Who Else Wants to Win?

red-flagYeah, that’s what I thought.

Winning fucking matters!

And don’t you ever forget it.

The only question (AND IT’S A CRITICAL ONE) really revolves around context. Under what circumstances has winning occurred? What were the pros/cons considering short, medium, and long term objectives?

But, whatever your answers … on the whole, winning matters.

Chronic losers have conveniently taken a great thing (attempts at placing winning in a proper context), and turned it into the ultimate excuse.

They’ve taken the meme “winning at all cost” to vilify winners and shelter themselves.

So again:
Winning Matters
Winning Matters
Winning Matters

Don’t be a lemming. Don’t follow the losers off a cliff.

Whatever your short, medium, and long term objectives …

Winning is the currency that enables you to continue your process.

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  1. says

    I agree for the most part with your stuff Gary but I think without proper context, your points in this post could be considered rubbish by some. My daughters club embraces a technically oriented, possession brand of soccer from a young age (beginning U7). Until U12, the emphasis is on technical expertise on the ball and possession style tactics. And make no mistake if there is fidelity to that philosophy at a young age, it will cost you matches.

    • says

      I understand Patrick.

      I’ve come to understand that taking everyone’s context into consideration is impossible.
      I’ve come to appreciate when book authors regularly state the masses misinterpret their entire works.

      I’m not interested in capturing the masses at this point. I’m interested in attracting a very specific audience.

  2. ThiKu says

    There are many people who will take this the wrong way. Such as the coach of my opponent last weekend in which they completed just 5 passes in the first 10 minutes…..and not too many more over the next 70. Fortunately they didn’t win.

  3. Paul says

    Although I agree with you on almost every post I’ve read. This one seems to baffle me a bit. If you are saying winning is a by product of development, both player and sport. Then I agree. If you are saying it matters as winning is all important, then that leads to the sad state of American soccer. Give me the full grown man child in early teen years and every game can be won. However, once those small runts who need skill to compete grows, my man child team will fall off. That is assuming the runts are still playing the game in their late teens once their bodies catch up to their skill level.

    Still a bit confused on this one.

    • Kana says

      Agree with you Paul. I see winning as something like the chicken or egg riddle. Win at all costs or win with a philosophy and certain style? Winning IS important, but has to be framed within a context. Win a game, a tournament, have a league season win ratio above a certain metric (e.g., .70), win at the player development game? And if you lose, what classifies a “loser”? The W-L? Suppose the coach is teaching possession and truly developing prodogies but they just yet aren’t yet hitting on all cylinders? What is the timeframe? Next week, next year, when playe is U18? Yes, we all want to win, but needs context, purpose, time bound.

      • says

        Paul, Kana,

        You must win “enough” that it enables you to continue your big vision for the team, for the players, for whatever.

        As much as you’d like to fight it, Ws are a metric the masses value, and if you don’t respect that sufficiently … your work is in jeopardy.

        • James B. says

          I started a U9 team made up of such varying skill, passion, desire to play in a small town within a “club” that already had teams that all played jungle ball. I set out to play possession-based soccer with a group that mostly had no idea what was going on – the parents really had no idea. I told the parents what my plan was and that I knew we would lose at the beginning bc the other teams would play jungle ball and what I was doing would take time. We lost 10-0 the first game. We played out of the back, but at that time the keeper just dropped the ball in front of him , the other team ran onto it and scored. We lost the next game 7-1. The players and parents were starting to get upset and ask why we don’t play like the other teams bc they are winning. I explained again what I was trying to do and said we needed more time. The third game we won. We started to connect passes, playing out of the back didn’t just include the keeper dropping the ball. We won the fourth game. The parents and players then bought back into what I was doing. We finished the season 4-4 and lost the last game 1-0 to the team we had lost to 7-1 before. Had we not won games 3 and 4, I think I would have lost the parents and some of the kids before anything could start to come together. Winning was really important at that time – although I didn’t change how we played to simply win. At the end of the season, everyone was on board with what I was doing. I told everyone that winning is really important, but within the context of what I’m trying to achieve and that we will start to win even more over time.

    • says

      Gary is totally right that winning buys you time to continue building your process. The problem I found and I’m sure other coaches can relate. I knew I wanted my teams to play possession, but I had to learn through trial and error. And during the trial and error process we lost games. Because I had to learn. However, the longer I coach the less we loose. The key for me was when I just owned the fact that I didn’t know it all. I had to become a student and be willing to change. Fear of the unknown keeps us from growing as a coach.

