The Golden Rule to Team (and Player) Development

First, get a skeleton firmly in place. Then layer in complexity.

First, get a skeleton firmly in place. Then layer in complexity.

This continues with the theme of our previous article …

It is after your team demonstrates a level of mastery with your core material, that you can start layering in other principles.

For instance, our founding core (the set of activities all our teams start with) does not include stuff like:

  • Combination play up the middle.
  • Offsides trap.
  • How to bypass the midfield.
  • Exposing a flat back line.
  • Playing “between the lines”.
  • Playing a double pivot.
  • … and a thousand other elements.

For us, all these things are components to be layered in when the core has been ‘mastered’ – when the team identity (the founding style of play) has been established. Or at most, introduced in small doses relative to the core training material.

To give you an idea of the sort of time-scales we’re talking about … 3 years into it, our team is still highly trained with the same activities they started with.

Now … from our videos you can see a clear identity exists, but mastery is a different story. There are games, and phases of play, when I want to kill myself. Remember, this is a team that has won everything, has gone toe to toe with the best academies in the world, and all playing ‘the right way’ …

and yet, and yet we have NOT moved on from the core! We do NOT consider them having it remotely mastered.

Actually, if we controlled an entire pipeline up to and including a 1st team, these players would still be working much of the core until they retired.

If you try to do too much, nothing gets mastered, and guess what? You get jungle ball.

The Golden Rule:
Do less, not more.

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  1. Ryan says

    So when do we get to see more of these core activities? The training out of the back was perfect. Basic, yet has helped our other coaches see it in black and white. I’ve used a similar activity like this all season and I have to say it has paid dividends. We still have a long, long way to go, but I do see progress. We also do a ton a box drills, 3v1 or 4v1 in 10×10 squares and expand it a bit more. Both these things are done at pretty much every practice. I wish you had an attacking activity like the playing out of back that you could do on a daily basis. I have a few favorites, but it’s more or less just pattern play.

    • says

      Hi Ryan,
      I love that the training with the back 5 has helped you guys!

      We plan on offering our online coaching membership in several weeks. These last 2 articles and the several upcoming ones not only have stand-alone value, but will serve to inform everyone what the membership is about. That way coaches can make educated decisions on whether joining is for them, or not.

      • Ryan says

        Can’t wait for the coaching membership. This site has been by far and away the best teaching material. Sitting on the edge of my seat waiting to see what you guys have to offer.

  2. Some Coach says

    In a recent lecture I attended, the speaker stressed the point to hitting building out of the back before doing anything as it base of the building and mentioned exactly what you said above (that was core of his academy) . Since then I have been juggling this in my head and wanting to implement this. What you wrote here has really brought confidence to me on this.

    My question: When your team hits a brick wall and you feel frustrated and you said “when I want to kill myself”, what do you do to bring yourself and your team back to the core?

    You are talking about a top level youth team, that can mentally come back, but what if you are talking about the average Joe American team (who play /wins state, competes in regionals, maybe a far shot in Nationals ..). ? How do you avoid these set backs from bringing your team backward, but force an improvement ?

    • says

      Well, there are no black & white answers.
      It really depends on what exactly has gone wrong, and your judgement of what that is.

      For example, is it just one player that’s screwing everything up? Two? Or is it the whole team that doesn’t ‘get it’? Is it the quality of the opponent? Should the players ‘know better’ by now, or has the process just begun?

      Catch my drift?
      The answer to those types of questions is what dictates your corrective actions.

      Generally speaking though, next week’s training sessions will have greater focus on those activities that target the problem.

      p.s. Doesn’t matter what level the team is. If it’s an ‘average Joe American’ team … well, you’re usually competing against other ‘average Joe American’ teams. So you should be able to execute.

      • Crollaa says

        “p.s. Doesn’t matter what level the team is. If it’s an ‘average Joe American’ team … well, you’re usually competing against other ‘average Joe American’ teams. So you should be able to execute.”

        This struck very close to home. I live in a tiny town where the talent pool is extremely small. Even with the limited skill and game understanding of the players I am able to select, we still try to play possession based soccer and are generally successful at it. Up until what I quoted above, I felt like you guys were implying this brand of soccer can’t be played without the ability to recruit technically skilled players. Obviously your team will murder mine, but relative to the competition we play, we completely dominate and impose our will every game. Thanks for helping me define my philosophy!

