.
And I don’t need to know exactly how US soccer is structured, cause when it comes to kids, the reports are very specific and accurate on how they develop at it’s best, and kids are the same all over the world.. Theye are not different in Sweden or Spain compared to the US.
And that’s something that has nothing to do with your structure.
I admit that I’ve been on deep water initially here before I realized how different your structures are.
So I’ve left that discussion, and are now taking part in the discussions regarding development and learning – how to make it effective.
And that’s something that’s identical no matter where the kid is born.
Social structures do matter, but such structures can vary as much in the US as in Sweden.
And I’ve also said that I agree with your view on how to play the game, and I guess (it seems like it) you’re a good coach. I’m on your side in this regard.
But that does’nt mean that I agree on your view on the importance of winning for instance.
That, to me is something forced on the kids from an adault perspective. I’ve said this many times before.
And if these reports contain a “chasm”, why is it impossible to find reports that points in the opposite direction?
Much of what I’ve been discussing here are exactly in line with what the article linked below with Horst Wein say.
I can see that my lack of english skills might make me sound arrogant or rantish to the reader at times, and that is not my intention at all.
My intention is to shine light on fundamental knowledge about youth development, and how to care for the kids while still educating players with the gold standard.
Cause the two are not contradictions.
In fact, those two are bound together.
But no one seem to read the reports or care about them at all.
And if you want to keep on ignoring such sources of knowledge, it’s not much more I can do.
And I’m not saying you need to buy it all in a flash.
But no one even discuss such important issues. Perhaps because people simply don’t think the knowledge of child development is important when working with childs.
It’s funny, cause all I’ve ever said here (apart from when I thought your structure was like ours – yes, that was ignorant. Sorry for that) are backed up in reports, and can also be confirmed even more by reading the article I mentioned a few rows up, all I get is criticism.
I’m trying to help you to look at your problem from an angle I miss in this blog.
I’ve recieved some good comments and mails though.
And as long as I can help anyone, I’m happy.
I don’t do this for my self (if so, I would only act where I could make money, and not on this blog.), I do these kind of discussions cause I truly care for kids development.
And cause I know what I’m talking about.
Hope I’ve not offended anyone cause that is far from the reason why I post here.
Gary Kleiban says
No offense taken Dennis, and I hope you feel the same.
As I mentioned in our email correspondence, the topic of soccer (of which player development is one component) is complex. As such, it is idiosyncratic.
What that means is that we need to be careful when making statements like: “this is how it is”.
We need to be careful when making such powerful accusations as “kid’s lives are being ruined”.
We need to be careful with how we interpret what we hear or read.
You and I can read the same report or book, and interpret it differently. And even if we both interpreted the ideas the same, our methodologies could differ. Because again, the context in which one executes these ideas, matters.
Who’s right and who’s wrong? Depends.
And that may not even be a totally proper question anyways. It probably more like: “Who’s more right/wrong”.
Perhaps the best discriminator is the actual product you produce compared to:
1) the objective(s) you set forth
2) some standard(s)
And even then, how does one judge those two things?
But one thing is certain, until you have a product, you have nothing. All you have is hypothesis, theory, reports, and your interpretation of these scholarly papers.
For centuries, leading scholars claimed the earth was flat and at the center of the universe.
Discussions are always good if kept at a good level. 🙂
“All you have is hypothesis, theory, reports and your interpretation of these scholarly papers”
Yes, I can link you to reports. It’s sad your including an academic report (multiple of them done in many different countries including both Sweden and the US) in the same sentance as a theory and hypothesis.
It’s obviously a great difference.
I, on the other hand back up my opinions (right or wrong ones) with links to reports done all over the world that point out the exact same thing.
You, on the other hand have’nt backed up your theory with anything.
Gary Kleiban says
Our product, not paper, is the incarnation of our ideas.
And let’s please try to keep comments focussed on the theme of the original post.
NOVA Mike says
OK Dennis, I’ve read the reports you’ve posted.
The first – on talent identification and early maturation – has absolutely nothing to do with the discussion here but would be applicable to some other posts on this blog.
As for the second – on early specialization leading to injuries and other ills — the article has precious little about soccer in it doesn’t it? Oh, there’s a mention about how soccer players also start elite training early, and another about how some soccer players had some horrible coaches growing up, but when it comes to the article’s main premise – that early specialization and over training leads to injuries — it fails to cite a single study demonstrating that link in the sport of soccer. So as with all other articles like that, I come away completely convinced that if my child took part in a repetitive motion sport – like swimming, gymnastics, tennis, distance running, pitching a baseball – I would need to be really careful. Fortunately, my kids play soccer. When I see a study detailing the epidemic of overuse or ACL injuries among teenage soccer players in Brazil, Argentina, Spain, France, etc…. then I’ll be worried. But as you acknowledged yourself, those studies don’t exist do they? Just like you don’t see studies showing an epidemic of injuries among American kids who play basketball almost every waking moment in their free time. Just like you don’t see studies of kids in Kenya getting tendinitis and shin splints all the time, even though many of them log twice the miles at half the age of U.S. high school cross country runners. Is there a study linking too little physical activity in childhood combined with a rapid increase in physical activity during teen years leading to increased injury rates? Probably not. So much for studies.
“When it comes to 9-13 hours of practice/week, it’s enough to produce world class players,” Can you cite an example? How about a study?
The 10,000 hour rule does have some support in empirical research (cited in Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers), but as Gary points out – it’s academic, not necessarily the real world. Anectodal evidence does matter. You have no idea how much Higuain and other world class players practiced as kids? Well maybe it would be a good idea to find that out if your goal is establishing a training environment conducive to the development of world class players.
It’s not just Xavi, dude. Pick one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ballon_d'Or_(1956%E2%80%932009).
We can go even deeper in to this if you’d like.
Genes, as in DNA are widely different for kids in Kenya or kids growing up in the favelas in Brazil compared to where our kids are growing up..
American and Sweedish (since that are the 2 countries we’re discussing) kids have much weaker bodies due to our life style (facts).
We’re getting older which means that we (in SWE and US) mature later, and the body need a longer period to mature compared to the other countries you’re mentioning.
Soccer is’nt as risky as swimming or gymnastics, you’re right about that. Can’t argue with that.
But are you saying it’s not risky to practice too much soccer?
Is that what you’re saying?
It’s almost insulting that you present the 10000 hour rule to me and somehow try to inlight me that it’s purely academic..
I even posted in this blog the other week that somewhere between 7000-12000 hours need to be invested, depending..
10000 hours (if I may use that number as base of my argument) is 2 hours/day from 7-22.
That’s a lot. Yes.
But it does’nt say when to do them and exactly what can be included in them.
Just playing hide and seek can develop skills needed for soccer development.
Playing hockey, or any other sport also affect the soccer development. Riding a bike as well.
If you subtract all those hours spent you’ll realize that 2 hours/day is’nt a must when it comes to specialized training.
And since soccer is a game of skill and mind, the brain need to develop fully before we can reach excellence in this perticular sport.
This means that we have a lot more room to play with on the educational latter than what we might find out when we see the number 2 hours/day for 15 years.
Since we, no matter how much we rush it, can’t achieve excellence in soccer before our brains are fully developed (at 18-24), why rush it and even risk injury when it’s not needed (even if it’s less likely to get injured compared to a swimmer)?
The reason why Chinese and Romanian (i.e) are performing like maniacs at low ages in individual sports are that they rush those 7-12000 hours to automate movement, which is something completely different than learning a complex team sport.
It’s not like the Chinese soccer team are filled with 14-15 year olds who’ve been putting in those 7-12k hours at the age of 14-15 and completely destroy Germany or Spain, right?
They need to rush those hours before the body matures and gets too heavy for those sick moves.
Don’t mix that up with how to develop soccer players.
But you go ahead. Train 2 hours/day with your kids for 15 years and report back when they make the pros.
Or if they get fed up.
Or if they get injured.
I’ve been working very closely to some of our countrys “finest” academies.
I’ve seen soccerplayers get all kinds of injuries related to too much practice (much less than 2 hours/day though).
We should increase the number of hours put in as the kids get older.
Not sqeeze out as many hours as possible at a too young age. Cause it won’t give the kid an advantage. It’s actually the opposite.
Congested groins etc are very common. Not to mention all the knee and ankle injuries.
Would’nt it be a reasonable argument that since soccer players need so much time to achieve excellence, it would be wise to spread out the number of hours of specialized training as much as possible (within reason ofcourse) to reduce the risk of injuries, since rushing those hours won’t help his brain develop anyway, even if it’s not as risky to practice soccer in comparison with gymnastics?
Part because a soccer player won’t achieve excellence before he’s 20ish.
2. Part because he’ll not get fed up.
3. Part to let kids be kids?
Can you please link me anything that supports your theory?
I’m going to find a better studie on young soccer players injuries, and how common and serious they can get if we push them too much.
If I can’t find a better one in english, I’ll perhaps have to translate the Sweedish one I’ve taken part of.
But I’m not sure you’d take it in either way.
Cause you seriously called me “dude”, and you clearly already know exactly what to do. 🙂
I believe that anything in obsession is bad and this is clearly stated by Ajax. They believe too much training leads to injuries and in addition, they give their academy players gymnastic classes along with judo in order to have a well-balanced body, a must for soccer.
Dr Loco says
There are lots of problems in athletes trying to reach the top levels. We tend to only hear about the successes <0.1%. Perhaps if we do things differently we can increase the percentage of kids reaching the top level.
Personally, I don't see how you can call yourself a professional development environment if the club does not provide child psychologists, nutritionists, and therapists for the young players.
An article on the subject..
But yeah, we’re probably going way off topic here even if these issues are related to it to some degree.
Curious Larry says
please read ..
Sorry if you took it that way.
I clearly said I was perhaps too OT, but how the discussion evolved, we touched on the subject, and I wanted to link to a professor who’ve done studies on the subject.
Too OT, perhaps, and sorry f so.
I don’t think so.
My intention was not to provoke to emotinal responses.
Dr Loco says
It’s ok Dennis. American’s think differently.
It is always my intention to provoke emotional responses!
With my U8s, first 60 minutes of practice is technical/tactical training and last 30 minutes is nominally “free” play, but the first 20 of 30 incorporates restrictions based on whatever technical/tactical thing we were working on. For example (not really representative but just an example) if I had been working on 1-2s or wall passes, the first 20 minutes a “goal” gets counted for a successful wall pass. They only really get 10 minutes of freedom without thought. Of course, I’m sure most of them never touch a ball except at practice, and it mostly shows for their age/skill levels vs. what I’ve worked with prior and know to be possible, so I just do the best I can with what I’ve got right now. I’ve already identified players from the rec league to invite to tryouts and will continue scouting throughout the spring. I have also made it painfully clear and explicit to the parents (almost all of whom are given to reminding me “it’s a select team”) that they and their child have no given right to stay on the team except for the year they’re registered for. If they listen, learn, and work hard, the chances they stay on go up; if they don’t, well… I told you to your faces I’d drop you in a heartbeat for another player. That’s the part they don’t like – “We’re paying for this!” – and goes back to my fundamental problem with US select soccer. Until there are clubs paying the kids to be there, parents will always have that (entirely lame-ass) excuse. Oh, well.
Dr Loco says
“I told you to your faces I’d drop you in a heartbeat for another player” I cringe when I read this.
Remember the players are 7-8 years old. Mostly likely you are a rec coach, part of a rec club, playing in a rec league. Try the Swedish way.
