Soccer Development or Player Development? Start Getting it Straight


Time to recalibrate!

We’re not interested in player development here, we’re interested in soccer development.

While related, they are not the same.

1) Player Development

This is not the end all, be all, of this country’s issues.

As conventionally discussed, and comparatively speaking, it’s irrelevant.
It’s just a tiny speck of what’s going on.

If we transplanted the best youth academies in the world here, or did a great job adopting all their best practices, while progressive … it would hardly make a dent in the American soccer universe.

But it seems many would have you believe otherwise.

Well, they’re not telling you the whole story. Because you see, a proper environment must exist and be awaiting players when they graduate from the youth scene.

The next level(s), in and of themselves, contaminates, poisons, and even ruins all the work done in the youth.

And that’s what we’ve got: A toxic environment outside the immediate youth scene.

soccer player development

2) Soccer Development

This deals with all things influencing the sport. EVERYTHING

Soccer Development deals with cleaning up all that toxicity – the mess that America’s soccer shot callers have created, and continue to protect.

If we’re talking about our country, it can start from the general structure(s) that US Soccer has created and trickle all the way down to a non-soccer bean counter having a say at a youth club.

The entire ecosystem (including social, political, and cultural) matters. Understanding status quo at both macro and micro scale matters.

The micro contaminates the macro, and the macro contaminates the micro. It’s all connected.

Status quo

No, people don’t understand the status quo. There’s just too much going on – and like most everything, it requires deliberate and focussed lifelong learning.

I mean sure, people have formed a concept of status quo …

But it’s like the concepts they’ve formed about all kinds of topics in their life; be they the education system, health care, the housing market, poverty, systems of government, etc.

At what level do they really understand those?

It’s crazy, people want solutions … people propose solutions … but people don’t remotely understand status quo. They don’t even understand the environment of the market.

Soccer Development is about two things:

  1. Learning and educating on the status quo
  2. Solutions based on understanding of status quo

Lesson #1

Soccer is a Global Sport, and we are not the market leader.

Yes, that’s obvious. What’s not obvious are the reasons.

This is really important guys: The reasons are NOT obvious!

And that right there is Lesson #1 – a lesson most people can’t even get passed.

Hell, most don’t even have a real appreciation for the ramification(s) of soccer being a Global sport, as opposed to something non-global like American football.

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  1. emily says

    great article and so true!
    Its not just about the players its about THE GAME! If the game is healthy the players will benefit at all levels.

  2. El Memo says

    Agree. That is why I made the last comment on my previous post.

    A)From a Coach stand point, I want Soccer Development.
    B)From a Parent stand point, I want Player Development. (Hence my previous post.)

    I know that may sound like I have hidden agenda or conflicting interests. I don’t think so/hope not.
    I get frustrated on A because other coaches don’t grasp the dire situation of the country on this regard, and when brought up you may be even ridiculed. So, I make up the gap with B.

    Maybe as I move up the chain, I can make more changes into A.

  3. Nancee says

    This is a truly truly important topic. The devil’s advocate side of me thinks it somehow right that we cannot just impose our will and become a soccer powerhouse. Soccer powerhouse. See right there is the fundamental problem. A great great majority of parents, coaches, kids, players, parents, coaches, administrators, uncles and aunts observe/play the game of soccer in the US. At the highest levels we talk about the game of soccer. Soccer schmocker. USSoccer talks about soccer. Daily, while watching a Zidane youtube, Requelme youtube, Barca replay, old Raul goal, brazilian street futsal youtube game I talk with my children about the world’s game- Football/Futbol. Football! I impress upon my four children (7,5,4,2) all the time that almost every single person they play the game with or talk with plays the game soccer and I am impressing upon them the psychology/philosophy/culture of playing the game football- and they are entirely different. Football is a way of life. Until soccer becomes football here nothing will change. Until soccer becomes a way of life, the toxicity and ignorance and cultural agenda will not change and quite frankly I have concerns that will ever happen, which goes back to my first point about, maybe it is a good thing we cannot impress our force of will/soccer on the world’s game. In a previous blog a comment generally touched on how other kids in the great football nations: train at the academy 2 – 4 times a week, then go home and free play with their buddies and how during recess at school the cages/nets are outside the lunch room and they play there then when the homework is done they watch the River Plate game or Fluminese or Arsenal or Cruz Azul game then they play XBox Futbol 2013. Then they go to bed dreaming about playing at the highest level, imagining how the 60,240 people jammed into the Stadio Sao Paulo in Naples would chant (enter) Y-O-U-R L-A-S-T name following the PA announcer screaming goal, Edinson—–. The kids are devoured by the game it is who they are and it is who the young adults become and it is who the parents become and it is then how those parents minister to their children. I can’t even get a regular pick up game for my oldest three kids at the park down the street from my house. Hell all I need is 1 or 2 or 3 more kids to come outside and have the ganas/desire to play. To be devoured by the game. So while we can potentially train the player development to a very high level the soccer development ultimately is what will lead the game to the highest levels, create the brain engram/highways/pure artistic creativity into a ‘someday group of football aficionados’ providing the flare and final passes in the final third that scream, we are a footballing nation. Until we have a clear plan from U5 to the highest international level that coincides at all levels nothing will change for the long term. Until one governing body sets the proper course for the game and we then begin to have regular excellent success at the international level the culture and ultimately future soccer development will not cannot change.

  4. PH says

    What do you mean Gary? Isn’t sport, especially soccer, just some compartmentalized past time where we stash our kids for a couple hours a few times per week, so we can go shopping, drink a beer, or surf the internet on our iPad, while the children get the requisite socialization, exercise, and self-esteem boost necessary to live “successful” adult lives of ease and consumption?

    • emily says

      Nancee you r after my heart! Luv to be devoured by the game bit! Even in the olds days of street soccer you had to earn the right to play!

  5. BT says

    I fully agree that the reasons why we are not a global leader in this sport is very complex in our country… we will not find the solution to the problem by trying to blindly “copy” what is working in other leading countries… our kids are NOT going to be playing the game 24-7, eating, sleeping, and dreaming it for the most part (yes there will be a few here and there that do but they are not surrounded by enough volume to help them develop like kids in other countries)… so our “solution” is going to be complex (wish it was a one solution fits all thing…if so I’m sure someone smarter than me would have already figured it out)… because of the way our country is built it is a regionalized issue… development of a player in So. Cal and densely populated East coast is VERY different than development in Idaho (or any other geographically isolated state)… however development can be achieved in both environments its just not the same formula… and obviously more difficult in a geographically isolated/sparsely populated area. And $$ will still be the driving force for that development… while going off topic a bit, the MLS continues to increase the amount it spends on their academies and are for the most part “free” now… this is a new trend in the US Soccer development paradigm and it is too new to see the effects of the experiment… this starts to approximate what other successful countries are doing but we are still a long way off in perfecting “the funnel”… mainly because the investors of all this $$ are not fully convinced that there will be a big enough ROI … as compared to just going outside the US and buying a player that was developed (as a side note the average cost of developing a player outside the US is about 18-20K and roughly 80-90K in the US)…
    But I digress… bottom line is I agree the issue is very complex and I feel fortunate to not be one that just talks about it but actually tries to DO something about the process… while imperfectly, I am in search of approximating a form of perfection someday :)

    • Chris says

      MLS Academy’s although free still cost a ton of money is gas to drive to so you are STILL not getting the best players here. Many parents cannot afford the drive. Look at Clint Dempsey for instance. If his sister never passed away at a young age he would have never had the money to travel and join a good club and probably would have never been what he is today. For every player’s parents who found away deal with the costs there are a ton who cant and thus get passed by.

