Why “Developing All Players to Their Potential” is a Lie

targetYou can not be all things to all people.

You have to pick.

Let’s consider you have a single roster that you get to work with for a certain number of hours per week.

I think we can all agree this roster is comprised of players with unique qualities and varying levels of talent (or perceived talent anyways).

So no matter what you do, the design and execution of your sessions, along with the culture you establish, is either targeting a certain group most, or it’s not targeting anybody.

Let me explain.

Roster Partitioning

Suppose we partition your roster into 3 groups:

  1. Best players
  2. Average players
  3. Weakest players

Each group is on a different point on the development curve, and hence ideally requires different things.

You as a coach in a team environment can’t do it all. You can’t develop “All Players to Their Potential”.

You’ve got choices to make.

Do you target:

  • The best?
  • The average?
  • The weakest?

or

  • try to “mix it up”?

You must choose! Otherwise you have no real plan or philosophy on development.

If you haven’t chosen, you’re just winging it; and are either a bullshitter (not ok), or are still in the trial and error stages (which is ok … to a point).

Now let’s explore what happens with these choices.

Pick the weakest …

  • … and the average are not being pushed.
  • … and the best are totally getting screwed.

Pick the average …

  • … and the weakest are being pushed.
  • … and the best are still getting screwed.

Pick the best …

  • … and the weakest are getting ultra-pushed, perhaps too much, perhaps not.
  • … and the average are getting pushed.
Soccer player development philosophy

Discretized player development targeting.

Not So Fast

Let me guess, your solution is “Mixing it Up”.

Well, how and why you ‘mix it up’ are the critical questions.

How much time do you spend targeting each of the 3 groups? Because ‘mixing it up’ has an averaging effect.

For the purpose of illustrating, let’s take a simplistic model where we spend equal amounts of time with each group and the net ‘development’ is a linear addition of the above graphics.

Then our result becomes:

Sample effect of "mixing up" your player development targeting.

Sample effect of “mixing up” your player development targeting.

No matter what you do, your ultimate long term development program has benefited some more than others. And ultimately your work has fallen somewhere on the weakest to best player spectrum.

The Asymmetry of Development

  • If you target the weakest, you must aim higher than their level.
  • If you target the average, you must aim higher than their level.
  • If you target the best, you must aim higher than their level.

So you tell me, what is the best solution to development in a team environment?

Narrowing the Distribution

This is why narrowing the distribution, or gap, between the best and worst players on a roster is important. When you have all players of similar level, coaching to the ‘best’ of the group is just about the same as coaching to the worst. Hence giving you a reasonable position to attacking the problem of “developing all players to their potential”.

So the question is: If the gap in your roster is too big to have this ideal case, what is the best way of narrowing that gap?

Do you target the worst in hopes they will ‘catch up’ to the best (screwing the best over in the process)?

Or do you still target the best and look to recruit better players and release the ones who aren’t at, or can’t reach, the level?

For this, again, we need context.

If we’re talking about a specific roster, and the ultimate objective is to maximize the probability of developing quality professionals, the choice is clear.

This is why the existence of A, B, & C teams within a club is a good thing.

But this doesn’t stop with the objective of quality pro player development. Having a system where each player competes at their respective levels seems optimum.

Of course every player should have the opportunity to fulfill their potential, but the roster size has a limit. And the standard needs to be set high, not low.

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Comments

  1. Clyde says

    I am in the process of revamping our team program. This posting could not have helped me more.

    I think it is spot on sir.

    my best from VA

  2. Mike says

    You are correct; however, there are many coaches who would simply rather work with athletically gifted kids and either don’t care to or more likely don’t know how to develop players.
    As you say on every roster, regardless of the level there are going to be weaker players, average players and the best. Even on an all star team there will be good, better, and best players. In addition to just looking for the best players, a coach who is invested in player development should be paying attention to the bottom two thirds.

    What the coach should be looking for in that group is attitude. In that bottom third there is generally a player or two who even though they may be in over their head and struggle to execute gives maximum effort in practice. Many times these players are effectively ignored by the coaches. They show up, they are pleasant, and they don’t cause problems. So, they make the roster at age 9, 10, 11, 12 and are used as subs. They go through the drills, but the coaches tend to set a low bar for them and they don’t really improve. Eventually they lag far enough behind the others that they don’t make the roster or the parents get the picture and stop paying the club fees and the kid leaves the program. In doing so the club has done a huge dis-service to the player and his family by taking their money over and over and effectively knowing the end result.

    You can’t improve a player who won’t put forth the effort to get better, but when you have a player putting forth the effort and not making progress, coaches need to assess whether they have the ability to get results out of the player. A good coach should not only be able to tell whether a player is progressing or not but why he or she is not progressing.

    Many times you will hear the following from parents and coaches “Johhny is just uncoordinated, he just needs to grow into his body.” Sometimes this is true, more often than not Johhny has bad body mechanics, poor reaction speed, and/or poor balance. Here is the thing the earlier these issues are addressed the better. If you kid has bad technique and he practices over and over and over using bad technique what is the end result? He or she has no ingrained the poor technique and it will be harder to fix later. This is why large group footskills clinics that simply run kids through drills regardless of whether they actually perform the drill properly are actually counterproductive. You hear a lot about touches on the ball, but what you should be hearing about is quality touches, We need to ingrain in every player’s head that every touch must be with a purpose.

    Ask your average U-10 player in the US why it is important to practice juggling. Most don’t have a clue. Many coaches never bother to explain to kids why they are doing something and what they should be focusing on and how it translates to the game. The result is that the moment the coach isn’t looking the kid starts doing the drill the easiest way possible, not the correct way.

    It is better to do a drill correctly and fail miserably than do a drill incorrectly with a positive result. Yet too often the kid who gets a good result during the drill get praised and the kid who tried to do it right but failed gets ignored or criticized. Coaches need to be more proactive in calling kids out who don’t do the drill correctly. For example if the kid is supposed to use to top of his foot and he uses the side and still produces the result the coach wanted. Too few coaches (at the U12 level and below) will make a point of stopping him/her and saying do it again this time using the top of your foor.
    When players blow the drill the coach needs to make sure they know why the blew it. (hit the ball with the wrong part of the foot, tensed up when they should have relaxed, hit the ball on the wrong spot, too much power, not enough power, player was off balance, wasn’t properly positioned, was reaching to get the ball, etc. If your kid’s coach can’t tell you these things find a new coach who can/ will. As the player progresses the coach should be able to ask them what they did wrong and they should be able to explain. In this way the coach can check mental as well as physical development.

    You are right, there isn’t enough time in team practice to develop the weaker players on the team and you can”t coach down to them at team practice; however, a club committed to player devlopment should be identifying these kids early and getting them with a coach on a one on one or small group basis to work on what is inhibiting the player’s development. Most parents who are paying club fees will pay the additional money for these sessions.

    The problem of course is that most of the coaches who have the knowledge and ability to identify and work with the kids to fix what they are doing wrong, which in may cases has to do more with body mechanics, balance, and reaction speed thing (not simply soccer skills) in many cases would rather spend their time working with the gifted athletes than the struggling ones. This is not surprising because no one notices when you take a bad player and turn him or her into an average player. Unfortunately, in many cases not even the player’s parents appreciate what you have done for their kid. I paid you all this money to make Johhny a star and he’s only average, you must not have known what you are doing.

    This is where relationships become key. Too many times clubs are run by people who know soccer but aren’t good at the business of running a club. Instead of viewing parents as ATM’s and Taxi services as many clubs do, clubs need to foster relationships with their families, so that they can understand the family dynamic and work to manage expectations and goals and provide feedback. You get a sense of whether the parent is viewing Johhny or Sally’s performance with parent goggles (like beer goggles they instantly improve your kids’ performance). If they are accurately assessing Johnny or Sally’s place on the team, do they have an understanding of why they are where they are? Is it a lack of effort on Johnny or Sally’s part, is it a lack of physical conditioning, is it mental, or is it fundamental technique.

    • Lee says

      A lot of great points Mike. It is a lot easier to just recruit better players/athletes than to actually take the time to properly train & develop these kids. Win some games, put them in fancy uniforms, buy them some $200.00 cleats, make mom and dad happy. That way our youth system can continue to spit out the “robots”!

  3. Somecoach says

    Problem in this county we still cant identify the Best Players, Average Players and Weakest Players. So quit frankly we are not even in the first stage. Lets first create a system to help coaches identify players or at least label them.

    • says

      Well, but “best” players is relative to philosophy and style of play.

      I do know what you mean though … it’s not totally subjective. Studying global standards gives an indication, a compass, of what a ‘best’ player ‘looks’ like.

  4. NoVa Mike says

    This is an issue that just about every team/club in the US probably faces but very few actually confront it IMO. “Target the best and look to recruit better players and release the ones who aren’t at, or can’t reach, the level”. That seems the fairest solution to me, especially given the situation in which player and club are mutually obligated to a one year commitment. The way I look at it, that year is an opportunity for some of the players to do what is necessary to try and catch up. Whether they seize and take advantage of that opportunity is ultimately up to them, but I do feel an obligation to do everything I can to help them in that process – rather than just considering them temporary placeholders until we can find better players. That means offering words of encouragement when they struggle with some aspects of the training (b/c it is designed to challenge the best players), but also being honest and clear with them about the amount of work that goes into reaching a high level.