Dr Loco: “the Sweedish way”?
At the moment, the “Sweedish way” is pretty much exactly what you cringe about in your post.
It has been proven inefficiant.
And it will be inefficiant in the US as well.
I even think it will be inefficiant in Garys team as well. Time will tell I guess.
I know I’m putting my chin out here bow, but the reports results are crystal clear.
I’ve linked them a few posts up.
I’ve been reading loads of Sweedish reports on these subjects, but the 2 linked above was the 2 good ones I’ve found after a short search that was in english.
What you’re refering to as “the Sweedish way” is most likely (I think) what I’ve been preaching in here.
And if you think it’s a soft model, it is not.
It’s the right model.
Reports all over the world state this. Even reports done in your own country.
Dr Loco says
Sorry the Dennis new “Swedish” way ;). Give it us.
Dr Loco: Haha! 😉
I just felt I had to clear that up so we don’t discuss over eachothers heads. 🙂
Dr Loco says
freestyling – “eclectic mix of dance music”
Dennis you might be my savior.
They are good.. When you’re drunk. 😀
Most likely (actually, in fact), you’re wrong. Nothing to worry about there. If we’re talking about reaching the gold standard, however, and I have 10 kids at U8 who are on a “select/travel” team, and I’ve done the best I’m able to coach them up, teach them how to play, and I happen to have found/recruited ten newer/better players on my own, or let’s just say an entire village of superstar Brazilians (Germans, Swedes – take your pick) of the same age and even better talent/skills/ability show up at my tryouts, where exactly am I wrong in taking them on to develop and leaving the former players behind? Is that not the essence of continual improvement of the players, team, and club, which leads to… improvement of US soccer as a whole?
Maybe I’m missing something, or you just think I’m an asshole, or whatever, but… it’s my job to find and work with the best players I can and improve them as much as possible tactically and technically so the overall whole of the US game gets better, is it not?
It’s not my fault if I have complacent American kids with no real desire to get better when I can (or have) found better ones for my team and club, is it?
Dr Loco says
Lothar, I had to go back to figure out who you were. Your state cup team taken away by club DOC must have sucked.
I know Gary posted the Map to the Gold Standard for professional players.
However, I have a huge problem cutting and disposing recreational players. From my evaluation of clubs and teams something like 99% of soccer is recreational. Perhaps you are the select few on a professional track. For the rest, it makes no sense to treat young kids as disposable objects. Train everyone to be good players. Make more teams if you have too.
If you have complacent kids blame the parents. Educate the parents and chew them out for the children they raise. The children should not be blamed.
Unlike you, it is not my job to work with the best players I can. I just work with any players I can find. You sound like a great guy. I will follow up with you later as I have a training now.
Thanks for the reply. I’m way past/over being bitter about having a state title team taken from me and, in fact, it’s one of the reasons I’m at the much smaller club I’m at now. I may be crazy (it’s a goalkeeper thing) but I believe if I coach my limited number of kids up, I can and will play with if not beat the huge clubs. Now, it may or may not happen, but if/when it does, it will only introduce yet another kink in the armor of the big boys in having to explain how my little team from one part of town was able to not just come together, but beat them with all of their resources (financial and otherwise). I literally spoke with my DOC yesterday trying to figure out a way to keep the smartest, most soccer-IQ intelligent and savvy player on our roster this spring b/c his parents have not, and can not, pay for anything since last summer. I secured donations that were ostensibly for “the team” in the fall, but really, they covered him and another player. I’m not sure what will happen this spring but we’ve gotten pressure to go to a “true travel/select” team format. Problem with that is, 75% of the big clubs around here aren’t letting their U8s play friendlies or tournaments, in spite of what a few of my team parents believe/tell me/complain about. I have to educate them soon, and be positive, but as of now we’re looking at playing a “travel” schedule that costs about $1500 to play mostly the same 4 teams all season because the big boys are keeping everything in-house. Paying for that isn’t happening, in my mind, so we’ll register with the local Hispanic league (we’re playing it indoor now) and the complaining parents can deal with it or… go to one of the big clubs, pay monthly fees above and beyond my volunteering for free in spite of knowing I could go back to one of those clubs and get $500 or more per month at academy coaching level, and shut up about it. It’s their choice either way and I won’t hold it against them, let alone the kids, but they have unrealistic expectations because what they are told vs. what actually occurs is wildly divergent. You see, once they’ve written those big checks and the clubs have cashed them, it’s just really unfortunate they aren’t going to be playing all those games and a couple of tournaments they were told they would be, you know… COUGH COUGH COUGH
Anyhow, it’s late and I need to sleep. I do appreciate your follow-up and will keep posting here as I’m able since I’m really dealing with a small pool of players who can, I believe, compete with the larger clubs around here. When and if they do is when my vindictive ass will tell everyone “I told you so,” because that’s the way I am. If it involves adding a few immigrant kids and dropping one or two currently rostered players, that’s just life. I’m here to develop the best players I can find and who are most willing to put in the work necessary to become the best. The problems, in my experience, come from the suburban kids/parents with the “we’re paying for this” attitude, that’s all.
Dr. Loco, apologies if my prior reply seems too much of a personal attack at you. Didn’t mean it that way. However, you just coming right out and telling me I’m a rec coach, in a rec league, with a rec mentality (and all that entails based on prior 3Four3 posts/discussions when I have held I’m not) was, in my opinion, a cheap shot and wholly incorrect. I’m not going to give you or anyone here exact details of where I am or what I’ve done for many good reasons. What I can most assuredly tell you is – you’re wrong to think that, and even more wrong to assume you know it and promulgate it in this forum. Just as I’d be wrong to assume or promulgate things about you that I know nothing about more than a few words in a comment post on a blog. Just wanted to make that clear.
As far as it goes, though… if we were to sit down for dinner I would tell you exactly how, when, and where you were, and why I am here because I am sick and tired to death of the stupidity and ineptness of how US soccer does things at the supposed “select” level. I’m on your side, and 3Four3’s, even if you somehow got the impression I’m not.
I may not express my opinions or methods as best I’m able, but one thing I do know is I’ve had success and had it taken from me by the “authorities” with all of the weight they can bring to bear on parents, clubs, etc., much to the detriment of players I began working with at U8 or U9, who then got turned into the worst examples of everything we all rail about here in a couple of seasons.
Please forgive me for any misunderstandings, my defensive/reflexive response (after so many years of dealing with this crap), and know I’m on the good side trying my best to improve the US game in every and any way possible. Thanks!
carlo balistreri says
In Italy / Sicily, street football is not common when you are with a youth academy beyond Sub 14. Unwritten or actual rule for professional academy to forbid this. Protect their investment. Once under contract, it is outright forbidden. Coaching in USA at all levels is unsatisfactory from my exposure. That is bigger problem than lack of street football. If coaching was higher level, proper tactics and game understanding results in free form play. In DNA. I do not see this in American players. Street football allows all players freedom. But in structured academy the players who are allowed to dribble is limited to few and only in certain situations or positions on the pitch. I do not promote US clubs allowing total freedom at training. Coaching too poor and would result in worse situation. Barcelona have the best model. Make organized rehearsed movement look natural. And even then, only Messi can dribble or shoot at will. All others in supporting role.
People often mistake games for Pickup soccer, Pick up soccer does not involve goals pennies and lines. All these videos people post with kids playing so called pick up soccer, really just seems to be a practice session. do they have time limits at pick up? are there rules?? team sizes,
Pickup soccer is in its truest form is a free for all, 20 on 20, you either get the ball or you dont, nothing else matters, its the ultimate freedom, usually played in the street, or any open space, rarely are there goals, even more rarely are there parents on the side line watching. If you want you kid to play pickup soccer send his butt out your front door with a ball and see what happens,
NOVA Mike says
Pennies? Usually b/c the kids ask for them. Sometimes not.
Lines? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Depends how many kids we get and how many different games are going on. Usually 1 field ends where the next one begins.
Time limits? No. Games are continual. Kids get tired, thirsty, need to tie a shoe, they can step out but the rest of the players keep playing. Most kids will take only 1 or 2 short breaks in 2 hours [more in the summer when the temps are high 90s]. Teams are often unbalanced (i.e. 3v4). No such thing as subs.
Rules? For the 4-5 year olds I do let them know what they are allowed to do and what they aren’t. Our U8/U9s who have been doing this for 3 yrs now are pretty much left to sort things out on their own. When a kid comes over to complain about someone else’s behavior I tell them to solve the problem. Occasionally there are even fist fights.
I do try to keep team sizes small at these ages (U5-U8) – maximizing touches and quality 1v1s. 2v2 to 4v4 is the norm. Sometimes we’ll combine into a big game at the end (up to about 9v9) but that’s not the majority of their time. I also try to keep the games relatively balanced from a competitive standpoint. Sometimes they pick captains and choose up teams. Sometimes I’ll save time by doing this myself. Often I’ll ask them to play to 10 and then switch teams.
“If you want your kid to play pickup soccer send his butt out your front door with a ball and see what happens.”
I’ll tell you exactly what will happen. He’ll be standing there with his ball all by himself. Because the only time the other kids in the neighborhood go outside its to go from one house to another to play a different video game. If they do play sports it is only occasionally going to be soccer – they are at least as likely to play Am football, b’ball, ….
Yet there are lots of kids out there who do love the sport and have the passion to want to play every day. They just don’t all live in the same neighborhood. This is something I hear very often from parents of the regulars at our club’s pick-up sessions: “If we all lived on the same street our kids would be doing this on their own.”
Too bad you dont live in my side of town…lol
The point about pick up is that the kids figure it out and make rules on thier own, i feel similar to you that it saves time if we step in, but for pick up my boys grab a few friends in here and play in the backyard or street all spring summer and fall, (winter here sucks as i think u know..lol)
I grew up playing in the streets and backyards with my best buds some of which didnt play soccer at all, i see the same from my kids just dont think its the same across the board
Here is the problem, 99% of the clubs in America are filled with donkey’s that have no idea what they are trying to teach. I was one of those donkey’s, who knows maybe I still am, I sit here today thinking wholly crap, what did I used to teach, it depresses me but then I am filled with passion to keep learning and I believe I am getting to the 1%, not because I think I am good, no it is because I want the gold standard for my players…. and getting there is painful for me because I continously tear apart what I am doing, I don’t see an end in sight to this process, but the proof is on the field, if you are not making “Badasses” then what are you doing. If you don’t know what a Badass looks like then what are you doing!!!!! Look for it, you can find it, when you get out of your cookie cutter little world, the I get paid to put this session on, If this player gets it well good, if not they just need to work harder, really that is a load of garbage!!!!!!!! So look back at the blog……. both are needed the right way!
Jose Vega says
Crazy awesome stuff.
carlo balistreri says
@Kana I am agreeing with you. Young minds are easier to train. In teens its harder because brain fully developed. Motor and cognitive ability become set. This is why very difficult to be double-footed or bilingual after certain age. Young children in unstructured environment allow learning by experimentation. Free to make mistakes and not given limitations or what to do or how to think by an adult. In pick up games, kids always want to beat their mate on the dribble and figure out how to do so using their brain and endless trying. Score as much as they can. They do this for many hours, days, months, years and become good at it (club do not allow that freedom). In Italy, young kids also learn by playing with older kids and imitating what they see in pick up games. Very often we watch many lower level professional side games in person and imitate. All these is valuable in academy to be creative and beat opponent 1v1. They do it without thinking and know what works by trial and error. I do not think this situation exists in USA. Why USA national team and MLS lack players with creativity.