  3. Kana says

    Great stuff as always Gary! Only thing I can think to add is this points out the need for common playing style / philosophy at clubs so players don’t “restart” each year to learn different styles, which can often be contradictory. My son is living that now at the USSDA club he plays for.

    • Nuno says

      Great point Kana and that’s one of the things that makes implementing a possession/precision style a challenge. The overall level/culture of your environment. Consistency inside your own club as well as clubs around. The older the players are the harder it is to integrate and reeducate players who could have had good potential at younger ages. That’s one of the big competitive advantages of “jungle ball”. If you can kick it hard and chase it harder you are in at any point, no problem. None of this should serve as an excuse of course, just trying to add context.

      Great article Gary.

    • ThiKu says

      Ya I started with a u16 this year and I have to completely break them down and start over. Very frustrating because they are lovely players who could be twice as good as they are with decent guidance on younger ages.

    • dr loco says

      Consistency among the different coaches and age groups is very rare. Gary/Brian can achieve it because they keep following their team. This is not typically the case as players, parents, directors get tired of coaches and remove them.

  4. ThiKu says

    Great article. Thanks for sharing. Exactly how I have been approaching the last many seasons. Take on a core set of skills and style of play and repeat ad nauseum. Sometimes results come, sometimes they don’t, but all players improve – whether they like the style or not (still have kids who want to hear people cheering their big kicks!).

  5. Tyler says

    The hard part for me is two thing:
    1) Have I found/do I use the “most effective” activities to implement the style I want played?
    2) How long do I use an activity until I throw it out because it’s not reflected in the game… how do I know its me/the activity and not the players?

    Finding the “core” for your philosophy takes time and practice on your part as a coach and patience if you have to do it yourself — I think this is the direction Brian and Gary are moving in – they are raising the curtain and should speed up the development of our teams and possession soccer.

    • says

      Those certainly are big challenges Tyler.

      And I think generally, you have it right:
      It takes time, practice, and patience. Some might call that “experience”.

      But of course that word can be misleading. Sigi Schmid, Bruce Arena, et al, can be considered to have massive amounts of experience.

      The critical question however is: Experience in what?

      We’ll try to help.

  6. Alan says

    Finally getting involved in the convo! Great follow up from the previous post. Mastery takes a lot of repetitiveness of the core activities. Parents do love to cheer those big kicks which helps promote the “jungle ball”. Gary – Do you guys communicate and educate the parents to help them encourage the possession futbol? I believe you do, if so, how often or how much?

    • John says

      Educating the parents is crucial IMHO. This can be done with a parent meeting and then follow-up notifications/updates. If you don’t educate the parents, then you’ll get well meaning ones who are contradicting your team goals and style of play.
      One perfect example was a few years ago. A ‘good’ player from the other team booted the ball down the sideline. Beautiful kick that the parents hooted and praised. My defender gathered the kick with no pressure, dribbled it passed a player, passed it to the a teammate open in the center, who passed it to a teammate on the opposite side, who ended up with an easy open goal to score. It was a great example I used for our parents over and over again as it demonstrates a common way to play that we want to avoid.
      Young kids will follow the praise from adults, especially parents. Teach them that booting the ball aimlessly or running with no purpose is good and that’s what they will do. Teach them to control the ball and use the open space on/off the ball while building an attack, then that’s what they will do.

      • dr loco says

        Educating parent’s is pointless. It really doesn’t work. Parents believe they are masters of everything when it comes to their kids. A coach must select parents who share the same team philosophy or else recruit and remove just like players.

        • Crollaa says

          This isn’t true at all. The team I took over 4 seasons ago was the typical jungle ball, kick and run team. I came in and immediately started talking about possession, patience, keeping the ball on the floor. The parents completely bought in because they could immediately see I knew what I was doing.

          Educating parents is just a part of the process and art of educating your players.

          • pg 19 says

            You’re both correct.

            If you take on a team, that has never won anything, they are so hungry to win, that any idea, concept, ect, will be accepted.

            However, take on a team that has won a few games or possibly some tournaments, good luck.

    • jesran says

      Let’s analyze “cheering the big kicks” for a second shall we? I believe this is a symptom of ignorant parent “fans” simply wanting to appreciate the game, but failing to do so miserably because of the special nature of soccer.