    I think the graphs above probably give a generally accurate picture of the trade-offs involved, but it is important to keep in mind – when looking at the 3rd graph in particular – that there will be exceptions. Not everyone responds to being in over their head in the same way. There may be some players who will start out towards the bottom of the group but – precisely because they are in over their heads – will respond with determination and hard work, and actually benefit more than if they were in a program targeted to players of their existing level. The work of Dan Coyle (Talent Code author) really resonates for me in this context. For weaker players, the unspoken primal message in bottom focused program is “you’re doing just fine, keep it up”, vs in a top-focused program, “you aren’t good enough, you need to catch up.”

    • Chad says

      NoVA Mike, I am right up the road from you in Maryland. I coach at Soccer Association of Columbia. Are you playing in the OBGC Labor Day tournament?

  5. dan says

    good point although i think it is somewhat contradictory to an earlier post from a year or two ago. in the earlier post you said having your team play a far superior team is pointless and won’t develop them, but having your team play a far inferior team can have a place in developing a teams skills. so equivilently, if you are focusing on the weak players you may be doing work that is quite easy for the skilled players, but can still be helpful, based on the idea from your earlier post.

    if i am misunderstanding i would like clarification please.

    • Kevin says

      These are two separate issues. Playing a weaker team allows you to establish your system and style of play. The only way it wouldn’t push them is if you held them back in fear that you might run the score up or something along those lines. If playing weak competition didn’t push players at all, wouldn’t doing things like set tactical work or pattern play, etc. do even less? Obviously set tactical work is used successfully in training sessions all the time by top teams at top levels all around the world. To make a long story short, the topic of this post in my opinion is about the individual players, where choosing a weaker opponent is more about establishing a system of play, and a style of play.

  6. hincha says

    I agree somewhat but you are not being creative enough in your sessions. Just because you put a particular session together does not mean that within a session youc annot create conditions that can be tailored to individual player levels. For instance limiting better players to 1 touch instread of multiple touches or creating a 4 v 5 game where the better players play short handed, or with less space, or ptting the better players against each other in small sided games. Is it more difficult to plan a session like that then a 1 size fits all. Hell yes, but if you are a master coach you should be plannimg sessions to work on the weaknesses of every player.

    • NoVa Mike says

      Hincha:

      You can do a lot of that to minimize the extent to which you have to make “either – or” choices between what will most benefit the different tiers of players, but you cannot eliminate those choices altogether. I have to agree with Gary that anyone who thinks that they can (by promising equal developmental opportunity for ALL players) is at best fooling themselves.

      For example – are the better players playing 1-touch today because that is what you decided they need to do in that session to maximize their development, or did you start with a plan you think most of your group could handle, and then try to find a way to make it a little more challenging for the better players? The emphasis makes a difference. Put another way, if everyone on your team was at or nearly at the same high level, what activity would you have chosen? Would they all be playing 1-touch that day, or would you be doing something completely different?

      Even when you do start from the opposite perspective – using the example above let’s say today’s plan to maximize the development for your best players would have them playing a 1-touch possession game, but you make it easier for the rest of your players by allowing most of them 2 or 3 touches, that still changes things, doesn’t it? Those extra touches by the other players slow the game down, giving more time for everyone (including those playing 1-touch) to move, react, think, etc…. It isn’t the same.

      That is why Gary’s point about the importance of narrowing the distribution of talent within a team is absolutely critical. IMHO some coaches who are philosophically opposed to recruiting are actually doing their top players more of a disservice than they realize. In my slightly-less-humble opinion, the many coaches who stubbornly try to hold on to their top players even though their program has proven incapable of attracting players of similar caliber are doing much more than just a disservice.

      • hincha says

        Nova
        I dont disagree with anything you say. I guess i was coming from the perspective thatnthe differences in skill leve would be relatively small and if they weren’t, it was a problem of selection. If the development level variesmwidely in your team, i don’t see how you can maximize everyones potential.

      • says

        Good stuff again Mike.
        Yes, some things can be mitigated. And yes, we can get creative with our sessions. But as your examples suggest, something gets compromised.

        The fundamental question always remains: In what direction (to the weak side, or best side) do you compromise? And how much?

  7. Kana says

    Gary,
    I belive players can only live to their potential if they are selectively chosen to higher and higher levels. This doesn’t happen USA in an efficient way. A stud player goes to what, college? Learn to be next world-class player while flipping burgers, maintaining grades, and surviving frat parties, and playing short schedule against other college players (instead of professional players)? Sounds like we are developing to full potential! NOT!

    This post in essence sums up why I’m so frustrated with pay to play as practiced in USA. Teams are not selective. The player id, development, release is not utilized. Just take who shows for tryout. But problem is most teams (maybe except U14, 16, 18 Academy at USDA Clubs and MLS Academies) do not have a queue around the block trying to get in. So we get lots of average teams. Any team slightly above the mean kicks ass. However, those slightly better teams are on a slope well below Europe and don’t even know it. This mentality (or lack of consciousness to reality) also permeates the national team and ODP. We can get so blinded locked within our shores. Then we get to international level an reality hurts. Then we go back into hour hole. Such inertia is partly why USA has a huge mass centered at or near the mean at professional and international level. Who will break the inertia? Youth clubs? Surely not s they are too far removed. MLS? How can then when their product is so inferior? The national team? Maybe, but they need a bigger hammer and louder megaphone.

    And since we cater to the average, it is not surprising jungle ball and size and power still dominate. I envy youth teams at La Masia where they are so selective about technique, tactics, mental. They are ultra-selective based on a philosophy. I know that is a outlier. However, why can’t clubs have more focus on a philosophy and then select players who fit that mold? Maybe because they have to take who they get? They have to fill rosters. There isn’t a long line of players trying out. Catch 22!

    The words Optimized and youth soccer are mutually exclusive in USA to almost absolute terms. Weave in coaching and jungle ball and its approaching 99.99%!

    • says

      Too much to answer Kana.

      Many things depend on where you are in the US.
      For instance in Southern California, the top-level teams can be pretty darn fierce in recruiting.

    • Rifle says

      American Pay-to-Play club directors get incentive pay based on number of players added, so they are encouraged to take everyone. It’s such a paradox..

  8. Curious Larry says

    Hi Gary,

    Now, we need a counter balance blog thread on how a club can focus too much on their best players at the expense of their average players who happen to have the better combination of technical, tactical, physical, & mental skills i.e., higher overall potential ;)

    Larry

  9. Dr Loco says

    Gary, thanks for the excellent post. I did go through a trial and error stage and finally realized it was better to work with players all from a similar level. My best players left and weakest players quit so my options were decide for me just to work with average players. Now I’m struggling with more philosophical questions.

    What is the point of working with players in a so-called competitive environment if they do not have the desire nor potential to play at a high level? Why spend so much time and money in coaching and organized sports if most players stop playing during the high school years?

    Why should every player have the opportunity to fulfill their potential?

    Equal opportunity for everyone might be a lie as well.

    • Dr Loco says

      Developing all kids to their potential is a lie too.

      If school systems had integrated youth sports programs then most kids would get a satisfactory sports experience for free. The US would have no need for the thousands of youth sports organizations that exist today. The elite few could then focus on serious professional player development in private clubs.

      Parents, who said every kid was entitled to professional player development?
      It’s not equal opportunity for everyone.

      “Hey, parents! [Finger wags.] You stop doing what you think is best for your kid!”
      http://trueslant.com/bobcook/2010/07/12/american-youth-sports-system-the-root-of-all-evil/

    • says

      “What is the point of working with players in a so-called competitive environment if they do not have the desire nor potential to play at a high level? Why spend so much time and money in coaching and organized sports if most players stop playing during the high school years?”

      You have to find the answer as to why you’re coaching.
      If your goal is to work with the higher levels, you have to figure out how to get there over time.

      • Paul R says

        As a U10 parent I must say that the whole youth club scene in LA at least, is full of BS. Coaches, Managers, Directors and even Parents. Coaches will say that they will work on development, but really will only work on developing their team. But how can they ?
        There is no commitment to the player, There is also no commitment from the parents. Coaches will hunt and hunt for the player they need and parents will switch teams on a cheap promise or image.
        The focus is on the roaster !
        Real player development can only happen on a one on one training enviroment, as a parent it is my responsibility to find quality training and development and distinguish all the BS out there.

        • Kana says

          Paul R,
          I agree with you but wanted to provide a different view. At rec or somewhere lower thatn elite level, players need to be where they naturally fit. If not, they don’t play or limited time. Gary pointed out a few posts ago about playing down. This applies to players and teams.

          At the highest levels (e.g., SCDSL Flight I or USSDA), coaches need to id and train the best talent at their disposal. All players are still “developing”. Even the most pros talk about improving. Development is a journey, not a place.

          So while I agree coaches hunt for top talent, we must understand that it’s competitive soccer and the better developed player at the given time will and should have the advantage over othrers. If we want to develop better talent at 18+, that means selecting the most promising at younger ages.

          I’ll agree that many coaches see “promising” as = size and they hunt for them. I also agree coaches and clubs don’t care about individual players. They want successful teams and therefore get the best they can find. But again, if the goal is develop the best of the best, then we need to be picky.