  6. STL A-B says

    Wanted to repeat what a lot of people on here already know, though find it important related to the 3four3 blog:

    Noted many places as well as the ECA – for a long time Barcelona Youth Academy “looked for players for their squad. In todays world, FC Barcelona has achieved it’s self-defined model where players are made for the system.”

    Another important note – Barcelona starts Tactical training at U8.

      • BT says

        And its been that way for a long time… when I was there watching them train, the U8 all the way through the U18 had the same lesson outline… coaches all coaching the same topics and tactics for the day just modified for the age… but for the most part the main difference for example in the small sided possession games were that at U10 they were allowed 3 touch and in the same game at U18 it was for the most part 1 touch… the instruction to the kids in the more advanced tactical games were the same… application obviously different… by age U13-14 expectations were high and mistakes (more than 2 touch in everything except the final bigger game) was punished with having to play a man down for a period while the player performed a task…
        But the structure of the lesson plans and the uniformity of the message/ repeated was impressive.

    • Nancee says

      Dead on. How many times in this part of the world do you think a scout drives down Ritner street or Anystreet USA and says, ‘Holy shit do you see the skills on that kid?’ and then walk up to the young boy or girl and say, what academy do you play in? The kids likely answer to said question, ‘sir, I play in life academia- no futbol academia.’ and then that is how that young child gets discovered. ain’t no life academia around here where the kids play 24/7/

  7. Somecoach says

    USA is isolating itself from the world, and soccer is just another thing. I am not sure why we are trying to stop this. American football is created to be our football, not soccer. Just like we use feets and inches, and they use CM and meters.
    For soccer to grow, and for soccer players to develop, we have to accept that the game is global, accept that the Germans are better, the Spanish are better, ..etc and rather than copy them, learn from them. Just like we begged the dutch to help us design the system to protect New Orleans from flooding – after the fact that it was destroyed.
    Broaden your vision, dont just look at the Barca academy and the Ajax academy, look at smaller countries like Uruguay (who can smash us in development), smaller academies/ clubs in Ivory Coast, ..etc, How can they compete and produce more players ?

  8. El Rey says

    I truly belive that the cost of soccer has kept the Unites States from being able to develop a soccer culture. I have two children that play for Nor Cal’s largest club and I pay at least 4-$5000 a year for each child after coach’s fees and tournament costs. Soccer in the United States for the most part is a middle class to upper class sport.
    When I played comp soccer as a kid we had a coach who worked a day job, had played pro soccer in Mexico (or another third world country), and the cost was his hotel and gas when we traveled. Our club today has coaches coaching 2-3 teams making 40-$50,000 a year and they are ex or current junior college players with not nearly the background or culture needed.
    Two of the three largest sports in the United States get their players from third world countries or are developed thru the inner city of the United States. Global Soccer gets some of their best players from third world countires, but with the exception of some of the Hispanic players (whose culture is soccer) how many top US players were developed in the inner-city or poor neighborhods? The cost to be identified to make it to the next level is out of reach for so many. Sure, clubs have scholarship programs but at least at our club those are limited to 4-5 a team. So often I have seen kids go from club to club due to the costs of each club and what clubs were willing to offer. That bouncing from club to club keeps so many talented kids from truly developing.
    I am sure many people will disagree but I see this first hand. The size of our club allows us to be extremely diverse economically and I see so much talent wasted or move on to other sports due to cost. When soccer can reach out and develop from within our inner-cities it will develop a soccer culture. Until then we will stuggle in mediocrity There are so many kids that would love the opportunity to experience this game but in the United States to do so at a high level costs big money.

  9. says

    Excellent, Excellent post!! As a coach that wants to develop players to the highest level. It’s frustrating to think that I’m going to have to hand them over to some idiot coaching college or professionally!

  10. Phil says

    I personally agree with the above post but find myself stuck on lesson #1. Ironically the post doesn’t elaborate to much on lesson #2 but that may be because too many are hesitant to accept the first principle. Here in Hawaii 90% of clubs are all player development with the myriad of coaches taking responsibility for players such as Brian Ching, Natasha Kai & others that make it to the next level. Sadly though, it is with err that most do not realize that you’ve spent a small fortune to get your kid training in a system where you are taught to not train harder than everyone else, lower your expectations for 12 year olds and move to Europe if you’re not happy here. Year after year the same teams dominate the state, perform decently at regionals but get embarrassed at Surf Cup or Nationals. Everyone repeats the same format expecting different results, maybe if we run a little harder, kick a little farther, play a little faster, then will do better… I find myself griping and kvetching about the state of soccer here but there are little options for our kids to choose from. Ultimately what I received from this message was, “Although America invests a large portion of its efforts towards individual development, our results never come to fruition because we ignored the tactical progression in our training, sending our talented players into a vacuum where they fail to progress.” I hope I didn’t oversimplify that, but what is a parent to do?

    • BT says

      Phil I can empathize with your situation as I am a product of Hawaii soccer and now coaching on the mainland… talk about geographic isolation… the cost of travel and effort needed to seek out the competition is especially brutal for Hawaii… luckily you have opportunity to play all year round but to again what good is that if not surrounded by competition that pushes you…
      With that said in regard to your comment about working harder… I believe we have set the bar too low at the younger ages (7-10) US Soccer dictates that these kids should be only practicing a couple of times a week for an 1-1:15 hr at a time… then a 40 min game on the weekend… that won’t cut it… especially when as we all know the kids don’t touch the ball for the most part except at “practice”… I am in favor of 4-5 days a week training for an hour but when suggested it is shot down by the parents that don’t understand what is required… could you imagine gymnists only practicing 2 hrs a week and then going to a meet… we coddle the kids far too much… and then wonder why we don’t see the results…
      wow wasn’t expected to go off the road.. sorry … and thanks for your comments Phil

      • Phil says

        Thank BT. Yeah I ran into similar issues when I mentioned an increase in practice. The local track team practices 4x a week and most of the kids (8-14 y/o) only run 2 events each. That is probably less than 2 minutes per competition, yet they practice much harder and are much more dedicated to training than most soccer clubs. I hate to whine but most coaches and parents (including myself) lack the time and/or resources to change anything, I share this blog with as much people as I can, coaches, parents, players and so on. Hopefully that will get the ball rolling (no pun intended).