  4. Eric D says

    I agree with this post to some extent especially when you agree to the 3four3 philosophy of playing down.
    Id do have an issue with teams doing so at the expense of their blindsided opponent. To go further into this debate let me explain- I plan on playing “down” in spring friendlies to work on the core of possession play. I have agreements with the opponents coaches that our A team will play their B teams when working on a specific task. Nobody is thrown to the wolves. We choose to play in flights where were competitive. We have finish 3rd of 8, 3rd of 8 and 5th of 12 in each of our seasons. I have not lost a single quality player to another team in my coaching career. We are in most every game. Have blown out a few and been blow out a few times.

    I dont condone placing your team is a flight you know you over match just to ensure victories.

    Average Tournaments are what they are- They often have a mixed level. The best ones attempt to balance but again- you know what your getting into.

    State Tournaments- I do have a huge issue with the brothers old clubs pay for play team. It was mentioned on another soccer site that the team chose to play Governors State Cup even after advancing to the semi finals of their league cup and defeating one of the favorites to make the final 4 of the much more challenging presidents division. The team is playing within the rules, but I think its awful. They are likely to not even play a team near their caliber to maybe the final 4 and they will be lucky to get a decent game there. I personally think that chicken s…! They would likely advanced deep into the presidents division but as a final 16 to 8 team. Thats winning too, As one poster on the site said “you can brag all you want about the hardware your nine year old has, but it will mean jack when the boys all grown up.”
    I along with many coaches that win year in and year out applaud the teams that dominate their league flight going undefeated playing in the more competitive state cup division.

    Dont get me wrong Im as competitive as they come and we play to win- winning way more than losing. I recently have had several kids from undefeated lower level teams tryout for my group as their kids is not challenged in match play and their teams have decided to limit their teams advancement.

    • Kana says

      Touching on what you say and expanding on my earlier post . . . a lame tournament (playing down possibly) where you put in second squad. Then you lose. What does that mean? You go to Nationals and lose, what quantifies “winning” or “losing”? Hoisting trophies (irrespective of W-L) is the only exacting measure. Trying to measure “development”, tweaking lineups, missing a player or two, poor ref calls, and all the other unknowns in soccer is difficult. Does routinely showing as a semi-finalist or quarter-finalist constitute “loser” and “not winning”? What exactly is meant by winning? Again, hoisting trophies is cut and dry, everything else is opinion drivien by specifics of each team/ coach / unique circumstances.

    • says

      The 3four3 philosophy is not to play down.

      I’ve only stated it can be a tool that helps establish proper execution in a competitive context.
      “Proper execution” of course being relative to your standards.

      The players need success to understand, to learn, and to believe. And so does the coach!
      But the goal is to NOT play down.

      • Eric D says

        This is the best post yet. Gary- I think some people miss interpreted your blog on that topic- even within your inner circle.

        Example- 2 years ago we played a United team in a U9 tournament. That was their first competition under fire and I felt real bad for them. They were trying to play it out from the back- The problem- The fields were micro small, they were playing my flight I team- They were an average flight II team. Top it off we had been working on high pressure. That was our tournament goal. They couldn’t complete a pass and I could tell the kids stopped believing.

        Their first games under fire should be strategic. Then ramp up the competition and let them know that things will get more difficult and speed of play will become more important.

  5. Junhua says

    winning game is important. The more important thing is how the team win the game for the youth league. What does the competition look like. There are always better teams than my kid’s team. But how the team play the game is more important. The passing, the communications, the position, the first touch, and defense and offense transition, set piece,etc.

  6. STL A-B says

    I believe Gary did address winning with – “Under what circumstances has winning occurred?” If you have followed or watched 3four3 you will know the style by they train and play. If you properly train your players to play the right way then the ultimate will occur – winning.

    • STL A-B says

      If you aren’t winning the majority of the time then what are you missing as coach? Dissect it, analyze it do you can improve and the winning will increase.

  7. Nichole says

    Honestly, the things in life that we are good at are usually the things in life whereby we hold tremendous passion or the need to be the best. If you are not playing to win, why are you playing? I would love to see a study conducted on the difference between players who want to win and players who do not care. Which players practice more on their own time, which players play the game with intensity. Anyone know of a study? Great post, thanks!

  8. Kana says

    It’s simple to me: winning doesn’t happen spontaneously, from God’s will, or luck. There’s a process that results in winning. Winning is an end, not the means. Focus on the process, and the ends should work. If not, tweak the process (be it player personnel, coaching, tactics, formation, mental make-up of players, and dozens and dozens of other variables . . . ).