          My personal opinion is we are too enamored by size. It equals wins, especially up to about 16, but not necessarily potential. Problem is many promising talented late bloomers get overlooked and development stymied.

          • Paul R says

            Good point.
            I’ll agree that many coaches see “promising” as = size and they hunt for them. I also agree coaches and clubs don’t care about individual players.
            No offense to you coaches out there, but the majority of the youth club coaches are a PRODUCT of the same system we criticize, most of them come from playing at a US club and colledge level. So they teach what was tought to them, they hunt for athletes, size, power, not talent.
            the physically late bloomers, although very talented will fail in this system.
            How they teach a system or a playing philosophy that they no personal expierience of.
            We need more internationaly experienced coaches. There is a HUGE diference in vision and player formation.

        • dr loco says

          Competitive youth team sports should not start until U13. From ages 6-14 kids should be enrolled in instructional programs where the emphasis is learning. It makes little sense to begin competitive sports at young ages when the majority of players quit by age 13.

          Unfortunately the incumbents will tell you otherwise.

          • El Memo says

            The problem is not so much competition but the approach to competition. Which is controlled by adults (coaches) with lack of understanding to long term development and try to feed their egos.

          • Kana says

            Agree with you Memo. I”ve read numerous times that Brazil and Spain (for example) approach very differently the proper age to start playing 11 v 11 and focus on technique (either through futsal or 7 v 7) at about U13 and younger. Competitoin isn’t just 11 v 11 on a pitch. Kids will and do compete in every aspect if you let them. Most training sessions I see are very controlled and end up constraining the natural competitiveness and creativeness we need to nurture. A piece of the pie in developing top talent is to id the most competitive. Find a good mix of constructrive guidance but allow the player to be creative and competitive within a system. Easily said, hard to do. Which is why coaching is so important. “Have fun, but keep it at a high level” is something I once heard a very good coach say.

          • tim says

            Dr. Loco,
            There is no historical precedent for your idea. I kind of get your point but any kid leaving the sport at 13 wasn’t going to make a significant impact anyway. Should we change the system to keep more kids involved at the recreation level past 13? In fact I’ll go a step further to say comments and ideas like yours are the problem! We lack the very competitive environment in this country you believe is unnecessary. Are you recommending juggling contests should determine world cup rosters? Not every 9 year old should get a trophy and not every 13 year old should continue playing soccer. I agree with many of your posts but I think you are way off on this one. My opinion is you’re becoming frustrated with the level of kid your coaching and can longer see the light!

          • Dr Loco says

            “In fact I’ll go a step further to say comments and ideas like yours are the problem!”

            Finally some controversy. My ideas are not the problem because I am not part of the incumbents. In my ‘real’ world, not social media, no one shares my views.

            The fact is ages 8-18 is a ‘weeding out’ process in all American youth team sports. You as a parent can choose this world for your child or not. Follow the herds and get your robotic programming.

            “I also agree coaches and clubs don’t care about individual players.” — Kana, PaulR

            In the USA we do not lack competitive environments. It’s everywhere ingrained in our society and culture — Politics, Military, Immigration, Education, Jobs, Education, Housing, etc. There is so much competition that we forget to nurture our children.

            You wrote earlier:
            “The reality is this: only 10% of kids under the age of 15 are currently playing competitive soccer or attempting to play competitive soccer.”

            “If you are on a 2nd or 3rd team at 13 or 14 years of age, hang up the cleats because the show is over”

            “Unless he’s willing to outwork every kid on the team he didn’t make, then yes, he should hang up his competitive cleats.”

            Yes, there are exceptions but 90% of youth players are not athletes yet they start so called competitive programs at 7-8 years of age. Parents are unknowingly but willingly setting their children up for failure. Who in their right mind would do this???

            Youth Sports in America is a multi-billion dollar industry.

            Top 10% of players should be in competitive programs and the rest should be in instructional programs so they can learn how to compete by age 14. If a player never learns how to compete then they should never play competitively.

            Invest in the future of your child not the pockets of greedy adults.

  10. Crollaa says

    This question is completely unrelated to the topic of this post, but is something that I have been pondering as I am in the process of creating curriculum for my club in a tiny town where I truly don’t have the option of recruitment and release.

    How much of your teams’ success is derived from developing specific team tactics that won’t easily translate to the tactics of whatever the next step might be for your players? As I’ve better defined what my specific soccer identity and style of play is and watched your teams more and more, I can’t help but notice that your high pressing is a rather large component of your teams’ success. Since your particular style of pressing is definitely one built out of team tactics rather than individual skill, how well will that transfer over if your kids get offers from teams of a higher caliber? Barcelona doesn’t press the same as Bayern doesn’t press the same as Portland.

    I guess the follow-up or flip side of the question is, how much of a tradeoff is it developing those tactics particular to your system that might not translate to other systems as opposed to spending that time working on individual skills that are more readily transferable across systems?

    • says

      Damn! Gotta get some forums up and running to discuss all the off-topic stuff.
      There’s too much to address from your post.

      But I think there’s a fundamental misunderstanding here.

      It is precisely a player’s tactical development that enables him going forward at the highest levels. “Technique” is a given.

      Tactical development does not mean blind robotic execution. It means developing a rich understanding of the game, and a capacity for executing that understanding in the individual and collective context. There’s a lot to it. And it is this, that makes him malleable to other systems and styles. Again, “technique” is a given.

  11. Brian Benedict says

    This gets back to the “rec mentality” you spoke of before. True “competitive teams” should have a talent level approaching the elite level, not the rudimentary. Training should be geared toward the elite players, which makes EVERYONE better. What I have seen in the last 7 years of my son playing “competitive” soccer, is that the training is targeted to the lowest common denominator, so the above average and elite players do not improve.

    • says

      Hi Brian.
      Yes. Unfortunately, the result of trying to appease everyone is the top end get screwed.
      And so here we are, with our “top players” not getting what they need.

  12. Kana says

    Maybe this issue is actually a symptom of deeper problem: the 3-day tryout. Most coaches or anyone who has played can identify a player’s technical level within 5-minutes. Physical abilities is also quick to see (e.g., speed, strength).

    However, the devil is always in the details. Tactical understanding and mental quickness take longer to appreciate. And those details don’t come out until you see a player in a few scrimmages/games, in different situations, against different levels of play, different levels of pressure, varying degrees of exhaustion, and in in different formations or tactics. You won’t get this in a 3-day tryout. Any wonder why US coaches tend to go for size, speed, strength?

    The entire USA youth system is based on this. Any wonder why we often have teams with a huge variation of abilities? At elite levels, time and filtering through a large sampling of candidate players is requisite. MLS youth setups may be closest we have. Most professional clubs (all levels) outside of USA have scouts who watch players. Sometimes for months. Then they go on trial for weeks or even months. Any wonder why they have a much better end product?

    I’m not advocating this for US youth soccer. They lack the funds and infrastructure/scouting network. But all clubs (at least in SoCal) seem to be in collusion for tryouts. A mad rush same time each year to lock in players; lock in cash flow. It’s all cookie cutter.

    As long as they meet roster freeze for respective leagues, why not get off the high speed money grabbing train and take the time to find proper players? Is development the priority or cash flow? The former requires slower paced, deliberate process. The latter is more compulsive (jungle ball tryouts).

    But a deliberate approach assumes they have a philosophy, a playing style, and know the type of player that best fits it. Most teams play jungle ball. Not surprisingly, most tryouts are scatter shot jungle ball player id. Added time should provide patience, and hopefully a better end product. I’m sure a good number of clubs are well intentioned, however, the system in which they assess players doesn’t allow for optimized id.

    So in essence (as Gary said before) we are rec soccer in guise of competitive soccer. Competitive soccer requires a higher standard.

  13. Nate says

    Body line is you have to prepared to make the tough decision and tell a kid (by kid I mean parent) they are best suited for the ‘C’ team. Whatever that means for your group. If you can’t or won’t, for sake of the parent’s feeling, you’re just fooling yourself.

    The problem, I see, is that we don’t want to teach our kids to fail, and after failing, get up and push back and get better.

    As far as what this blog is about, if we’re going to get to that high standard, we need to be willing to tell kids that you may not have a world class ability, so the ‘A’ team is not for you all while still being able to provide that kid an avenue to prove us wrong. Meaning, the kids that aren’t at that level now, need to be placed in position to develop at the right level with the ‘same’ skilled players, so they have the opportunity to improve and get better and perhaps get to ‘A’ level.

    Players develop at different rates, and putting them at the appropriate level is vital. The willingness to do this is what sets us apart.

  14. says

    one player’s potential is different from another player’s potential that is why teams have hierarchy. so, I don’t buy into this opinion.

    • eric says

      And that is exactly why you need to seperate them into the different categories. To better assess each groups needs. Come on Goddy.

    • tim says

      Goddy,
      Confused by your comment?? How long do you coach to “potential” and possibly the lowest level? How often does the “ugly duckling” actually become “top dog”? Very, very, very rare for this to happen. It’s a great story but isn’t a reality. I’ve been around sports my entire life and “B” team kids tend to stay B team kids. This country will never produce world class players if we don’t quickly differentiate between competitive and Recreational.