      • R2 Dad says

        I have seen other comments posted on this site about futsal being a good alternative/supplement to soccer, and would agree. Whether in a geographically isolated place like Hawaii or in a city a long distance from other larger cities, futsal enables the touches, the improvement in IQ, the elimination of the kick-and-run mentality, that is what many parents and coaches are looking for. We want increasing competition and somehow that has morphed into we-have-to-drive/fly-to-out-of-state-tournaments. These costs–money & time spent may not be necessary to get competition if it’s in a futsal format where the currency is quick feet and quick thinking vs big-tall-fast running athletes that we default to if given the chance in the 11v11 format. Our kids actually prefer futsal since they get the touches without having to run 2 miles in 60 minutes. Find a good futsal coach in the offseason–you’ll be surprised how the diversity of play improves your player’s skills and interest in the ball.

  11. Nancee says

    Phil and BT.
    Your comments are definitely astute. I think it is important to speak with our kids and have them grow up understanding the nature of training. Gymnasts train. Soccer players practice. There is a fundamental difference. I’ve taken an autodidactic approach to learn the necessary foot skills and my children spend :30 – :45 minutes 3 or 4 times a week ingraining them into their football being. Each parent and coach of ‘travel’ in our country should be trained in how to properly impart the necessary foot skills into our kids between the ages of 5-8 because as I mentioned in my other post, the kids are not playing the game regularly outside to learn what is necessary. If you go to any travel game around it is a sad state to see the kick it and chase it game. the reason kids kick the ball is because they are afraid of it. Who cares if a kid can do a Maradonna or a scissors? They are not functional movements for a 6 year old to know- barely functional for an 11 year old. I’ve watched nearly every game Messi has played and i’ve never once seen a scissors. A coach needs to understand how to train ball skills into children and teach them how to play the game ‘on the hop’ how to play the game on their toes. How to stop and start, inside cut outside cut and begin to get the right and left foot communicating together so by the time more appropriate tactical training begins, the responses to having a ball delivered to a player are automatic. Absolutly 100% automatic. No thinking. That level of training needs to be ‘trained’ into our soccer players. Coaches should absolutely expect those foot skills to be worked on outside of practice. Gymnasts train. Soccer players practice. Footballers the world over are the game.

    • pad says


      This is the secret to creating the next generation skilled soccer players who truly love the ball – coaches don’t have enoough contact hours, there is no soccer culture…so it falls to us parents to our part. I am a new soccer parent of U6 and U9 trying to create a home environment (in Texas) where they are encouraged to dribble around the house, even use one of the large hall for 1v1 and wall ball.

      Nancee – thanks for your guidance here. Can you help me find ways to maximize my kids’ at home soccer training? You are obviously a believer in a method that I am just embarking on…so any help/guidance/ links/resources would be greatly appreciated. BTW my golden finds so are Blast the Ball, SoccerU, Andagain and of course the willingness to overlook some breakages around the house.But in the last 3-5 months I have been on this path – my kids’ love of the ball has increased exponentially.

      pl reach out to me at

  12. says

    What I see is every soccer nation, organization, establishment serves a purpose. The current purpose of our leaders is give images of trying to become a great soccer nation. The image is actually more important than actually going into a direction that builds something of substance on the global level.

    A lot of great points of what could change and what we need has been on here but 1st what is our purpose, what are we reaching for? That I think that helps us first come up with what’s needed to find solutions. We are all giving up too much, complaining without action, thinking that we can’t do anything or feeling as we have no power. Everything is there for us to change everything, its a matter of finding out what your purpose is and pursuing it. I’m not letting anything stop me in my pursuit so don’t let anyone stop you from yours if you are truly passionate about change.

  13. ASO says

    It seems as if Porter or his influence is starting to shift the status quo in Oregon. Multiple Portland youth clubs are now directly affiliated with the Timbers. Also Oregon Youth Soccer has reorganized and is now mandating 7 v 7 at U9/U10; 9 v 9 at U11/U12 and no 11 v 11 until U13. (previously 11 v 11 as young as U11 in some tourneys). Will this improved player development scheme in combo with change in philosophy by the 1st team pave the way to Soccer Development?

    • Crollaa says

      As a fellow Oregonian, some of those clubs associated with the Timbers are absolute garbage. Most are mediocre at best. But yes, I have noticed a slight uptick in decent coaching here.

  14. hincha says

    Gary, you are right. People forget that soccer is still in its infancy here as far as sophisticated understanding of the sport. Most parents have never played the game or have only played at a very rudimentary level so have no concept of how much different soccer is from the other major American sports and how player selection, development (Technique, Intelligence, Psychological, Speed) are what is most important not size and strength. They have no concept that soccer, because of its nature, entails a whole different set of skill sets that in turn necessitates a different approach to coaching. We need people like Gary pushing the envelope but it the end it will take time as more and more parents have increasingly played and understand the game.

  15. pg 19 says

    We are the problem, meaning you and me, not those we talk about. Compared to the world, our understanding of coaching soccer compared to the average coach abroad is very low. Compared to the average coach that coaches basketball and football, those coaches are significantly more of an expert in their sport that we are in soccer. Yet, you and I know more than the person immediately below us (players and their parents) and they look at/to us as “experts”.

    I will admittedly take responsibility for my arrogance in believing soccer was too different than football or basketball to think any of the concepts of those games had any relevance to the game I’m an expert in coaching.

    I have sought/been trained in the soccer coaching methods of teaching technique and tactics from a layered approach (1st attacker, 2nd attacker, etc/1st defender/2nd defender etc). Build from very simple to more complex. I believe in the merits of this still. However, I think to basketball, all 5 rehearse their plays. I think to football, same with all 11. There are elements that are useful to know from those games that are applicable to this game of soccer and I have ignored ALL of that as a soccer coach because of my arrogance and I have missed opportunities to reach out to true expert coaches that are in abundance around me, because they are not soccer.

    Ultimately, in those sports you are developing the game more than the individual. A poor first touch in soccer, a team can easily over ride that if they are well trained “collectively” compared to an individual who has to work much harder to remedy the situation by themselves. I’m not clear on my thinking about this yet but it is an epiphany that I’ve been going through these past couple of weeks and this topic parallels what I’m beginning to think.

    I have been the problem because I thought I was the expert and because of that, my arrogance prevented me from seeing connections that I could have easily made as a kid. More than anything, I’m starting to think more than just taking in information.

  16. Nancee says

    PG19. You raise interesting points. I am curious why/how you believe a poor first touch can be overridden by the collective team. Doesn’t it ultimately take time to correct or result in a loss of possession, which is detrimental, if you agree that possession style play is what ‘we’ aspire to? If we use the MLS as guide to compare to other Premier levels of play in other countries and collegiate soccer as a guide to compare against say, lower levels of professional football in other countries, our first touch is a tremendous letdown in maintaining/building play by comparison.