    The secret ingredient in winning is the recipe. Saying we want to win is a bumper sticker slogan. The fun part of it is how do you increase odds of winning? Great coaches salivate at this part. That’s where coaching and philosophy come into play. Good coaching becomes more evident at older ages since by then the man-child affect is negated. If you don’t have the luxury of say a FC Barcelona to have similar players of similar skill and style of play, then it’s weaving together a tapestry of complimentary players and coming up with the right recipe. The fun part of coaching. Again, winning is the result of something, not a mutually exclusive measure onto itself that isn’t influenced by any other variable.

      • says

        I think there is a truly amazing “synergy” affect when winning and philosophy come together. And that is why it’s so important. I’ve had meetings with parent where I tell exactly what is going to happen, “we are going loose, but it’s ok and then we are going to win THIS WAY and its going to be great” So then when we win the right way its like you just injected nos into the team. :-)

  9. Nancee says

    This is one of the passages in the ‘bible’ that does not end in a parable. The answer is in the article, winning, ‘….really revolves around context. under what circumstances has winning occurred.’ The nature of a game is to have a winner and loser otherwise why play the game. If you are a coach without a plan then winning is ultimately the only discernible goal because it is how you are measuring success. If you have a plan, particularly in line with a philosophy centered around controlling the pace and possession of a game, winning becomes a process where the scoreboard may say you lost but you know as a coach or parent that the development is heading in the right direction- which is its own form of victory. Ultimately a bunch of these little victories will begin constituting actual game wins. That form of sweetness of victory, when winning is in line with the vision/philosophy you have instilled, is the penultimate expression.

  10. Nate says

    Simple enough. Couldn’t agree more. Sick and tired of feeling like somehow I’ve committed a crime for being competitive and training my teams to win.

  11. Coach S says

    My teams have lost games we won, and won games we’ve lost. Yes, winning, or maybe I should say NOT losing, is something every athlete needs to experience.

    But what I consider more important than winning, is DEVELOPMENT. And it is our jobs as coaches, to put them in the environment(s) necessary for their development needs. If they need to experience wins, we put them where they can “win”. If they need challenges, we put them where they are challenged.

    Development > Wins

    • Eric D says

      Coach S- Agree with you. We all need to remember not to hide behind buzz words like DEVELOPMENT to satisfy our needs/ egos or to appease the parents. Not saying this is anybody.

      But also remember not to DEVELOP on the backs of our opponents- meaning- they believe they are playing teams at a certain level- and you throw the fox into the chickens coupe. That’s wrong.

      My comments towards a particular program was about a team that has won tournaments. League play- 104 goals for 11 against. Semi finalists in league cup play. Record of 18-1 with their only lose to TFA Academy- Favorite to win the Presidents bracket of an elite state tournament.

      Friendlies to build confidence- Agreed

      Standard tournaments- Agreed

      League play- accurately determine where you teams ability lies and play accordingly. This is not a time to sandbag. It violates the spirit of the game.

      State Cups- Play where you belong

  12. PH says

    Winning is how you prove your competency, earn respect, build or maintain belief, garner or validate support of all kinds, and as Gary wrote, generally continue moving forward with the process of building a team, program, or club.

    The key word in the post is “currency.” Great metaphor.

  13. Mayhem says

    I didnt see him say win at all costs. He said Winning matters. Why do we pretend it doesn’t? It matters to the kids, it matters to the coaches. Winning is a by-product of development.

    • Coach S says

      Real winning may only be a by product of development IF you factor in “rate” of development. And this, to me, is the golden nugget. Can “you/we/I develop our players at a faster RATE than their/our peers?”

      If this is the case, then yes, successes like winning results are inevitable. The original post is stating only that winning matters. Yes it does, but it isn’t as important as rate of development.

      Example: Give me incredibly motivated and dedicated players/families, and I’ll develop the shit out of them. And then they will win the shit out of winning.

      • says

        “Rate of development” … interesting concept.

        On your example though …
        perhaps some responsibility is on the coach to develop that dedication in the player/families.

        • Coach S says

          100% agree. Unless you are gifted a team comprised of said attributes, it is the responsibility of the coach to do what he/she can to “nurture” those characteristics.

          In the end however, you win some and lose some……with respect to players, that is.

          In regards to “rate of development” being our primary objective, I am certain that is why we are all here frequenting your blog. And speaking of which, our club has adopted some of your guys training techniques, and I must say, it HAS increased our RATE for sure!