      • Jason says

        Tim, I agree with everything you said in your comment, but the reason that “B” team kids tend to stay on the “B team” is because that the biggest, fastest, and strongest kids are selected at a young age and give a higher volume of higher level training, while the development of the smaller, slower players is essentially ignored by big-name clubs that don’t care about the long term development of players, just the check that comes from their parents every year. The original selections become self-fulfilling prophecies, the clubs believe that they have truly chosen the “best” players, and the cycle continues.

        • kinznk says

          Or could it be that clubs/teams don’t know how to deal with sending a kid down after a couple of years with the A team? I don’t think it is as simple as teams think they have the best already. If the parent has been involved and a good helper, the team may not know how to deal with it. You have to be a little bit cutthroat.

          • fcb says

            couldn’t agree more. Just witnessed this very thing in our local travel program which I pulled my U11 son out of. The U12s have a couple B players from last year who should have moved up…no doubt about it but the coaches have other motives. In the U11s, a player who should have been the last player added tot he A team was put on the B team because he is the only boy capable of playing in goal for them despite being one of the shortest players. So, his parents pulled him form the program. Smart move by the coaches wasn’t it? If you are selecting the best players, it requires demoting and promoting. If you aren’t doing that as a coach or club then you don’t deserve loyalty to your program.

        • fcb says

          Yep. My son’s A travel team (we just left) has some terrific athletes getting by on the vapors of athleticism. They no longer come to practice (conflicts with football). They can run and defend and shoot but ask them to make an accurate pass more than five yards or pass at all and it is a challenge. They happen to play-up in a B division and they think it’s an accomplishment but they are playing weak teams. The kid that sticks with it and works steadily on technique and tactics may turn out to be a good player even if he or she is lacking some physical attribute. Carlos Valderama was slow as cold molasses but he had terrific control, vision, and was a great passer. The über-athlete of yesterday may stop growing, my slow down (in relative terms) or not be a smart player in which case he may slip from A to B or lower. Locally, a boy who was a C at 10 and dropped to E at 12 is now an A player at 16. He stuck with it, is smart, skilled, and finally adapted to his 16 year old skinny 6’2″ frame. It happens but the early achievers get the press and attention and therefore the best coaching so it’s easier to ride that wave though in the long run it can be detrimental since they often don’t have the work ethic to get the most out of themselves.

      • MPrunty says

        Tim,

        Disappointed by your opinion that B team kids will most likely stay B team kids. I struggle as an educator and coach to buy into one is born as is….why else do we coach/educate, but to make a student/player better. Why are you interested in being on the website? Is it to grow as a coach? Once a B coach…always a B coach.

        • Dr Loco says

          A coach/ player/student will always remain at the same level if they do not actively work to improve. Once you stop educating yourself everything stops and degrades over time.

          If a B team player wants to improve they have to work harder and more often than an A team player and that rarely happens because no real coach tells them directly. You also need regular evaluations every 3-6 months to examine the progress being made. Within a year you should be able to see significant progress if not then the player, coach or both are ineffective.

          • MPrunty says

            Dr. Loco:

            I couldn’t agree more. The gap between A and B does require to the B to put in more work by the player and a quality learning and evaluation environment from the coach. I am with you that it is rare that the B player is willing to put in the work, but it is my job to offer said evaluation and environment that aid the development of the B player.

            I do like your idea of evaluation every 3-6 months. A bit of formative assessment which takes place on a daily basis is a skill that many coaches do not possess. True educators are assessing every waking moment and following the development of all players/students.

          • Dr Loco says

            If you actually tested players many would quit or their parents would stop paying once they see no improvement. The serious players would be forced to improve.

            Imagine a kid taking home a fat D to their ‘soccer’ mom.

          • tim says

            Well said, I think many would quit if the coach ever had the balls to send a “D” home. This is unfortunately the elephant in the room. The overall quality is below average so when grading on a curve even the kid with no upside passes the class. The reality is this: only 10% of kids under the age of 15 are currently playing competitive soccer or attempting to play competitive soccer. I think it’s closer to 2% but don’t want the number to be the issue. I think we can all agree by u14 any and all “b” and “c” teams are 100% recreational. If you are on a 2nd or 3rd team at 13 or 14 years of age, hang up the cleats because the show is over (unfortunately the majority of these kids eventually become our coaching pool in 10 yrs). There is no room to debate here and please don’t bring up size or puberty. You can still compete at a high level as a small player but need soccer iQ, speed, and technical ability. If you’re small and slow it’s over, even when you grow because then you’re just big and slow. The percentage might change a few points at u10,u11,12 but the facts are still the same. B and C team coaches, their players, and their parents are involved in recreational soccer and this is OK as long as the club is upfront and it’s fairly priced. How many professional soccer players or I’d bet current Div 1 players were on a B or C team roster at the age of 13 or 14? 1 or 2 in a 1000 if that. Yes, I believe all B team youth coaches are coaching at a recreation level. Some not because they lack knowledge or experience, but rather they lack the necessary mindset to teach at a higher level. JMHO

          • Muttonquad says

            Two things: How do you measure speed? I have seen tryouts where the kids basically get out of their cars, put their numbers on, line up, and run 25 or 50 meters without a ball, and then that is an important metric used to rule out a bunch of kids for the top team, including my very small, not explosively fast son. He is very quick mentally and reaction-time-wise, has great game awareness and is very quick to the loose ball, has good foot skills and never gives up (very strong mentally), but he will not be able to compete in sprints with larger kids and he was cut from this team after the spring season, main reason given was that he is not fast (there were also a major political coup and the coaches were canned right before tryouts in spite of a winning season, so it was a mess). We are under no delusion that he will play on a Div1 team or anything, but are you saying I should tell him to hang up his cleats because he is a late bloomer and is not a track star? I do not really see how having kids line up for sprints tells you much of anything relating to how they are going to perform in an actual game situation, but from what I have seen in our area, that is a major metric used to rule kids out.

            I would be interested to hear from Gary at some point about scouting vs. tryouts, and what methods are best to evaluate players in tryouts. Do you guys use sprints and stopwatches when evaluating players? My guess is no. Would be interesting and useful to hear what you guys/others do to evaluate players in a tryout situation.

            Second point: I would also be interested in hearing thoughts about how to cut players in a humane way. We were not completely surprised that our son was cut even though we do not think he was the weakest link on the team, but he was basically treated like an untouchable piece of trash by the new coaches. We were not informed directly at first, but by a third party, which was completely lame. After asking for reasons why he was cut and guidance on what he should work on and what might be a good alternative for our son, we were told he would do great on the next lower team in the club, even though that is about four levels down in terms of leagues and division. They gave absolutely no consideration to what might actually be best for our son and where he is as a player, and took the easy way out every step of the process. It could have been handled in a much better way. The old coach stepped up and helped us find a slghtly lower level team at a different club which will hopefully be a good situation and maybe even a blessing in disguise, we shall see. If you are going to cut a kid, fine, but figure out a respectful, humane way to do it.

          • pg 19 says

            Just borrowring from a previous topic. Having your son on a lesser team can have a positive impact on his development individually. Just like playing down as a team allows that team to perfect their tactical choreography, the playing down of an individual player would allow them to be more of a stand out athlete on said team and against lesser competition could potentially lead to him developing his technical abilities with the ball (aka ball handling and moves to get by a defender). Watching Cruyff pull the move that’s named after him, he does it in such a way that the opponent is completely out to lunch buying into the fake. It is so simple but he pulls it off with good timing, its relaxed and ultimately he can sell that move.

            For your son, its an opportunity to develop that element of his game. But, I would stress that he watch the game being played by a team better than his, quite likely older, that is well grounded in possession style soccer so he still develops his tactical understanding of the game and can figure out how he can fit in or how he will once he hits his physical maturity. I’ve been fortunate to be around a 10 year old that is absolutely about baseball. If he’s not playing, he’s watching the older boys play, or watching it on TV or just outside playing catch. At 10 years of age, his team practices twice a day. In the morning is batting practice. Afternoons are fielding. He’s frigg’n 10 and his entire team is like this.

            Call it culture, call it environment, etc. He is passionate about baseball and it isn’t a degree of passion I’ve seen any soccer players exhibit at that age, including my son who’s 8 and only plays soccer.

            So, it can be an opportunity for him. If you see it that way. If you get him to see it that way which isn’t hard, he’ll emulate you.

          • Dr Loco says

            PG19, true I have seen the passion in baseball and basketball kids but still the development is left to the individual. A very small percentage of the coaches actually teach the kids anything. These passionate kids are typically athletically gifted and selected to be on travel and comp teams. But without real coaching, their future is left to chance.

            As a nation we don’t do any better in developing players in baseball, basketball, football it’s just more obvious in soccer!