    • Luke Symons says

      Yeah, I disagree with that too. If a player can’t receive a pass, the team is playing 10 on 11 when in possession.
      I think players here often appear to have a worse first touch than they actually do because the team hasn’t been choreographed tactically. Player is receiving the ball, doesn’t know where he/she should be looking, teammates maybe aren’t in the right place – and panic sets in.
      Why, at the youth level, do you see so many defenders charging like bulls at the players they’re playing against? Because most of the time it works. They know that it will send the player into a state of panic and they’ll misplay the ball or hoof it away.
      There’s a reason you don’t see this kind of defending at the top level. A skillful and choreographed team will easily pass its way out of over-aggressive pressure.

  17. hincha says

    “A poor first touch in soccer, a team can easily override that if they are trained collectively.” Wrong. First touch is the base of doing everything. You can go go to all the courses you want that teach theory and advanced tactics but until you understand the gaame at a deep fundamental level (having played it for years at a reasonbly sophisticated level as well as considered and studied it deeply) you will be missing a critical element of coaching. Would you expect a person who never played baseball at all in their life to be a successful youth coach in all likelihood? But that is what we now have in the U.S. Most youth coaches have not played the game at any meaningful level (unlike Europe and S America). As this firstgeneration of soccer players, most of which were coached incorrectly and have little understanding of the game start coaching they will at least be a little better than their coaches who had no knowledge of the game. Their players will be a little better and when those players go on to be coaches they will be better still.

  18. emily says

    I think what PG19 is trying to say maybe I might be that the players around the player who had a bad touch can recover/ recuperate the ball but yes first touch is all important and a very basic thing that must be practiced continually, some players do have touch of a blacksmith. a bad touch can set off a chain reaction that leads to a bad pass that leads to a bad reception and leads to another bad pass.

    • pg 19 says

      My comment is there is an abundance of great coaches around that I could learn from that I have chosen not to because they don’t coach soccer and I haven’t connected what they do with what I do. Many of the concepts they use in similar themed sports, do have their application in soccer. One of the big themes is the concept of preparing teams as a whole (plays and set tactical training) versus exhaustive time on technique and tactics that only encompass at most a unit of players, but likely 2 or 3.

      By training a team as a larger group or even whole, every player has a responsibility at every moment within those plays and set tactical pieces. Broaden that further to programs that have a history of producing dominating seasons, then you’ll find the theme expressed by those sports respective “first” teams is taught as early as possible within their youth programs.

      Let’s turn my example into a question, what teams are better able to recover from a poor first touch in soccer? Every team I’ve coached or watched experiences poor first touch and every team has variability in the quality of first touch amongst its roster. If the players are in better positions, is a poor first touch as detrimental? If the supporting players are in better positions relative to where the poor first touch occurred, will they more frequently win the ball back? So, how do you get your players in the right position at the right time more often? Or do you do as I’ve been doing and focus too much time trying to fix the player or the tactical play of only 2 or 3 players at a time?

  19. Maradona says

    What Gary is saying is that you have to change the status quo -incumbents frame of mind to have a culture that reflects what this sport is globally…guerilla time my friends,that is what Gary is saying…estamos?

  20. Nancee says

    Bingo Luke. I think that fear poor first touch style/mentality is partly why defense is played so aggressively here whether at U10 or college or MLS. First touch is poor period. 1v1 skills are lacking -so a defender or group defense knows they can then bull rush an individual player with little or no recourse. If the collective offensive mentality here was that the person with the ball was the one in control of play— than defenses may be forced into more of a jockey style, a la europe and even south america, instead of playing so physically. People don’t charge Messi, Modric, Toure, any number of outside defenders, D and O mids… ad infinitum… because they would be made to look a fool by the player with the ball thereby putting their team in a compromising position. In other countries the offensive player 1v1 is the player in control of play. Here, the defender is in control of play– in my mind. You see this all the time in the MLS. Bull rush defense. Turnover. To go back to Gary’s original post, we have to become better from a player development model to truly begin affecting the soccer development model in our country (which in my other posts I argue for the psychology philosophy of soccer development becoming the psychology philosophy of football development –which then OVER TIME can become a football culture.)

    • Muttonquad says

      Nancee, I think the issue is, where do the “developed” players go as they move beyond youth play in the US? Players with high potential don’t have good options to play at the highest level in this country. The high potential players are out there. There are not enough opportunities for them to play with coaches/teams who can offer something of value (appropriately challenging training, competition, mentoring, highest international level of professional play). From my perspective as a parent, this is a problem even at lower levels of youth play — it has been a struggle to find an appropriate level, well-coached team and playing opportunities for my son who is a decent player and loves the game. But I assume Gary is talking beyond that — US professionals or youth players trying to go pro that might want to play at the highest international level in this country. Lost potential and promising players falling through the cracks for a large variety of reasons that do not include how skilled they are or what their potential might be.

      • Kana says

        “Lost potential and promising players falling through the cracks for a large variety of reasons that do not include how skilled they are or what their potential might be.”

        That quote is a painful but a true one. Goes back to Gary’s old post about Matters of Circumstance. Victims of the System is also fitting. I”m watching our club try to implement possession soccer, but still got majority of older players who grew up with kick and chase being coached by like minded coaches. Starting from scratch with only U5 – U8 teams would be easier. Watching the paradigm shift is rife with politics, good intentions, coaching blocks, inability to release old school coaches. So nothing happens other than PR crap.

    • says

      “To go back to Gary’s original post, we have to become better from a player development model to truly begin affecting the soccer development model in our country”

      Hi Nancee,

      Wish I was a better writer, because that is absolutely NOT what I’m saying. AT ALL.

      I’m saying “player development” pretty much won’t change shit!
      U9 this … U14 that … first touch this … youth club that … futsal here … SSG over there … my kid this … his kid that …

      All that stuff is garbage.

      Our biggest challenge, our biggest problems are not in the youth player development arena.
      I’m saying having the focus on youth development doesn’t solve squat.

      And I’m also saying 3four3′s aim is NOT player development.

      • El Memo says

        Brian, First of all, I disagree that Player Development is “green” or in good standing. I do agree that its not the fundamental problem. Developing great players will not solve our “football” problem. At best it will create pockets of good material, that will eventually go to waste. It is the coaching and approach to the game. And, we will not move forward until this is unveiled and accepted – across all levels. Our common language with the British causes us to seek their league/style, which is not possession based – although starting to change some. (Why does my ESPN link defaults to the EPL and not La Liga, Bundesliga or a South American league. I know i can change it, i’m just saying.). Maybe it takes for them to change first before we do.
        (I’m also tired of people quantifying players by saying 6’3″, or their 40 yard dash time. You see a video of a “prodigy child” every day on youtube because they matured physically early. Probably works for their sports but hurts or prevents proper approach to Football. Probably for a different post, but related.
        Again, I go back to the quote “Give a man a fish . . . ” Player Development is like giving the fish, but Football Development allows for a self sustained system “teaching a man to fish.”