      A soccer game at any level is a sporting event like baseball, football or golf. To anyone with a child playing soccer it feels like they should promote it’s play with cheering because it looks like such a “good” activity and it is the most popular sport in the world. To the newly initiated the sport is enticingly familiar at first yet painfully unfamiliar as the kids grow mostly because of the “with NO hands” stipulation. There is a ball, there is a goal, there is running and there should be coordination, but passing and carrying the ball looks so uncoordinated especially to someone used to seeing ball movement “with hands”. There is no baseline expectation for new parents for how difficult it is to run using your feet and control a ball with your feet, so therefore there is little appreciation for when technical skills are being developed and executed to a previously unattainable level for each player and team. One thing that is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G to anyone not used to seeing a ball played with a foot is how far it will travel when struck by an athletically gifted and/or technically sound player. It’s like watching Micky Mantle hit homers out of ballparks. It’s like watching Tiger Woods make par 4s look like par 3s. You really can’t blame the soccer ignorant for cheering this amazing feat. I remember watching the NFL as a boy and seeing Terry Bradshaw throw bombs to win Superbowls to Lynn Swann. As an 8 year old I thought that was the coolest football play ever and I wondered why they didn’t run it every time? My dad explained to me the whole 10 yard first down thing and I started to appreciate Franco Harris a little more for his consistency… and started to appreciate football for the strategy game that it is… but still anxiously hoped for a bomb on every series.

      Now in the very earliest youth soccer to big kick actually helps to defend, restart, attack and mostly disperse the crowd that makes soccer look so awkward to the uninitiated, but with every passing season it’s effectiveness fades.

      The biggest kick in pro soccer, though spectacular, is even less effective than throwing a bomb on every down in football, or trying to drive the green on every drive, or trying to hit a homer every pitch. The best thing a big kick can do in pro soccer is give center backs a chance to breathe or shake off a lower extremity stinger; basically kill time or momentum. Nothing to cheer. I think this frustrates people who want to see something unique and easily identifiable from the “with NO hands” stipulation.

      So that is why newly initiated cheer long kicks because they are not much more sophisticated than 8 year old NFL fans. And it’s forgivable, I think. So now why do EPL fans still cheer long kicks? That’s a whole other question ;)

      • Wolfgang says

        Just adding a bit to go along with your thoughts Jesran,

        My theory is – give them something better to cheer about. If the best you offer them is big kicks then that is what they will cheer. Give them possession soccer and they will cheer that over big kicks every day. It happened with the Timbers and it happens with every team I coach.

        • jesran says

          Not sure if possession appeals to the newly initiated. Winning does however, and Timbers are winning well above expectations. The only pure power display from possession is watching over-sized and over-eager defenders running around in circles chasing the ball, sometimes banging into each other. It’s kind of like the appeal of watching a bull fight… OLE!

          Scoring lots and lots of goals wouldn’t hurt for cheers either ALA Dutch-style possession.

    • says

      Hi Alan, and welcome.

      We’ve always been receptive to parents, and try to answer their questions. And we’ll interlace our philosophy while answering.
      But we don’t deliberately plan and say: “Ok, let’s educate the parents on futbol.”

      That doesn’t mean I recommend other coaches do the same.

      • Alan says

        Thanks Gary! The work you guys are doing is fantastic and I look forward to continue to educate myself. Couple of questions.
        1) When working on the core building out of the back principles, do you have only defenders working on this or does everyone learn the principles regardless of what positions?
        2) How often do you have backs work with backs, mids work with mids and etc. in training?

        Thanks as always and can’t wait to join the online course!

  7. John Pranjic says

    I couldn’t agree more with the previous article. And I couldn’t agree more with this one. It’s taken a lot of trial and error, but I’ve refined my ‘drills’ to handful of meaningful ones.

    A little show and tell w/ one of my core exercises (I hope this doesn’t break comment policy).

    First video is an exercise that I adopted and have done with my teams for nearly 4 years now. I guess most would call it ‘shadow play’, I call it pattern play. Basically, it’s rehearsed team movements, or choreography. I started using this more and more as years went on. But this last year or so, even though my girls have gotten very familiar with the movements, exercises like this one make up the majority of almost every training session.

    We even use it during pre-game…

    Next clip is an example of why we do the training exercises above, over and over and over and over again. It’s never perfect. Never. It can always get better. But when certain situations present themselves in a game… the team has a pretty good idea of what should be happening ‘now’ and what should happen ‘next’.