          • tim says

            I don’t think kids lining up to run 25-50 meter sprints should be the only speed drill in a tryout but a minimal level of speed is required in any sport. A smaller player should do well in short distances, 5-10 meters, getting low in cone drills, shuttle races,… I think shorter distance drills with an agility/balance component are more soccer related then a 50 meter run.
            It sounds like you’re being a realistic father but slower and non explosive kids are always on the cutline, even if they are mentally fast as you say. It’s hard for me to believe the 50 meter dash was the beginning and end of the tryout but anything is possible in this country.
            You didn’t mention the age of your son but I don’t believe there is an obligation by the club or coach to be more respectful or humane. I’m sure the email or call was polite. Did the email call your son a loser or a piece of garbage? No, it politely indicated your son didn’t make the team this year but looks forward to seeing him again at tryouts next year. Is that not humane? Many parents want their children to participate in competitive sports but also want the comfort of the YMCA back rubs and “we’re all winners” pep talks. It’s a competition and for whatever reason your son didn’t get picked. Its an important life lesson. Its now a great time for the parent to parent and not blame not making the team on politics or anything else. To answer your question about hanging up the cleats. Unless he’s willing to outwork every kid on the team he didn’t make, then yes, he should hang up his competitive cleats. He shouldn’t stop playing soccer but his competitive days are over. And yes, they did give consideration to what was best for you son and his situation. YOU said it yourself, he would do great on the 2nd team but your ego and emotional feelings for your son won’t allow you to hear it. Is this your first time on this website? This is the problem. As an American, it’s painful when your told “go away, your money is no good here!”

          • Muttonquad says

            Sorry but you misunderstood, there was no email or call, we heard from a third party and had to contact them to find out why our son did not make the team, perhaps that is not realistic to think you should be able to have that information, but it seems like if your club states it is interested in “developing” players, that information would be helpful in their “development”. We are not looking for meaningless pats on the back or trophies all around as you seem to imply.

            As to the team that was suggested, it is a _much_ lower level team. It would have been like saying “your son is not ready for 8th grade, but we have a great 3rd grade teacher, he’ll do great in that class.” He might do great in that class, but it would not be the right level for him. Or he might give up completely because what a waste of his time that would be with no challenge.

            If they had come to us and said that our son would be in over his head on this team next year or he’s not right for the direction they are going, sorry, the only thing we have to offer is this much lower team which may not be best for him, you may want to look at other options? We would have accepted that. Instead, they avoided communicating directly with us. I have no respect for that. We are not completely delusional about our son’s strengths and weaknesses, and we knew this was going to be a tough year for him and tried to prepare him for that. Agreed, this is a life lesson for our son. He is resilient and will make his own decision on how much effort to put into soccer down the road. I would feel differently if he just went to this tryout cold with no history with this team. But, my feeling is, if a kid spends a couple of years on a team, and then spends three days at your tryouts, he deserves to hear directly from the coach that he did not make the cut and why, even if it is uncomfortable for the coach and the kid. I really don’t think that is too much to expect of anyone coaching kids at any level.

          • Dr Loco says

            “Unless he’s willing to outwork every kid on the team he didn’t make, then yes, he should hang up his competitive cleats.”

            Brutal but honest. By 8th grade, most competitive players in any sport should call it quits. Parents need to realize that their time, money, and efforts are better spent elsewhere. If a kid wants to continue for recreational and social reasons let them earn money and pay for it themselves. As parents you must focus on what is best for your child and not necessary what they want.

          • Dr Loco says

            Muttonquad sorry to hear about your son. Most youth sports clubs are not interested in truly developing players. If they were they would force players to actually learn.

            Developing any player in the US is a lie too. We mainly rely on ‘natural’ talent and the self-made athlete.

          • Pauc says

            Tim,
            Agree with everything you say. Would only add a small player can be competitive. Use smarts to cut off angles, move into spaces quickly, be tenacious battling bigger players but do so smartly since you won’t wont the physical battle (force them to turn and show skill or passing ability rather than get rolling like a 18-wheeler). I’ve seen too many coaches equate size to being competitive. There is a difference.

            At U15 (my son is on a USDA club first team), there are lots of athletic kids. However, no more than a handful who have long term potential in professional soccer. Lots of these A tam kids still don’t get tactics, average to poor dribbling, bad shooting and volleying technique, don’t think ahead, bad decision making, and so on. So while “B” team players have been mostly vetted out by U15, there is still more sifting out to do. Our system needs to be more selective, but I don’t think it is. We produce and id athletic kids but too often many of them are not gifted technically and/or tactically. This, the lack of selectivity and at the U16 – U22 age group, and college soccer is where we limit player potential.

            I often watch U16 or U18 Academy players at our club. A handful are promising but majority are average footballers who happen to be athletic. I’m not convinced D1 college is any better at knowing who truly skilled players are from ones who are average players with high GPAs and SATs and happen to be athletic. I was watching a U18 Academy training earlier in the week and saw lots of athletic kids but little in way of technique and forwards lacing finishing skills (finishing and volleys). Just older and bigger and faster versions of younger players in the U14 – U16 range, but not any more advanced technically or tactially. I’ve heard so many Academy and non-Academy older age coaches say similar things.

            When we really get down to it, any top team at U16 – U18 has maybe 0-3 kids who have long term potential. Everyone else is roster filler. I recognize and accept that and have passed that thinking on to my son. Something we should all do. Keep hope if you want to chase your dreams, but needs to have a dose of reality.

  15. Pauc says

    In USA, developing players to full potential is truly a mystery. Even players on national team or ones who end up at MLS are maybe 70-80% of their potential.

    I don’t consider it a “lie”, we just don’t have the right system of player id, coaching, elite playing levels, or philosophy to make it happen. Biggest hurdles are MLS and college. Until MLS offers more attractive salaries and youth clubs or college can somehow gain from developing talent, it’s going to be difficult to make major improvement. Just marginal steps. And in such a scenario, college will need to put out better footballers. Can you imagine if UCLA , Akron, or well know youth clubs like Pats or Surf got a cut to sell player’s professional contract? Don’t you think they would get very serious about player id and development? And by extension, MLS and national team have better product? Now suppose there was a paying, competitive, viable, decent paying alternative to college for 18-22 year olds.

    Until much of above is in existence, we will hover at about the 70-80% number in terms of developing players to full potential. The only alternative is to go to Europe by about 18 if you want to break that glass barrier.

    Player potential is inextricably linked to college and youth soccer in USA. Nowhere on that path does financial reward for player id / development come into play. If a club or college produces average players, no one cares. Youth soccer is a cash cow and D1 college has a lot to do with SAT and GPA scores. The next Lionel Messi or Ronaldo with a 2.5 or 3.0 GPA need not apply. Heck, even the next Donovan w/o a 3.5 GPA need not apply for most D1 schools. We deserve to be where we are and hope we remain there!

    In rest of the world, player potential inextricably linked to professional clubs and getting a player to first team or sell them for profit. Vested interest in player success.

    • Dr Loco says

      In USA, developing players to full potential is truly a mystery.

      Player potential is inextricably linked to college and youth soccer in USA.

      In rest of the world, player potential inextricably linked to professional clubs and getting a player to first team or sell them for profit. Vested interest in player success.

      ————————————————-

      In the USA we do things differently. We do not develop players in any team sports. The few lucky ones who survive youth sports and college have a small chance to make it pro. We are an individualistic society and the results can be seem at the team level just study the behavior of any players, parents, coaches.

      Unless our society changes or those in control of our social and cultural influences change little progress will be made in team development.

    • El Memo says

      It is not a mystery, it is a complete unknown – which is worse. The American thought is that an athlete can fit in and overcome. The athlete that does several sports idolized.

  16. MPrunty says

    Ability based learning environments has been a constant battle in education. I am sure we have all heard about tracking. Placing students in pre-determined tracks in math, reading, etc. based on assessments at a young age. Once these students (players) are placed in a track, it can become increasingly difficult for them to reach a higher “track.”

    Comparing the player development to math or reading may be a stretch, but it is one that I think of instantly when working with youth soccer players.

    Placing higher ability players together will aid in their development only when matched with an equal level of training/learning environment. I do apologize for not providing the specific journal article, but it the study discussed the outcomes of ability based learning environments. When lower ability learners are put together they tend to receive a lower quality of training/learning environment, while the higher ability students (players) were receiving the better teachers and being held to a higher set of standards/expectations (two different things).

    When the same lower performing learners are placed with the higher performing players, they were able to learn and develop while being held to a higher set of standards and experience a better learning environment. At the same time, this did not impede the development of the higher performing students.

    If the lower level players not have access to the best, how do they know what the best look like or is expected of them?

    Is this where coaching is an art where one is asked to differentiate between the several ability groups in one training pool?

    As Gary said, a lot depends on location. In my area and club, if we split players in training/games by ability or supposed potential our player pool would continually decrease. This leaves the best players with small numbers and not enough to form a team. Hard to develop without a team or proper training environment.

    • El Memo says

      I agree that players need to be exposed to world class to be able to understand expectations.

      But, I’d like to know if the lower level players improved because of better coaching or because they were exposed to better players.

      I’d say is the first and not the latter.

      It comes down to coaching.

      • dr loco says

        In the USA it’s the latter. 99.9% of coaching is garbage, non-functional and unrelated to the reality of the game.

        • El Memo says

          It’s all relative. (i.e. I agree with you, but we are stuck with a lower level compared to the rest of the world.)

        • Lee says

          @Dr Loco… I would agree that the majority of coaches are not equipped to coach HIGHER level soccer.