        • Kana says

          El Memo,
          I remember clear as day when my now U15 son was U8 first trying out for a competitive club. The first thing the coach did on day one, was to line up the players and have them run, see who was quickest. A series of wind sprints from different distances. The even sadder thing is so many football and baseball minded parents watching and thinking it was a college style combine where a 4.5, 40-yard dash identified the next superstar. Gladly the clubs have advanced since then, but it was a mere 7-years ago! USA soccer is still in the diaper rash stage.

      • Kana says

        I agree w/you . . . but not sure if for same reasons? I see it as player development and development of the game as a whole and all that influences it (things like culture, national identity in style of play, having a viable league pyramid, quality of MLS and lower leagues, changing the college game, and so on). Right now, I would argue that it’s external (Spain, Barca, EPL, La Liga, Argentina, Brazil) that influences us the most. We try to copy rather than take in what’s good, adopt and do what is best given our situation. That will get us watered-down “XYZ” (fill in the blank). Arguably as bad as what we got now.

        I see player development as the micro, the game as the macro. Change the macro and the micro almost for sure will change.

        If we are to influence the macro, I see Jurgen Klinsman as the best champion. Followed by MLS (e.g., Caleb Porter’s success could have many tentacles). And since there is no alternative for college right now, it has a major stake but they are in their academia cone of silence and self-exile from the professional soccer gatekeeper function they are serving.

      • Soccer_Sense says

        It may sound strange, but I guess I always assumed I knew the purpose of the blog, but now I am not so sure. Soccer development in the US is a complex issue and as you guys say you have only scratched the surface. It strikes me as possibly too complex which makes me wonder. Why do you guys do it? What is your aim?
        I’m reminded of a chapter in the book Tipping Point by the same author as the 10,000 hour rule. It’s about sexism in European orchestras. Women were talented musicians, but rarely hired. The reasons for this and the solutions were as varied and complex as the opinions here. Some included creating a shining example of a gender neutral orchestra. You guys have done the same by analogy with your teams. Other options included making an effort to improve education about the problem in the business, but the author points out all these things would have barely made a dent on hiring women even after decades. One simple, unexpected change though solved the problem almost overnight more than any amount of education or talk about the topic. Blind auditions. I feel like we could be here talking for 10 or 20 years from now. I can’t imagine that would be your goal… to invest decades into making a dent. Do you guys see a trigger for change or tipping point that could really change the landscape of US soccer? Or is your aim more laser focused…say to develop 20 or so world class players of the same generation to produce a world class US team?

  21. Phil says

    In order to gain a better perspective on soccer, I joined a men’s league as my boy started playing soccer. I grew up predominately as an American football player and track athlete, so “soccer” was a bit of a change. I figure if I am going to be yelling from the sideline, I might as well have an idea of what I’m saying. Fortunately the men’s team I was on was captained by a former D I player who really emphasized possession and playing out of the back. Boy, my athleticism only took me so far because in no time I became a huge liability in possession. Sure, I could chase down the long balls, tackle aggressively and even make well-timed runs into space, but I garnered the reputation of performing horrible passes and bad traps because I lacked the ability to retained possession for my team. I knew what to do half of the time; I just could not do it. Similarly, I’ve encountered too many players who have the same issue on the youth level. They are still young but they are reluctant to invest the necessary time to train. A fellow parent and I set up pick-up games at the park, futsal teams, and have even tried to relay some simple principles to the youth but often end with little to zero results. Gary, you are right, the environment and American mindset needs an immediate alteration. Just to give you an example of what I mean, a local high school coach (known for winning state titles btw) was interviewed after a significant victory by the local newspaper. He mentioned that a key to their success was that, “we were able to get the ball to our athletes” and “the ball just bounced our way”. :&

  22. Nancee says

    ‘…. reluctant to invest the necessary time to train.’ I redact and reiterate. ‘…reluctant to invest the necessary time to train.’

  23. Noah Creagh says

    We can continue to develop as coaches and begin to develop better players and products..But if the system remains anti competitive and closed as it currently is..”player development” will not be enough. Its really only a piece of the puzzle here.

  24. Noah Creagh says

    The current culture and climate we have just will not do..There are plenty out their players/coaches/fans that would love to throw their support to the MLS … if it were not such a closed anti competitive league with no real culture whatsoever. Its more than just ‘player development’ or being devoid of a tactical understanding of the game..its an understanding of the global game as a whole..its the stamping out of what works for this sport in particular everywhere else on the planet.

  25. Nancee says

    Hey Gary. I recognize the problem is not player development solely. The problem is way to complex to pin it on that. I was attempting to comment on another wormhole- a spin off of the discussion- and likely incorrectly used your words– and in rereading, I see that I did. For that I apologize. If the aim of this blog is communication, personal and group think, it can be very challenging to answer and comment on a comment and continue to stay on point regarding the direction of the original post. I’ve been reading and rereading many of the previous months blogs and learning much and trying to discern truth from your sometimes ‘parables’. One thing I have learned is that nothing is plainly obvious- particularly with soccer development vs player development. It is all intertwined and as you say the reasons we are not the global leader are not obvious. I do think part of the problem is our leadership. I think we have too many voices and not a singular vision at the higher levels of US Soccer, NCAA, MLS and they null one another out. I’m curious if I could give a stab at some of the less obvious reasons why we are not a global leader in the sport. Maybe it could be: we are a free market, free enterprise, consumption crazed society generally living way above our means concerned more about the Lexus we want then the Routan we can afford, working two jobs, if your lucky enough to have two parents that is, separation of society into nano cyber communities paying untold amounts of money to play a sport that requires a ball and sneakers and desire and time and love and a willingness to be okay with the fact that we may never be a global leader in the sport because at the roots we are playing a different sport than the rest of the world. I don’t know.

  26. Nancee says

    reread my previous post a few hours later and am sorry for rant near the end. just trying to display that maybe the less obvious reasons are woven into the fabric of our nation- the how of American life.

    • BT says

      Nancee… actually I don’t believe you are off base at all… your comment “I think we have too many voices and not a singular vision at the higher levels of US Soccer, NCAA, MLS and they null one another out.”
      This is a Huge factor… while we would like to think we can change things in a grassroots sort of way…this is a TOP down organizational structure… look at ALL the other countries (speaking of relevant soccer countries)… they have ONE organization that dictates down to the youth level the game plan of soccer in their country… Ours is a free for all… I am on one of the Regional boards for US Youth Soccer and it is frustrating… we desperately need US Soccer to take ownership of youth soccer here but because we are a free market, consumption related society etc as you stated… US Soccer doesn’t do the thing it needs to do which is dictate the youth side of things… we have US Youth(3.5 million kids) , US Club 7-800 thousand kids) , AYSO, and a myriad of other smaller organizations money grabbing with no direction from above …
      Thus there is a void of leadership and confusion and greed abounds… and it leaves us as coaches at the bottom trying to affect change frustrated…
      Sure US Soccer has their “coaching curriculum” … and while far from perfect at least its a semblance of trying to DO something…
      But until US Soccer does the Hard thing and puts Youth soccer under one umbrella and says this is how we will work and function as a unit, and these are the rules if you want to be in the system, then it will continue to be a free for all… and the MLS looks to be filling that void to some degree as they realize the chaos of our national youth system and said screw it we will have our own youth academies and find the best players we can, train them for free, and then hopefully get a return on our investment… MLS just spent a couple of million $ on sending the head coaches of all the MLS youth academies to take a 2 year UEFA licensing course as a side note… and US Soccer seems ok with letting that happen…
      Because of the fractionated youth Associations across our countries I think US Soccer hopes this leadership with the MLS will help structure things below… and are waiting to see the effects of experiments like the Timbers and Oregon Youth Soccer Association…
      For good or bad… We are truly a unique country in this regard…

      • Kevin says

        Seems like this is an ongoing thread here 3four3. Latinos longing for their socialist homelands, perhaps, laying the cultural issues of the soccer community in the United States at the feet of our capitalistic tendencies. It is utter horseshit.