    Feedback is definitely welcomed!

  8. pg 19 says

    I have learned a tremendous amount from this site. What is sometimes just as good is a reaffirmation that you’re doing the right things. As there are tons of methods, books, clinics, courses, diplomas, licenses, recommendations as to what and how to teach soccer, it is refreshing to know that I’m not a lazy coach that sticks to simple key activities to bring out a particular element of play from my players.

    I know how I coached when I first started. Only taught what I knew. Then took a few courses and I was all over the place trying to teach everything. Will say, the first year there was definitely marked improvement in the play of my team compared to the second year where learning little about a lot of things produced a net result of zero.

    Over time, I’ve learned that the value of the various methods and resources is not to take everything into account, but to match the elements from the methods and resources with the philosophy/curriculum that you have adopted, filtering out what is not needed, using the few ideas that are relevant and maybe innovative to what you are teaching and to go with it. Ultimately adapt the training concept to the needs/abilities of your team.

    I’m curious about the coaching clinic that will be offered from 3four3. Curious on what the format will be like (lecture, practicum, or simple observation). Personally, I do like the format of the USSF license courses with interaction in the activity as well as graded practicum. I definitely learn a ton more with interaction versus simply listening and watching. I think the performance element as a coach is also important to be graded on so one can judge if what is being taught to the coaches is actually be learned as it is intended to be. Price tag is a bit high, but if it’s done right I think it will be well worth the money and in many ways priced well below the accumulative price tag of going through all the USSF licensing courses.

    I can see why the reluctance to unveil the product until its ready. I think its difficult enough trying to address all player issues within a specific soccer activity. I can’t imagine what it will be like putting a course together for coaches of quite a variation in coaching ability, experience and possibly even understanding of the game. I’m assuming you will apply the same principals of coaching players as you will training coaches. Aim for a level far above the abilities of the best coach so all that attend are stretched in terms of what they learn.

    • says

      Our live coaching clinic, offered to individual clubs, essentially showcases our core activities (~10) + execution. A classroom component, that helps to show how everything is stitched together + philosophy, can also be offered.

      So … it’s the core of our methodology.
      And, if a coach adopts it, he/she now has a proven core to build on. No need to be lost and going through years (perpetual?) of trial and error.

      More “advanced” clinics (with interaction & “layering” of other activities) will be forthcoming, but will only be offered to those clubs that have gone through the intro clinic & have been at it for a while (perhaps at least a year).

      The online version mirrors the live clinic.
      We’ll launch with only the core. And very slowly and methodically layer in more.

  9. Noah Creagh says

    Awesome stuff as always. Correct me if im wrong, but you dont need high level players littered top to bottom on your roster to achieve this. Sure it helps if youve got way too much class at every position (ie barca) but it seems great coaches know how to achieve these kinds of results without a world class roster (CP and the timbers) thats a roster in MLS that by no means has achieved mastery. You see them demonstrate levels of competence and understanding as well as frustrating moments of occasional jungle ball. But its all a process and unlike every other team in MLS you can see an identity in the works over the course of this season. Same thing with the video Gary posted of Brian’s chivas squad. Really showed us pieces of the total grind that this process is, one part you witness jungle ball and frustrating turnovers, and the other you see an identity in the works. I often wonder what would happen we had pro/rel here and you guys got your hands on a lower division squad. I have no doubt it would be an exciting process to watch and you guys would give the best MLS teams nightmares one day.

    • tim says

      I think the Timber story is a neat story and everyone loves an underdog, but like everything else discussed on this blog, lets not forget context. Is it still not important?
      How would the neat story Timbers look like playing a Champion league game against a team we watched play tonight?
      Is that not CONTEXT?
      Should the international benchmark only matter for youth soccer?

      • says

        For sure Tim, context is King.
        And it’s very difficult to be all-encompassing. Usually context is limited by what one knows, and also many times selective by one’s biases or agendas.

        I’ll offer one angle…

        I think we’ve done a lot of good work at the youth level. And I’d like to think we’ve helped expose many fallacies about what’s possible in our country. Now, Brian & I always knew the level of our teams still were not on par with the Euro giants. And while the teams did go “toe to toe” … for us, it is evident there’s a gap in quality.

        The reason? When one is talking about the cream of the cream of the cream, every last detail matters. The environment in which one operates is not negligible.