          I don’t know how the process of advancement for coaches occurs in other elite countries (SPAIN, GERMANY, etc), but I feel that the United States does a poor job of “HANDING OUT” licensure. Getting your license in this country from what I have experienced comes down to: who you know and/or if you have played collegiately/professionally. **I work with two coaches who have their “B” licenses, but might be the two WORST in my club (ei: one of these coach tells his U14 defenders to kick the ball forward and then they just stand at midfield)**

          Gary has talked about mentorship (from a quality coach)… this is the start to turning it around

          • Dr Loco says

            Turning it around requires a social and cultural change even government intervention.

            The reality is there is no educational path to the development of athletes in the US. For example, if a kid wants to become a doctor, lawyer, scientist then they must attend our school system as a kid, graduate from HS, go to college, and specialize in graduate school. The educational system might not be perfect but it exists for those capable.

            In sports, a kid who wants to become an athlete must start in his backyard or worse enroll in a local recreational sports club…little league, house soccer, NJB, YMCA, etc. If they are athletically gifted perhaps join a travel or comp team. The next step is HS ball and on to NCAA. Notice this path to player development is not available in a unified, instructional format for everyone. It is left to the individual player, parent and coach to try to maneuver. More likely than not it is up to chance.

            No amount of licences or mentorship will change the social and cultural aspects of our country.

            Developing any player in the US is a lie too. We mainly rely on ‘natural’ talent and the self-made athlete.

      • MPrunty says

        I agree that the quality of the coaching is not what it needs to be. That is the reason several of us follow this blog and the comments that follow the posts.

        I just struggle to exclude players too early from top coaches/top players/top learning environments. How many future top players are eliminated through this mentality? I know the usage of the word “top” is up to interpretation and one that “our culture” struggle to identify, but I hope you understand where I am coming from.

  17. says

    For weaker players, the unspoken primal message in bottom focused program is “you’re doing just fine, keep it up”, vs in a top-focused program, “you aren’t good enough, you need to catch up.” These are two separate issues. Playing a weaker team allows you to establish your system and style of play. The only way it wouldn’t push them is if you held them back in fear that you might run the score up or something along those lines. we need a counter balance blog thread on how a club can focus too much on their best players at the expense of their average players.
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  18. pg 19 says

    This site has been a tremendous help. This past spring, my high school team enjoyed their best season in history. We played possession soccer and against some of our opponents, we excelled tremendously and against teams that physically overwhelmed us, we played admirable games although we did have to go to direct soccer due to the pressure we exprienced, the narrow field (football field) and field conditions (bare in the middle, over growth along the sidelines).

    As a coach, I’ve targeted within the teams I’ve managed just north of the middle of the row players. My thought has been centered that the majority of the players are in the middle and that has to be where the focus is. Those at the top will take care of themselves. Those at the bottom, well they can choose to learn by stepping up or continue with how they are.

    I’ve had good success with this model. I’d never consider trying to coach to the lowest common denominator. In fact, many of the skill set requirements I put before the team exceed that of the best player (requirement of 100 consecutive touches juggling, only touches on the foot count, ball has to start from the ground). By the end of the season there were 5, out of 38 players, that met the standard. Will I change it? Yes, but I will likely increase it or make it progressive, so maybe in some ways I do adhere to the principal Gary has noted in this topic.

    What I will say is I will start aiming a little north of what my best players are capable of. I think the art that comes to this craft of coaching is the patience that is involved instructing, identifying the deficiencies and correcting them, and basically sticking to a big picture goal versus getting caught up in being small time.

    Between the high school team I coach and the U14 club team I instruct in, we have started the scheme of total soccer and I was incredibly surprised how quickly the girls caught on to the concept. In many ways they have surprised me in how much they were taking on including some of the terminology, in particular “soccer IQ”. At the very least, these players, when they become adults, will be the next wave of total football advocates. These are teenagers and in 10 years, many will have families of their own. That’s growth in a positive direction in my opinion.

    Again, I’m not going to shy away from the challenge and I’m going to start elevating my expectations even more.

  19. Pauc says

    Maybe we don’t develop to fullest in part due to apathy. Like most things, there are multiple reasons something works or doesn’t work. I think this forum has done excellent job at discussing those other factors, but apathy isn’t one I recall us talking about.

    Something like 98% of American players never make it past D1 college and 99% never make it to MLS. Youth clubs are the cash cows in the youth to college to MLS model. But interestingly there is no financial link between any of these. Forming relationships and agreements among these groups is one thing, but money talks and builds a stronger bond because there is vested interest. Our free market seems to do this efficiently. But the youth to college to MLS model operates differently. More the I do my thing, you do your thing, throw it over the fence model.

    Many well-known youth clubs perpetually do poorly in tournaments and rarely produce D1 level talent and fewer still have former players who are in MLS and even rarer who play outside USA borders. In such a system, apathy can easily set in. As long as youth clubs have conveyor belt to feed the cash cow and college has athletic players with high GPAs and SATs, then why change? And MLS is tapping less and less into college (the number of Super Draft rounds has dropped from something like 10 to about 2 or 3). And if youth clubs aren’t feeling the pain in the pocket book and college can still get its student athletes, apathy has found a home. The only think I can think of to break this is MLS having dominant vested interest in youth clubs and college. But as an open system, MLS can draw from resources outside of USA college and still field an equal or possibly better on field product.

    • Dave says

      The invisible hand of the free market is efficient. Don’t kid yourself. Everyone is acting in their best interest and maximizing their gain from parents who want to get their kids to D1 schools. The club to D1 model works. Maybe not for you, but for everyone involved. Unfortunately, we compete for state cups and D1 not world class play and that is why our system is focused on something less than developing top pro players. Perhaps if winning international competitions became a big part of the youth development system and we met success then there would be a whole new focus for the system.

      • says

        And that right there is an issue Dave.
        Adam Smith’s “hand” is not operating within the global context.

        If we were to open the market and join the global community, you and everyone else will still have the D1 education path.

        • Dave says

          Exactly. How do we change that and join the global community? You and Brian have shown we can produce a good product and take it overseas. What does it take to get 20 teams there? 50? Money? It is expensive. Something else?
          Even if the teams aren’t the same quality at first, isn’t it the right thing to do to get more teams out there benchmarking themselves by a global standard? Shouldn’t that be the first bottleneck to clear to get US youth soccer off the ground? I like to use the analogy of a business that has barely begun to penetrate the market e.g. building hotels/casinos in Vegas long before the market is saturated. Most any casino is a good product. I could focus on having the most efficient casino, but at first the best use of a dollar is to build more rooms and slots. No point being the best if we don’t even have the rooms. Then as the market gets saturated and we gain operating experience we channel more dollars into being the best. We haven’t even built the rooms yet for US youth soccer. We’re not regularly playing the competition we really need to play at the top end are we?

  20. Nicholson says

    From Soccer Nation:
    When asked about youth soccer development in the USA, Heffer was quick to point out a critical difference. “American coaches depend on winning which attracts players to their club for the extra finance that can bring.”

    “At West Ham United, we coach the top individuals to produce players for the first team.” Carr and Heffer are developing players who they hope can go the distance and become professionals. Looking to develop home grown talent is important to the success of West Ham United. As Carr says, “This saves on transfer fees, or enables the club to sell a player.”

    How does West Ham United Academy train the players they identify?
    “Players who areU18s and U 21s will get a weeks trial and will train every day. From U9 – U16s, we offer a 6 week trial,” says Heffer.

    Above sums up much of discussion on this thread. Professional clubs have vested interested in final product (pay to play doesn’t), professional clubs seek to id and develop first team players (pay to play doesn’t . . . just the here and now win), and player id is over many sessions (vice 2-days for pay to play).

    So yes, in USA youth soccer, development to fully potential is a lie / fallacy.

    • RED says

      Dr Loco, Pauc and Nicholson – you have summed it up concisely and accurately, to the point this thread could be ended. It is all so pathetic and unfortunate here in USA. To me, the biggest of all the problems is the lies and deception being spun by the bad Coaches, just so they can protect their cash cows. Except for the 1% that have a clue, i want to just puke every time a Coach in America talks about youth soccer. As a Father of an American youth player, I have gone to great lengths to change things “one boy at a time”. I have started South Florida Soccer Academy. Please see http://www.southfloridasocceracademy.com. This is a real program that is up and operating.

      We will have to wait 4 to 5 years to see if it works. While not sure, I am betting that it will.

      • tim says

        I love the idea and would enjoy speaking off the blog. Does the contact email address on your site drop to you?

      • dr loco says

        Interesting. How can you afford to run this elaborate academy?

        You say you want “good” kids with extreme potential. That is almost a contradiction and eliminates 99% of all youth players.

        Curious to know what local soccer clubs think about your program.

        • RED says

          Dr Loco -you are insightful, so here is my response to you.

          As to affordability, I have been fortunate to have had a successful business career. I am embarrased to tell how much money I have spent and am spending. Between the land (which is in a great location in SF), building 2 soccer fields and a Futsal Court, a clubhouse/classroom facility, paying for 2 World Class Coaches from Argentina and an Academy Manager from Fulham, the operating costs are as sinful as the initial capital investment. I am only doing this to help a small group of boys, which includes my son.