Dr Loco says
This will happen when freestyle shows up in our perfect structured soccer.
Principal reversed his decision. What they did pretty much sums up High School sports.
Forget where I found the source, but below is useful quote I have saved over the years and relevant to this post. It’ and old post, but still relevant. Enjoy . . . .
Soccer and individual expression. Soccer is a game for the player, not for the coaches, and this makes it unusually difficult for both coaches and parents who have grown up with other, coach-dominated sports. Manfred Schellscheidt (1983), former U.S. Olympic coach, put it this way:
“I encourage them to express themselves because it is a game of expression, . . . of personality, . . . of character. Once a player has the tools, once he has the physical skill, he must express his personality …. It’s not something you can program, . . . that you can predict …. It’s an instant reaction, the initiative of the player and his reaction to things as they happen. We must encourage the player to take chances, do the unexpected, have courage to take people on and go forward as well as have the discipline that counts . . . when we are in defense.”
To help this discussion. From Soccer Nation: http://www.soccernation.com/horst-wein-on-how-to-develop-the-best-youth-soccer-players–cms-3903
Good read on Player Centered Development versus Pressure Cooker Model as the article calls US system and guided discovery versus instruction.
Much of what we are discussing on this post.
That guy knows what he’s talking about.
Thanks for the link.
Just to add another layer to the context this gentleman has also declared himself not a fan of possession soccer:
Great post Gary. This post definitely peels a new layer of the onion back.
Has anyone seen this docu Pelada? Fantastic! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-B5WxyGkDao&feature=youtu.be
Gary Kleiban says
This goes for everyone:
1) If you don’t know soccer, you can’t execute top-level soccer.
2) If you can’t connect with the players, you can’t do anything either.
We do both.
But I am not going to be writing about child or adolescent development stuff, or what I do to help influence the youth towards people’s ideas of an upstanding citizen or human being.
I’m sure there’s copious amounts of literature from developmental psychologists you can read. Just like you can read about the value systems of any ideology when it comes to what a ‘great’ citizen or human being is. Not to mention the countless amateurs interpreting these things, you can latch onto.
You can say …
“But Gary, they’re inextricably linked”
all you want.
Fantastic, go learn that stuff elsewhere.
The focus here is in addressing the gap in your soccer-specific expertise. And with luck, help heal at least a little bit of the damage that is continually done by the mega-phone voice of soccer amateurs.
dr loco says
Our country is full of amateur coaches. My dad told me to stop wasting my time on a hobby. Perhaps he is right.
Called another coach a “cabron” today. Ref threatened to kick me out. I think I lost it a bit with my amateur status.
I know soccer 70% and can connect with players 40%. It is not good enough but magnitudes better than most fools on their mega-phone.
So perfectly put!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
If a team wants to play a style that relies on one touch passes, passing back etc, their tryouts should put players in a position to show those skills. Im not sure what that would be, but what I’ve seen at the U13 boys tryouts is only pickup style games -4v4,8v8 and on the third day 11 v 11. The top coaches can probably see enough from these formats to recognize the kids they want. But the small fields and unfamiliar players doesn’t encourage any style other than individuals attacking. If a player does play a more structured game, they don’t look good in comparison unless teammates are also playing that way. Sometimes in these pick up games, there’s not much passing since you don’t know when you’ll get it back, especially on the small fields. The mindset is to get the ball and show what you can do…a player that I have seen make long accurate one touch passes looked like he was playing kickball when teammates were not on the same page.
Vitale – Great point. Have tryouts mimic training/playing style, not just X number of fields of 4v4/5v5!
I pretty much saw this last night. There was a little bit of good play. Some kids just don’t get it. My son was making some great passes as well as taking players on 1v1. He’d figure out if the other two could pass and decide how to play based on that. One clueless player in a set of 3 could really hamper any kind of team play. He told me he talked to one fancy dribbler and was like…”you don’t need to to all that. messi doesn’t.” He sticks to get around them or pass past them.
But these were younger players. I think with 12 and up you can say to a group of players “try to play _____ way.” Let me see what you can do. I this country you probably can’t do that at a younger age in most places.
pg 19 says
“What do you coach?” is the question you must first answer. A one shoe fits all approach clearly does not work. Let the kids play and free style street soccer is our reaction to countries where soccer is the “play” of choice for kids. I know somone that does mission work in a Brazil orphanage. The boys get done with school around noon, scramble to get all their chores and homework done so they can go outside and play soccer, until it gets too dark and they are called back in. No structure, just lots of play. How do you replicate that in the US?
The US reaction is to see this and then try to organize that “free” spirited play. Its artificial, but in a way in the US, it may be the only means to create truly “free” play in the masses.
As a coach, if I have players that obviously have a ball at their feet any time of the day they are permitted to (outside of school, outside of work around their homes, etc), then I am not going to spend one minute working teaching them “skills” with the ball and I will focus entirely on tactics while addressing technical deficiencies within the context of tactical training (ex proper foot surface on the ball to receive a ball or pass relative to play).
However, if I am coaching kids who have never played or been exposed to soccer before (4, 5 and 6, 14 or 16 year olds) then almost entirely all my training will be on focusing on skills development until they are at a level to which their technical errors will not impede their ability to apply tactics.
I think it is 100% wrong to teach tactics before addressing the skills and abilities of the kids. 1 ball, a pack of kids does not create the repetition necessary to develop fundamental skills. If the kids do not have the ball at their feet 100% of their off time, then their skill improvement is 100% on me training it into them so they reach a level where tactics can be performedat a high level of success.
This is where coaching comes into play. You have to understand the make up of your teams and you have to address the issues that exists. Painting over them with one shoe fits all approach of “hope” that somehow the kids will develop technically by teaching only tactics is wrong and you’re making a bad situation worse. You’re prolonging the time it will take for those kids to develop any resemblance of playing possession soccer.
Coaching from the sidelines can be bad or good, depending on the team, depending on the objective that is being taught, depending on what is being said. “Boot the ball” should never be in your vocabulary. Neither should “Go, go, go!”
In my opinion, “Keep the ball”, “What do you see” and “Relax” should be more common. Encouraging the players to think and make decisions within the context of play I think is incredibly helpful. Note the comments suggested don’t have to be directed only to the player with the ball.
Good points PG…what do you coach/what is your aim? Yes, if we are lucky enough to have players who spend 2,3,4 hours each day with a ball at their feet; then, spend your coaching time with them in a structured session developing their tactical/positional play. If they only touch the ball at a practice a few hours each week; then, they will need our coaching to help develop their technique. We all recognize the core problem of not enough American kids in the streets/fields with a ball and a group of friends for a few hours every day when they are not with us? Has anyone had any large scale success bringing the “streets to the kids” like PG is referring? Me and some of my other coaching friends are organizing a weekly “pick up game” (everything from traditional soccer to dutch “street” games with panna knockout, music, etc) but is still to new to our community to create a movement. Seems to be hindered by the “we are not a soccer culture” issue…so lets grow one! The timing is good (more kids play AYSO than other sports, more are watching it on TV, even kids who do not play soccer, play FIFA video games with each other, the MLS & WSL in some areas, etc, etc)…seems like more kids/parents are aware of soccer than ever (by a lot compared to when I was a kid). The foundation is in place for a soccer culture to take off…we just need sparks, and that is where we all come in! I am new to this blog, but I imagine everyone here dreams/longs for a soccer culture here in America. Well stop bitching about it, and grow one in your neighborhood…if the kids won’t take to the street, bring the street to them! I bet in every neighborhood there are at least 6-10 kids who would love to play a pick up game, and how many kids have a ball that is just sitting around? In my opinion we do not need more clubs, more structure, we need more neighbors watching their kids play freestyle out in the street, and this is what I am doing…why not you?
pg 19 says
I want my teams to play attractive, possession soccer, regardless if they are a rec team, select team, or elite team. It is something I have strived for years in trying to achieve. If the fundamental skills are not there. If the comfort with the ball at the feet is not there, then tactics, no matter how wonderful, will fail.
If the players I coach rarely touch the ball outside of practice, then I can’t ignore their difficiencies. However, I do not lower my expectations. I keep this the same and just understand it may take longer to achieve the “gold standard” than say a team composed of elite level players.
For instance, juggling. This is something I have expected my players to be able to do ever since I coached. In the past, I asked the players to work on this at home 10 minutes every night.
Two years ago, out 40 high school age girls, the high was 6 with the ball starting from the ground, only touches using the foot count. It was obvious that the work wasn’t being done at home. I didn’t ignore it. Instead we had mandatory 10 minute juggling in every training session.
Now, I have several girls that have surpassed the 100 mark. These girls didn’t learn how to juggle simply from doing the mandatory juggling in training. They have since started to work on this at home once they started to succeed in practice. As they compete with one another for new highs, they are compelled to work at this whenever a ball is near their feet and it has now become an irresistable habit.
My expectation has not changed, but the expectations amongst the players has been raised. Its a form of positive peer pressure that has been to the benefit of the team. In a way, can the work at home be considered “street” soccer in the sense that the skill development is away from a coach or team lead training session? From my experience, I don’t think this elementary form of “street” soccer would have occured had I not sparked the habit within a training environment. Again, these are all girls that have only played rec soccer.
Hi PG, here is an idea I just started about a month ago…now that your girls are used to doing some “homework” (the juggling), what about asking your girls to partner up for another assignment (2-3 kids that live near each other getting together on the days off to work on touches, 1v1, etc for 20′-40′)? I have had good support from my players (at least they said they did it 🙂 Just a thought to kick around. Aloha, John
pg 19 says
I’m up for any suggestion that gets the “rec” mentality kids into becoming true players in the sense they practice at home what they received training on in my sessions. Anson has said it best, “Players do what you inspect, not what you expect.” If you’re assuming what you have given to your players as homework is being done, prepared to be surprised when you follow up with it.
It took 2 years to get to what I feel is a decent standard in juggling once I started implementing this within a training session. However, I had been asking that it be done at least 4 years prior. I am looking forward to reading more contributions as to how and what is successful in creating “street soccer” as it is a buzz word being said everywhere.
Last comment regarding this post. I am 30 days away from the start of another high school season. There is a significant amount that I have learned from this site, from the Kleibans and from the various contributors that I will be implementing with this team. I am confident we will have a fantastic season although I know there is still way more to learn.
It doesn’t stop there. I am also proposing significant changes to the small rec club I volunteer for in terms of creating curriculum that touches on every age group leading into the high school program. It will be based on a progressive development model similar to La Masia.
A book I read a few years ago, “Our Boys, A Perfect Season On the Plains of the SC Redmen” is about American football. However, there are significant commonalities to their approach to their sport that is shared with La Masia. Skill and knowing how to execute your plays exceptionally well because you have executed them for years will help you achieve more even against opponents that are faster, bigger and stronger than you are, even in a sport such as American Football. Reading that book, I knew it would be true for soccer. Finding this site is a reaffirmation of what I believed.
Again, thank you all for your insight, it is much appreciated.
I think the “10,000 hour” rule is often misinterpreted. Think about it. A kid starting at age 5 would need to average nearly 14 hrs a week of training until the age of 20. There’s not an academy in the world (that I’m aware of that trains their players that much.)
It’s impossible. Not to mention the disparities regarding quality vs quantity.
