How Can You Take World Class Soccer Methods, and Apply Them In Your Environment?

soccer methodologyI think we can all agree that taking what they do elsewhere in the soccer world and applying it here, is not easy.

But the reasons behind that aren’t necessarily what you think.

Perhaps the biggest and least understood reason for the difficulty is interpretation.

You see, reading or witnessing something, and properly interpreting what you read or witnessed, are two entirely different things.

The director of the Ajax youth academy is Jan Olde Riekerink, [...] who spends much of his day walking from field to field, observing. [...] “He is always watching, like a spy,” …

One Sunday in March, I was on the sideline of a game — Ajax’s 15-year-olds matched up against the youth academy of another Dutch professional club — when I noticed Riekerink behind me. He was by himself, bundled into his parka and writing in a small notebook. With the Ajax boys up two goals and dominating the action, I told him I was impressed by their skill. (I was always impressed by the quality of play at De Toekomst.) “Really?” he responded. “To me this is a disaster.”

That is an excerpt from a long form New York Times piece from 2010.

And while everyone stateside was saying how amazing the article was, it seemed as though they missed the single most revealing insight of the whole thing – contained in that excerpt.

The journalist being “impressed”, and the academy director thinking “it’s a disaster”.

It’s an example of just how important context, and a capacity for it, is.

What does this mean for you?

You are in the American soccer environment. You are not at La Masia, or Clairefontaine, or Ajax, or anywhere else.

Of course there is value in reading books, and articles, and quotes, or even going to those places and witnessing sessions and talking to practitioners. All great stuff. All part of the learning process. But it’s just that, a process. Doing those things does not give you the recipe.

The first problem, as we noted above, is a capacity for proper interpretation and context.

The second problem, involves taking what you think you understood, applying it, trying to find out what seems to work, what doesn’t … and then modifying or deleting. This is the trial and error cycle.

Each cycle lasting many months to years! And it never ends (unless you settle).

To think the methodology they apply at those places is directly transferrable to your environment is foolish. Actually, to think one fully understands their methodology from reading and anecdotes is pretty foolish too.

Why their methodology does not apply

Assuming their methodology can be encapsulated in some recipe (which it can’t), you can not just take that recipe and apply it here.

  • You train twice a week, they may be training 4.
  • You have no assistants, they have an entire club of assistants.
  • You have commuter players, they may have some form of residency or ownership.
  • You have parent intrusion, they don’t.
  • You have no first team inspiring your players, they do.

I could go on forever, but you get the idea.


Well, you’ve got two choices.

  1. You change the environment to match theirs.
  2. You morph the methodology.

Good luck with the first. I suggest the second.

But how?

Technical, Tactical, Psychological, Physical

You may be familiar with these four fundamental properties that make up a player. That each are important, that each are linked, and that the challenge is in how to develop each (ie methodology).

A large chunk of 3four3 is dedicated to the following assertion:

The greatest training deficiency our country faces is neither technical nor physical, it is Tactical and Psychological.

It’s the brain.

It’s game understanding, sophisticated decision-making, and in the “psychological” sense … a professional mindset.

So the challenge for our coaches and clubs at any level is in how to get our products as close to our international counterparts in those areas.

How does one extract and properly implement the right components from our international colleagues and apply them here?

After just a couple more articles, we’ll be offering the very basics of our implementation.

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  1. RP17 says

    Still debating that question. How much of soccer is mental? i have settled on about 75%, but I could be talked higher.

  2. STL A-B says

    Nice article. So many topics you touched on. What is high quality soccer? I recall the NYT article and the reason the game was a ‘disaster’ was speed of play…or lack there of.
    Question – when doing set tactical work w/o defenders how do you speed the play? 2 or 3 touch? Eye test? When you implement defenders, how do you ensure there is speed of play?

    To me speed is a multi factorial issue. Comfort in ball and lack of desire/ ‘phychological’ to play fast and make life hard on defending team. If I can get my kids to play faster (or know when select few times ok to play slower) then the development skyrockets.

    • says

      “Question – when doing set tactical work w/o defenders how do you speed the play? 2 or 3 touch? Eye test? When you implement defenders, how do you ensure there is speed of play?”

      This is the art of coaching/training.
      1) Trainer must first be capable of identifying what the capacity of his players are.
      2) If trainer is capable of #1, then he barks at his players to maximize speed of play to their potential.

      • Chad says

        Gary – when you say “bark at”, do you consider this a good thing because that is how I motivate my players during set tactical pieces. Just wondering because barking usually has a bad connotation. I believe it does speed up play and helps them improve making the correct decisions under some sort of pressure. Thanks for any feedback.

  3. Tyler says

    “It’s game understanding, sophisticated decision-making, and in the “psychological” sense … a professional mindset.”

    Getting to that “professional mindset” is the most difficult. There are only a few ways to get to that point…

    1) Find the parents and players that believe in your system and are as passionate, organized, committed, hardworking, dedicated as you are as a coach.
    2) Find those same parents and players and remove the $$$, so they are beholden to your club.
    3) Be the only choice.

    At the end, I think it comes down to the $$$. If the coach/club controls the destiny of the player because they control the $$$… you can instill the professional mindset. Otherwise, what is the carrot that you hold in front of the players and parents to be rewarded with that professional approach?

      • Tyler says

        Exactly STL-A-B… remove the money equation for the parents. Only then will the parents and kids respect the training regimen, the approach and the commitment to stay on the team. But you still need to provide the quality and a path to a potential soccer future.

        • says

          That’s not true.
          Parents ultimately only see through the lens of their kid’s situation.

          Now, you may be able to lock them down in your program if they have no other ‘free’ alternative. But if that’s not the case, and they can be offered free rides elsewhere … you’re back to square one.

          • Tyler says

            Do you think you could have built the success you had with Barcelona USA if the kids had to pay $2000 a year? Plus the cost to travel to Europe and other tournaments?

            I don’t think the free stands on its own…. you still have to provide a quality product. If its free and total garbage, people will bail. If its free and the alternatives are the same quality, they may bail.

            How do you build a program from the ground up, without removing the largest hurdle – the $$$? Maybe you don’t, maybe you can’t. But then you have to work your way into the incumbents… which could take just as long, or longer.

          • says

            That’s not the issue Tyler.
            You stated that $$ was the obstacle to creating a “professional mindset”.

            And I’m saying that is generally not the case.

          • Tyler says

            Ok, I see what you were referring too. Sometimes reading your replies is like reading the bible… and you are the soccer Prophet :).

          • says

            Like I mentioned to Kephern, there’s still a ton for me to learn.
            I’m on the journey too.

            But there are things I have come to understand, and so am capable of teaching.

          • says

            I think we sometimes think money is the problem with the world, but it’s not. It’s simply a tool. Money is the way we support the things that are important to us. If someone is creating something of value for society, they should get paid. Many of my parents would pay more than they do now to have me coach their kids. I have parents that pay double so other kids can play. Why? Cause they see it as valuable and they can see tangible progress in their kids. If someone is a really good youth coach, they should be paid for what they do. If a coach can really help a develop a player, they are providing a really valuable service. I use to think money was the problem, but not so much anymore. Solving problems in american youth soccer is a challenge, but making it free won’t fix anything. We have to become better coaches and take responsibility to better understand the art of coaching.
            Can’t wait for Gary’s coaching curriculum! I’ve been waiting for like 2 years now! lol.

          • VDub says

            Alec – I have to agree with you. I don’t necessarily see money/pay to play as the biggest problem. I would say that the horrific, unintelligent, winning ahead of developing coaching more of a problem. I’m sure that our lack of culture, in the US, is also a major contributor to our lack of success or an identity, as well. I would also think that our scouts/coaches ability to identify “soccer” players is also a hage problem. And finally, the diminishing work ethic our once great nation possessed. Sure, there are a couple great coaches, the soccer culture is slowly growing, a few scouts can ID, and there are still extremely highly motivated individuals, but the combinations and large majority of all of these make for a tremendous impact.

          • PH says

            Gary, do you have any children? This is not a facetious question or meant to pry unnecessarily, but simply to gain some context for your comments regarding the perspective, action, and role of parents and the way in which coaches can interact with them.

      • jesran says

        I believe money is a psychological factor for players too, especially in the US. You have to look at college free rides as money, just to use one small example.

        Why the fever pitch around scholastic football; i.e. dancing girls, bands, high risk behavior, etc? Money.

  4. Some Coach says

    Even if you remove money, why would a 17 year old chooses to training 8-10 hours week and spend another 4 hours, then more hours at his own added to that living the healthy life to become what … a college players that after 4 years he is done, a prof player who makes less that working at any job like a Bar Tender .

    You need to have 2 things: 1- Opportunity cost to play and train should not be too high. The future benefits for success has be tempting, and the percentage should be reasonable. 2- Passion and LOVE to the game (passion that will take you every where).

    • Tyler says

      Passion doesn’t take you everywhere… it blinds you until you either make it or the window of opportunity closes.

      Opportunity cost has to be high, because only then do you get the commitment to establish the right mindset, the professionalism to develop those players that will work hard enough to make it.

    • jesran says

      Some Coach,
      I think this is a very interesting point you bring up about opportunity cost.