        For me, what Caleb may be trying to do in Portland, and what he’s already accomplished, kind of parallels what we’ve done in youth. He’s starting to expose similar fallacies attributed to the pro game, and in the process exposing the hacks who pass as ‘top’ coaches. Unfortunately, it will still take many years for the story to develop, and for people to catch on. But of course, like us, the Timbers would have problems with the Euro giants. The environment, and its associated details, make a difference.

        I think step #1, is important though.
        That is, Exposing the fallacies, and consequently highlighting the real issues. That’s why I’ve always directed people to Caleb’s work.

        • Miguel says

          This is an excellent site! Learning lots for many months now.

          “When one is talking about the cream of the cream of the cream, every last detail matters. The environment in which one operates is not negligible.”

          Excellent quote! The reason European clubs develop top players isn’t solely about finding the right players (one piece of the puzzle), it’s about the environment, the mentality and purpose and standards and expectations they adhere to for all players, coaches, trainers, assistants, scouts. Substandard players and coaching staff have short leash. Not the case in youth soccer. Many youth clubs are a fraternity, who you know allows poor coaches to stay around for ages.

          Youth clubs in USA can never get to European club levels and that of lesser footballing countries, no matter how we try. Unless we want to pay $10K or more for fees to pay for top coaches, top facilities, seriously selective player identification, serious standards and expectations from everyone involved, and be more cutthroat in player id and release.

          Without those elements, there’s a natural limit to what youth soccer can do. MLS can do it, but they aren’t. I see little to no difference in player quality at older ages in their Academy teams. In fact, some USSDA clubs are producing better talent and arguably have better coaches in many/some cases. It’s almost without question best players in Europe and South America are in professional clubs. The better you are, the higher level club you’re in. In USA, that’s not the case. MLS academies do not have monopoly on talent and best coaches. That needs to change in my opinion.

          And in college, many coaches are not tops in their profession (tenure is a joke). And the best natural talents are not necessarily the ones with 3.5+ GPAs and high SATs to get to D1. They fall by the wayside. This also needs to change. How many gifted, but not academically suitable, players have slipped through the pipeline?

  10. Kana says

    This article and others on this site bring out dual emotions in me. It makes me happy to know there are coaches out there who ‘get it” and someone (Gary via 3Four3 and his brother Brian through coaching) trying to make change.

    On the other hand, I get frustrated at the copper standard most coaches and clubs operate at. The words discombobulated process / system and sausage making come to mind. Why is it they don’t have the passion, caring, insight that 3Four3 articulates so well? Maybe they’re not qualified? What exactly is a “qualified” coach anyways? Maybe the weight of club politics has too much inertia? Why only the Kleibans and a small minority “get it” and can actually execute their philosophy?

    I am fairly convinced if you follow the money the answer is there. Are large clubs with 3, 4, 5 teams per age with satellite clubs here and there promoting pro-centric soccer or something else? Do we need specialized Versace type clubs to produce quality players or is the big box model better? Each has its pros and cons. Guess it’s what their philosophy and vision is for player development and how they make it happen. Corporate giants are like runaway 18-wheelers with tons of baggage making it difficult to control and beholden to more cash flow to feed the hungry giant. The core of what they are doing slowly drifts. Maybe we need more nimble sports car? Maybe it’s just a state of mind and size doesn’t matter? Just think out loud here.

    Anyone remember the quote: “I’m mad as hell and can’t take it anymore” from the movie “Network”? I feel that way at times when I read some of Gary’s articles. Makes me see what we’re missing.

  11. pg 19 says

    So far, I’ve learned that culture isn’t the problem. Lack of parental understanding is not the problem. Lack of resources is not the problem. Lack of soccer being played on the street is not the problem. That high school soccer, college soccer, club soccer, ODP soccer, DA soccer is not the problem.

    What I have learned is the solution is the coaching. However, for the person that thinks coaching is simply saying = players doing = results; there is a ton more to it than that.

    Yes it is political, so be a better politician. Yes it is managing expectations, so be a better communicator. Yes it is teaching soccer, so be a better instructor. Yes it is you selling soccer, so promise a product you know you will exceed in delivering.

    Give me the players and resources of La Masia and I guarantee my product would be less than what the Kleibans achieved without said resources.

    Give me all the knowledge and resources of the Kleibans and I guarantee my product would still be less than what the Kleibans will achieve.

    You can fill in your name to the above in place of “me”.