From purely a financial perspective, the majority of club coaches would rather do 2-3 sessions a week and coach multiple teams. Why? Simple, it maximizes their ‘hourly rate’.
So inevitably it comes down to the individual player to make up the difference on their own. And the reality is that American youth players by and large aren’t going to do that. Even if they block out the time, it is nearly impossible to put in 15-20 hrs a week devoted to football.
Unless you have a residential academy and have a compressed (3-4 hrs a day vs 7-8) academics schedule. And even in those circumstances, it wouldn’t be feasible for the players until they are at least 15-16.
I think we have done that with Bradenton. But how many truly elite players has that venue produced?
In my amateurish opinion, just putting in the hours is a small part of it.
Yes, the coaching by and large is horrible. But I still believe that 80% of the equation is totally up to the player.Which baffles me as to why this country still underachieves.
2hours a day? That’s not a whole lot if you take away videogames and make the kids go outside. The difference is top players in the world all go out and play 2hours a day while the average American kid plays 2hours of Call of Duty a day. That’s why we underachieve because our average soccer player doesn’t come close to 10,000 hours by the time they are 20 while the average soccer player in other countries probably at least hits 8,000 hours. And many, many of the kids in America end up playing Basketball then Baseball/Lacrosse for 60% of the year. The average American probably does 4000 hours by the time they hit age 20.
Mog, I’m not disagrreing with you. (In theory anyway.) 2 hrs a day doesn’t sound like too much. But that’s an average number. Most academies give their players 4-6 weeks ‘off’ per year. No structured group training.
I think a player putting in 250-300 hrs between the ages of 10 and 14 is very realistic. Between 15-18 400-500 hrs per year. 18-21 would end up 500-550.Assuming 200 hrs per year between 5 and 10. That amounts to around 6,000 hrs total. Assuming no injury or illness.
But what constitutes ‘hours’? Strictly time with the ball? Crosstraining/other sports? Strength/speed/agility work? Watching high level games?
To me it isn’t just the hours spent with team training and/or related activities. But the quality of the work being done.
I think free play/pickup serves the bulk of its purpose before the age of 15. After that it becomes more about training quality and of course, the tactical side of the game.
My son tried out for a 6 week indoor technical program last night. U8-U11. Roughly 50 kids competing to get into the MLS club program. They set up two courts. Divided by age groups and let them play short 3v3 matches and just observed and took notes. They just “let them play”. There were some technically great players there… but they weren’t the best. A lot of them need those foot skills because they can’t decide what to do with the ball fast enough. Other players could take on players and make a pass and time them really well without a lot of flair. Two of the best players were girls.
I’m curious Gary, do you think this is an effective way to evaluate a lot of players at once? It’s not for a team but just supplementary training with “professional” coaching.
A new word was added to the Spanish dictionary…”Inmessionante”…definition #1-The perfect way to play football, an unlimited ability to self-improve. #2-Describes the best player of all time. Maybe a third definition could be-The ultimate end product of a Freestyle meets Structured upbringing?
OK, it’s clear many have no clue of what Gary is trying to say. It comes down to serious soccer education. Here’s another take at the core issue:
“Recently I was lucky to observe Germany’s International Youth squads and the Borussia Dortmund senior team train in La Manga. The big themes that struck me; yet again, there are no secrets, just good practice – also, the German coaches are not afraid to drill their players, and I mean DRILL them, on what they (the coaches want). Watch Dortmund play and you’ll see their organisation shine though in and out of possession. Klopp is a seriously impressive coach.I saw one particular session which sticks in the mind from Germany U17. This was a 20 minute block within a larger session, and the theme was 1v1 play (both defending and attacking). In 20 minutes the players played for perhaps 6 minutes (roughly 30 seconds x 12 iterations). The other 14 minutes was coach instruction. In the most unbelievable level of detail. My German GCSE only held up so far, but what was clear from the body language and the gestures was that this coach knew EXACTLY how he wanted the players to play, and he was not afraid to TELL them. No Q&A here. Right down to the angle of the foot, the position of the head, the part of the ball, the position of the arms and hands, the cadence, speed, change of speed, and turning angle. I could go on. I observed 6 sessions in total, and this methodology of speaking to the players at great length was used partly in at least 4 of them.I was standing next to another English coach watching this session – he observed that ‘this coach would fail his Level 2’ in England. I know what my friend was getting at – this type of ‘standing around, talking/explaining’ style of coaching is frowned up by the FA as too ‘coach-centred; not player-centred’. The ball could have been square for most of the session. So perhaps that is correct, given our climate, it would be unreasonable to expect players to stand and listen for almost 15 minutes out of 20.But hold on a second – have we swung too far the other way? In the last week or so I have spoken to several colleagues about the extent to which players, or more specifically English players, are receptive to coaching. Or more accurately the fact that many players view coaching with massive suspicion, and frankly, would prefer not to be coached. Are coaches merely present in the role of session organiser, with the objective to facilitate some ‘exposure to the game’ – or is our role to actually teach – and I’m talking here about working with senior, professional players with 300 league games under their belt. I know that many coaches will say both, and they’re right, but my current thinking is that too many coaches are too easily swayed into allowing players to dictate the coaching agenda, the frequency of interventions, and the length of interventions, to them. Preventing player boredom – whether explicit or unspoken – seems to me to be high on the English coaching agenda.I have seen come truly exceptional coaches who have fallen out of the professional game, about whom it has been said that ‘the players weren’t having him’. Many of our players seem genuinely resistant to being coached. Is this a mindset? If so where does it come from? Most English players in the pro game now have come through the academy system where they have been coached (one would hope so anyway) – so why should that stop once they get into the first team? Surely if its good enough for Tiger Woods to have a coach, or Andy Murray, or Jessica Ennis, why should a 25 year old Championship player decide they don’t wish to or need to be coached?!? In relative terms they’re a million miles behind those first three – maybe thats the reason why?!!?Maybe if I was Kenny Daglish or Zico I would find this less of an issue? But Gareth Southgate was kind enough to comment on Twitter that he agreed this was a problem. Gareth thinks coaches are challenged to make the learning environment “stimulating and varied”. Gareth also said:“I think other countries generally have more respect for coaching and take it more seriously”.I agree 100% with Gareth on this. So – is the problem:that coaches don’t do enough to challenge the players mentally?that the players have been brought up in an environment where they can get away with ‘not thinking’or that we just don’t find the game interesting enough to take it seriously?!?!?I think that until we address the mindset of the mass player pool with regard to coaching we’ll struggle to produce winning national youth and senior teams.Exactly how we do that, I’m going to save for another blog post
Michael Jolley Football Coach”
Is this German approach based on culture? Is the English FA’s stance correct, again based on culture? Germany is well known for being incredibly organized and very detail oriented in almost everything they do. This is holds true for their approach to soccer coaching. For soccer here in the US lets refer to Gary’s last post:
1) If you don’t know soccer, you can’t execute top-level soccer.
2) If you can’t connect with the players, you can’t do anything either.
I propose that the English and German coaches and players at all age groups have a strong self created reference point when it comes to soccer history, soccer tactics, and general soccer knowledge. Their coaching curriculum’s reflect that.
In the US – the kids we coach do not have a soccer reference point, there are rare exceptions, but in general, as a coach you are going to have to paint a picture of what you want and need that will cover every detail on the field, tactically and technically. This is why we need to grab them at such a young age and start them on their soccer “education” as early as possible because you really starting with a complete blank canvass. The US has to be more “coach centered” than other countries because we have no other choice, that’s why quality coaching over qualified coaching is so fundamentally important, and why Gary’s 2 points are so simple but so powerfully true. Ask a 9 year anywhere in the world to explain a 442 or 434 formation and wait for the answer you get from the American kid. Coaches here need to have a deep understanding of the game and have the interpersonal skills to convey that, and paint the right pictures to kids, and all the time be demanding the discipline needed to get them playing to the highest level attainable..with the Gold Standard as the ultimate goal.
Wonderful post!!!!! The question “Ask a 9 year anywhere in the world to explain a 442 or 434 formation and wait for the answer you get from the American kid”
Want to blow your own mind, something I have been saying for a while “Ask a coach in America that same question and watch how many can’t answer that question!” I would say at least 50% can’t answer the question……..
Four of my players made ODP. I have spent time going to their practices and I am frankly shocked at what I am seeing. I have encouraged the parents on my team to get the boys involved in ODP and other Select programs in the area, extra touches, with other good quality players in the area..but the coaching has been awful. I call them Cone Cowboys.
Free-style street soccer is where kids develop ball skills. I spent hours as a child doing just that. Kids in USA don’t do that and few rarely practice on their own. By the time they are say U14, 90% are average at best in technical skills. I saw it just last night at my son’s U14 practice (don’t want to say name of team because it’s a large USDA club). Out of 20 or so kids, maybe 2 or 3 were above average dribblers. The rest average and maybe about 5 or so very poor.
If USA is going to get better as a nation, we need to start at the bottom. Improve ball skills up to about U12. Make that the focus, not winning State Cup or some other pointless tournament. Do as much as we can to allow freedom of players to experiment and be comfortable with the ball. Make them run laps with the ball at their feet. Dribble ball to get water at breaks. When standing in line on a drill, have a ball at their foot. Have the ball at their foot 100%. Once we develop kids who can master the ball or feel highly comfortable with it, we can now focus on tactical intelligence, quick passing, educated play.
Our society isn’t going to produce kids playing in the street hours a day. We need to rely on clubs as surrogate. They need to find a way to increase touch. The #1 goal up to U12 should be ball mastery. Play 7v7 up to then to allow all players to touch the ball more. THE KEY TO DEVELOPING BETTER PLAYERS LIES WITH BASIC SKILLS AT YOUNGER AGES. THIS IS NOT ROCKET SCIENCE! Instead we see parents on stupid websites like SoCal Soccer Forum bragging about winning tournaments at U10. Total crap! That mentality is pervasive across clubs and coaches too. No wonder we suck! Just look at USMNT. No on on that team can be labeled as world class dribbler or technical skills. HELLO, EARTH CALLING HOUSTON WE HAVE A PROBLEM. COME IN HOUSTON . . . .
Couldn’t agree more!
1. More focus on ball skills (mastery) at younger ages
a. Smaller sided games up to U12 to allow for more touches from every player
b. Lack of focus on ball skills (from pick up games or on own) is major factor for why we see average skills at MLS, college, USMNT
2. Better tactical coaching at older ages
a. Focus on developing smarter, quicker thinking players . . . which means coaches need to allow them freedom to experiment )
b. Develop ball skills, then get them with a proper coach to move towards tactics at about U12. If ball mastery doesn’t happen first, forget it.
3. More / Better opportunity for elite players from about U14 up
An interesting dichotomy is some advocate more discipline while others more freedom.
1. Where, when, by whom?
2. In movement and dribbling? In positional interchange?
3. At practice.? During games?
4. Define “more freedom.” How do we execute it?
Less freedom (coach controls players more):
1. Requires right coach
2. Fine line to demand discipline while developing a player who has skills and confidence to take on opponent 1 v 1
3. At what age do we have less freedom?
4. More freedom in attacking third only? Less freedom in defensive third?
5. Define “less freedom.” How do we execute it?
Besides “opinion” or personal preference, which school of thought is right? Do we have proof? Lacking proof, we pursue our own ideals.
Gary Kleiban says
I’ll tell what all this soccer stuff is:
It’s an art.
An art, which like others, is populated by; masters, professionals, amateurs, and spectators.
Trivializing the art, is a mistake.