      What is the opportunity and the cost for an American kid trying to make it in the soccer world? You are correct that the vast majority make less than a bartender currently, but I think you could also make an argument that opportunity for American players is going up. This is easily quantifiable by adding up all American soccer professional’s salaries and comparing this year’s to last, but I think the opportunity is even larger if you look at the growing pot of money being made off the field; coaching, training, reffing, analyzing, selling your stuff, etc. American soccer is a growth industry. How big and how fast it will grow is anybody’s guess, but I believe it will spurt this summer with World Cup in Brazil. It may sky-rocket it we do really well. It’s been said here and I agree that the youth players have out-grown the coaches here and the improving quality on the field pervading our MNT and MLS will drive growth no matter how bad those institutions may do dumb things to contain it (they will call it “realistic growth” or “maintain profitability”).

      So what are the future growth prospects of bar tending? I’d say that is a saturated market.

      An MLS players strike may seem like an absurd thought right now because most seem like they could be replaced with semi-pros and nobody would know the difference. However, I argue that with every MLS draft and every passing year the $40-50k/year minimum salary does make it look like guys are playing for passion rather than money. Some low salaries seem criminal. This opportunity cost is a major motivator I believe and things are changing is my point.

      • jesran says

        An American Boy Wonder in Barcelona

        “The decision to leave their Los Angeles-area existence was so difficult that the Ledermans went to a life coach to help them sort through the ramifications of their choice. They had jobs and cars and friends and responsibilities. Their children had schools and clubs and teams. “Even people close to us didn’t really understand what we were considering,” Tammy said. “We rented our house. We left our families. We left our lives.”

        Since when is Ben is not a real player?

          • jesran says

            I’m not so sure. The bulk of the article is how everyone in the family justifies what they’ve given up. Even at his young age he’s feeling it. You said it yourself that we need to be realistic about the US environment as it is, not how we want it to be. We are not Catalonians. It is very hard to argue that the single biggest driving force for 313.9 million (2012) Americans is money; that includes the real players amongst us too.

            Why did Ben’s parents move to US from Israel? Why did you move to US? Why did my wife? Why did my grandparents… It’s there in the player’s psychology somewhere. I think it needs to be accounted for.

          • says

            Jesran but if you read that article Ben did not care about money, the family of course considered what the move would meant, but the opportunity itself to live the dream trumps all of that. In fact it shows you how “for real” Ben is for his parents to consider changing their lives. His passion, dedication, and talent drove him there and his family supports him because of that I would assume, don’t know him but I think that be the case.

            A player from El Salvador I brought to Holland 2 years ago didn’t even think about $ at all or as any kind of obstacle or driving force to trying to play in Europe. After the first session with FC Groningen they asked him then 15 yrs old “Why are you here?” He said to become professional and he sacrificed to make all the necessary steps to try to make that happen. Money was not the driving force, the opportunity to be in a top class soccer environment to reach his goal was.

          • Some Coach says

            A kid in El Salvador didnt live in America were money can be made if you work. A kid an America sees people work and work, and people make money and live under the pressure to make money in every hour. Even hip hop singer rap about that !
            The kid you are talking about, again his love to the game that brought him to Holland not his desire to make money. How many American kids truly love soccer to make these sacrifices. VERY FEW .. not soccer mom sons !

          • says

            Players have a dream.
            To play professionally.

            $40k a year in MLS has zero effect on players who have that dream.
            They are not sitting there doing opportunity cost calculations!

            And it is in no way a deterrent to players having the dream in the first place.

            This is yet another MASSIVE myth that needs to be busted.

          • jesran says

            Average yearly salaries:
            National Basketball Association >$5,000,000
            Major League Baseball $3,440,000
            NFL by position
            Quarterback $150 Million
            Running back $100 Million
            Defensive tackle $10.223 Million
            Chinese Super League $1,603,200
            Russian Premier League $7,214,400
            Bundesliga $4,440,480
            Serie A $6,728,000
            Premier League $1,923,840
            Major League Soccer $115,000

            Yes, if it is a myth that “real players” want to be professional athletes in title only then you are right. It is a MASSIVE myth. Good luck.

            Even assassins have to pay the bills.

          • Tom F says

            He just doesn’t get it G. If you truly have that dream you would sign an amateur contract with a pro team, just to play pro. I feel a bit sad for people who don’t understand what the power of that dream can be.

          • jesran says

            I am stuck. Just wanted to keep with the spirit of the Speak Your Mind portion of this blog by supporting my opinion with verifiable fact. I’m ready to move on… one last word though, I believe psychology is perhaps the least explored here or anywhere of the four fundamental properties you mention. There are many other points to support that notion that I’d like to make, but I thought the $ motivator made it most poignantly. Fair enough… moving on.

          • says


            man keep sharing your opinion but I think what we are trying to convey that the players who are “1st” trying to become professional just want to get the opportunity and to be signed. Financial is secondary to how their career pans out.

            Take Tino Costa who is now at Spartak Moscow, left Argentina for Guadalupe! Made his way through their to France and finally Valencia in Spain and now is in the Russian League He didn’t weigh opportunity costs etc he had a dream, drive, and desire to become professional. The financial side became important after getting his first deal I assume when then yes players must weigh what signing with which club means to your career, salary, long term, etc….

            Remember many of these players come from backgrounds where this is “THE ONLY MAJOR CHANCE” they got. Coming from these backgrounds makes you analyze becoming professional different, not all mind you but a lot come from families who don’t have a lot. So the CHANCE outweighs everything. They have the belief in themselves to try even if there’s a big chance of failure. That does not deter them nor a salary amount.

            Not to change the topic too much a lot of US Soccer has been built off of a demographic that tries to weigh whether trying to go professional or not is a good decision, while a lot of countries throughout the world go for the talent that the chance to make it outweighs everything. If we can move to finding and focusing those who think like this we will start to unlock America’s true potential.

          • John Pranjic says

            I’d rather get paid $115,000 playing a professional sport than make $10 an hour answering phones. I know that’s a dangerous thing to say and we shouldn’t try to justify the low salaries, but in all honesty, a lot of guys are SO passionate about the sport and would be playing it for free anyways. Fuck- I coach for $3,000 a year. I think I deserve way more than that! But it doesn’t stop me from me coaching.

          • Tyler says

            My brother played pro baseball after college. 14th round in the draft, $23k signing bonus and $900 a month. 3 years of play. He loved baseball and played for the eventual dream. Then the passion dissipates because the motels, moving between minor league teams and life got to the point where he made the decision to move on to other things. He’s a UC Berkeley alum, so there were other opportunities. He didn’t care, he played for the love of the game and the dream of being in the show. All of the guys he played with had the dream. Some knew they wouldn’t go past college, but they worked out and played hard… for the love of the game. If they didn’t have this love, they would have focused on school and not even bothered playing the game. But a day on the pitch is a better day than a day sitting in a cubicle updating your facebook status.

          • Some Coach says

            He loves Baseball. How many in America loves soccer as much !
            I bet there are many more players that would do what your brother did (for baseball, football, basketball) than soccer.

          • Tyler says

            Thousands Some Coach…. look at all the kids playing soccer in college. Why play on a Div. III team? Or even a Div. 1 team unless it is for pure love of the game? An analytical approach to the decision process would have you balance the opportunity costs and, unless you had a scholarship, you wouldn’t give the time or effort needed to play. My brother told me, if someone asked him to play baseball or soccer today, he’d play soccer. We loved soccer, but our family history was rooted in baseball – so he had the game in his blood, the understanding, the approach and technique from an early age – so there was more opportunity/recognition in baseball. That type of history is changing. I’d say the Kleibans are the exact opposite, their history is rooted in soccer. They have an appreciation for the game at a level and a nuance that we read this blog to understand…. they’ve taken that passion/nuance/understanding and applied a huge dose of intelligence to develop their worldview. And lucky for us, they want to share it, challenge us to how we think and give many of us a chance to develop our understanding and appreciation of the beautiful game.

          • apmullaly says

            I don’t think its as far off as some here might believe. In my house the number one sport watched is soccer. The only sport my oldest (14) follows is soccer. He’s on the soccer reddit almost all the time. He’ll watch Barcelona v. whoever on whatever website he can pull up. We discuss whats going on in game, quality of play, players, recognition of game situations, etc.

            Here’s the kicker. We’re just your typical suburban family (half irish half mexican), but with no historical background in soccer beyond me playing in socal youth leagues (and rec adult leagues). I know lots of kids/families like this. Ask them about baseball or basketball and they could care less. American football still holds their attention, but for my kids soccer is what they love.

  5. Bryan says

    When assessing talent for your roster, how much weight do you give to understanding the players family culture and if it will align itself with the “professional mindset”? In my trial and error this seems to be the single most important factor and the foundation for developing the complex decision making processes. A family culture willing and ready to push back against the values of the status quo.

    • says

      “When assessing talent for your roster, how much weight do you give to understanding the players family culture and if it will align itself with the “professional mindset”?”

      Pretty much zero.
      It is the coach and staff’s job to inculcate the culture of the program.