          Here is why I did it. I am an American from Midwest that played sports but not soccer. When my son was 5 years old playing Rec Soccer, a 1% er saw him and told me “you should get that kid some training”. We joined a local travel club. I realized it was all BS and a sham, just so the DOC could feed his cash cow. I left the program and my son trained privately for a year. We joined another club, but same BS. It was all about scoring goals and winning games with little the “Charlie hustle” and “win the 50/50 ball” approach. Parents were a mess, screaming from side lines (at practice and in games) and flirting with coaches or making them cookies so that little “Jeffrey” could play.

          This all happened at 6 and 7 years old for my son. FYI, when my son was 6 he could
          juggle the ball 200 times. At 7, he could juggle a size 4 ball 1,000 times, a size 1 ball 200 times and a tennis ball 40 times. I will not say any more about him because I do not want to draw attention. However, I think it important to know that he is not bullying his way around the pitch. He has decent size and speed, and he trains a lot.

          We have already been effective changing the attitudes and manners of little boys. The training is so good, I am sure that some parents are pleading with their boys to behave. After each training session, all the boys walk up to each Coach, shake hands and look the Coach in the eye and say “thank you Coach”. Boys are not allowed expressionist hair cuts or jewelry. So no Mohawks, etc. We have alreading asked a boy to leave the program because he was disruptive to the group. So, the boys know the rules are for real. We have a very disciplined environment. We do not allow parents to watch training sessions and they are not allowed to scream and coach from the sidelines during matches.

          We will be patient and not compromise as we add to the group. We are not after $100 a month. We have a 4 to 6 year plan to see what we can do in an “ideal world”. Keep in mind, if they wanted to, any municipal program that has the fiields could do what we are doing. However they compromise in so many ways. The clubs are worse.

          FYI, at our initial tryouts a group of 4 parents said that if we changed some rules, all of their boys would accept the invite. We disinvited them all.

          Local soccer DOC’s hate me. They tell their parents that we don’t know what we are doing. They make up lies. All so they can protect their cash cow.

          This is our first year. I believe our small group of boys will flourish personally and on the pitch over the next year. At that time, I am sure a few more boys will be added. We are only after about 15 – 18 boys total.

          I did not come up with our structure or the rules. Our DOC (who is a World Class trainer and Coach from Argentina) and I went to Barcelona and visited La Messia, our Academy Manager is from Fulham and our Head Trainer is also from Argentina. We just copied what all those places are doing. It is very simple.

          We are doing the best we can every day, we wish everyone else well and we are minding our own business. If we can be a good example for others, even better.

          • Dr Loco says

            Sounds awesome! I wish you the best. Keep us informed.

            FYI, I tired to run a similar program at a local park for free. No need for fancy fields and equipment. In fact, the worse the fields the better for young players. After 2 years of extreme dedication I managed to elevate the level of ten average players to B+/A- level by 10 years of age. I did not start with “good” players with extreme potential.

            Unfortunately even after regular meeting with parents and a huge financial loss ALL the players left to other so called “top” clubs to be on more “winning” teams. Ultimately I could not educate and convince parents and players of our philosophy, ideologies, and quality standards. Development stopped and the learning process wasted.

            My growth as a coach has been immense but now I must re-evaluate my role in youth soccer.

            Thanks again for sharing!

          • Dave says

            Good luck and who cares what the other youth clubs say? I do have a couple questions. First, do you plan to play overseas competition? If your goal is world class development don’t you need to compete on that stage and not just against the local/regional clubs for state cups? Secondly, in your plan how do you deal with Dr Loco’s issue? You may succeed and develop strong teams…even play successfully overseas…but at age 13-15 there is a mad rush to Development Academies. How do you address the next phase of a player’s development?

          • RED says

            Hi Dave:

            We agree with your summation on competition. So our ambition is that when the boys/teams are good enough we will play outside of Florida (Texas, California, etc.). After that, if good enough, we hope to play in Europe and Latin America.

            As for your second question, again we agree with you and Dr Loco, so we do not want to be all things to everyone. We will let AYSO and Rec Clubs introduce the game. So we started at U9. We also want to stop at U13 or U14 and let other forces take over.

            In summary, we simply want to achieve high level development by combining world class training with extraordinary potential.

          • Kg says

            Red,
            My question is can P2 develop players at Sunrise, well of course he can and has. Your system that you are creating will work, you have some quality guys that you are footing the bill for….. I guess the point is what this site is all about, developing world class talent in the land of mediocrity. Which means doing things the right way. Can it be done at the club level, yes if the leadership allows it to, and we say screw it we are going to develop our talent, again the right way. The reason some of us don’t like you is you walked up and poached players the wrong way, during our games, saying you could do whatever you want. Problem is you are playing under Sunrise. So at that time you are wrong you can’t do whatever you want. I told my parents go to your tryout if they want. Well we play the right way…. I love the thought of your system, and yes I am interested to see what you can produce. But bottom line is our club is committed to doing things the right way, they are allowing the DOC who does not need the money or fame to create what needs to be created to build a club centered around soccer IQ and playing attractive soccer through possession. We started two years ago and it is working. I wish you the best, but honestly when you approach someone and act like an arrogant D-bag well that won’t work. To your credit you came back and apologized, still interested in answering the question which is don’t you think P2 has created the same environment at Sunrise?

  21. Nicholson says

    The West Ham coach should have also said:

    “At West Ham and other professional clubs, we id and develop players. We invest in their future. There is no cost to the player. The risk of development and player id is on us. We want a return on our investment. Therefore, we are selective and provide the best training, infrastructure, opportunities, and coaching we can to ensure that. This does not happen in American youth soccer.”

  22. David A. says

    Long time reader, first time post. Ex youth player in 1990s.

    The coaching wasn’t as good as today and far less opportunity, but the most important things I was told are: 1) technical skill is the foundation, then tactical understanding, then mental quickness, then God given attributes like speed, height, strength, aggression, passion, stamina round out or compliment individual style of play; and 2) some players can’t read the game and are always playing catch up, others only understand the situation and always reacting, and top players can see opportunity or danger 1 – 3 passes ahead of everyone ( 95% of players at every age is in the first two categories, no more than 5% are in the latter).

    I had the opportunity to go to Mexico as a teenager to play in several tournaments. One thing I always remember is a coach from Pachuca youth team say talking about how agility, coordination, and how a player runs is important. I didn’t understand it then, but as adult understand. I’ve read so many articles on how top clubs consider those aspects. I don’t see that level of selectivity here in USA, even on top teams. For example, I saw several players at Surf Cup (was there over the weekend) who were very clumsy. Looked like they were going to fall over, but they were tall and strong, so I guess those coaches traded speed and agility for intimidating and big? That was prevelant when I was young but still see it now.

    Even at Surf Cup on the weekend, the supposed best of the best level, offensive players with improper body position, slow footwork, too many touches, poor finishing. Best of the best is a marketing slogan. Goal scorers need to see the shot before they get it. Be in proper position ready to strike with surprise. And so many with poor technique. Saw a lot of strong target men with no finishing whatsoever. Don’t get me wrong, there were many fine players and teams, but we still have a long way to go is my point.

    Something rarely spoke about on this site is videotape replay. I have several dozen videos going back to U11 that I keep on an external hard drive. Some I made but most are from other parents I’ve collected over the years.

    During games, I watch as a spectator, enjoying the moment. Then when I see videos, I’m almost always amazed at how poorly top level teams are. Fast, faster and fastest describes most games. Poor passing, bad decision making, over dribbling, poor technique (especially when ball in the air players like to do Cinderella type foot control instead of chest control), lack of tactical understanding, over-crowing of spaces, 90% of play up the right side of pitch, and golden scoring opportunities gone to waste due to poor finishing/over touching/not recognizing a one touch surprise shot is best option inside the box.

    Watching the videos always reminds me of how far we are from producing players to fullest level, but we are certainly better than when I was kicking it around.

  23. David A. says

    Meant to say over-crowing of spaces in above. Youth players are like cats with 2 – 3 bottles of 5-hour energy. The body is supersonic while the brain is leisurely pace. I often watch pro games on TV and in person with my children who also play the game. They are amazed at the lack of overcrowding of spaces at pro level. How well teams maintain shape. How well attackers do at quick one touch flicks inside the box. How composed players are at pro level. My oldest son (U16) describes his games a “mad frenzy”. He plays SCDSL Flight I but feels level of play is too hectic, kick and chase.

  24. Acad Dad says

    My U17 son has played left back since U12 (converted from winger/forward). He always likes to play against “trains” as he calls big strong attacking players. He thinks they are easy to defend because they almost always lack skill, just braun. Get in their way or nudge to get balance off just about does it. He thinks small, mobile, quick, agile attacking players with skill are the real challenge. He calls them “rabbits”. His fellow defenders talk about this at times when they are at the house visiting. They think coaches are overly in love with size, but they don’t debate or discuss it with them . “Players know players” as my son says. “We are sometimes better at identifying talent because we are not limited to a coaching mindset.” I read somewhere once that many coaches think players are more advanced than them since they are more immersed in the game than prior generations.

    You often get old fashioned coaches with astute modern players and development suffers. Modernizing coaches is something that very much needs to be addressed.

    A small piece of the puzzle that tells me we are not developing as best we can.