I took Taekwondo for many years. You have to learn the poomsae (patters) as the basics (I equate it to passing, receiving, dribbling with all parts of your foot). You must master different kicks, blocks, punches, stances to be advanced (to know the way . . the “do”). If you don’t have it, you won’t do well in sparring or relaxation (breathing, thinking . . . the more advanced skills which are mental). Same is true for soccer. Same true for basketball. You must master dribbling with both hands in all situations under different pressure, without looking at the ball. Proper stance, proper touch.
Pick any great soccer player (Pele, Maradonna, Messi, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Best, Garrincha, Xavi, Iniesta, Zidane, Beckenbauer, di Stefano, Puskas, and so on . . . .). They all played different systems, different styles, different personalities, different supporting cast, different eras, different body shapes. What they had in common was ungodly ball skills. They also had amazing tactical knowledge and quick thinking. If they lacked ball mastery, they could ever be tactically superior or have an Apple PC on their neck. Like possession, ball skill is fundamental to become a top soccer player.
This is why I get so upset when I see big players getting picked over more talented players. Short sighted! We need to id and develop technical ability first and foremost. Then tactics and smarts come easier. This is the La Masia model.
Doesn’t matter if kids learn this via free style or structured. Just needs to happen!
“Like possession, ball skill is fundamental to become a top soccer player.” I’ll expand on my quote:
Possession can’t happen without effective ball skill.
Ball skill is fundamental (a pre-requisite) to possession.
Touch, technique, pass, receive and repetition is foundation of ball skill.
Everything in soccer goes back to (1) ball skill and (2) mental ability. Mental ability cannot happen at high level if you lack ball skill. Effort is wasted if you lack any of the two. Physical ability (strength, size, pace) are ineffective if you lack any of the two.
Dr Loco says
“Ball skill is fundamental (a pre-requisite) to possession. ”
“Everything in soccer goes back to (1) ball skill and (2) mental ability. Mental ability cannot happen at high level if you lack ball skill.”
I like you Kana but just give me the freedom to go crazy…thanks!
What about if you are all wrong?
What about if you never coached?
How do you know if what you are saying is true?
Are you just being theoretical or hypothesizing?
What about if I told you possession develops the mental ability needed to acquire the ball skills necessary for the purpose of attacking?
What about if I told you I can get any group of kids at any level to play great soccer?
What about if I told you many top professional players don’t have superior ball skills?
What about if only superstars have ungodly ball skills?
What about if ball mastery and tactical superiority are not correlated?
My testing is on the field where it counts.
Donde estan Perros!!!
This is a duplicate post … but had to redo as I am late to this conversation and reply was late as well :
Well Gary … love 3four3 and especially your earlier comment – “I’m thinking the country’s hope might lie with young and motivated upstart coaches who have not been thoroughly indoctrinated by the hacks.”
Had to comment on this because that is ME totally … and I am willing to start a new club with one team if necessary. We do have several established clubs … all the experts … all the typical BS.
For the record .. I do have much to learn but feel comfortable at U7 – U10 (for now.)
I did try to see if I could be affiliated with (your club) B-USA – through their collaborative program … and had the door slammed even before I could send requested info. I mentioned “new club/start up” and that was it. Probably had something to do with small #s …not sure as no reply when I asked specifically WHY ?
Perhaps Paul Walker should read 3four3 more often … and I know you have nothing to do with those decisions.
I’ll pave my own way … but would have been easier with B-USA’s blessing … now I have to try and educate the ignorant about why we will be so different … and you know how hard that will be.
We can question everything Dr. Loco. Causation and correlation difficult to prove in soccer! That’s why we’re here. What’s best is what works. And what works for you may not work for me and vice versa. Again, the beauty (and frustration) of soccer.
This is off topic, but explains the huge problem in talent identification in this country. I’ve said for a long time that Kljestan should be the starting holding mid for the US, especially over someone like Jermaine Jones. Take a look at these two videos and you’ll clearly see why this is the case. The fact that someone could look at Jones’ video, and then Kljestan’s, and still prefer Jones over Kljestan is mind-blowing and perfectly represents the massive problem of how we identify talent, and the garbage players that we value in this country. Jones is a hardworking mess, and Kljestan is a brilliant, smooth, and composed baller.
Taking hardworking mess over “brilliant, smooth, and composed baller”. That seems to be commonplace. There are a maybe a dozen or so kids I know at the U13 / U14 level I know of who are seriously good passers; dual-footed; actually look up when receiving, passing, dribbling; excellent movement; great tactical understanding. Yet burly players with a fraction of talent or hardworking mess is often preferred. I read the ongoing series on Soccer Nation about what scouts look for. Typical technique and ball skill is common denominator. Maybe in Mexico, England or Europe — but surely not in USA. I’ve been around the game long enough and seen enough players who have average to mediocre talent get noticed while excellent players passed up. Some of players invited to ODP and National team is simply mind boggling.
I love to watch games on weekends throughout the year. One real-life example is a kid at U13 who has all of above I describe (plays on team of my good friend’s son). The kid is phenomenal. But he’s on small side (about 5’1″ and skinny). Best player by a country mile interms of movement, understanding, overall ability. But he isn’t on ODP. He’s good enough to play on natinal team side (my opinion, but scouts is 90%+ about opinion and kinds of players they favor . . . USA doesn’t have the discipline yet like Spain or La Masia to firmly stick to a specific type of player . . . so it’s all over the board . . . why so much variance in ability at highest levels). I’ve seen the kid play many times and he is a level above. If this kid were in Mexico or elsewhere, I bet my life he would be scouted.
I you truly believe Sasha “piss it away” Klesjten is a better footballer than Jermaine “Nutter” Jones your credibility in this post here has just been tainted, Facts, One plays in Scandinavia, the other plays for one of the top leagues in the world. Jones outside of Michael Bradley is one of the few players in our pool who truly has international technical ability, Hes dumb as a box of rocks no doubt, but Sasha Klestjen??? MIx, Torres and even Feilhaber are better arguments. Rant over… 🙂
I do agree with the concept of what you speak of, this may be the wrong place for NT talk (this thread exactly) what I wonder is what kind of open pick up style did bradley grow up with. People are crazy to think they can help create the next Messi or CR7 or what ever flavor of the week. What I say is make sure every kid is a Michael Bradley, hes nothing amazing, not a world class athlete, but what he is, a footballer who can play competently with the best in the world and not look out of place. In this country I would take a team full of MBs before a bunch of panty wastes like our last golden child currently on hiatus.
Sorry but I couldn’t disagree more and a lot of what you are saying here are examples of major problems we have in this country. First off, I don’t care where a player plays, if he’s a bad ass footballer that’s all that matters. Going purely off credentials is a huge problem we have in this country, “He played or coached for this team, so he must be good” that means nothing! Can he play or can he not play, that’s it! Second of all I couldn’t disagree more again about the lets create a whole bunch of Bradley’s. Is our goal to be the very best or to be stuck as an above average team for eternity? You said it yourself, “he can play competently with the best in the world”. Why is this good enough? It happens at all levels in this country, their athletic, aggressive, hard working, and can be “competent” against the very best, so they get selected because it’s “safe” over someone who could potentially be brilliant. Well I don’t know about you but I want the best of the best not the competent of the best.
Bradley was the perfect example of a quality soccer player, why, for all the reasons you just listed…. Its like people get on this soap box and forget logic. Bradley is neither Athletic, big, strong, fast, aggressive, though hard working yes…The reason he fits in at ROMA a real competent team full of WORLD CLASS PLAYERS, is that he is TECHNICALLY capable of playing with them when on the ball its never an adventure, he settles clean, can take space, create space off the ball, and has a quality ability to weight a pass. in the simplest terms he has zero weakness to his game. Thats what I want, and strive to create with the kids I work with, God handles the athletic and physical attributes.
It does matter where they play, Scandinavian soccer is a hot bed for american never gonna bes, there are a few exceptions but proof is in the numbers. Shalke has no need to take a crap american player, the marketing alone would be disastrous. Compare everything you can between Anderlecht and Shalke. Its great that Klesjten is finally having some success, and I dont doubt that hes a solid player, but he is not capable of playing in international level, or a top flight division, why you ask…..HIS TECHNIQUE
maybe you missed the point with bradley, and dont see his ability the way I do?
Bradley is not selected because hes safe, hes selected because his brilliance is seen by the well trained eye, but looked off as ordinary by the casual observer, PS I am not a Micheal Bradley Fan but as you said can he play I say hell yes!
Bradley is a very good player, but certainly not brilliant, and not world class. Roma is not full of world class players either, although I guess it depends how wide you spread your world class net out to be. He is technically competent, not technically brilliant. I agree, he doesn’t really have many weaknesses, but what specifically does he do that’s as good or better than anyone in the world? I’d struggle to come up with anything, he is very good in transition, but I don’t know that hes one of the best in the world even at that. As Gary has said before, well rounded can be a detriment. Again, I’m not saying Bradley’s not a good player, he’s very good, but he is not world class, and wanting to create a whole bunch of Bradley’s is setting the bar to low in my opinion,.
fair conclusion, World Class is and should be reserved for those who play exactly that, at the best levels in the world….Which he does….. he is by no means a leader in that department, but the consistency and abilities he presents are what this nation needs to strive for first!!! you cant run until you can walk. This nation will not produce a better level than he at a consistent basis until the cultural shift takes place. Maybe Bradley is not the player to strive to create but the bare minimum we should base everything on.
I would take the Roma roster top to bottom over Anderlecht by the way… filled with players the likes of De Rossi, Destro, Tachtindisi, old Man Totti, Burdisso, Perrota etc.. all whom play internationally for a world power.
I’d settle right now for a few bradley’s, a Pique, Mascherano, Abidal, etc.
We need quality defenders and 2 way mids just as much (if not more) than a world class striker!
Kevin & Kana
Kljestan no doubt is better technically and tactically. I can only assume that Klinsman prefers Jones for his aggression. Every team needs a midfield enforcer. But, preferably one that can play intelligently and keep the ball.
The problem is that this is overemphasized at youth level. The basics have to be there first. You build the technical player first. Then, later on his true role will emerge.
The answer seems simple. Barca USA needs to open residential academies (hopefully that are heavily or fully subsidized) in other regions of the country. Texas, Florida, one in the midwest and one on the east coast.
With the sole intention of training professional players. Ideally bringing in transfer fees when these players sign pro contracts. A true ‘talent factory’.
JK prefers Jones for his ability to play a ball over 15 yards, as well as his ability to win the ball. Sasha has never shown an ability to keep the ball. But if Scandinavian soccer is truly the great foundation from where his talents arise, surely Jozy will set the international world on fire…..
Soccer is a sport that has no boundaries on size of player, big small little tall it doesnt matter, those who can play do play. In the past I would agree that the country has fallen in love with the thought of a 6 foot plus 200 pound monster running 4.4 on a soccer field. I am not a believer in that philosophy, I dont believe JK is either. What has become evident every time Sasha puts on a USA Kit is his decision making is god afwul and his technique hinders his ability to be successful, Jones does not have that problem. hes just a jackass. I have spent the last few years watching the US team exclusively for what they are, a bunch of try hard kids still learning the game. There are a few bright spots though, (Neither one of these players mentioned being one) but a lack of technical ability is the first and most important problem with our country. When a pass from the Keeper to a Back is an adventure, Tactics mean nothing.