          **This was not a paid advertiment** Haha

  14. pg 19 says

    If possession soccer didn’t lead to teams mastering this philosophy of play winning games, who here would be advocating it as a means to develop their respective teams/players? For me, I was drawn to this style of play because I felt it was “the” style of play that would lead to winning games more consistently and winning games against teams consisting of more athletic and faster players. Out smart the opponent versus trying to match everyone man to man on a premise to which I have no control over (physical genetic make up of players). Skill can be taught. Learning the style of play can be taught; so these aspects of the game have more upward potential of improvement than the speed of a player, how tall a player becomes, and even how strong they become. (Again, there will be coaches that argue that these factors can be improved to which I agree, but re-read my prior sentence).

    As for the context, having posted a few comments myself and then having to defend a sentence within a thought when it was never about the sentence, is exhausting. My recommendation, assume what is written IS right and then think of ways in which it would be. Too often I see coaches/posts get stuck on a minute detail that all is lost in terms of provoking thought.

    Personally, what grounds me is the pursuit of excellence as I know eventually that leads to wins/success. If I focus solely on winning, then excellence often is discarded because there always is a faster path to achieving a winning result, but not for sustaining a winning result. Pursuing excellence is harder, longer and requires more thought.

    The only thing I like better than winning a game, is winning two games. I achieve this by taking the longer road that sustains excellence which translates to sustained winning. As for the beauty of the play of possession soccer, that is not my goal. That is the by-product of the style of play, as is winning. Love this article. Love what it means to me.

  15. Rob A says

    We don’t live, work, and train in vacuums. Winning isn’t a bad thing. Even development focused teams need to win some games.

    I’m in a down cycle right now where I have a group of kids who are not learning via my methods that have worked in the past. Young players aren’t stupid—you can only bang the “builds character” drum for so long, but bang it you must if your players are not at the level of the competition. Winning requires some talent, either found or manufactured—and building skill, talent, teamwork, soccer IQ takes time.

    I took a pig-headed approach this past season, demanding that the players play out of the back. But that was above their pay grade and scores got lopsided quick (not in our favor) because they didn’t have the requisite game to play that way. Other, less talented teams I’ve coached, COULD play out of the back because they knew to help each other—this group doesn’t get it yet.

    Anyway, so, winning matters.

  16. NoVa Mike says

    Love this post. The way I think about it (reflecting my personal goals as a coach) – player development is the end, but winning is an absolutely essential means to that end. If you believe (as I do) that a possession style is best for player development, then you have to be good enough to win with it in order to continue playing that way. Results on the field are always going to be far more effective than all the “parent education” emails in the world. Winning also helps retain and attract the best players, creating a more productive day-to-day training environment for all of them. In this country, being a part of a winning team is also an important “matter of circumstance” – creating opportunities for players to be scouted, etc…

    Something often missed in the whole “winning vs development” debate is the fact that developing a competitive mentality is an fundamentally important part of player development itself. I would even go so far as to say that a competitive mentality is a necessary component of being a great player. I don’t know of any studies either, but I do know that every single bio I’ve read of a great athlete’s childhood seems to include several stories illustrating how much they absolutely HATED losing. Which brings me to this little heartwarming story:

    After a recent game I looked over to see one of my favorite U9 players with his hands over his face, unsuccesfuly fighting back tears, while the rest of his teammates huddled around trying to console him. It was a great image and I wish I had taken a picture of it. The interesting thing about it was that his team had actually won the game. It wasn’t that he was confused about the score. He knew he had won. He was just THAT emotionally invested in the outcome. The other team was devastated, with numerous players in tears, on the ground, etc… Here’s the kicker – this wasn’t after some state cup game or the final of a big tournament. This was at last night’s practice – the 3rd of the week on a cold Thursday night in the middle of January. And it wasn’t even a scrimmage (that came next). This was just the possession game part of the practice.

    It’s not that I like seeing 9 year-olds cry, but I loved the fact their competitive mentality had been directly translated into the focus, effort and intensity of their training for the entire session. Multiply that over 3 sessions per week, 48 weeks per year, and games too; and then compare the likely player development trajectory of that player vs another – lets say similar skill and athletic potential – who acts like he couldn’t give 2 sh**ts whether he wins or loses because mom & dad tell him it doesn’t matter as long as he is “having fun”.

    Does winning matter? Absolutely. But wanting to win might matter even more.

    • ASO says

      I agree that winning (the right way) is important. I appreciate the concept of teaching a competitive mentality.
      BUT my question is how MUCH game experience is best for developing these skills or development in general? My U11 son played 20 games this fall season-that is more than most professional teams! He grew to dislike “double header” weekends His words: “We practice something during the week; we try to execute it in the game on Saturday. If we succeed I know we will move on to learn something else; if not we will work on it again over the next week. When there is a game on Sunday too, I don’t know the purpose.” Maybe it’s his coach’s fault for not explaining, or maybe he just needs to buck up and learn to compete whenever and wherever. This is a kid who is very similar in temperament to the kid NoVA Mike describes. He loves training 4+ days a week, but I wonder if too much game level intensity too young is good for growth.