        In their mind: “If only USSF/USYS ORDERED everyone to train their youth only exactly the way *_ I _* think they should, everything would be PERFECT.”

        Typical arrogant socialist idiocy. Please stop pleading for the USSF to save soccer. If fact, in many ways USYS is the problem as they are the purveyor of the recreational mindset.

        Do you think the RFEF (Spanish Royal football federation) mandates that Barcelona runs it’s academy the way that it does? Do you think that RFEF mandates Real run it’s academy the exact same way as Barcelona runs theirs? Of course the fuck not. Barcelona’s academy is successful for many reasons, not one of which is because they are mandated to do shit by the RFEF. Local governance is best.

        The problem is not that we have a fractured youth system, the problem is that the youth system, college, and MLS are not properly aligned. The problem is that the Kleiban’s can create an on the field product that is entirely superior to that of other youth clubs, yet they cannot “win”.

        • BT says

          Kevin…its not that we need USSF to “save” soccer as you so emotionally state in your comment… its just we as a country don’t have a top down organization…its a free for all in the youth world and anyone that has been in it long enough can see that it’s about the money… and because there is no direction from the national level (not dictating how to run your club… I know that REEF doesn’t dictate specifics to the professional clubs)… but they do have guidelines and one system that everyone registers under and plays under and general principles of small sided games etc for younger players… its ORGANIZED… it’s not “well I don’t like this youth system so I’m starting my own”…
          Your last paragraph made the most sense in that we are not Aligned… and if USSF doesn’t help align everyone then the void remains and it will be haphazardly filled by MLS and others and we continue to “bob around in the ocean” with this theory or that new academy system etc.
          I am far from believing USSF should dictate daily practices etc… its the BIG picture that needs tuning/aligning… I think Klinsmann is trying to slowly mold that but he’s fighting against a lot of people who don’t get it…so in the end I agree with you to a degree…
          one last thing…USYS does purvey the recreational side of things… 90+% of ALL players…despite what their parents think are just that… you would have a hard time finding those elite players if they didn’t start somewhere… USYS has got some MAJOR issues…I know that as I am on one of those boards… and I am trying to help correct it at least… better than just blogging about it… although blogging is more fun…especially at 2am.

          • ASO says

            Kevin and BT- I completely agree that there will be no solutions coming from the top. Nor will it come from the bottom via individual clubs. Look at the marijuana laws for an example of how radical changes can happen in this country. The reason it is legalizing is clearly not from the federal level but it is also not from grassroots stoners. It is because it became FISCALLY unreasonable for local then state governments to enforce the laws and the states realized they could both save $ by not enforcing AND make $ by legalizing.

            Youth soccer is the way it is because a model developed and spread in which $ could be made. This will not change unless the cash flow can go faster with a different model. That is why I am cautiously optimistic about Oregon. If a MLS club (like a state) is incentivized to spend $ on youth soccer (for real not just the 48 players in academy) because it sees a big financial benefit in the long run, things may change radically. BUT for this to really work, MLS clubs must be released from the current shackles that inhibit a truly competitive market (salary caps/promotion-relagation, etc).

          • Kevin says

            Well… if what you are looking is USSF to evolve into a minimalist organization that only

            1. Provided a registration/insurance mechanism.
            2. Organized a nationwide competition structure that spanned professional clubs all the way down to the local minnows and involved promotion and relegation.
            3. Sanctioned the national teams.

            I would enthusiastically agree, and be stoked that the United States would have a soccer structure like that of other nations. But then I would wonder how USSF could manage to obsolete USClub/AYSO/USYS and cull 80% of its bureaucracy all while forcing MLS to abandon their franchise/revenue sharing/draft model, change NCAA eligibility rules, and change the culture that makes college soccer the goal for most players?

            Feasibility aside, I am pretty sure that is not what you are looking for.

            What you want is for some organization to exist that orders everyone to follow the exact same philosophy (probably your philosophy by total coincidence). This will make things worse rather than improving them.

            Going through the USSF/USYS curriculum it clearly says not to do set tactical training. The phrase “no tactical training, let the game be the teacher” everywhere, over and over again. Now along comes the Kleibans who, among other things, have set tactical training as a core part of their methodology.

            If you got your wish 3four3 would not exist because it is not the way USSF has mandated things to be done.

          • BT says

            Kevin…Again you are wrong in trying to assume my thoughts… but again I agree with some of what you discuss… I do want an organization that mimics the success other countries have had like Germany and Spain… I don’t truly believe it may be possible but aspire to it anyway… I do not want an organization that forces a certain philosophy and ironically while I coach in the USYS system (as well as attend US Club sanctioned events etc) I have been coaching tactical training since I took my player (believe first US player to trial for a Spanish club) to trial for FC Espanyol and had the opportunity to watch for 2 weeks (5-6 hr a day) the training sessions of FC Espanyol and FC Bacelona … back in 2006… so while US Soccer promotes the “game is the teacher” I have been trying to apply the tactics that I saw trained in Barcelona since 2006… I only started following 3four3 as it was the first time I had seen someone else “believe” in what I had been practicing, muddling through, on my own… I coached U11-14 boys since that time and because of that tactical training built on some descent technical ability that we have been successful… I have convinced 2 other coaches in the club to follow that mentality at the younger ages and our u10′s have done well to incorporate playing out of the back and shifting and finding gaps etc… we incorporated watching Barca and now Byern with the boys and helping them see the tactics…
            So while I think you assume I am an old school proponent of USYS or US Soccer you could not be farther from the truth… I am involved with USYS at the regional level so that I can help institute change toward this style of play and coaching… not the opposite… again I invest my time (not a full time paid coach… i have a job that provides me significant finances and more importantly time… to do what I really love… coach… for free)… so I hope this helps clarify some of the misunderstanding… if not, then oh well … its a blog and I appreciate the freedom of thoughts some of which I take pieces of and others I let go… I keep everything open so I that I don’t miss opportunity when it passes by…
            Have a great day and thanks for your follow up conversation…