      • Bryan says

        Trying to wrap my head around this more completely. “If we’re talking about player development, parents dominate the rhetoric and most influence the value systems of their kids.” – from your 3 main cultures post. It seems to me that some families will always look for rationalizations and consistently hedge their beliefs against the real nature of growing skill. Some are more open to evolving their worldview and some evolve what they see to fit the worldview they already have.
        Is your eye for talent sharp enough such that if a player gains your favor, his family must already be closer to sharing some of the values of your team culture? Or can the values/culture of the parent and player be changed by being great at what you do?

        • says

          “Is your eye for talent sharp enough such that if a player gains your favor, his family must already be closer to sharing some of the values of your team culture? Or can the values/culture of the parent and player be changed by being great at what you do?”

          Great questions Bryan.

          I think it’s a bit of both …

          * First, it seems there’s a correlation between the type of player we really like, and the family culture. Usually the family culture has elements of being hard on the kids and hyper-critical. Parents who we find to be ‘softies’ … their kids generally don’t have it.

          * And it’s kind of a yes and no with your second question. The values/culture of the parent and player can be influenced by being a charismatic leader and successful. Notice I said “influenced”, not changed. Sometimes it’s influenced enough, but sometimes not.

          • Some Coach says

            Most of our soccer players are softies or “soccer mom kids”. Even some US Academy players or national pool players.
            If you have access to player that are not softies so thats a matter of where you live and coach … our soccer future depends on you !

  6. says

    Thank you Gary, for me personally this has been and still is the biggest challenge facing our club. We now have players getting chances in Europe and our methods are being polished everyday, and I’m questioning myself more now even though I feel I know more, but now I want more to exceed the success we’ve had. And that is where the trial and error is really hard work as we move forward.

    This post really makes me analyze our planning and how do we plan to achieve our goals.

  7. Demosthenes says

    First time posting here! I’ve followed the blog and traded a few tweets with you over time, Gary. Currently working my way forward from your earliest blog posts. As a 25 year-old recent grad who is just discovering my passion for the coaching side of the game, I must say this blog and most of you that comment on its posts are truly a breath of fresh air.

    I’m currently faced with the opportunity to coach at the high school level and/or possibly take over DOC duties at a very small local club. Needless to say, I’m well aware of the limitations ($$, number of players, talent, infrastructure) of my relatively small Midwest environment. Regardless, there exists a small but passionate football following here, with a history of past success (mostly high school) which has been empowering future soccer players for a decade or so now. However, old stories are beginning to run thin and coaching changes in all levels of the community are about to change. I feel that not only is bringing this type of footballing knowledge to my area smart, I feel it’s the right thing to do. Most American’s haven’t been given the right chance to love the game like I (we) do, and that’s because they haven’t had the chance to see and *understand* the game as it’s meant to be played.

    I’m in a great position to make wholesale changes to an entire football culture here, and I hope to apply much of what I’m learning here (and elsewhere), along with my own personal experiences playing the game. Keep the faith, Gary, and I’ll do the same!

    • Crollaa says

      I fell into a similar situation a few years ago: moved at age 23 to a tiny town in the middle of nowhere of 13,000 people with almost no one with any soccer knowledge. A guy I met at the sports bar (while I was watching a soccer game) asked me to help him coach his rec team and we just happened to land the son of the association’s president. At the end of that rec season, I was asked to take charge of the BU14 club team and am now DOC as well as assistant coach at the small university. The lack of other soccer minds meant that I was basically given license to do whatever I wanted with the program and have been implementing possession-based ideals while learning the nuances of coaching as I grow to understand how to get an extremely small and unskilled talent pool to understand the tactics.

      It’s been a long process and don’t expect it to immediately look like the videos posted of the Kleibans’ teams. Understand the situation you’re in and the limitations of the program you’re inheriting. You can’t just flip the switch and they’ll automatically buy in and start playing possession soccer. We’re still a bit trigger happy on through-balls and our speed of play is still slow, but at least we can build out of the back now and look for combination play.

      For a point of reference about what can be done with an extremely limited talent pool, here’s a video of my boys (in white) last spring after 15 months under my coaching (Wind sounds in the microphone!): Clearly not great, but the elements of possession soccer are starting to show more frequently. (only my starting left wing, left back, and right back are in their regular positions because we beat this opponent 7-2 and 5-1 the season before and my keeper, playing center forward in this video, injured his hand). I just wanted to encourage you to not get frustrated when the culture and playing style of the kids doesn’t change right away and also to stick with your plan of developing a possession-based system.

      Another word of caution: be extremely wary of your mentors. I had one for the first 6 months or so who was “the soccer guy” in town and coached jungle ball. Took me a while of reading this blog and comments to clearly define what I want to be doing in each phase in each part of the field and I realized the “mentor” was just awful.

  8. Coach W says

    My question is: How do you (Gary, other readers) train the psychological/cognitive? In my experiences, I’ve found it best to use exercises that utilize multiple goals/gates which players must pass through. Giving the players multiple options forces not only the ball handler to make a decision, but the other players to make a decision as well. I can’t pass through a gate if no one is there, therefore the other player must move into position. I’ve found that in youth sports coaches do too much dictating, calling out each pass, or shouting out the next move. However, with developing the players’ cognitive abilities he/she will have those for the rest of his/her playing career and will greatly see more long-term benefits.

    I’ve also found it important to change the shape and dimensions of the playing area to be beneficial. Doing this puts the players in an unfamiliar environment and forces them to find alternative solutions. I remember as a youth, my coach made us play 4 v. 4 in a grid 18 yds x 6 yds. Although a bit difficult at times is forced us to move off the ball rather than resorting to longer passes. Players need to see the game in different ways!

    Lastly, putting maximum and minimum touch restrictions on players helps too. My personal favorite is mandatory 2 touch (can’t take one and can’t take 3. must take 2 every time you touch the ball) Doing this mandates players to think ahead as to where their first touch will take them and where they plan on playing the next pass. Most kids in the US can only see the next step, but if you are able to get them to see 2 and 3 steps ahead it creates a much more dynamic environment and it enforces a faster speed of play.

    • John Pranjic says

      I’m not sure if adding goals and neutral players or changing the dimensions of a grid is going to help train the psychological aspect that Gary referred to.

      Mourinho is a master in this category. And it’s not because of the way he lays out his cones or which drills he chooses. It’s much more (personal) than that.

        • John Pranjic says

          It’s hard to sum it up in a post, man. I don’t think I can do the topic true justice.

          I’ll give you MY quick interpretation though…

          How you interact with your team, and with your players on a personal level, is going to determine a lot. The words you choose, how you use them, the tone, the timing. etc.. Knowing what to say and/or do in order to extract the absolute most out of your player, and team, without breaking them. Knowing what will challenge them and what won’t and when to implement or remove those things.

          This is a topic that encapsulates sooooooo much more, but in my opinion, the relationship between coach and player, and coach and team, is a crucial ingredient when talking about psychological development. Much more so than changing dimensions of a grid and adding in more ways to score.

          • Coach W says

            Very interesting points. I’ve never considered that. The best coach I ever had very rarely interacted with us on a personal level, albeit it was probably his repudiation of the system, but nonetheless the man knew what he was doing. We did the same exercises a few times per week while he sat and watched up play. At the beginning of the exercise he told us how to be successful in it and that was it. If we were performing incorrectly he typically became agitated, but at the end of the day we were better players. Needless to say he was from the former Soviet Union and was in his late 60s, so his culture and coaching background was a bit different than what most are accustomed to in the States these days.

    • says

      The psychological component has nothing to do with what you’re talking about.

      The psychological component is about the character of the player.
      And so this is not confused with some softy interpretation of ‘character’ a la mother Teresa, make sure you also include this:
      We want mentally strong, hungry, and determined assassins on the field.

      That of course, on top of the obvious things like dedication, leadership, and all around professionalism.

      Now, how does one train that?
      Well, for starters, who the family is, has an effect.
      But on the training grounds, the coach and staff, set the tone and culture.

      The coach must be capable of connecting with the players on a DEEP level.

      • John Pranjic says

        I’m going to steal an idea from one of your older posts…

        You have to connect on a deep enough level and build enough trust with your players that they will “go to war” for you.

      • Muttonquad says

        As a parent trying to teach my kids about responsibility and making tough choices, I am ecstatic when a coach sets the bar high and imposes consequences for players’ lack of commitment or professionalism. Looking through the lens of my kids experience:

        One coach my son had a while back just seemed married to a certain starting lineup and certain players. One time, one starting player forgot the correct game socks. There was a scramble with coaches and parents running around trying to find socks and the kid lying on his back on the ground with two coaches putting a sock on each leg. It looked like they were changing his diaper and was completely ridiculous! All so he could be on the field for the starting whistle. Meanwhile there were perfectly competent teammates on the bench with all of their gear on, ready to go. What did those coaches teach the kid who forgot his socks? That he is more important than everyone else on the team and it is basically okay for him to forget his gear. Arrangements were made where he did not have to come to every practice because they thought they could not win without him. The coaches were insecure about starting and playing games without that kid. In the long run, they really did not teach him things he needed to learn and they fostered a dysfunctional team culture.

        A different coach this year did not start players who showed up five minutes before gametime or missed practices, no matter who it was. He did not seem to make a big deal about it, but it was just how he handled those things. It sent a message to the whole team. I believe the players who were late got their acts together and it sure seems like it motivated everyone to work harder.