  17. Nancee says

    One of the things I like most about the possession style, is how easy it is to be absorbed by it as a viewer. The game is a moving meditation, the ocean ebbing and flowing. At it’s highest levels it is the improvised jazz of masters. I watch because it calms me because I can be completely absorbed- drown out the ego, quiet the never-ending chatter of the mind. Winning is great and the ultimate goal of a game played, but art is another thing all together and the game of football, played in the possession style is the highest form of art.

  18. says

    Winning equals freedom to develop. When I want my players to possess, pass and score, via a ground pass, third man run sequence, I make sure I have been to the ‘winning bank’ recently and have some nice parent/player equity tucked away as we might lose that particular game, playing in that very demanding way. When I use up my equity, I dial back, sometimes, on advanced possession soccer techniques and tactics, bank another win, and then use the equity to demand a more complex possession based performance. Thus, for me, winning equals freedom to develop, a kind of necessary requirement, with enough material success to keep everyone feeling upbeat, happy, and willing to invest in the hard work of development. So, winning is a kind of currency, used to fund the development of my players. This is all wrapped up in a possession based love of the game and a belief that tiki taka ballet, with purpose, is the sweetest thing.

  19. Justin says

    Assuming we are talking U11 and above, if our team’s are playing in the appropriate brackets and we(coaches) know what we are doing….OUR TEAM’S SHOULD BE WINNING! Think about it…we are teaching a possession oriented style of play not only because we think it will help develop our players and it is “a thing of beauty” to watch a team possess the ball and string together a bunch of passes, but also because it WINS games. Do you think Barca plays tiki taka only because it is pretty??? No, they do it because it is the most successful way to WIN games.

    If our teams are not winning it is for only 2 reasons…#1 Our teams are trying to play at too high of a level(ie. We have a Flight 2 team and we are trying to play at the Flight 1 level.) or #2 We are simply not doing a good enough job coaching. In my opinion it is usually #2. There just aren’t that many coaches out there that know, and I mean TRULY know, what the hell they are doing. It takes a REALLY good coach to get his team to be able to learn how to play possession and also be able to score and win games. There are so many variables involved in winning games it is hard to nail all of them…..but the great coaches do. Just look at the Kleibans…..their teams play great pssession soccer AND they dominate. Why? Because they know what they are doing!

    We can only hope that the rest of us can learn from them and get our teams to play beautiful soccer and if we do……our teams WILL win games.

  20. Luke Symons says

    The threat of a mutiny from discouraged parents and players, or losing your coaching job, isn’t some kind of hindrance that forces us to compromise proper development. It’s the necessary motivation to make sure that we aren’t just preaching the right philosophy, but making sure that they are executing. If we didn’t have to worry about results and could just take our sweet time, if everybody was satisfied with platitudes that in the long run the players were learning to play “right”, I don’t believe that our teams would ever reach beyond mediocrity. We need to be coaching with that urgency and making sure our players are feeling that urgency.

  21. John says

    We were undefeated until yesterday. Kids simply did not show up despite the best effort of coaches to prepare them. Yet the parents got pissed and forgot all the good things our coaching staff did. I never saw as many cold shoulders towards a coaching staff as I saw yesterday. What a shame! And believe me, we have a talented and technical team.

    Parents are partially to blame for the “must win” mentality instilled in our kids as all costs (including cheap, wrong and lucky).

    So if you are one of those parents; will you take you child out of a school because of a bad test score even though the teacher did their job? Or will you look into the whole picture on progress? My 2 cents.

  22. Jeremy says

    The American culture is far too competitive when it comes to children. There needs to be a cutoff point in which wins matter above that benchmark but not below. Below a certain age, say 12 or so, it needs to be about fun, first and foremost. Because having fun leads to the most vital thing in youth soccer, which I’m not seeing listed here, and that is PLAYER RETENTION! Winning, development, everything is conditional on retention. In a country where so many sports are more popular than soccer, this is of maximum urgency.

      • Jeremy says

        The Dutch PREACH that, more than anything, amongst children, the game needs to be made fun for them and little else more. And they know just a bit more about the fame than us. As kids get older, that certainly changes. But throwing nine year olds into an ultra-competitive environment will do nothing to positively impact our youth soccer landscape. The teams of 6 foot, unskilled man-children will physically dominate every game and throngs of potentially soccer-skilled little shrimps will walk away from the game because they have been manhandled each time out and they rarely touch the ball. Too much genuine talent lost because it’s not fun for them. This is an established fact.