  27. Kevin says

    I didn’t know where else to put this but today I went to the MLS Combine. I got a roster while I was there with the jersey numbers, teams, and names, and I had with me a printed out sheet of the latest Mock Draft done by Soccerbyives. Granted it’s a mock draft, but this tells you more or less how much or how little players are being valued. After watching all 50+ players at the MLS Combine I decided I would make my own “Team of the day”. After putting my team together, I looked at their projected draft spots. The eleven players I came up with were a combined 361 in projected picks if you added them up, and I had 0 field players in my team that were in the top 15 projected picks. Now it is quite possible that either I have no idea what talent is, or one day wasn’t enough for me to be a good judge since I knew next to nothing about 99% of the players. But when you look at all the guys that are high up the charts and valued highly, they were players that I had a hard time even remembering seeing them on the field at all. They seemed to me to be players that are athletic, physical, 50/50 and second ball battlers. The few players that had some quality on the ball, and made good decisions on and off of it were way down the list and hardly discussed in my opinion. It was odd sitting near MLS scouts and coaches etc. hearing them talking so fondly of players I was just ragging on seconds ago. A funny (or sad) side story is that on my way out to the parking lot I caught 5 minutes or so of an Adult League game on an adjacent field, and in that little time saw more in one of the players there than 90% of the players that were in the MLS Combine. Anyways, I just wanted to put my thoughts out there and see what people who value quality possession soccer instead of jungle ball thought if they have seen any of the MLS Combine.

    • El Memo says

      A problem is that teams are already set up for athletic players instead of skilled players. Coaches can’t identify talent but also can’t fit talented players within their system. It is a perpetual cycle. A talented /skilled player can actually “hurt” you in a direct style, just like an athletic / unskilled player will hurt possession. (Gary touched on this a while back) It takes someone not just playing possession but winning convincingly to at least open a few eyes/ minds. Even then, there will be critics and will try to find holes in that system. But, at least there will be an option for those players.

      • Kana says

        “Coaches can’t identify talent but also can’t fit talented players within their system.”

        True, how true El Memo.

  28. Nate says

    Money. If the same money that was in the NFL, NBA, NHL, College FB and BB, we’d see a change to everything in between. Money doesn’t make a good player, but money does bring in the rest that a good player looks for/needs with regard to the big red circle. That’s what is missing over here. Youth academies in europe, check? here, laughable? Why, because too many friends of the program are making the decisions and getting selected for important positions, i.e. nothing changes if nothing changes.

    Pretty damn tired of the boys club mentality we have here in the states. So you add that to lack of money pouring in, it’ll take a long time before we actually get anywhere comparative to our targets and clear up that red circle.

  29. Jeremy says

    Literally EVERYTHING, every single facet of soccer development and player development in this country, from 4 year olds to the professional leagues and our national team is so incomprehensibly messed up that it is literally depressing. The more I read and learn about the state of the sport in our country and its future prospects, the more I doubt that we will ever get to where we want to be. 20 years ago they said, “give us 20 years.” Remember Project 2010 or whatever the hell it was called? We were supposed to have a World Cup by now. And people keep falling for it. Now it’s Don Garber’s pronouncements that by 2022 MLS will be a leading soccer league. I’ll believe that when I see it…which means I’ll probably never believe it. A couple of years ago Klinsmann made a list of six major problems keeping soccer from truly growing here. The real question isn’t, “what do we do wrong?”, it’s “what do we do right?”. The answer: we do nothing right! NOTHING!!! And despite the fact that almost everyone knows it’s all wrong, nothing ever changes.

    The more I become enlightened about the condition of soccer on our shores, the more depressed I become thinking about our future playing it. It feels as if we are forever doomed to be mired in mediocrity. So, ludicrously, much untapped potential, yet it appears that potential will remain untapped. I truly believe that I will not witness the day that our country arrives at becoming a mature, highly cultured soccer powerhouse. I am only 30, but I fear that I will not see it in my lifetime. The system is just too broken. It’s like trying to have fixed the political/economic/social structure of the USSR. It was just too big, the problems too indelibly entrenched and too corrupt. The USSR simply had to fail and break apart. Sometimes I feel that the only way soccer will ever succeed here is if the USSF and MLS ultimately fail outright and are destroyed. Then a new system that is done the right way can take their places.

    Sometimes I just don’t understand it. The Kleiban’s are able to churn out numerous “gems” such as Ben Lederman. It proves that it can be done, even here. But why are they basically the only ones who can do this? If they can accomplish it, why can’t anyone else? When watching the videos of their teams in action, why do their over-matched opponents keep playing the same long ball style? The opposing coaches see what works, how come they don’t try it themselves? Why is almost no one capable of coaching in this country? It is all so very, very frustrating and leaves me with incalculably great pessimism for our future. I really do believe it will look a hell of a lot like the last 20 years.

    • ASO says

      Nothing will change because there are no incentives to change. Youth clubs, NCAA, MLS all monopolies, all making $ for themselves just fine. They can easily shake off the occasional club trying to break out of the mediocrity mold because it doesn’t change their bottom line. Tough to sustain breaking the mold because there is no way at the current time to profit from offering a superior product.

      So two options: throw up your hands and say nothing can be done or figure out how to change something/anything in your piece of the soccer world.

      • jonny says

        Completely agree!! In a blind survey the majority of parents would join and fight the good fight. If the same group was asked to write their name on the survey it would come back as everything is fine and no need for change. The majority of club parents think either everything is fine “we just won the 2nd division trophy” or ” no make waves, this whole thing will be over in a few years anyway”.
        MLS news in Miami is another big deal. In a few decades it will look a little different than now.

        • Jeremy says

          That last comment was for ADO btw.


          Do you really think MLS is heading in the right direction? A huge problem that I never hear mentioned is the fact that MLS does create an educated base of soccer fans. Talking heads always say that MLS will continue to pave our way forward as a soccer nation. The thing is, MLS and the wider soccer world are rather mutually exclusive. Most cultured soccer fans have nothing to do with MLS. And, it seems to me, that a very large percentage, at least, of MLS fans are just that, fans of MLS who know little about the real game. Because the soccer in MLS looks very different than the soccer in the wider world. It is such an inferior product that it does not create a base of fans who are particularly educated about the game. It should be meant to be an introduction to the sport, but it is a detriment if it is the model used to coach children with. I feel MLS is not nearly as beneficial to “soccer development” as columnists and the like will have people believe.

          When you say it will look “a little” different in a few decades, do you mean just that, only a little? You think we are mostly doomed to see this level of mediocre soccer for the rest of our lifetimes?

      • Jeremy says

        I desperately want real, honest-to-goodness change. Positive change. QUALITY change. I’m glad I found this site, because it provides a conduit through which frustrated lovers of the sport, who really know the sport, can communicate.

        So where do you see us heading in the years to come? Not what you hope for but what you think will happen; will the next 20 years be mostly like the last 20? Or do you think the turning point is genuinely around the corner? Any way you see these monopolies being broken up?