        Actions have to have consequences. If a player cannot get the message, it should tell the coach something about any kid who does not comply to expectations. If every kid knows they are expendable, they are going to work really hard to try to stay in the game.

        When people talk about players burning out, I wonder if that might be due to situations like the first one, where the coaches were basically putting a lot of the weight of the team onto one or two kids rather than on themselves and the entire team.

        • Kana says

          I’ve had similiar experiences @Muttonquad. It’s all about winning, even at young ages. But as you point out, many of these coaches never develop, they just put in biggest, strongest, fastest to get a “W” and could care less about philosophy, culture, environment, accountability, development, etc. In fact, this mindset is rampant.

      • dr loco says

        “We want mentally strong, hungry, and determined assassins on the field.”

        You just eliminated suburban America. Watch out for all the soccer moms coming after you!

  9. Scoty says

    “Parents ultimately only see through the lens of their kid’s situation.” I’m not sure if you have that one in your page of soccer truths, but it should be! It is so true.

    The other thing you do not mention very often is the coaches mindset. When you and your brother decided to go after the gold standard in soccer, you completely opened your mind and ears to new ideas. You traveled to Barcelona, you studied, you implemented, you tweaked and kept improving. Many coaches that I have run into at the super clubs, have closed minds. They have defaulted to simply recruiting the best players and the product on the field reflects that….

  10. pg 19 says

    I’ve done this quite a bit, not just with this site, but in general of material I’ve picked up over the years. Sometimes what wasn’t applicable or didn’t make sense a year or few ago, has relevance now and is useful. Just listening to the Podcast from last year of the Kliebans being interviewed. Some of the “prophecies” being outlined then are coming to fruition now. Specifically the idea that an MLS team can not develop a possession oriented philosophy due to lack of players capable of that style of play and that Porter would be the one to prove otherwise.

  11. Kana says

    This is article brings a smile to my face. Like deja vu. I’ve been having these disucssions with my son past 2-3 months.

    Too many players (especially at U16 and older) never grasp (or not made aware) that they need to play quicker, think faster, be tactically astute, and be psycologically focused to comprehend what it takes to get to higher levels. Thinking, awareness. The brain is a player’s #1 weapon.

    Most players go age group to age group thinking things are static, or simply being oblivous to it and play as they did at U12. They never make the transition from what I’ll call playing a young / naieve / adolescent game to professional soccer mindset where things are more demaning. I belive the catalyst is in the psycological. The lucky few are awoken, but many aren’t. Much of this comes down to coaching, letting players understand what it takes to get to higher levels, both tactically and psycologically.

  12. Chris Swope says

    Ever since the “U11 Possession” video was published, coaches around the world have been asking the question – how in the world can I get my kids to play like that? I think this blog post and a few ideas in the comments above come as close as I’ve read here to answering this question. You may have to search for it, but if you’re ready the secret formula that many of us have been missing is finally becoming crystal clear…..Bravo Gary.

  13. dr loco says

    Gary, you do excellent work putting concepts on virtual paper.

    Technical, Tactical, Psychological, Physical. From my experiences everything is the same across all youth team sports expect the tactical. All coaches can learn from this.

  14. Kana says

    Your piece above about Jan Olde Riekerink from Ajax is a key item many of us overlook. He was upset becasue he has a gold standard and expects to see it at all times. I personally believe youth coaches are too lenient on players. They see poor decision making, senseless movement, bad timing, reaction instead of awarensss and anticipation . . . and they are ok with it. Never get mad. Don’t deman better. It’s what Giovanni Dos Santos talked about in the quote I cut / pasted a few weeks back. He basically said the coaches at La Masia got pissed, had high expectations / standards, and in Mexico they never got upset.

    Psycological not only applies to a player; it applies to the coach and the club!

    We don’t need to be at Ajax, La Masia, Clairefontaine for coaches to set set and demand higher expectations. It’s a mindset . . . psycological. We / They “setttle” for less. Far less!

  15. Kana says

    I think this is for a different post, but wanted to broach a related subject. The four fundamentals is player-centric. But it doesn’t address other critical factors to enable proper trajectory for the player: purpose, coaching, player id (in that order).

    Try as we may, we couldn’t have went to the moon if Kennedy didn’t set the expectation, create the vision, set into motion the technology and engineers / physicists, and identify the people with the “right stuff”.

    I’m trying to think of player development holistically. We have to start with a purpose (i.e., the club, the coach, the player). Is the purpose to develop professional players or a paid activity or something in between (where is where I think most USSDA clubs are). I think it’s debatable if the philosophy comes next or after? I can see it both ways.

    From there the DoC identifies right coaches. And then critical to it all is player id. The choice of players HAS TO support the vision, the playing philosophy. This is an area pay to play falls short. In Gary’s example about La Masia, Ajax and so on, those clubs can choose the crème de la crème. The pinnacle of youth soccer, USSDA clubs, can’t hold a candle to that.

    So we’re back to a situation where we can’t optimize the simplistic equation: elite player = quality coach + quality player. You could add in environment and philosophy and maybe a few other critical variables to the equation, but unnecessary as I believe you get the point.

    Most of what we discuss on this forum is gold standard stuff. But sad reality is 99% of us are in copper, bronze, silver level in terms of coaching, player profile, environment. As Gary pointed out, it’s more difficult to change the environment. But what I’m saying is that changing the methodology takes us but so far. The 50% solution. But it’s a start. But what I’m also saying is clubs and coaches (and even players) can set their own expectations and try to impact the environment as much as they can. Maybe not replicate La Masia, but at least be in the neighborhood and try to slowly walk towards those golden doors.

    • Jose says

      Good points Kana. This is from Soccer Nation on Tab Ramos, US National Technical Director:

      “Tab is the ideal person to fulfill this very important role,” said U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. “He’s been with the Senior National Team on a regular basis in order to understand our holistic approach and be able to spread the messages through our Youth National Teams as well the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. Bringing Tab on as Youth Technical Director is an important step to continue connecting the dots between all areas of player development, including coaching education, parent education, the college game and our grass roots.”

      I don’t what holisitc approach he has? Maybe I’m too far removed (we are in a USSDA side), but seems awfully quiet from up top. I don’t see any dots being connectd from marble towers either. I like your holistic approach better.

  16. Some Coach says

    Point blank 90% of our coaches and clubs are useless and need be revamped/ recreated.
    Are we almost done with one more cycle ..?

    p.s. I came across many coaches with 10-15 years of coaching that are realizing they are part of the problem and looking to either retire/quit or CHANGE!

    • dr loco says

      Few coaches realize or even consider they are part of the problem. Coaching in general is not based on merit but entitlement and favoritism…very similar to player selection. The cycle gets repeated across America in all sports. The ‘soccer mom’ culture exists in every suburban sport.

      Just started HS soccer and it’s jaw dropping. I basically have to pretend I don’t know coaching just to ‘fit’ in. I guess it’s part of the initiation into the brotherhood.

      • John Pranjic says

        ^^^ I feel the same way!!!! hahaha I’ve never heard someone else say it though. When I talk to other coaches in my league or with the referees or my school administrators… I have to dumb it down so much I feel like I’m not even talking soccer anymore.

      • Jose says

        “Few coaches realize or even consider they are part of the problem. Coaching in general is not based on merit but entitlement and favoritism…very similar to player selection.”

        Great points Dr. Loco! My son is U16 USSDA and I can tell you player selection is not based on a playing philosophy. It’s based on factors such as size, aggressiveness, height. I look at my son’s team and it’s hodgepodge of talent. No team cohesion. Some play possession, others jungle ball, others over dribble, others can’t read the game, one kid is clumsy but very big so he plays. It’s like wer’e U8 and take all comers. Why is it so difficult for a coach to actually have a style of play and select those players who best play that system?

        • dr loco says

          Why is it so difficult for a coach to actually have a style of play?

          Because that would actually take a lot of work to plan, deliver, and evaluate each training session. Take 1.5hr session, to be effective you need to plan for the same amount of time 1.5hr. Now transportation to and from session is about 1hr. That means a coach needs to speed 4hr per session focused on the sport. On top of that you need continual self-improvement 2hr per day. On average a good coach needs to spend 18hrs per week on training a team that only practices twice a week. Add a game on weekends and that is 20+hrs a week.

          That’s a lot of SACRIFICE.

    • apmullaly says

      A lot of coaches with 10-15 years think they know what the hell they are doing. They’ll be glad to tell you how their team beat that Premier team in some tournament (as if that somehow validates their useless coaching). Just listen to them for a few minutes as they rant about players playing their position, or yelling at little Jimmy that “you’re on defense” and you realize they don’t understand soccer at all. To them its all about banging the ball up the channel and looking for that fast kid on top outrunning the defenders to get a chance on goal. If the ball isn’t flying forward on the second or third touch they’re yelling at their kids to send it over the top. God forbid some makes an intelligent run out of the back line, or plays the ball back to the goalie. “That’s just not safe.”

      I know I don’t have the answers, but I do know my team tries to play the ball out of the back, tries to connect on multiple passes, tries to keep the ball on the ground and while we get beat by teams with better athletes, we sure as hell play better soccer than they do.

  17. Mario says

    Soccer is #1 in my house! And I don’t care how popular it is in USA. Irrelevant! Forget soccer, you should never pursue a career solely on money. You spend 40-years unhappy. Do what you enjoy. We all hae to make life choices.