I personally believe that Playing Pickup increases technical ability, and needs to be encouraged from the time they can walk. training needs to be structured, but at ages 8-11 the goal of the sport is not about how attractive you can play soccer, its about can that kid settle a ball. (Funny Same problem we have at he national level) yet we continue to tell ourselves that its important to teach tactics to a 10 year old. When tactics are the focal point for a kids youth development you get highly organized crappy soccer players…(Carlos Bocanegra..??)
Its monday Morn and my thoughts just spew all over the place,…..COME ON YOU GUNNERS!!!!
@Geoff. I totaly agree with you. I keep harping on it, but ball skill, ball skill, ball skill. Once kids can control the ball — tactics, skill, creativity, confidence, vision, playing with head up all follow. My son is older now, but I still remember when he was U12 and under. I still see kids that age now at practice. Lots of time spent on tactics and game-like situations. Precious little time (maybe 15-minutes at start of practics) dedicated to ball skill. Like teaching a kid to run hurdles when he doesn’t even have right running and body motion. Yet we accept it blindly and wonder why USA is known as a physical style as opposed to talented and tactically proficient.
Ok, so lets take a typical week of training. Even dedicating half of practice to ball skills will result in only about 1.5 a week of touching the ball in a structured setting…still not that much in the grand scheme of things. Like Gary eluded to in previous posts, with limited practice time, you have to rely on kids doing most of ball skills outside of practice and simply refining that technique at practice. Every practice my U10 boys go through repetitive passing and receiving activities to learn to receive with the front foot when possible, check options before receiving the ball, and open body to the field to receive. I don’t do a ton of coaching points beyond this b/c I want them to internalize that process. However, I’m not fooling myself thinking that our practice time is enough to make a real difference with building ball skills. Most of my players touch the ball maybe 20-30 minutes outside of practice per week. Does that mean I should dedicate a good amount of time to teaching them the right way to play? Not saying my way is perfect and I’m still searching for the right combination but just my two cents.
@Hall, I haven’t seen Sacha K. play in quite a while, so can’t comment on his abilities. My comment on this matter was more that we tend to like the midfield enforcer types at ALL positions. Couldn’t agree w/you more that techinque first and build from that. This is why I was harping on ball skill being #1. W/o it tactics, mental game, possession, passing, first touch . . . everything is less than optimal. All excepet for the enforcer role. That needs no special skill for many teams. An enforcer like Busquets, Alonso, or Mascherano is golden. This should be the model we seek. I see too many coaches with enforcers who solely have size, strength, power, aggression but little to no technical, tactical, mental ability.
We end up with better product if we start with skill and natural abiliy and go from there.
Freestyle is like a great fun in itself. It can be played anytime anywhere we want. The structural game is for professional players. Both are good at its place freestyle have its own fun and professional game have is own fun too. And in my opinion freestyle is for young talented person but under age.
95% of kids never practice on their own. If they practice 2x a week and spend approximately 15 minutes on ball skill, that’s 30-minutes a week. With such embarrassingly low touches, how can we expect to develop advanced players? We can’t and we don’t, which is why jungle ball and Route 1 soccer prevails (just knock it long and use size and strength).
Whether it be a guided club environment, training on your own, or playing pick-up games – when we increase touch, familiarity, confidence with controlling the ball (all parts of both feed, legs, chest, head) we are in ideal situation (exponentially higher probability) at developing tactically superior, mentally quicker players. Controlling the ball becomes second nature. They can free the mind and focus on reading the game and having the technical confidence and belief in knowing they can retain possession.
Too many players (even at our U20 level when I watched them play Haiti recently) aren’t this fluid, smooth, composed on the ball. It lets them down in high pressure situations or in first touch. Barcelona is the poster child of possession. They would not be that if players didn’t have supreme ball control. They all play with head up and no need to worry about poor touch. In pressure situations, they are excellent at retaining possession. All comes from confidence, belief, knowing the ball is an extension of their body.
This is the one area kids can do on their own. Any and every kid who wants to seek professional soccer needs to be best friends with the ball. Commit to frequent practice outside of team practice. Any parent who wants to support his son’s pro desire needs to help nurture that commitment. None of that is happening if touches limited to 2x a week practice. And from the U12 down, parents need to worry about that #1. Not winning State Cup or some other meaningless tournament. Think about the future, not this weekends game.
Ok, I agree with most of what you are saying, but I’m nitpicking with your comments about how the teams trained U12 and under. If 95% of the kids do nothing outside of practice, it seems in your comment to Geoff that you think it should be much more balls kills than playing small-sided games/game-related activities. I agree that it comes down to the kids, but if you as a coach are stuck in a reality that your players are not going to do what is necessary on their own to dramatically, do you throw tactical instruction out the door in favor of focusing on ball skills at practice? Do that from U9-U12 and you have kids with decent feet with little ability to apply it in the game.
I think many are again missing the point here. If a 10-12 year old kid isn’t touching the ball away from practice then he doesn’t love the game and most likely only playing for his parents and possibly for fun (rec). The fun part is ok but he will never play at a high level. The question should be why? No parental support? No culture? No time? Again, most likely no interest. The answer should be to stop wasting time on kids that prefer video games, basketball, tennis, golf, and skate boarding over soccer. If a 12 year old kid would rather do homework than juggle a ball in the back yard then he isn’t a player and doesn’t have the passion. Can he be inspired? maybe, but again the support and encouragment at home perhaps lacking. Playing with a ball alone shouldn’t feel like a chore or presented like a chore. I’ve actually heard a parent tell his son he would have to juggle for an hour if his bedroom wasn’t clean. In conclusion, you can watch a kid play for 5 seconds and know if spending time alone with the ball is a chore or reward.
So theres a lot of different angles at play. What I will say to a comments above is that when you spend all a ten year olds time on passing and receiving, trying to copy a Barca model you forget to realize that the barca model is already based on kids having graduated from individual skill concepts. If your in the United Sates that has not happened unless you have specifically been responsible for the prior 4 years. Which most of the Euro snob coaches wanting to create the next Messi (whos a South american btw) prefer to coach 10 and up…lol, I dont think thats the case. The Barca model which is really just the flavor of the month isnt a model based on teaching kids to pass and receive, or ball skills, etc.. its a Model thats been a product of a Cultural pressence in the local communitys way of life.
So many people want to create the next greatest thing and fail to focus on the TRUTH. Being that its not who you coach and who youve created or where they go from what youve done… its about HOW YOU COACH and teach all players shit birds and the good ones, the joy of the beautiful game. Cultural shift is happening in this country. the Crappy MLS that we all like to bash has done something in its 18 years that Hockey couldnt do. It over took the NBA for attendance which in my eyes is huge.
Pick up is part of the cultural shift that is taking off though many of us arent sure how to implement it corrrectly Hence this topic. Its hard to keep up with everyones comments and keep a coherent paragraph. plus I suck at keeping my thoughts in line though I like to think im a hell of a salesmen…lol
Embrace the cultural shift, encourage all kids to find the joy, not just the ones who do work on their own. when the culture is set, the kids that work on their own will rise to the front, But I would hate to miss out on a D’lessandro, Requelme, Batistuta…cuz we are only trying to create a Messi Who by the way isnt even the most important player on his team though thats a debate for a whole different thread!!!!!!!
I may be alone in this but I’m not seeing a cultural shift. It’s not all sunshine and butterflies in my corner of the soccer world.
Yes increased attendance is great and important for the growth of a pro-style development system, especially at the semi-pro level, but that doesn’t mean the kids in attendance don’t play multiple sports or that they are juggling daily on their own.
I just moved to a new area in the fall. The three best players on my team that I spent 3 months reprogramming, developing and honing skills are not playing this spring. Two are playing baseball and one is focusing on gymnastics. Two of these players could be exceptional. They are inspired but with help from the parents they still need to play another sport – “spring isn’t serious”; “kids need multiple sports for proper development”. Across our division only 10 of the 24 identified “select level” players are playing in the spring.
This week my son has been coming home from school and talking about his friends and the sports they play and asking me if I played other sports. One of his friends is talking about movies I don’t let him watch. Peer pressure to do something other than soccer – WOW. And to quote testudo123 – “full disclosure, my son is a badass”. Any input from anyone on how to combat this peer pressure is much appreciated.
So Geoff, I’m not drinking the kool aid. We need leadership from the top of each club just as Gary stated. There needs to be parent and player education on a club basis, not just a team basis, that teaches, promotes and inspires the culture it takes to develop a soccer player from the time they register for their first team at U4 or U5 and reinforced again every year.
As Kephren and others have stated, we need more “latin american” representation in our soccer leadership from top to bottom and more “latin american” selection to top teams.
I like your enthusiasm but if we start believing a cultural shift is already happening then it will never happen.
Why do we need a latin for development… thats like saying we need more brits… why trade a orange for a tangerine. Latinos are just as much a problem as the brits and uneducated soccer parents. Just because a person is latino dont assume they know crap about the game. I
This country is a melting pot and our boards and anything else that rep us should look the part. If you cant kids kids to stay in your program whats that say about you??
just looking the part or sounding the part doesnt mean you are the part. I would suggest self evaluation. I currently in my little isolated area of the country with no major outlets for people have found a way to grow a program from 20 kids the first year to over 300 kids now(5 years later). Our big issue is what we have given up to share the education with as many kids, lack of quality is definitely taking a hit as duplication of ones self is needed but never as good if your truly trying to grow the sport. Currently I have 8 coaches under me and a few others who are active but are still learning HOW to coach. The have want to stick with the developmental phases of a program and a players development. PS I would put my kids up against any group in this country, why because they may lose(like that matters) but what they will show is a comfort on the ball, a willingness to take space, and a willingness to share.
My sons team is a U11 group and already the best in our tiny little state and will be a relevant regional team (IV) . The U 11 group was the first group to come out of our Rec/select Program and graduate to a full competitive team. Yes they are not perfect but the style of play and the abilities resembles a high level of player for the future. My son personally was brought up me, (an African American who grew up in the Bay Area playing at a very competitive level,) is a very technically smart and tactically aware kid. Main reason for it was all the dribbling and individual ball work he does, Now hes comfortable playing a ball 15-20 yards with either foot, as well as the speed of play to play 3-5 yard passes with accuracy and timing. He will be physically limited but technique has tought him how to be tactically better!!
The cultural shift happened the second players who grew up in the late 70’s and 80’s decided to coach. None of us ever believed in Lines and Laps, None of us coach that way. A perfect session for me 1;15 -1:30 starts with individual ball skills as a warm up that is 1 kid per ball and progresses to no more than 4 kids per ball.
Small sided activities that are 2v2 (4 kids per ball)
Expanded 4v4 (8 kids per ball)
then full game 6v6 (12 kids per ball)
My state plays 7v7 at the ages Im at. fyi
Cultural shit has happened, but what are you doing about ensuring the youth gets the proper education. you know the stats, Soccer is played by your neighbors kids, your kids, your cousins kids, Its the easiest sport to play, but presents the most challenge if you are to develop. No other sport can say that, while we still have the largest player pool in the nation. How can you say the cultural shift hasnt happened when you have people from all across the nation conversing here about it??
PS My retention rate is in the 90% by the way, plus we grow every year.
I wonder how many of you have even looked at the UsSoccer curriculum? or do you just write it off because it says US on it? I cant imagine anyone with actual intelligence writing off someones educational philosophy, You dont need to agree with it, but you better learn it if you are to combat it.
Dr Loco says
“The cultural shift happened the second players who grew up in the late 70′s and 80′s decided to coach.” — Perhaps.