        One thing I can say for certain is that the kids need and deserve better youth coaches. If pay-to-play is going to exist, people should, at least, be getting bang for their buck. Kids need professional, licensed instructors of the game, and not old-school English coaches or the cronies of the USSF leadership who make up the “boy’s club”, but coaches who can teach possession soccer. We can’t do that yet on a wide scale due to lack of nation-wide education, so import them.

  30. CDO says

    All throughout the youth player development process, we need to try and increase awareness, speed of thought, speed of play. As players get to higher levels and ages, I believe these are two of the most important things. I want to win but care more about the latter. It’s not about me as coach, it’s about the player and developing him as best I can. Ideally that translates to winning. If not, it’s my fault, not the players. I coach and teach them. I determine the tactics, style of play, who plays, and roster. If it doesn’t work, I need to reassess my philosophy and methods. Winning and losing is the best mechanism to self-assess. Too many coaches look outward. Blame the players. Sometimes that’s true (i.e., the “system” is often at fault, not developing players properly).

    I want to create players who have solid technique and tactical understanding capable of playing quickly and conditioned to react intuitively, instinctively. Think and play faster, faster but don’t be rushed mentally. Composure at 100 mph.

    I don’t’ care if they are physically big (tall or muscular). I care more if they are competitive and passionate in how they use their God-given technical skills and tactical knowledge to play within a system as part of a team. If they turn into confident assassins (i.e., “footballers”) on the pitch, I’ve done my job.

    Hopefully I am helping soccer development via my player development.

  31. CDO says

    Youth and college soccer are not optimized to produce or ID quality players with passion and proper footballing mentality. Youth soccer is a commodity-based model based on profit motive. Little to no connection to the final product at professional level. They are not pro-centric environments. Trajectory and purpose not aligned to professional player development. Pick any professional club in the world outside the US and their business model is to be highly selective and even at U11 produce future pros. It sets the stage for player id, coaching, philosophy, and so on. Do we have that in youth soccer? No! This is partly why we don’t produce footballers.

    USSDA Academy is step in right direction, but it needs to think of players in that system as “an incubator for future professionals”, not just “competitive youth soccer”. It has to be different than competitive soccer’s version of AYSO All Stars.

    The mentality inspired by the environment coaches and players believe they operate in. Worth repeating: “An incubator for future professionals.” This mental paradigm shift is something that must happen if we are to move to higher levels and produce elite players able to compete against the world (who by the way already operate in this mental framework).

    Like anything else, a commodity (youth soccer) has lesser quality, lower standards, inferior raw material than a niche product. We need to stop treating elite players as a commodity. Funnel them into a program that is meaningful, pro-centric oriented.

    A true academy should be rarified air. The crème de la crème. One side of me believes only MLS and USL clubs should have USSDA approved academies, not youth clubs, no matter how big they are. Fair? No! But that’s how we have to roll. But America is a big nation and we probably need to large youth clubs to fill the void. But there has to be some linkage to a professional club or possibly D1 college to change the mentality.

    Would love to hear from others on this.

  32. CDO says

    Thought I’d share some chuckles:
    DoC: Do you have the names of those big domestic and international tournaments we want to enter?

    Coach: Our teams are totally unqualified.

    DoC: I know but they’re all we have.

    Coach: Actually, all our teams are in that category.

    DoC: Well, let’s keep that to ourselves, but keep some names in our back pocket in case we’re accepted.

    Coach: Ok, I’ll develop a specialized training program and give it a professional sounding name to attract better players and reinforce club reputation.

    DoC: Yeah, we have wonderful coaching. But our players are awful.

    Coach: “Exactly”, as they both walk away happy.

  33. Coach Juan says

    As a 20+ year coach with stints in Europe, I can tell you that youth clubs in USA do help with tactics, technical, and physical / athleticism. However, they do not teach “how to play the game”. Since there is not a league pyramid with dozens of academies across map of USA (we have lots of dark spots untapped by MLS and USSDA), player id suffers. I’m not talking about regular players or above average ones. In a proper nation-wide academy system aligned to professional teams across the pyramid, player id will be optimized.

    Being fast, strong, big or technically gifted is not the identifier. Those are obvious hard skills and scouts and coaches tend to fixate on them. Finding the real prodigies is more subtle. Something I learned from several years in Europe.

    Take La Masia for example. Its public knowledge (again, a well-known data point that 99.99% in USA miss what the information is telling us), that La Masia focus on players who have the attributes to play the game. For example, Xavi was discovered because of his ball handling ability (not size, speed, strength). This is replicated in dozens and dozens of players before and since.

    What are the subtleties? Its things like ability to retain possession, passing accuracy, composure & patience, vision, movement, timing, understanding risk / reward in different thirds of the pitch, plays simple and safe, mental capacity to understand formation / roles & responsibilities, understanding of positional interchange.

    I’ve watched and even coached players who were U10 and now are U16 on Academy and they are still the same player and still starting. They are just bigger, stronger, faster but still don’t understand “how to play the game”.

    The gems who “know how to play” are often overlooked. Drowned out by aggressive, hectic play. Their style of play doesn’t fit. The number of clubs and coaches who understand player id are too few and far apart in USA. If we had more professionally aligned academies, things would start to change.

    So what am I getting to? My point is: I don’t believe coaching is the #1 problem in USA, it’s the lack of understanding who the promising players are and absence of a pyramid / system to funnel them into the proper environment. We can change coaching all we want, but it won’t change the ability to id and funnel the best players into the right path.

    We don’t’ id a Messi, Aguero, or Neymar because we don’t’ look for them. They don’t fit our model, our mindset of what a player is. If USA soccer wants to advance, we need to fundamentally ask ourselves “what defines a top-caliber player”. We also need to provide professionally aligned opportunities no later than U16. Our scouts and coaches need to understand it’s not all Xs and Os. No different than a master sculptor, martial arts master, master painter or master musician carefully selects pupils. USA has a great Wal-Mart / McDonald’s system producing thousands of bland average players. We need a Versace niche boutique for those rare gems.

  34. Lalo says

    My last post before I head disappear for several months (heading to South America for job).

    Food for thought since activity on this site has dwindled in last few months. . . like a player, coaching and growth of the game has maturity levels. Off the top of my head: “Formative” (exploration, trial and error, volatility, absorbing, learning, discovering, “doing things not knowing if they are good or bad” , etc.); “Refining” (“starting to consciously know what you’re doing wrong / doing right”, enhancing, improving, establishing systems, exponential knowledge growth, increasing talent, fine tuning discovery, etc.; “Optimized” (“knowing what to do and why, details become critical, embedded philosophy, generationally repeatable, self-sustaining, fine tuning, structured, a large cadre of “masters in their field”, purposeful, etc .

    I would put USA at the start of refining stage because of last 5-years with advent of MLS academies, USSDA, conscious recognition to move from kick and chase big players, move to possession soccer, expansion of international football coverage, growth of sport, growth of MLS.

    What will it take to move us to the next level? That’s probably 15 – 20 or more years away . . . .


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