    • Dr Loco says

      Yes! The solution is coaching. It takes 5+ years of training and developing yourself as a coach before you are ready to work with players. If you circumvent this process then all you are doing is damaging players.

      Very few youth coaches are ‘qualified’ to coach.

  12. Nuno says

    “coaching is stealing

    …incorporate them into your beliefs and philosophies”
    Caleb Porter


    Possibly a bit off topic but maybe not to much:

    “you have to have a clear vision of what you want to look like in the game, and then you have to have a process to get it to look the way you want it to look in the game, through training.”

    • pg 19 says

      Hey Nuno,

      Great article. Provides some insight on how to model the habits of an effective coach. Specifically, being a leader which often is more than just barking out commands. In short order he has gained the respect of the players he’s coaching and most importantly, their buy in to the changes he placed witin the organization. It is one thing to get players to do something. it’s another to get players to “want” to do something and that intrisic motivation is HUGE.

      We have often talked about how coaching is an art and I think we overlook some key factors. The “flavor” of the coach to convince an entire team to want to do something is a skill, all by itself. Thinking about what the Kleibans have achieved with their teams, convincing not just all their players, but the parents of said players that going to Barcelona to compete and allowing it would be a good thing (turns out to be a fantastic thing).

      • Dr Loco says

        “It is one thing to get players to do something. it’s another to get players to “want” to do something and that intrisic motivation is HUGE.”

        80+% of kids lack intrinsic motivation. Kids that appear to be ‘successful’ have been highly selected with this intrinsic motivation whether it’s academics, music, sports…

        “The “flavor” of the coach to convince an entire team to want to do something is a skill, all by itself.” Yes but it is a tall feat. Thousands of coaches at the youth to pro level fail every year. Only a tiny few coaches can maintain this level.

        I’m sure there are parents/players that hate the Kleibans but that’s not necessarily bad.

  13. hincha says

    I posted this same link for discussion on the post on teaching to the average. This article covers some ofthe same concerns. Of couse, in soccer, which is about the ultimate teammsport vs academics which is more an individual function, you have to consider both individual competence and team competence. Without individual competence (ball mastery for instance) team mastery will never occur.

  14. says


    Can you elaborate on what you mean/are getting at with the following section?:

    “Actually, if we controlled an entire pipeline up to and including a 1st team, these players would still be working much of the core until they retired.”

    • Kana says

      Players never stop working on fundamentals, no matter what level of success you’ve achieved. If you ignore them (e.g.,, passing, moving, trapping, shooting, touch) they tend to decline, which in turn affects everything else. It’s the core.

    • says

      Hi Keith,

      Simply that if we ran a club which had youth teams all the way to a professional 1st team, that these core activities would continue to be repeatedly utilized for an entire player’s soccer trajectory.

      • says


        Ok…thanks…gotcha’…that’s what I was thinking, but wasn’t quite sure and didn’t want to assume…thanks for clarifying…good-stuff once again mate…cheers

  15. KC says

    Found your blog a few months ago, and have been stalking it ever since!

    My husband coaches two independent teams in Kansas (U13 and U11). We took over coaching of the U13s three years ago, and the U11s just this season. We have made it our mission to educate the parents (and obviously the players) on the technical, tactical, and passionate aspects of the game. Getting parents on the same page does wonders for the boys’ performance on the field. If everyone is drinking the same kool-aid things go much smoother!

    After 3 years of coaching his big 4 are still 1) first touch, 2) head up, 3) movement off the ball, 4) build from the back. Each practice focuses on those 4 aspects. Our teams, I am proud to say, go toe to toe with the top club teams in our area w/o ever having had a try-out. We have the same core group of boys we took over and saved from Jungle Ball years ago. When we have players come up to us and ask when and where try-outs are they are surprised that we don’t have a pool of 100+ boys to choose from every June.

    As a fútbol fan native to South America his soccer passion was nursed on La Liga, CONMEBOL and UEFA Champions League He encourages our players and families to watch the sport any chance they get (especially in those leagues that play the right way!). We hold fútbol watch parties at our house, and we have non-practice scrimmages at every opportunity. Our main focus is growing boys (and parents) who appreciate and love the sport the right way. Seeing the beautiful game, not jungle ball. It has been a tough and rewarding endeavor. (Well worth it to have a 12 year old tell you his favorite player is a left defender or midfielder rather than a forward. Not to say that forwards aren’t awesome, but it takes more than casual knowledge of the game to appreciate what a good outside back and midfielders contribute to the success of a team)

    Will any of our boys ever play on the national or international level? Maybe, maybe not. But at least they will have an intelligent understanding of the game, and a sport that they can play for fun as they age.