        • says

          Hi Jeremy,

          You must have an appreciation for the context of what the Dutch, or anyone for that matter, say.

          As for “too much genuine talent lost [in America] because it’s not fun for them”.
          That is not “a fact” by any means.

    • says


      Soccer does not have a popularity problem in America. That is a misguided notion typically from people drawing conclusions based on the wrong metrics.

      On retention:
      The best players, the ballers, do not quit the sport.

      On the incumbent American soccer culture:
      It needs to be more competitive. It is far too weak and recreational for our elite players to develop.
      More here: http://blog.3four3.com/2013/01/03/recreational-soccer-or-professional-soccer-development/

      • El Memo says

        Usually agree with you.

        But I have to disagree with your first comment.

        US may have more “fans” than other countries, but that is because of the large population. How about percentage wise?

        How about where soccer ranks on the major five? Participant numbers wise we do well, but that is because American Football is violent, Basketball is a one season sport, and Baseball is not engaging enough for the younger ages. But, when you speak with adults, soccer lacks the serious support that other sports get – even Hockey.

        I think you live in California surrounded by a large Latino population that supports the sport. Try the Midwest. I’ve had co-workers tell me that “soccer is a communist sport” – jokingly. Or, how about my daughter telling me that only one of her classmates knows who is “Messi.” Or, having training be short or rescheduled or have low numbers show up to it because a college football game will be airing at the same time. (BTW – This affects the top team on the top club in the city.)

        I agree that we are best to apply our efforts on coaching. I don’t want to use the “low popularity card.” But, it is a factor.

        • Coach S says

          American fan support is in it’s fledgling state. There ARE many kids “playing” soccer, but true fans are nurtured by their parents. If their parents aren’t real fans, it’s likely their kids won’t be either. Kids watch what their parents watch. Messi isn’t in our American commercials.

        • Andy M says

          Soccer is the number 2 sport in the United States for people under 24, only behind American football. http://espnfc.com/blog/_/name/relegationzone/id/262?cc=5901

          Mark Twain was famous for saying there are “lies, damn lies and statistics,” but Luker’s study is truly interesting as it has been tracking the same categories for 20 years (first independently and then for ESPN). His numbers indicate that within the next generation or so, soccer will rival football if not surpass it in popularity.

          Now I’m not sure if I believe that myself, but I do know that here in SoCal, kids follow soccer. You see dozens of kids going to school wearing different soccer jerseys as daily wear, far more than I ever see for basketball or baseball. When I was kid, lots of kids played soccer but to watch a game was almost impossible. Now even more are playing and soccer is on tv almost 24 hours a day. My kids know who players are on teams throughout the world and their friends are the same way.

          The midwest may not be there yet, but on the coasts Soccer seems to be more and more part of the common social fabric.

          • El Memo says

            Your reality is not my reality, unfortunately.
            We watch soccer at home, but that’s because of our background. It is not the same with my next door neighbors. Heck, it is not the same with my son’s teammates on one of the top teams in the age group in the state.
            National TV is not indicative at the local level. It would be interesting to take the main newspaper for each cities/towns in the country and see how many articles are written about the different sports. That would be indicative of the real social fabric.
            I wonder if someone in Brazil is complaining about the lack of popularity of American Football in their country :-) Maybe not, but certainly about Basketball.

        • Neeskens says

          80% of people in Netherlands watched the WC final.
          This Sunday, the Superbowl, the most watched sports event in this country, will carry 25% of households

    • Coach S says

      This is why we have differentiating levels and various programs (AYSO, select, premier, etc). The problem, as I see it is that 1) Americans want to become the best or be competitive without putting in the necessary work. 2) In general, winning is fun, losing is not. 3) Every sport played in America has similar “retention” issues. And this is because If Johnny gets yelled at, he quits. If Johnny loses, he quits. If Johnny gets bored, he quits. If Johnny rather play his video games, he quits.

      These are American cultural short-comings that affect so much more than just soccer.

      • Nancee says

        and then Johnny gets a trophy just for taking part in the game so as not to harm his fragile self esteem— never mind he was a blabbering little wise-arse who couldn’t stop distracting the other kids, would rather sit than stand and not one time, not one! remembered to bring his own ball. “Hey Look,” there’s Johnny doing toe taps to the air.