I recently saw the best 40 players at U14 in our region. The cultural shift was clearly evident. Latino kids speaking Spanish being coached in English by non-Latinos.
I was very impressed with their technical skills and possession style. Consistently connecting 5+ passes in all areas of the field.
Elite coaches scream, “stop with your tiki-taka and scorei!!!”
No way did you see the besf kids, what event was it? Did the players get a free ride to get there? What was cost to partake in said eve
Ive done som ODP in the past and knowf first hand the best kids dont all play at these events, just the affluent ones.
Tiki taki is great no coach in thier right mind that i know in my little bqckwater location would ever yell for them to stop sharing the ball and score….
Seriously though look at national team our best players are not latino, really need to stop with this latinos are best approach,
“Seriously though look at national team our best players are not Latino” – that statement says it all for me. Just because they are on the national team doesn’t mean they are our best players or more appropriately there could have been better “Latino” players.
I am not all about the “Latinos”, but how can you argue against them having a larger presence on the field and in the boardroom.
I kinda see what your saying, for me the only reason we should have more Latinos on our squad is that stereo typically there are more of them playing. I see Torres as likely the most technically comfortable player we have, and he cant find a role yet. But I do look at the roster and think its a fair representation of whos playing in this country, Minus all the germans..lol
I will also argue that the “Latinos” are as much the problem as they are PART of the solution. I took a look at the roster of the IMG U16 USDA team after having a discussion on the post about Chivas USA’s new “plan”.
I found that 50% of the team were “Latino” and they all claimed other countries for citizenship and nationality. So while we “develop” them they dream of playing for other countries…
Dr Loco says
“So while we “develop” them they dream of playing for other countries” — be careful with what you say.
The three Mexico-based players will now bring that experience to the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team during the CONCACAF U-20 Championship
Liga MX helping USA develop new stars
My issue is more about mentality, but the difference is that Liga MX has a professional interest in those players. If DC United had a functioning professional academy and players left to play for Mexico that’s fine – different situation.
Dr Loco says
“really need to stop with this latinos are best approach,”
Ok, I’ll stop after this but only because you asked me. Last one.
Dr Loco says
Sorry I could not resist. Do they speak English in America?
Very well said, Tim
Excellent points. I think the lack of passion is even more of a problem than poor coaching. The vast majority of my son’s past teammates did very little work with the ball on their own…outside of practice.
Even by their own admission. When parents would complain to me about their kid’s lack of playing time or position…the first question I would ask is…”how much time does your son spend with the ball outside of practice?” Usually their was complete silence. The second most common answer was “well, that’s what we’re paying for…for the coach to turn him into a soccer player”. Or that their child was ‘busy with homework, etc.’
Even as a newcomer, it was always a nobrainer to me that if a kid wanted to really excel in the game they would have to spend quality time on the ball every day. Since around U9, in addition to 2-3 team practice sessions, we would spend time together working on ball control. 90% was devoted to first touch/control. Since the age of 11 my son has played pickup with adults. Mostly hispanics with a few Euro expats and ‘gringos’ mixed in.
Not to brag, but doing that, banging a ball off a wall and working with me daily (mostly) has probably done more for his development than any coach, team or league has. We don’t live in a a mjor footballing hotbed. The closest one being Dallas…200 miles away.
We have had to be somewhat unconventional and creative with his approach to the game. Another thing that has helped is that we both watch a lot of games together. And try to analyze the tactical side.
That said, he is 15 now, in high school and is into his social life. So, I’d be lying if I said there weren’t ‘distractions’ at work. Most of our ‘individual’ sessions last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. And supplement that with an evening of pickup. The sessions are short but intense and usually involve control/first touch under pressure.
I’ve done all I can do. What he really needs is a truly ‘professional’ DAILY training environment. And that is hard to come by. Unless I spend tens of thousands a year (which I can’t afford) to send him to someplace like Shattuck St. Mary’s or IMG.
I think maybe most parents don’t really view soccer as a viable or worthwhile investment in terms of the required commitment to excellence. They cite the lack of collegiate programs instate, relatively low MLS salaries and a general inferiority complex concerning soccer vs other sports.
The better ‘athletes’ usually end up playing another sport and even continuing to play it becomes a secondary sport. 99.9% of kids just view the game as an ‘activity’…not something they want to do all the time.
And yeah…it pisses me off! because football is the only game I watch anymore. At least 5-6 games a week. No NFL, NBAor MLB in my house!
I agree with Hall… Passion, our passion or dedication is often dictated by our parents, grandparents and family. Our memories as Americans as it relates to sports and sporting heroes are derived from other places rather than soccer. Thanksgiving football, Xmas hockey, playground b-ball. Our Olympic heroes are track stars, Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis, Bruce Jenner. This shapes our collective reasoning as to what our focus sports wise should be, which dictates passion and to a lesser degree our culture as a sporting nation.
What needs to occur over generations is Dad having a World Cup party or UEFA party every year, break out his (fill in the blank ) players jersey, at half time go have a kick around, create memories..then hopefully the “brainwashing” if you will or the mental programming of the youth has good, warm memories tied to soccer, which can breed the “culture” that we seek. This in turn creates momentum from generation to generation to push soccer as something more than a recreation on a national level, which might create entrepreneurs to create academies with proper foundations. America has not put the work in to create our own philosophy because we don’t or haven’t valued soccer as a commodity. So in turn we play copy cat, fake it til u make it mentality. These other soccer nations have failed and succeeded, failed again, they have a years and years of knowledge and experience as to what works at the youth level, at the national level to better formulate this vision.
Next is money..look at Russia (as a whole country once again), not an overly dominant soccer nation, but look at their gymnasts, tennis players, hockey players. The government for years has funded these sports to push these athletes to greater and greater heights. You think China doesn’t fund ping- pong or diving? Our dominance in basketball on the world stage was being threatened until we did what?
In closing their will be no pick up games of merit, or national significance, or anything in between until the collective passion switches, until the country values soccer as a commodity, and backs it with money. Once this occurs and we have a” winning formula” aka the gold standard will we have a shift of seismic proportions to exact change, and create players that we can have a feeling of connection to with: Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Joe Montana, Michael Jordan. It wasn’t just that these players were great we connected emotionally with them, through memories of playing the sport, going to a game with Dad. These types of emotions elicit passion, not being dragged to practice 3x a week. Imagine…….
Gary Kleiban says
The multi-generational culture of soccer exists in the United States.
And it exists in huge numbers! Millions!
But that culture, those peoples, are not the voice of the game here. And they are not being tapped, represented, or served.
Instead, the megaphone is in the hands of the people you are describing – the affluent suburban demographic. In that regard, then yes … we need 50 to 100 years (if ever) to possibly catch up ‘culturally’.
Dr Loco says
“So in turn we play copy cat, fake it til u make it mentality.” I tell my players to pretend they know how to play 😉
Suburban soccer must disappear or influences greatly reduced.
I see your points about the culture, though as a parent of 4 I have taken my kids to games, my oldest Loves Thierry and the Gunners as do I, we watch WC, EUROs, and even the crappy internationals at times, we have had WC parties for the last 2 cups, (hes only 11)
Point is Im doing that as are 90% of you I bet, how is that not progress? My father was a Baseball football guy,
Majorly agree about the copy cat thing, Everyone know wants the Barca Model, when I was a youth it was the Ajax model, and before you know it the Bayern model will be upon us, what they did the other day and throughout the year so far is quite impressive, more organizationally than Barca, looked almost at technically driven, a bit more direct but still an enjoyable level of soccer,
Also the Suburban Soccer thing just needs to be revamped not lessened.
Suburban soccer doesn’t need to disappear.. we need to stop pretending that this is the springboard for everything soccer related..if suburbia wants to spend money so little johnny can feel good about himself then fine..we also need to shift the focus that college soccer is the ultimate prize. It should be the back up prize shoot for the moon land on a star mentality. I believe wholeheartedly that the elite need a place to be elite.. doesn’t matter if the elite is suburban or ghetto, whitey or Latin, rich or poor. The problem is the pay to play model does not support this..nor should it. Once we attach money to something we become entitled, the coach becomes an employee who must manage time, ego and personality. Our youth system is not geared to create professional players nor should we expect it to. That is our fault for our false expectations. If our little johnnys are good enough and the proper eyeballs have seen this then the transition to an “elite” playing ground should be made. There is the problem not enough proper eyeballs, and no true national “elite” youth playing ground. These things come with time and more importantly money.
Dr Loco says
yousureknowalot, you’re probably correct Suburban soccer can still exist just needs to be renamed for what it is.
“Our youth system is not geared to create professional players nor should we expect it to.” Why not???
“then the transition to an “elite” playing ground should be made.”
At what age, when, where?
I would argue that under 13 years of age you can’t call any kid “elite” unless you are a freak of nature (anomaly in child development). The natural environment of a player is responsible for developing them. We need to take this to Vegas and let them decide.
By youth system I mean our club soccer system….where the majority of kids play…by elite I mean potential, or that thing that seperates hem from the norm in some way. II’m sure in Spain Italy and other more developed soccer nations, there is some form of rec league soccer organizations that serve as a farm league so to speak for the academies. Suburban soccer can serve this purpose in part. Most cities have Mexican leagues which serves that culture, and can be scouted as well.
Dr Loco says
Suburban soccer …maybe not. Need to investigate demographics.
Barcelona USA Academies:
Los Angeles, CA
San Jose, CA
El Paso, TX
Las Vegas, NV
Gary Kleiban says
The question of urban/suburban isn’t strictly a geographic one.
Meaning, just because a club may have an operation in one or the other doesn’t mean it’s a serious “pro” mentality club, or that its coaches are ‘pro’ mentality, or how dependent it’s business model is on player demographics.
*Correction: Barca-USA doesn’t have ‘academies’.
Dr Loco says
Understood. How does Barca-USA maintain quality across the different penyas?
Gary Kleiban says
That’s one of the many reasons I can no longer support this program.
Woah. Bombshell below.
Dr Loco says
“Our youth system is not geared to create professional players nor should we expect it to.”
It sure seems like our youth club system is trying to create professional players. We should either help it or get out the way.
By 18 most players are associated with a pro club but not in the younger ages.
Bottom line is that we have to have opportunities for the kids with passion and potential to be placed in a true professional development system. As exists elsewhere. And, believe it or not, the DA and to a lesser extent, MLS youth programs ain’t it!
Not everyone lives within driving distance of these venues. I am seeing firsthand that there seems to be a built in bias in the hispanic community that white kids can’t play. And by and large there is ‘some’ truth to that. My son plays for a team that is 80% hispanic. And their style reflects that. Which is good…because I hate mindless kickball.
The team also plays in an adult hispanic league (the team is U16 but has a few u15’s as well.)
Reality is much different from perception though…as we all know.
College soccer is a consolation prize in my opinion. That said, a kid should be focused on his play and daily improvement technically and tactically. Not forking out thousands to attend ‘elite’ tournaments and league play.
There is a bias, but it disappears quickly if you are respectful and your kids show that they can play proper football. My son is the only gringo on his team. When he first started we got the looks from all the parents. He took some verbal and physical abuse from the kids in practice. But after the first scrimmage started that day and he showed he could play, the other players started to look to pass him the ball and interacted with him. The parents warmed up to us as well.