    When I was 20 and in the Navy, I dreamed if I made X I’d be living large. I now make way more than that and guess what, I’m not living large. My lifestyle adjusted to my salary. And guess what, I’m not happy. I should have chased my dreams, but was too young and stupid ot know better. I’ve sworn to not make my son have same fate. I can’t trade it, I’m stuck in the path I chose.

    When you’re young, unattached, without bills and family, you can and should pursue your dreams. If you dont’ make professional soccer, so what. At least you tired! My son wants to chase his professional dreams. Practices on his own. Studies tactics. Understand the sacrifices. Doesn’t care about the salary in MLS. He’s chasing a dream. The American way of $$$ driving every decision isn’t everyone’s American dream. People have other dreams driven by passion, love of something other than $$$.

    So many on this forum cutting short dreams and aspirations for a once in a lifetime shot and not being normal. Why? Becasue they do ROI calculations and go safe route. Ugh, how this pisses me off!

  18. Mario says

    Making pro is limited to those one-percenters. You can bet those are thoe assassins with hunger, desire for love of the game. The 99% doing ROI calculations don’t matter. For them, it’s a paid recreational teenage activity. They are free to crunch numbers, stock shelves, sell insurance, work at the DMV, and so on. They can go through life being normal never chasing a dream. That’s their choice.

  19. Mario says

    And sure, some never make pro. But at least they go through life w/o regrets. One of the worse, continually nagging things in life is to look back and have regrets. Regrets you didn’t have the balls to chase your dreams. You chose to be a pansy and be normal. Be a robot.

  20. Mario says

    Chasing a dream is different mentality than chasing dollars. That goes for soccer or any non-standard profession where you can’t just apply from a want ad.

    It’s like we need different layers of youth clubs. Rec, AYSO, competitive, USSDA, and a new category called pro-centric (MLS academies fits here I think). The vast majority, if not all USSDA clubs are NOT pro-centric. Competitive soccer is not the same connotation as “pro-centric soccer”. It’s a philosophy, a psychological mindset.

    I’m defining pro-centric as one that has vision, philosophy, environment, player id, coaching aligned to a professional standard. The goal / purpose is to develop professional level players. Period! A standard higher than college. This DOES NOT describe USSDA clubs.

    But this gets back to the American mentality of college being the next step. We are stuck with that standard. It’s our reality, our environment. So I guess we are stuck with mediocrity and will never be on par with the great footballing countries.

    So with that said, I’m done because nothing will ever change in a meaningful way because we are paralyzed by our own weight. Trapped by our environment to eternal mediocrity. That’s why teams like what the Kleibans coach are as rare as Iridium.

    • dr loco says

      Yes! “Chasing a dream”

      What youth players in America have to sacrifice to be on a team?

      What do coaches have to sacrifice to coach a team and continually improve?

      Without sacrifice and the pain involved what are you chasing?

    • Paul says

      I agree on pro-centric club. I see it no different than a typical competitive or USSDA club. Just created differently to serve a different market. Different purpose and goals as you say.

      They would have to be up front that the environment is about pro-centric development, high standards, expectations and not about 50/50 play time (has to be earned through competition and selection of the “best” based on a philosophy and playing style and the players who can best perform to those expectations). Players have one-year deals. Missing practice actually has teeth, meaning they don’t start or limited playing time. Superstars showing lack of effort sit the bench. Training built on core of building from the back, possession as a team, attacking as a team, attacking from the back, set tactical play, pattern passing. Be clear that parents need to leave development to coaches. Don’t complain about Johnny or you will be asked to leave the team. Cold and harsh, but what we need. Pro-centric in the true sense.

      It would also have to be a small club to limit to best players. Avoid 3, 4, 5 teams per age that only to increase revenue. One team per age, two players per position.

  21. Paul says

    We’re at one of those huge clubs with thousands of players, multiple teams. Agree on limiting to one team per age with two players per position. Majority of SA and Euro clubs work this way. You feel privileged, special, chosen. The few, the proud! This affects a player’s psyche. Knows he’s in a special place and works that much harder to stay. Parents tend to fall into place and know their kid is in right place. That sort of environment is only for the passionate ones who are looking to turn pro.

    I like the idea of a pro-centric club. Wish there were actually one we could actually tryout for. Maybe some coaches will smarten up and break away from the Wal-Mart clubs and address the simmering niche market no one has tapped into.

    • Coach Miguel says

      Youth clubs (non MLS academies), big or small, are simply conveyor belts pumping out soccer players and collecting cash (yes, that means USSDA clubs too and dare I say my club too). Not one produces footballers. Not one has the environment to develop footballers. Not one has focus to develop professional players. Why? We’re not invested in players future. We don’t get anything if we develop a professional type player. No one intrenally or externally is pushing, challenging us to develop professional players and create a pro-centric environment. So we settle. This is true of all clubs in youth soccer, just a handful of exceptions like it sounds like Kephern and the Kleibans are doing.

      • Coach Miguel says

        When you have a coach like the Kleibans and their FC Barcelona club, they don’t settle (an assumption as I don’t know them). They try to coach and develop as they talk about on 3Four3. Even if they are 5% better than the norm, they stand out like a neon sign. They out perform others on the pitch. Being a mere 5% better than the huge pile stuck at the average, makes you look amazing. So many in this country are settling. Being average. Top playes and coaches and clubs are by definition, not normal. In USA they are literally rare hybrids in soccer’s version of Darwinism. Mutants, but in a good way.

  22. Coach Miguel says

    No matter the country I’ve been to, they think of footballers in a certain way and I think that concept has not taken root in USA. We need to move from suburban soccer player mentality to a footballing mentality. Clubs and coaches also need to make the transition. A footballer is someone who is tactically smart, understands movement and shape and timing, technically confident, athletically competitive, self-determined, sees football as a lifestyle or a way of life, is passionate about making it to a first team at the highest levels, willing to sacrifice to get there, and has a bit of cockiness and self-belief in himself. He has guile, cunning, knows the dark arts of defending and attacking. Basically he has the psychological, technical, tactical make-up to be a well prepared warrior on the pitch. The environment the club and coach create goes a long way to achieving this. The clearest distinction is when we go to Mexico (we’ve played against Pachuca and, Tigres, Monterrey academy). Those kids are footballers. Most American kids play soccer, with major difference being tactical smarts and psychological mindset of what it takes to be a professional. The expectation level is higher for player and coach. There is a difference but I may not be explaining it well. It’s an article I’m looking forward to Gary posting.

    • Jim says

      Yes, coaches and clubs need to instill the footballer mentality. Our U14 USSDA coach here in SoCal is so bad, he needs 3 promotions to classify as a dumb ass. Doesn’t teach tactics. Way too defensive. But the sad part is most of the coaches we’ve had are not much better. And the other sad part is maybe 60–80% of the parents are clueless about proper football. Don’t know the wool is being pulled over their eyes and the $2K is worth it. I”m not better, because I know better and can;t do a darn thing. My son thinks he’s wasting a season, and he’s not going to quit. Complain and there’s drams. “Shut up and pay, and leave the malpractice to me.”

  23. dr loco says

    “The greatest training deficiency our country faces is neither technical nor physical, it is Tactical and Psychological.”

    Coaching Fundamentals:
    During the competitive season, TACTICAL practice should be the primary focus with an emphasis on improving anaerobic systems.

    Sounds like our coaches never learned the fundamentals.

    • Tim says

      Dr. Loco, please read Coach Miguel’s last post 50 times this weekend and then wake up Monday morning with this very thought stuck in your head. I think very well said and the major problem we face and will face in this country. Dr. Loco and the many like him want to teach “soccer” to players of the game of soccer. You want to help kids better understand how to play their hobby. This is very nice of you but you won’t create a single new footballer because of your efforts, know that! I’ve worked very hard to help instill the “footballer” mentality in my son. We really talk about the money involved in the sport. He understands it but has NEVER been a driving force in his pursuit of professional soccer.
      The parents on this blog and in this country are asking their children to define Opportunity cost every day. They themselves tell the kid a bartender makes more money than ……….
      and then wonder why their child loses interest. The footballer mentality has little to do with Tactical soccer like Dr. Loco and his kind believe it does.
      The below statement is a joke and nothing to with creating a footballer. You are spending way to much time on the analysis of the problem. You read, read, read, read, and never do, do , do.
      ” During the competitive season, TACTICAL practice should be the primary focus with an emphasis on improving anaerobic systems”
      Do you really think a team full of “revenge of the nerds” type kids with great tactical knowledge would stand a chance against a few “footballers” with the same tactical knowledge? Not a fu&*ing chance!!!!
      Creating true “footballers” should be our main focus as a country.

      • Crollaa says

        Obviously there is some perfect threshold where the balance of tactical acumen and physical ability are maximized as total soccer ability (as seen in a player like Xuxuh). It is extremely difficult to verbalize exactly where that is, especially at the youth levels where physical development varies so widely, even within a single team. Most of us who follow this blog lean toward the “tactical acumen” side of things more than the establishment who value “physical ability” far higher. I generally am left with a bad taste in my mouth after reading posts of dr. loco, but I agree with him on this point.