        • Dino Zoff says

          Bring extra balls to practice. Lots of them. Odds are the kids balls do not have enough air anyhow. The parent too, is at fault for some of that. Yes a kid should learn responsibility. But if he does not have a ball, he cannot learn. So bring extras, coach. The teacher at kindergarten has extra pencils. Crap happens. We are the adults, and we should be ready and expecting crap like Johnny forgetting his ball. Especially if he is poor, unpriveleged, living in a single parent home, has brothers losing his ball in the yard, a victim of child abuse, etc etc.


  23. David Williams says

    Got to be a right knob if you think winning does not matter, you will not keep players with a winning mentality if you dont. I do believe in winning with style is important though.

  24. Eric D says

    Im insanely long winded so sorry in advance-

    Note- What the Dutch do that we cant is offer youth sports with highly qualified coaches at an insanely low cost- average $80 a year- University graduate in sports sciences and most having licenses way beyond what many of the top coaches have in the States. There is also a culture of athletics in the country (different than US athletic culture) that is amazing- Soccernomics discusses the amount of grown adults competing in sports and as a percentage the Dutch blow the rest of the world out of the water. Very fit minded group. Add that the sport is the #1 in popularity and you have a winner.

    What I see as the ideal system for youth competitive soccer in America-

    - we need low cost- Often keeps many of the lower income players away from the sports top trainers. This is not an issue with the free to play teams- but they are few and far between and usually only have a single team at each age level. The club model of many of the most successful pay to play teams is scholarship the middle 3 (8 v 8) and overcharge the outside players to cover the cost of the kids in the middle that are often picked up from the latin leagues(thus majority of players are upper middle class with $1200-2400 extra money laying around) . Many of the non selected latin players can out play most of the outside field players that the team carries to cover fees and coaches pay. Most of the latin leagues in our area dont train, they just play games so the kids miss out.

    Note-I dont charge a training fee and my teams cost is about 1/3 of what other teams pay, but I have a job that pays the bills so this is my way to give back to the community. Most coaches cant do that.

    -We need The SCDSL model- Multiple Tiers based on players size and ability- Many clubs abuse this system but some have embraced it correctly. In an 8 v 8 environment many of the smaller players struggle as the spaces are often very limited and the “man child” dominates. Have a system of play and as kids develop they move up or down the tiers but play with groups at their proper ability. Too many kids are not viewed as club kids because they lack the physical side as a youth player or they are athletes, hard workers but need to be developed technically- there needs to be a place for those kids. Many teams cut those kids loose and thats a shame. As Gary said the ballers dont quit but I think that there a lot of potential ballers that never get a chance. Puberty is the great equalizer and by limiting the talent pool at an early age prior to the big change leaves a big void of talent that could otherwise become dominate. Those kids end up in other sports.

    I coached High School Varsity football for 15 years and every player that I coached that played D1/professionally was not a standout as a middleschooler. The best player was a horrible B team player as a 9th grader. Puberty hit and he developed strength, speed and coordination that was mind boggling.

    - Break the age groups up by 6 month chunks at the early ages- Per Gladwell’s Outliers- There is a huge number of club kids at the early end of the age cutoff and a few at the end. In So Cal that cutoff is Aug. 1st- My son is a Sept. 4th kid and thus has a year of maturity (physical and mental) on the kids born in July. In our clubs youth program the youngest kids are Feb. born. Your telling me no talent is born between March- July? Those kids are physically behind and 6 months at the ages of 8-12 can often be a huge disadvantage. They don’t make the cut. Difficult to do in small towns but could be done in large population areas like So Cal.

    The fact that many areas use the Aug cutoff is also a national team killer as we all know they use birth years. So if clubs are often spending their resources on Aug- Feb kids the oldest kids in international play are the ones being overlooked in the club environment. Makes no sense.

    - College needs to change- The college sub rules will continue to reward a direct style of play. Most clubs sell themselves on the scholarships their players get. With MLS pay being so small its a better marketing tool for them to sell scholarships than MLS contracts. One of our players in now with an MLS academy and the dad loves the training but laughs when he says his son is training five days a week for the next five years for a 30-50 thousand dollar pay check.

    My buddy that coaches at a JC said his best players were not even given a look by D1 teams. His few big brutes received interest though. Ranked them 4th and 7th best starting players on his team, but D1 coaches loved them.

    Sorry for the rant but very passionate about this.

    • Hristo says

      We are at a USSDA club. No tournaments until nationals, so some players (U14 – 15) who are man-child are practicing with the U16 Academy. Most 14s and 15s are with their HS team. The problem I have is the coaches separated players based on size. It’s literally 3-groups of same size players but vastly different ability. Technique, tactical, and mental and physical quickness don’t matter. Three are kids practicing with the 16s who are big and nothing more to offer. Slow play, average technical, limited tactical understanding. Yet there are kids who are a few inches shorter and pounds lighter, yet a good number of them have excellent technique, tactics, speed of play. I may misunderstand your above comment @Eric D., but I don’t know of a situation where separating merely by size leads to anything other than stunting smaller more talented player development and continuing to perpetuate size as the #1 indicator of a footballer.