    My son is on a USSDA U17/18 team in SoCal. He thinks another problem is at central defense you often see big tall players but with poor foot speed and minimal ability to play out of the back. I didn’t want him to play left back, but it was a blessing because he understands how to build out of back.

    This points out the problem of sticking players in positions as young as U10 based solely on physical attributes. Nowhere does ability or fit within the position relevant to tactics and style of play come into coach’s mind. I’ve seen this countless times. So many kids wasted career from young age.

  25. T3COEP says

    I love this site, but it seems to not be as active as it once was. Anyway, youth soccer is very here and now. Win now with stronger, bigger, early puberty / growth kids who coaches have more trust in to win games. Only a handful I know of (one of those being the Keibans) have that vision. And if they do have the vision, it’s easier said than done. That’s the case with my son’s club. Tiki-taka, attack minded possession soccer, thinking players is all good and fine, but difficult with wrong coaches, wrong players.

    Clubs need to start out with right coaches and players as early as U8 to show results in 5-10 years. The biggest hurdle may be the status quo. That is, the long-term commitment and backing of DoC, BoD, coaching staff, and parents to hit bumps in the road while the transition occurs. Patience is needed.

    I’ve often seen lone wolf coaches try to implement change, but the status quo eats them alive. My son’s club is trying to make the change, but whether or not it’s a success will be in 5-10 years time.

    If possession oriented soccer isn’t institutionalized, it will be another flavor of the week. It probably comes down to the BoD, Club President, or influential DoC to engrain that vision, institutionalize a playing philosophy, find the right coaches to carry out that vision, and id players best suited for that style of play.

    As wonderful as Barcelona is or Ajax for youth development, if the President and board all changed their philosophy – it would forever change the club and players it produces. They type of player a club produces (professional or competitive youth soccer in USA) is direct reflection of those in charge and what they institutionalize, and what they don’t. Are they footballers or tight suits? People who want to produce pro-quality players in a pro-centric environment, or a paid activity that is rec soccer in disguise of competitive soccer?

  26. T3COEP says

    This is the crux of my argument:

    If possession oriented soccer isn’t institutionalized, it will be another flavor of the week. It probably comes down to the BoD, Club President, or influential DoC to engrain that vision, institutionalize a playing philosophy, find the right coaches to carry out that vision, and id players best suited for that style of play.

    As wonderful as Barcelona is or Ajax for youth development, if the President and board all changed their philosophy – it would forever change the club and players it produces. They type of player a club produces (professional or competitive youth soccer in USA) is direct reflection of those in charge and what they institutionalize, and what they don’t. Are they footballers or tight suits? People who want to produce pro-quality players in a pro-centric environment, or a paid activity that is rec soccer in disguise of competitive soccer?

  27. Sean says

    I see the information here as good, but let’s look at this scenario. I had 25 kids come try out for our U11 classic boys team with our club. Surrounding clubs had 250-300 kids to tryout for their U11 boys. Bigger clubs take the top 12-13 kids out of a larger pool, therefore build A, B, C and D teams. We end up with one classic team and one challenge team, usually. Now, with that beeing said, the gap between my best player and least talented player is fairly big. I see areas where the weaker player needs to work on touches and short passes, where the stronger players need to work on headers, skill moves and 1v1 as an example. I can sometimes break these drills up for the weaker players to work with the assistant coach on areas that may not benefit a stronger player. I can have the stronger players work with me or vice versa. That is how you handle that. You do 20 – 30 mins of drills seperately, then combine them for other play. Ultimately, you have about 3 to 3 1/2 hours a week to spend with them, but the kids they go home and study the game and work in the yard and in their own time are the ones that excel. You get out of it, what you put into it. Academy, big clubs, superb coaches with all the playing experience is not all what it seems. My guys put a lot of time into it, play year round (3v3, indoor, then season play) commit to practices and tournaments and our little small county club takes pride in competing against the huge clubs and beating them in classic play. You have to put a lot into it to succeed and yes, you have to be playing against the highest competition out there. If you play rec all your life and go to high school tryouts, you will end up a cheerleader. Just my two cents.

  28. Paul says

    Developing to fullest is a rational thought in an irrational system. I believe it’s universal that to develop in anything to fullest, you need to be in an environment that has the components to enable that. In soccer it’s coaching, philosophy, and identification of players best suited for that philosophy. Barcelona and Ajax are best representation. Not only do they look for technical, tactical, mental. The mental piece includes players who have the aptitude to understand and execute tika-taka philosophy. Ensuring proper player identification is a critical part of the vetting process. It’s non-existent in US youth soccer. High level coaching and an aligned philosophy rarely exists, but to varying degrees. We have a less than ideal system.

    In order to improve the level of soccer development, coaching alone won’t do it. The Academy concept is the right approach. But the problem is USSDA clubs are woefully misaligned at the U5 – U14 ages. The pipeline isn’t producing the talent or identifying them in the critical years prior to Academy. The coaches and players we identify prior to Academy is arguably more important than who makes it at U16 Academy. This train of thought is exactly what professional clubs align to. “Crap in, crap out” applies.

    It is highly troublesome for me at how ineffective club soccer is. I believe smaller, more selective clubs are needed to cater to elite players. One team per age. Subsidize as much as possible. More purposeful player identification at youngest ages. The closest model I can think of is what the Kleibans have done. The Wal-Mart clubs is not the answer. They will not and cannot produce a Versace. The model is not quality through quantity; it’s quality through selectivity.

  29. says

    Hey Gary,
    I just want to tell you that you and your brother are doing great job to bring your contribution your two cents and you God given critical thinking talents and challenge others to inspire themselves and bring that their elements of thinking to other in the sport we love so much. Just keep doing what you are doing. I grow up in France going through academy system there and I couldn’t agreed with you more in many of the topic. It seems like I can hear myself talking. It is very refreshing to see that this greatest nation of American with its multicultural background and diversities is going to put that advantage to use to bring a soccer to a respectable on the international level without necessary copying but using different methodology that is best appropriate to our country. as You mention in one of your articles we cant copy and wont . Some of the motivation kids around the world have to reach a level of soccer that seems natural and the conditions that surrounds them are quiet different than in USA… I can keep on forever… I think that you know that you are doing great job not just talking but also providing thought and means or idea that seems to work for you to others to give it try by of course adding their personality and style to it. Since I moved to California I hope to meet you guys sometimes and have some great and stimulating soccer conversation. I am African born and grow up in France… coming from soccer countries I am in sharing many of your passion for this sport. Until I meet you keep up the good work!

  30. says

    Great read! Couldn’t agree more. My son (U12) has been training and competing in the Developmental/Premiere track for the past three years. His club has such a small player base it is essentially a “Pay to Play” club because they simply don’t have enough players to make cuts and still field a team. For the past three years he has consistently been in the most skilled and committed 5% of players but has felt his development has suffered training/playing with a group having such a large talent gradient. Last fall he made the mature decision to leave the sanctioned club system and train full time with a private academy run by a former professional player from Chile and one of the few National A license coaches in Manitoba. He now train’s full-time with the academy’s intermediate age group, primarily U12-U15 boys where he is no longer the best but is certainly able to hold his own. The developmental growth I’ve seen in him over the past 12 months more than doubles that I’ve seen over the past three years in the “everything to everyone” club system. Excellent coaches are essential to player development but I think the importance of the quality of training partner and teammate often gets severely under estimated or all together ignored.

    • GuerillaCoach says

      Good choice by the sounds of it, James. One of the most frustrating things I’ve experienced over the years is to be asked to serve everyone & end up serving no one properly. Yes, there’s been progress, but a massive spread in the performance bandwidth is (painfully) evident to all parties concerned. The best I’ve been able to do under the conditions imposed by my district SA is try to prevent the more advanced players from becoming discouraged & prepare them to go to the next level next season. Sometimes it works, but other times kids get buried & lose momentum in their development. SMH

  31. JohnHogge says

    But how do parents get an unbiased assessment of their child in order to figure out whether a premier program makes sense? It’s a big decision to step out of a program that has fostered our daughter’s love of the game. Not to mention the added time and cost.

    Specifically, my daughter just finished her U11 season (she is playing up a year). They are “Bronze” so pretty low level, but they did well going undefeated and winning Norcal State Cup for their division. She is the most skilled on the team and most athletic, although a couple girls are faster. I’m not clear on where she stands as far as “vision” and strategy…just too hard to tell on a team that doesn’t have much of a “shape” to their play. If she had her way she would just watch WNT replays every night. Her team will definitely move up next year to be a strong Silver or maybe a weak Gold level team. But this team exhibits exactly what you’re mentioning…a large disparity in abilities (and commitment) between the top few and bottom bunch. So, they will soon hit their ceiling on how good they can get. And I can see them coaching to the fundamentals that my daughter long ago mastered. But she loves the social aspect…really great kids who are all friends now and will eventually all unite in the same middle school. We have a semi-local premier team that usually ranks top 10 in Norcal. But all the kids will be from neighboring towns. I just don’t want to squelch her passion…but I want to see if she has what it takes. I feel like a traitor discussing this with her coach because he basically picked her out of a summer camp and said “your daughter has the mentality to play competitive” and then he taught her everything she knows. Do we need to move her now for U12? Wait until U14?

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