      • dr loco says

        Tim, I don’t know what to tell you. You seem like a delusional parent who is obsessed with his kid becoming a ‘footballer’.

        I have mentioned before that 99% of kids are spoiled brats who participate in extracurricular activities as a hobby.

        My goal as a coach is to actually teach the players I get to work with regardless of their level. I don’t care if they are dorks or not. It is not my intention to create professional players but I do try to use scientific, professional methods. I’m far better than most coaches in my area. Perhaps if there were a merit-based system I might one day work with top players but that is not a requirement for me.

        As far as I can tell you’re just a parent who doesn’t know much about player development nor coaching. I actually implement training sessions and deliver results not just pretend to know.

        ” During the competitive season, TACTICAL practice should be the primary focus with an emphasis on improving anaerobic systems”

        Is taken verbatim from a basic coaching course that very few coaches have even bothered to take.

        Creating true “(fill in the blank)” should be our main focus as a country.

        Please wake up to the reality of your environment. It is much easier to change your methodology instead of trying to force it.

        • Coach Miguel says

          Less than ~1% of players want to turn pro and in the right environment. Only the lucky few are here. Players who aren’t there are on the wrong side of Matters of Circumstance. I think this is where Tim and many on this site want to be and are working towards.

          ~10% want to turn pro and have the skills and desire, but are in wrong environment. None of us want to be here.

          ~85% + are paid activity and / or not the skill or desire to get to pro. Dr. Loco territory. This is not a slight on him, just where he chooses to operate.

          • dr loco says

            For the record I don’t deliberately choose to operate there and all my coaching is on a volunteer basis. I’m working my way up but unfortunately I have no ladder.

            This is beautiful:
            “Maybe we aren’t developing players after all, but we’re developing coaches and through it, players are being developed”

            It is all about me and my desire to deliver a quality product that I can be proud of on the field.

        • Armando says

          I’m continuing to compile Gary’s articles for my own refernce. I found the following last night related to the footballing mentality (I think Coach Miguel and TIm are correct and their views align with Gary’s):

          Recreation: This does not mean the ‘rec soccer community’ – as in reserved for AYSO or its analogues. No. This could include anyone, anywhere throughout the soccer pyramid. From those having a role in Bronze level club to Development Academy, to college, to MLS, to the National Teams themselves. And to any organization and its supporters. What we’re talking about here is a state of mind. That, in and of itself, will be reflected in what your product is, and who it’s for.

          Professional: If you apprentice under a master violinist, you go to reach the maximum at the violin. Again, you go to learn the god damn violin! You don’t go for mathematics, morality, or treat it as some extra-curricular activity. It is the curriculum! It is the passion!

          The professional mindset carries an insatiable apetite for the peak. You don’t constantly hedge your bet, or console yourself with rationalizations.

          Here is where we have a severe problem in the soccer community. FAR GREATER than 99% at any level fall in the recreation camp, and can’t seem to distinguish between the two. Most don’t even recognize, or want to recognize, this line – let alone explore it. I can accept that. What I can’t accept is when the recreation mindset pollutes the discussion and policies within what should be an unwavering commitment to quality pro-player development. That’s a huge problem and reason for this country’s mediocrity.

  24. Coach S says

    The answer to your initial question is fundamentally easy. “Start by assembling a 100% committed group of players and families.”

    The problem with this scenario is that this does not speak to 99% of us in “our environment”. However, ultimately we can take world class methods and apply them where ever we want. It’s the results that will differ. Understand, things become relatively easy if you are benefited with the opportunity to train athletes who are willing to be “students” of the game. But the unfortunate reality is, in America, most are not. So yes I agree, it is “mental” or psycho-social like USSF like to call it. But more of a fundamental matter of we need to nurture their willingness to become students.

  25. Coach Miguel says

    You’re right Coach S, most are not students of the game. Go to practice and that’s it. The Tigres kids for example, they watch olders and first team train. They go to club first team matches. They become students of the game without knowing it becasue it’s a way of life. Most kids I coach in USA are weekend warriors with 1 or 2 practices sprinked in during the week. No immersion in soccer culture. A simple thing as getting a coach to bring his team to a college or MLS game goes far. Asking them to watch a La Liga game on TV or a WC qualifier and talk about what they see. A subtle way to make them footballers.

    • Tim says

      The “weekend warrior” is exactly what we’re dealing with at a national level. At what age should we stop asking the player to watch a La Liga game or WC qualifier? If it doesn’t interest them to watch at the age of 13/14 then it’s barely a hobby to them anymore. I’ve debated with parents about this subject many times. Some encourage their kids to watch other sports on tv because they’re always around soccer, they think it’s soccer overload. Sad!

  26. Maradona says

    Would like to go further into the article to really help some of this kids, awareness, guessing corporal expressions of the other teams players to recuperate balls as soon as possible to have possession of the ball …once again, know about building spaces with and without the ball!!! WHEN do we have the next one!!!!

  27. Some Coach says

    Some of the coaches in this country are coaching because coaching is like playing Play Station.
    They think there is a cheat or a system or short cut that can help win games. They thrive wins in the weekend to boost their ego. Like kids playing Fifa, they kick it to Messi and dribble, the coaches kick it to Johnny and yell go go.
    Then they go home and read soccer, and they think lets copy Barcalona, 4-3-3, pass the ball, they do that in training, but in games they yell to kick it. Some spend more time and go to coachingcourse to boost his ego an walk with a USSF title over his head. Filling the emptiness !

    They dont give a bleep about the game or the kids.

    From our spoiled kids, to our jack a** coaches, this system has created and soccer become a weekend business.

    So lets distinguish between the 2 levels first and really putting them apart. PRO ORIENTED CLUBS, with PRO ORIENTED COACHES, PRO mentality kids. Leave the business soccer alone with its all BS.

  28. pg 19 says

    Eventually what we will determine that prevents us from implementing any of the concepts expressed on 3four3 will be narrowed down solely to our own personal beliefs of what is possible. Often these are not our own beliefs, but beliefs of others perpetuated upon us as that we accept as truths and thus excuse ourselves from ever venture trying or risking new thinking.

    I am a rec level soccer coach. I also coach a high school girls soccer team in the Midwest. My competitive soccer playing experience ended with my last game in high school. I’m 41 now and still play rec soccer. I prefer to play soccer, than to coach it, than to watch it; in that order. Often I’m the dumbest candidate in the class with the least amount of cred, yet this hasn’t stopped me from obtaining my Licenses or various diplomas; in spite of baring the cost of said “courses” solely on my own.

    So, in spite of all the limitations and excuses I have access to, I already have debunked much of the theories being bantered above. In addition, in one short high school season I know I can develop an already “elite” level player further than she has been developed by her respective pro-coach and competitive club team her entire career. Below is an unsolicited accolade I just received from a parent of a player that I only coach within a high school season:

    “Thank you for taking the time to coach these girls. I watched “X” go into possession soccer mode in these tournaments, and she really did a great job seeing the whole field, distributing the ball, and making plays develop before the other team could react, and recycling and redistributing the ball until the right opening developed. I knew where she got that from, and not many other players on her team were that patient or generous in sharing the ball, but it sure made “a” big difference when suddenly three quick touches later by three different players the opponent’s goalie found them self in trouble.”

    The player in question became her respective club team’s “play maker” helping her team win two recent Midwest tournament championships. For my fellow rec and high school soccer coaches, ignore everyone that states you are irrelevant to developing soccer players. All players start playing rec soccer. Many choose to go on playing for their respective high schools. I coach as I played, to win games. However, I understand to be able to win, I have to be patient to develop my players and most importantly, be a student of the craft of coaching soccer.

    Maybe we aren’t developing players after all, but we’re developing coaches and through it, players are being developed. I have learned a ton from this site. Thank you to 3four3 and fellow contributors. I have been in study mode re-reading everything on this site in preparation for what’s to come.