    And now we have your blog to share with our parents. Keep the kool-aid coming!

  16. Miguel says

    One thig is clear: we have a long way to go before we get to the beginning. Why? The collective “we” in American soccer doesn’t yet get it. Until a majority or critical mass does, we are stil not at the beginning. We’re just igniting the process. It will take a few genarations to solve our problems part by part. This forum is a start.

  17. Christian R. says

    Long time reader. Great site! Taking months of blogs into consideration, I tried to analyze games and talk about what I saw. Saw 5 games last two weeks for 14 & U16 boys. Here is my report:

    - 3 of 5 coaches constantly yelled or shouted a lot, but contributed nothing tactically meaningful. One coach in particular bordered in a troubled human being. Angry as hell. Hate to play for him.
    - Lost count of foolish, unnecessary fouls in attacking third. Poor positioning, lack of quick transition on defense, lack of effort (ball watching until last moment) was catalyst for last minute stupid tackle or foul. This is nothing more than basic mental ability to understand the game.
    - Only 1 of 5 games had more than 5 pass, passing sequence. They had a few 7+ passing sequences. Two of the other teams had a few 5 pass sequences. It’s not easy to keep track, had to jot it down on my iPhone. One team, yes the team with crazy coach, had 3 max passes. 4 of the 5 teams are remedial passing. Not because of ability, but lack of composure or not being a play ahead. Over-dribbling also contributed. Again, basic passing and tactical understanding is lacking.
    - Three of the games had the ball in the air within 3 touches of kickoff. WTF! I lost track, but many sequences had ball in the air 5-10 touches. Even passes were bumpy or off the ground. Ugly stuff! Can’t even get basics right. Again, basic fundamentals to how to play goes missing in games.
    - Play in final third was astonishingly poor. Not one team passed and moved into scoring position. Precious few mad runs into the box and the player with the ball never made a pass. All goals were shots from edge or just in the 18-yard box, headers, or scrappy lose balls.
    - Lastly, only one team seemed to understand how to build from the back. Yes, the team with 7+ passing sequence. All others were haphazard as if they never practiced it. I could tell they did, but again, composure and game pressure ended up with jungle ball.

    Now here’s the eye opening, scary part, this was SCDSL Flight 1. Our supposed top division in SoCal, the hotbed of soccer in USA. Lots of average Joe football being played. The other problematic thing I noticed is severe lack of player composure. Player id. The worst offenders were the big, strong types. Yet they seemingly got a hall pass for sloppy, unthinking play. The possessors and fumblers term I read about is on spot.

    Do the coaches not see this? I used to always watch as a fan and focus on my son. This little exercise taught me a lot. I wonder if the coaches can’t distinguish fumblers from possessors?

    • John Pranjic says

      It’s amazing, huh?

      As for your comment about fouling in the attacking third- I have no doubt that those teams were just lazy and doing it for no good reason. But if you watch certain teams carefully, and repeatedly, you’ll notice that fouling in the attacking third is a strategy. For one simple reason…

      Think about what MOST teams do when they get fouled.

      Everyone stops. Then, they run up the field with their backs to the ball. One player stands over it and waits for everyone to get into position. This takes maybe 20-30 seconds. Then BOOM! Big kick and it’s a 50/50 battle in the air.

      Without the foul, the team with the ball would probably do something similar, as in kick a 50/50 ball and hope to win it in the air or get it over the center backs for a chance at goal. If they do this in open play immediately after a turnover by the other team, they can get numbers up and/or better chances because the other team is out of position defensively. But if the team fouls after their turnover, it gives them 20-30 seconds to recover into better defensive positions.

      I’ll say this though- those teams who choose to foul in the attacking third DO NOT have the mindset of ‘foul right away’. Their first idea is to try to win the ball back as fast as possible with a high press, usually. If the press breaks down or the risk of getting countered is high, then committing a foul is the next best option.

      I remember reading a stat a couple of years ago that said Lionel Messi commits the most fouls after turnovers in the attacking half. Lazy? Or smart? Because he also wins the ball back a hell of a lot without fouling.