I experienced the same thing over the Summer. I found a group of adults playing and kids were playing on the side. I watched the people play and sent my 5 year old kid over to play with the other kids, which were much older – he was the only white kid. They took a few minutes to warm up to him, but when he tried a double scissors and showed that he could play, they started to call him little Messi. He plays with the latino kids regularly now.
Pretty much same thing happened to us. After tryouts, a few training sessions and an adult ‘mexican league’ game…they started showing a lot of respect. One thing I’ve noticed is that the players know who can actually play and who can’t.
Even if the parents have no clue.
So the rumors are true. BK is leaving Barca USA for Chivas USA Academy. So is Chivas USA now the gold standard instead of Barcelona?
Silly question. Obviously Barcelona is still the gold standard. BK will try to meet that standard at Chivas. I’m curious what will happen to his players who are too young for the Chivas academy.
From SoccerNation.com. A letter John Napier received from a parent who relocated to Argentina. The parent’s child played for John at SDSC. Sends chills down my spine to read it. Addresses all the crap we talk about so much on this forum.
I hope you are doing really well and loving living in the greatest place on earth, San Diego.
I doubt you are aware, but I moved with my wife and four kids to Buenos Aires, Argentina last July, 2012 for a job commitment with US government.
As you know, soccer is very important to me and I immediately started looking for soccer clubs where my kids could play, in particular, a club for my, then 7 year old, son Lance. What I found regarding the soccer system in Argentina was shocking to me. It is VERY different from the US system. After almost 8 months I am starting to understand why it produces some of the most skillful and best soccer players in the world.
Maybe some of what the Argentines do can be used by us to change our system for the better. Our system has some serious inherent flaws that will be very difficult to change (cultural – winning, trophies, uniforms, etc.)
When we first got here I asked a soccer coach where I could find a club for my 7 year old son and he said “he is too young to play on an organized team which plays in a league. You need to send him to a soccer school.”
There are no soccer “teams” or leagues for boys under 10 years old. (Girls don’t play soccer down here – they play field hockey) If a boy wants to “learn to play soccer” before he is 10 years old he can enroll in a “soccer school.” They start enrolling boys in soccer school at 4 years old and divide them into age groups. My son, Lance, is 7 years old and his group is full of about 60 six and seven year olds. At the soccer school they never “practice,” they only “play” and work on skills. Of the 90 minutes at the soccer school, they are actually playing soccer for, at least, 80 minutes.
They break the boys into skill levels and then each skill level has a coach in charge of them. The coaches take their groups and divide the boys into teams and give them pennies/jerseys. There are four groups. Three of the groups play futsal and one group works on skills. They rotate between stations. The boys then play futsal or work on skills until time is up. The boys LOVE it. Constant soccer and touches on the ball.
During the games the coaches only stop play for fouls and hand balls – then they give free kicks, set up walls, etc. The coach is a neutral player who the team in possession can pass to. The coach settles disputes (as to whose ball it is for throw-ins, fouls, goals made or not, hands or not, etc.) and the coaches do not stop the flow of the game. They let the game do the teaching. Occasionally they will comment to the higher skilled players other things they might have done in a given situation.
The composition of the skill groups stays mostly the same every week but the teams within the group change every week. From week to week no boy knows who is going to be on his team so the emphasis is on playing good soccer and developing a high skill level. For example, one week Diego and Jose are on the same team and the next week they play against each other.
The games are EXTREMELY competitive and every boy and their father want their son’s team to win, badly, but it only matters for THAT day. There are no trophies. There is no planning on how to block the goal, or score on a trick play, or kick the ball to a certain boy. There is no league championship, playoffs, etc. It is all about PLAYING soccer and developing soccer skills.
After experiencing this, it makes me think that recreational soccer in the US is more about the parents than the kids. That needs to change.
The kids wear whatever they want. Most of them wear Messi jerseys – Barcelona and Argentina national team, some wear River Plate jerseys, others wear Boca, and the rest is a mix. So the boys get to wear jerseys, which they love, just not “team” jerseys. However, I think they might like wearing the professional/national team jerseys more than team jerseys.
If a kid doesn’t show up at soccer school, he isn’t letting anyone down because he doesn’t have an assigned team. Each week the coaches divide the teams according to who is present.
These kids are some of the most skillful 7 year olds in the world. These 7 year old boys from a small section of Buenos Aires could compete with and probably beat any 9 year old team in the United States. Their skills, passion, and soccer IQ are off the charts.
I know money is a big driver in our system and our system is nothing like this, but if we are serious about truly improving soccer in the US, we must change the way we do things. We will NEVER compete with the countries like Argentina if we keep having recreational soccer and competitive soccer the way we do it now.
I understand there is a passion for soccer in Argentina that does not really exist in the US. But that is changing for the better in the US.
You are well aware of the inherent and obvious weaknesses of the US soccer youth system – no need for me to dwell on that.
Hopefully this can spur some thought. Maybe a delegation can come down here and see how they do things. I would be happy to show the little but very impressive part I am witnessing to whoever is interested. I am sure the Argentines would be happy to show US their system.
I hope you are healthy and well and have great success.
This is a great commentary from someone who less than a year ago had kids playing competitive soccer in Southern California. It really makes you think!
Thanks for sharing this Kana. I have to believe there are a number of us that have truly consider doing the same thing in moving to another country that has a richer history in the sport (my wife is French so we have entertained the idea). That being said we would really love to help nurture my son’s growth here in the states if at all possible.
We are lucky enough to live in SoCal (San Diego) and it’s my feeling that my son is developing with a quality club and coach as well as having many other talented kids on his team, but the idea of a “soccer school” like the one which is being described in the letter sounds promising. My son is only 8 and like most competitive clubs, his formal training is only 2 (maybe 3) times a week. Obviously during that time the emphasis is on structured fundamentals of the game (as it should be IMO).
We, like many that visit this blog I’m sure, complement this by organizing small sided pickup games with many of the talented kids in the area. Is this the same as what is being described in the letter? No, but it does allow the kids to express themselves and try things that they might not during a normal formal training session. We also subscribe to the idea that futsal is a great tool for not only improving any child’s skill development, but also how it helps to nurture the “fun” factor.
My son is also lucky enough to be able to play soccer at school (at lunchtime) everyday with a very multi-cultural group of kids in a public school. This is one thing that I really think helps him. Away for parents and distractions and having to hear that he needs to do this or that he can just play and continue to fall in love with the game!
For now we are content with allowing him to grow in his current environment and we are hopeful that the future will bring change here in the US.
By the way for those that might be interested in seeing what a typical week looks like for my son, here you go:
M / W: Small sided pickup (3v3) or backyard training
T / Th: Formal club training
F / Sat: Futsal pickup or free play
Sun: Game (either indoor or futsal)
The result of all of this can be seen here:
Disclaimer – In no way am I saying that this is the “Gold Standard” or that my son is a world beater. In fact, I think he has a long way to go if he really wants to play at the next level, but as long as he keeps believing that it’s possible and keeps putting in the time and effort we are willing to provide as much support as needed.
Ali lee says
i coach in Ireland U11 team we play 9v9 but my concerns we will be playing 11v11 next session.could you please advise me how many players i need ,and how to deal with subs and with parents interfering,
i have at the moment 16 players half of them not soccer on them that all ,as you know in Ireland ,in our club we dont do testing all can registered ,any advice about 11v11 training drills and possession in the match ,help please ,thanks lots ,
Wow, great post, Gary! I feel like I have just completed a coaching course just by reading the comments. NOVA Mike, that is a delightful Xavi story. I’ll have to get that book.
I thought I would pass on a little “street soccer” experience. The summer before my kids started their U11 season, I invited everyone to a series of optional kickarounds with me at a local park. Three players showed up on a regular basis. On the same evening, a group of four superbly-skilled Latin players showed up to kick the ball around, from late teens to early 20’s in age. We got to talking, and they asked us to play with them. I was a little worried that our kids would frustrate and slow them down, but they assured us that they didn’t care. They were just playing for fun. So we played. The kids at first were completely outclassed, and instead of the older players slowing or “dumbing down” their game to include the kids, they punished them (with a smile) for their lack of pace and insight. The kids barely got to touch the ball, but they didn’t care. They were completely mesmerized by these older players. We played all summer, once a week. By the third week, they started to get it. They were passing, moving to space, even scoring. I had no idea they were capable of playing so well.
I told that story to a friend of mine from the Ivory Coast, and he said that sounded like how he grew up. Every day, after school, kids of various ages and levels of skills would play. The younger kids would mimick the older, more-skillful players.
That experience showed me that it is possible for kids who have not had the benefit of growing up immersed in a street-soccer culture to, nevertheless, learn a great deal from playing the game. I’m sure the presence and influence of our four excellent friends played a key role in creating the ideal environment for teaching good principles of play. I also can affirm the point that unstructured play can teach bad things, i.e., reinforcing bad habits.
As a coach, I would really like to intentionally create that sort of learning magic with all my players. Is there a way to do that in a structured practice session, or is that just not possible? Does a formal, structured practice have to be completely removed from street soccer (and vice versa), or is there an effective way to “plan” for spontaneous learning?
Gary Kleiban says
There’s a conservation principle:
The more you do of one thing, the less you do of the other.
We (the average US youth coach) spend a lot of time on drills, not so much on set tactical play, far less on technical skills.
Is this site dying, in hiatus? Seems posts are fewer and less activity from the “regulars”. Just folks chiming in on old threads. What gives?
Coach J says
I was thinking the samething Dave.
Gary Kleiban says
Guys, rest assured we’re very much alive and well.
Understand that this blog is not about pumping out article after article just for the sake of putting something out there. This is not a news site. Nor is this meant to be a classic ‘forum’, where the norm is anonymous people posting their low quality, many times off topic, garbage every 10 minutes.
3four3 is dedicated to patiently and systematically providing a soccer education that does not exist in our country. We’re on a life-long plan here, not a 2-week plan.
In any case, after the Barcelona trip concluded, there’s been a ton of activity behind the scenes. Brian is now at Chivas USA, and I’m working all kinds of things. When things stabilize, publishing content at our historical frequency can resume.
Hope that answers your questions.
p.s. I’m quite proud that so many of our loyal readers and regular contributors have refrained from posting off-topic. I believe they understand how doing so can drop the educational value of each page.
This was still a top 5 thread for me, just reread some of this and man its great!!!!
Its summer soon, Club seasons simmer down PICK UP LIVES!!!!
These guys might knock you out for lumping freestyle and street ball together.
I just “organized” a free play evening within my very small, non soccer playing community. I put out small goals and otherwise stood really far away. I told the parents it was a time for kids to just play with no instructions/ no adult interference. A couple kids actually asked “when do we start playing” bc they didn’t know they could play w/out adults. Some of the parents kept shouting instructions – it’s like an illness they can’t control. On the bright side a few kids broke out some moves, creativity that they never show within “formal” training. I will keep trying.
Rozano Fortune says
It’s funny how many parents always try to perpetuate the bs that kids need to learn to become better people through sports. But let a coach not play their kid, and then it’s a horse of a different color. Parents seem to conveniently forget that life lessons comes in many different forms. Your kid misses practice or was not giving it his best on the field and the coach benches him fro the rest of the game does not fly well.
I always ask these life lesson parents this question, what if the team is playing well and thus the coach makes a decision to keep the team on the field and not sub, how will you feel about that? Isn’t that a life lesson, that some times you have to take one for the team. How many parents are willing to let their kid take one for the team by not playing?
Summer pick-up and street soccer in Barcelona Spain- Enjoy