  29. Armando says

    To help summarize the many salient points of 3Four3 for easy reference to others, I decided to do a summation (easy cut / paste). I intended to go back to the beginning, but that would take me a day or more. Below is just from 2013:

    1) Before we get to quotes and recommendations and opinions – let’s get out of the way the often repeated statements: “coaches suck”, “coaches don’t care”, “coaches not qualified”, “pay to play is bad model”, “jungle ball sucks”, “we lack the culture and environment” . . . have I missed anything? So on to the more meaningful stuff:
    2) The greatest training deficiency our country faces is neither technical nor physical, it is Tactical and Psychological.
    3) It’s game understanding, sophisticated decision-making, and in the “psychological” sense … a professional mindset.
    4) [We’ve] . . . got two choices: You change the environment to match theirs, You morph the methodology. Good luck with the first. I suggest the second.
    5) We want mentally strong, hungry, and determined assassins on the field
    6) There is a difference between a soccer player and a footballer . . . we need to produce footballers at elite level.
    7) First and foremost, a coach must develop a possession-based philosophy (a vision … a taste … a feel for that type of football). Then he must whole-heartedly commit to the process of having his teams reach it.
    8) “We can’t play a winning possession-based game, unless we have the technical players first.” And it’s generally crap. How ‘technical’ do they have to be? Yeah … nobody seems to address that question. Instead, the blanket statement is thrown, everyone nods because there’s a logic to it; it’s taken as truth, and we’re all excused. If you can train your players to create more space and time for themselves and teammates, you’ve just lowered the technical requirements. Coaching baby, coaching.
    9) It is after your team demonstrates a level of mastery with your core material, that you can start layering in other principles.
    10) “Possessors” and “fumblers”
    11) The key is coming up with a small set of core activities that properly support the type of football you want to play – and consequently, the type of player you want to develop. How small is this set? Well, I don’t have a number but it should chiefly comprise of just: a few technical, a few on how you’re going to build, a few on how you’re going to attack, and a few on how you’re going to defend. And you hammer these over and over and over again in all your sessions, until your players demonstrate consistent execution during match play.
    12) Player development can be answered in 4 easy minutes! Really, no BS! Gotta watch the video . . . .
    13) Xuxuh plays to impress. He captures the “wow” factor and gives a sense of the multi-dimensional (complete) player he is to coaches / scouts. (How many coaches allow their players such self-expression?)
    14) The “incumbents” are those holding the power, their supporters, and their target demographic.
    15) Activist parents with disposable income. This is the prototypical ‘white’ or ‘white-washed’ suburban person who achieved their middle to upper-middle class position by following the long held ‘promise’ of industrial America.
    16) Why write a post like this? Well, beyond the necessity of defining the terms we use, if we are genuinely interested in achieving A-list soccer quality, we must understand the status-quo.
    17) 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.
    18) 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.
    19) A ‘style of play’ is a specialty – like neurosurgery or cardiovascular surgery.
    20) How a player plays is tied to his culture.
    21) How a player plays is tied to his culture.
    22) But of course in matters of medicine, the layman – the amateur – has been ‘educated’ from birth that these things are not simple. That terrible complexities exist, and that they are not qualified to analyze them. Sure you have a god given right to your opinion, but it is not on par with those who have dedicated their life to the subject. And everyone accepts that. Everyone has been trained to accept that.
    23) But of course in matters of medicine, the layman – the amateur – has been ‘educated’ from birth that these things are not simple. That terrible complexities exist, and that they are not qualified to analyze them. Sure you have a god given right to your opinion, but it is not on par with those who have dedicated their life to the subject. And everyone accepts that. Everyone has been trained to accept that.
    24) A successful change in style – especially a huge one – requires a departure from how you been training for say 20 years, how you’ve been managing games and players, and how you’ve been identifying the ‘best players’ for your style. And the whopper: a cultural shift. You can’t just flip a switch! You will have to go through years of trial and error. And it won’t be the same process as that of a newly minted coach either. You will have the added baggage of 20+ years of doing things the old way. Not to mention, your assistants and the circles you run in, have got the same baggage. You gonna change them to? Now, there’s a ton of reasons for you not believing this, but perhaps foremost among them is that unlike other professions, you haven’t been educated in this one – in soccer.
    25) Thinking he can match our expertise in our style is insane! We have decades of experience over him. Understand this: We are decades more qualified than Bruce Arena in our style of play. As he is in his (whatever that may be). This is a major reason why Barcelona (and others) ‘share’ what they do. They know exactly what I’m telling you now. You can’t just copy it!Stop Playing Up! Start Playing down. So long as your opponent’s players aren’t in a totally separate class, and/or the opposing coach isn’t in a different class, a “weak roster” isn’t the reason. In my experience, pretty much all coaches are already out of their depth with top-level U14 boys. The game just gets too fast for them, and they no longer command the respect of their players.
    26) Got a player problem? Recruit & Release (this applies at every single level). Play against lower level competition; until your players/team demonstrates a mastery of the requisite tactical work. Play against lower level competition; until you (the coach) have gotten good enough at executing.

    • gbkny says

      “Activist parents with disposable income. This is the prototypical ‘white’ or ‘white-washed’ suburban person who achieved their middle to upper-middle class position by following the long held ‘promise’ of industrial America.”

      There’s a big flaw in how people are thinking about the cartoonish, meddlesome “soccer parent” as an obstacle to soccer coming of age in America. Unfortunately I think it’s an easy excuse for coaches and programs to explain why they aren’t getting the job done. I think bad coaching is much more of a cause of bad soccer parents, not the other way around. And is fixable if coaches realize that one part of their job in most of the country has to be teaching and indoctrinating parents about what real soccer is. With soccer-educated parents you will get a lot more freedom to accomplish what you want.

      1 Activist parents with disposable income are NOT by definition the enemy, they often know how to get things done that can help you (find sponsors, build fields, donate to scholarships, etc)

      2 Activist parents with disposable incomes are not just a bunch of feel-good mollycoddlers whose kids lack the drive or family support to become professional athletes. Those “white/whitewashed” suburbs are where a huge number of our professional and olympic athletes come from (both for money sports like football, baseball and hockey, and low-prospects sports like gymnastics). I grew up in a small, affluent, lily-white, education-oriented suburb, out of which, contrary to theory, has come a Super Bowl-winning NFL quarterback, Olympic gold and bronze medalists, and other various professional baseball and football players. There’s supposedly another young La Masia player from NYC whose parents are “upper middle class” (making it easier for the mom to move to Barcelona for part of the year to be with the kid). Presumably players in this demographic have somehow developed an “assassins” mindset.

      3 Americans are incredibly competitive about sports, and this is good not bad for soccer. Activist parents build 10,000 seat stadiums in Texas for small high school football teams. People want to win, not just participate.

      4 For our ‘real’ national sports of football, baseball and basketball, way more parents are familiar with how the sports are played at their highest levels. Most parents have no idea with what ‘real’ soccer is, at best they have seen an MLS game and probably not even that. So you need to get those parents watching Barcelona or Bayern Munchen games if you want them to understand your objectives. I try to get every parent on our teams who seems interested reading and it has really helped.

      5 Parents are a lot less likely to interfere where the parents believe that the coaches know what they are doing and therefore the field and roster decisions seem fair and the strategy competent. So explaining philosophy and practice goes a long way, otherwise the coaching decisions, especially development decisions, can seem random. BUT in any youth sport, you are still going to get interference. If you become a professional manager you are going to get owners, agents, fans, sportswriters, adult players etc in your face, it’s part of the deal.

      And I don’t think it’s all that time-consuming to educate parents, most who commit time and money to travel programs actually are genuinely interested in what is going on and want to learn more. It’s easy to get people passionate about soccer, and once you get them hooked they will be with you all the way.

      • Kana says

        Instead of quotes from a larger article, I think you need to read the actual article about Incumbents and how we need to understand them before we can change the system. You make some good points, but missing context. There is an antidote for everything and you’re taking the wrong one to the discussion.

        • Gbkny says

          Thanks – I’ve read the whole site a few times and I was responding not really just to that one excerpt, but to a theme that runs through a number of comments on different topics. It’s a part of coaching that I think people give up on or don’t like but if we are going to accelerate soccer’s progress in the US it’s necessary.

          • dr loco says

            “It’s a part of coaching that I think people give up on or don’t like but if we are going to accelerate soccer’s progress in the US it’s necessary.”

            Parent education? No, not really. Doubt much parent education happens in Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Japan,…

            Parent education is required for parents that want to be actively involved in their child’s development. Otherwise, let the experts do the work.

            Promotion/Relegation will accelerate sports progress in the US — a concept foreign to American sports MLS, NBA, NFL, MLB.

          • jesran says

            Dr. Loco,
            I agree with this statement ” Promotion/Relegation will accelerate sports progress in the US ”

            I think the end result is that you have the top level players, coaches, and teams consistently meeting each other in competition which is ideal for promoters, spectators and participants. The opposite would be something like the NHL where you always wonder if a bunch of guys from Sweden or Russia could come in and make you all look foolish. Is our hockey competitive with their hockey? There are a few opportunities to extrapolate results to a broader measure, but in general they are all playing in silos.

            In soccer, we have a great different system already in place that tests not only the best world-wide clubs against each other yearly with The Champions League, but also the best nation-based team in The World Cup competition. So in reality, we already participate in promotion/relegation by nature of participating in the World Cup. Think about how often we see a Messi-Ranaldo matchup… it may be Barcelona v Real Madrid or Argentina v Portugal it doesn’t matter the system is setup to have the best find the best at the end of the day.

            Now my main agreement with Dr. Loco is that once we as a nation, and a nation’s league MLS, make a concerted effort to be competitive in The Champion’s League and embrace promotion/relegation across the board then you will see the best U14 player, coaches, clubs meeting each other consistently. The best U15s, U16s all the way up to men’s pro teams. The best finding the best and continuing the march upward.

            Also, I believe this system helps promote late bloomers the quickest as they find their best competition and once mastered can easily move to the next level. Also, I believe this system coldly punishes the early bloomers who have no long standing worth. The illusion of proficiency is most easily dispelled at the highest level of competition. Think: no more no-skill soccer divas into their 14th or 15th year… ahh how nice it will be.

      • jesran says

        I think you raise an incredibly important point about coaches needing to coach the parents (at least a little bit too) if we are going to get anywhere in the country with soccer. I also like the optimistic view point that “helicopter parents” can be an American asset rather than a liability. I believe that too.

        So to give specific advice to all of you coaches out there reading this post please do something like the following to get your parents soccer IQ up and more on your side.