      Just food for thought and a topic for discussion maybe?

      • Nuno says

        Fouling can be the dumbest thing or a clever move…as anything else it comes down to understanding / reading of the game

        For example that is why Michael Bradley is so important to US…not because he is any technical or physical phenomenon, but because of his soccer IQ and ability to read the game

  18. Miguel says

    Agree John this is some team’s tactics.

    What really hit home for me is I blame coaches, not players. Coach sets the tone, selects players, determnes starting XI, develops players and team, sets expectations and philosophy, and so on. His decisions, direction, influence are directly attributable to team and player performance and development.

    Coaching is our #1 challenge, but also our #1 opportunity. I wonder why I hear silence from Sunil Gulati. Why is he not on his soapbox pushing change in coaching ranks? Local federations are also mum. So it’s left to DoCs and coaches, bu they act in self interest.

    Maybe only thing i’ve seen from this bunch is new leagues (e.g., SCDSL) and tournaments (e.g., FWRL), but that is window dressing. The problem is coaching, not adding more tournaments and/or leagues! What is USSDA, USSF, MLS, the local federations doing to increase coaching continued education, championing better player and playing philosopy? Am I in a hole with my butt sticking up or are they doing something to improve coaching? 3Four3 certainly is.

    • Miguel says

      I know there are many coaching symposia. But it’s nothing earth shattering. Just same stuff. I know, I’ve been to a few. It’s coaching through PowerPoint. The Kleibans via this website have taught me more than the crap they spoon feed at coaching symposia. Those events are hot air and bck slapping and pretending. Doing what Gary does takes time and effort and shows me he is serious.

    • Kevin says

      While I agree that coaching is an issue, waiting around for the USSF to solve the coaching problem will just prolong the failure. STOP WAITING FOR THE USSF TO SOLVE IT!!!!!!

      Imagine if the English FA came out and mandated that all clubs in the EPL play a physical, direct, route 1 style of football that relied on athleticism over skill (basically mandate everyone be Stoke). Do you think the staff at the academies for ManU and Arsenal would drop their approach, their philosophy, and switch over to that immediately? Of course not. What if the FA mandated Spanish style tiki-taka? Still no chance in hell even though Spain has had success.

      Organizing bodies and leagues are solely a mecahnism for competition, and cannot mandate a philosophy. Even the best, most well meaning effort in this area will be rejected by individual clubs like a transplant patient’s body rejecting a perfectly good donor kidney. The real solution will be individual clubs building a brand around executing successful soccer based on their philosophies. Philosophies aligned with the gloabl gold standard that Gary has articulated on this site.

      That which gets measured gets done. In the context of youth soccer in the United States what gets measured? Wins, state cups, college players produced. The quickest path to that in the US is big athletic jungle ball. The US soccer community will evolve when it is forced to by clubs fearful of losing those things because they are shamefully being bitch slapped around the pitch on a regular basis by clubs that are executing a brand of soccer that is alligned with the global gold standard.

      • Miguel says

        Totally agree Kevin. I was more complaining about their lack of trying by the Federations. But if we look to Spain, Netherlands, Germany, their federations and counterpart to USSF had an active role in chaning philosophy. If we keep it at the grass root club level, it may not be as efficient. Pockets of success and large pools of ineptitude. That is why we need them to step in and help shape a gold standard.

        • dr loco says

          “Pockets of success and large pools of ineptitude.”

          This describes most of youth sports in the US. This has very little to do with federations and associations. No ‘gold standard’ is going to solve this problem. It’s more of a social and cultural issue with the youth and American views.

          Solve the problems with baseball, basketball, football first then soccer will be easier.

  19. Miguel says

    It’s like the coaches yelling at players with nothing tactical to offer. Someone offer something tactically meaningful please! Any college coaching event is strictly nothing meaningful to offer.

  20. Kana says

    Quote from Gio dos Santos from interview on
    “In Mexico they didn’t demand you controlled well or they didn’t get mad because of a bad pass,” said dos Santos. “In La Masia they demand perfection. Competition is the core principle.”

    We could change America for Mexico in the quote. The quote is simple but goes to the heart of differences in standard and expectation. I always harp on player id and how we get it wrong. But I also understand limitations of pay to play.

    • says


      This is a way to understand how it is that we can stick with our same training activities.
      Because we want the “execution” in training & games to be perfect. And consistently.

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