        First look at page 51 “Curriculum – U12 – Season Plan”:

        Then pull out all of the most important content, those items given a value of 5. In this case it would be:
        1. Possession
        2. Combination play
        3. Passing and Receiving
        4. Shooting
        5. Ball control
        6. Acceleration
        6. Perception and awareness
        7. Motivation
        8. Respect and discipline

        Then send an email to your parents before the season starts telling them that you would appreciate that they reinforced these items when:
        1) Discussing soccer training with their child
        2) Attending games and cheering from the sideline
        3) Communicating with the coaching staff

        Explain the source of this information and where they can find it. Explain that the goals progress as their child’s development progresses. Explain that the skills are transferable to any other coach who adheres to the same principles which should eventually be everybody.

        Here is an example of a pre-game email:
        “Hello parents,
        Your U12 boys/girls will be playing XXX this weekend. Directions to the field are YYY. Please attend the game with high expectations and be vocal from the stands with your enthusiasm, but please remember to reward the players with your praise when they demonstrate possession, coordinated passing and receiving and ball control. Again we like them to shoot as often as possible even if it does not go in. etc, etc. Again, the goal is not winning at any cost, but developing your child’s long term soccer skills. etc, etc.”

      • dr loco says

        “For our ‘real’ national sports of football, baseball and basketball, way more parents are familiar with how the sports are played at their highest levels”

        I also coach baseball and basketball. Generally speaking I would say NO.

        You see the “soccer mom” is also the “baseball mom” and “basketball mom”. The mentality is the same regardless of the sport. It’s still the same parents!

        Here is a true statement:
        “For our ‘real’ national sports of football, baseball and basketball, way fewer (players/parents/coaches) are familiar with how the sports are played at their highest levels”

        Everyone, including mass media, think they know but they really don’t.

    • hall97 says


      Can you clarify #25? “Stop playing up”. Start playing down”?

      Not sure what you mean by that statement.

      • MG says

        hall87, I believe Armando referenced one of earlier posts on this blog.
        The basic point is that it is more difficult to execute the possession style of play at higher levels, where the speed of play increases. The solution is to start at a lower level against weaker competition and work your way up – there will be less space and time at a higher level. One needs to master the basics (e.g. ball movement when playing out of the back) starting from training walkthrough with no pressure, to training with some pressure, to executing it in games against lesser opposition before you can execute it against the top level competion. And the post makes it clear that the typical excuse for not being able to execute possession “the players are not up to par” is hogwash in most instances. The usual problem is that the coach is way over his head, thus, it the coach is serious about implementing possession, but his team is unable to execute it against strong competition, he needs to move the team down to a lesser level of competition.

        • hall97 says

          That’s pretty much what I thought. Now, my question is, what to do if you live in an area with limited options? I certainly understand the concept of teaching a system. And I completely agree.

          Can an individual player “develop” himself? I’ve always been told that 80% of the equation is up to the player.

          I’ve always been hard on my son. He has always ‘played up’ because I did not want him to rely on physical ability alone.

          Apparently I have done him a huge disservice.

          • MG says

            In terms of technical development, the player can and should develop himself (if you see a player with a great technique – most of the credit should go to the player for his hard work – although coaches probably helped too by explaining and teaching technical details). In terms of tactical development, it primarily happens in the team context and you need good coaching. Individually, you could have your son watch and analyze games to develop his soccer brain and watch his decision-making on the field, but you should also try find the best coaching situation possible. Playing up on an individual basis could be a good or a bad thing for a player depending upon the circumstances.

  30. A Coach says

    Technical – Should be focus from about U14 and below. About 90 – 95%+ of technique is developed here.

    Physical – Kids mature differently. While they should have stamina and agility and coordination and so forth, it’s not until they start to reach muscle / physical maturity (about U16 and above) that physical (strength, filling out, highly competitive play, hard challenges) come into play.

    Tactical – Gets critical at about U16 and higher. Mastering tactics (in your DNA) is a journey, not a destination. Players need to immerse themselves in becoming A+ students and coaches help bring out the fine details and understanding (such as timing, movement, anticipation, pausing, formations, total football, etc.). I do agree with Dr. Loco that repetitive tactical training is hugely important during training, especially at older ages.

    Psychological – This aligns to Tactical and starts at U14 and begins to get very important at U16 and above. 80% of this is a function of the player. The coach can help in things like setting expectations, rewarding playing time / starting to who bests executes his style of play, rewarding players who show passion and determination, helping build mentally strong players, identifying natural leaders and using them as role models, coach work on improving weakest areas in players and team, coach understanding how to get the best out of his players (has to be part psychologist, mentor, motivator . . . being a serious minded coach is so much more than Xs and Os).

    Tactical and Psychological. They are soft skills and need constant refining. Physical and Technical are hard skills and develop earlier than soft skills. You can either do them properly or you can’t, little room for error in hard skills. If they are sub-par by U14, moving to Tactical and Psychological is exponentially more difficult. Tactical and Psychological being soft skills have room for improvisation, guile, creation. They take longer to master and require confidence and self-belief and mental understanding of how to execute (where, when, why, how).

    But matches don’t always go as planned. Players need to be comfortable with adjusting, reacting to when things aren’t working but be smart enough to reset and not regress into jungle ball – a major problem in youth soccer! There has to be an allowance for wider boundaries in the soft skills areas. This is where set tactical training comes into play. Work on fundaments of play over and over again. When things go pear-shaped, players are wired to adjust, reset and play according to a preferred style of play.

    It’s like a musician who misses a note. Instead of panic, he fully understands each note, time signature, which part of the musical scale the music is written in, the musical key and emotion of the piece intended by the composer. This comes from years of training and understanding fundamentals. So too should coaches seek to develop players. This should apply to all players, rec or competitive. The difference is how they execute. Elite players execute faster, quicker, more seamlessly mixing technique, tactical understanding, and mental quickness and mental composure.

    • dr loco says

      I wish I had more time to provide thought provoking responds with much detailed information. It’s over-whelming for me when I have to focus on the weekly implementations. Thanks for your insightful responses.

      I’m in awe of many of you!

    • Tyler says

      I think the tactical and psychological starts much, much earlier than U14. Mental pattern development, a growth mindset, the imprinting of switching play, relieving pressure… the when, why, where, how are important even at u8.

      Teaching the kids the game is about decision making, critical thinking, responsibility… they can learn these things at young ages. I think most coaches look to see if the pass was successful, not able to see that the though was correct but the technical execution wasn’t. So, what coaches do, instead of coaching for the correct decision making is to coach down to the technical ability.

  31. jesran says

    A couple of important factors not yet fully explored under the topic Psychological:
    1) The parents. Especially for younger players. Gary said he prefers parents who are “hard on the player” presuming that they will not let their child accept an off day, or plateauing development, or relegation to a lower team without some sort of response.
    2) The peer group of the player. Yes I think even “real players” are susceptible to the influence of their closest in proximity persons of the same demographic AKA peers. If peers give high social credit to what the young soccer player is doing with their time and interest then I think this is a huge psychological boost. I think peer influence (unlike the influence of parenting) spans the whole development cycle and may even gain as time goes by. Starting with youngsters trying to mimic their idols (many times in US a relative rather than a pro) for social credit, later on using soccer to differentiate themselves trying to look attractive to college recruitment or even looking at the prospect of turning pro (AKA making money).

    • dr loco says

      Player development begins very young 2-6 years old. Mimicry starts at home and neighborhood. If you don’t live in a ‘hood’ you have to recreate it somehow within your family, friends, cultures and traditions.

      Parents need to play, rough up, throw their kids around at young ages to toughen them up mentally. You are creating the foundations for sports agility, balance, coordination needed in every sport and the psychology of competition.

      Talent and skill is not something kids are born with but acquire through learning from their immediate environment. Biologically that is what animals evolved to do and a natural process from the surrounding stimuli. If parents have to pay someone to teach their kids that is not a ‘good’ sign.

      It’s so simple we forget the basics and just sign kids up to play in the local sports programs after it’s too late for most.

      Check out Lebron developing his kids.

      • dr loco says

        Just got this email:
        “Is your child ready to make the jump from recreational soccer to competitive soccer? To be trained by professional coaches from the XXX FC Coaching Staff? To be coached from the same coaching curriculum as FC Barcelona, and Tottenham Hotspurs youth academies? If the answer is yes we will see you at tryouts. ”

        YES, where do I sign-up my kid sounds like a wonderful opportunity. ;)

        Do you honestly think they are taking world class soccer methods and correctly applying them to their environment?

  32. Frank says

    I was lucky enough to see the chivas usa u 13 play last Sunday vs olympia. The game was intense and I witnessed true posession first hand. Do chivas normally play like that? Was their standard of play lower or higher than their average game?

  33. Garth says

    This is excellent, excellent stuff. It’s always exciting to watch sharp people back into concepts applicable across a lot of human activities.

    Pardon me if I make a quick connection, but: there’s a framework called the CFIR in the industry I work in. One of the things it addresses is the “hard core” and “soft periphery” elements of interventions, and how the distinction relates to the inner and outer context of organizations trying to implement. Vital stuff, and perfectly applied in the above piece.

    To bring that kind of thinking to youth soccer: damn. Good on you.

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