    • Nancee says

      Splitting the age groups according to half year is a big deal. I couldn’t agree more with this. The Philadelphia Union, my local pro team, has acquired this philosophy. My hopes are that some of the affiliates to the MLS teams do this as well, at least for training, so a younger kid has a chance to stand out in the same age group. If you have a kid born late July, it gives him/her the opportunity to be the oldest in a sub group rather than constantly the youngest. There are times when a child with a late summer birthday can be almost 15-18 months younger than a kid who is technically U8 when the season starts, then turns 9 three weeks in. Meanwhile the kid you have is a new 7 year old with better fine motor technical acumen but not quite the gross motor coordination the game also demands- getting swallowed up by the lack of space and general difference in foot speed.

    • ASO says

      I am with Hristo on this: separating by size (and I would argue by 6mo age categories) only stunts talented player development. The change needs to come not in “fooling” the coaches who only look at size/physicality but in developing coaches who can spot and develop technical/tactical talent. My son’s team runs the gamut of birthdays from the August cut off to November of the following year and in general run small compared to their opponents. Their strong technical skills and better than average tactical skills keep them mostly in the wins column in the top division in our state. They have a long way to go, but hopefully are modeling to other coaches an alternative (and better for football in this country) strategy to getting the wins.

    • Dino Zoff says

      You are spot on! By the way, yes D1 soccer is not brilliant by professional standards. It could be if grades are compromised to get more talent in, like they do with football and hoops. But that would be wrong.

      A college degree goes a long way. A pro contract or “dream” of one does not, for most.


  25. Eric D says


    After re reading my response I can see why you thought I stressed size as a key separator for various flights. Thats not what was intended. I think one has to take into account the whole athlete- mental and physical. I have some outstanding players that are very small on my flight I team. They play with a toughness and edge that allows them to survive some very violent tackles.

    I have similar kids size and ability wise on the flight II team but are not yet ready for the physicality of flight I play- they shy away for the big physical kids. Many clubs would cut that type of kid. I think they have all the tools to be a flight I player but need time to adjust and grow confidence.

    I hear that many kids quit the sport as the physicality grows with the competition- largest drop at U11/U12. If we know our kids well and understand where the growth areas lie we can properly place them in flights where they will be successful and have time to grow.

    Another kid that gets the axe a bunch is the technically strong big/heavy kid that cant run at 9 & 10 years old. Those kids often slim and speed up as they get longer. If the kid wants to train at a high level and has a place to do so we are better off at developing a strong talent pool.

    There are kids that are successful and play up, but if you look statistically at the overall trends we are not doing a good job with specific groups and those problems stem from system/policy issues.

    • Hristo says

      Thanks for clarification. I’m a coach and reason I posted is the club’s policies frustrate me. Unless a player is significantly smaller or less competitive with similar age players, I don’t agree with separation based on size. With the many variables, size should not be the single criteria. If a kid is a wee bit smaller but very good technical and tactical and is competitive, then place him with olders. Likewise, a big kid with not as good tactics and technique should be placed in lower group to develop. You can be small and competitive. My club is strictly using size as the single limiting factor. Unfortunate because a few smaller players who are competitive and skillful and tactically smart are being left behind. If we had a skinny Neymar or small Xavi or Iniesta in our midst, my club would play him down until he reached some magical size / weight ratio. Some coaches not good at measuring desire, effort, competitiveness. Just use a ruler and scale.

  26. Nancee says

    Eric. A good post. It reminds me of an anecdotal experience. I have pick up games with about six to eight U10-U8 kids each week purposely built with parents of children from Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Morroco, one boy from Colombia another from Sudan. In other world to have different world cultural viewpoints on the game and mostly an un-American viewpoint. For a year it was a smooth less physical exchange of playing ideas for the kids and parents, mostly the kids would play against each other, sometimes the adults would play to bring a bit of shape and order, but the game was really quite open and free flowing. The other day, I invited two other American soccer boys to play in the pick up and the ‘NFC Championship tackle football’ game broke out on the field- my son, a stoic by nature, was completely frustrated and overwhelmed by the physicality of the play. The moroccan dad and the tunisian dad both texted me at the end of the evening after the real NFC title game on TV was over and said, “what the hell was that today with our game” Two of the main areas of weakness in our brand of soccer is its brute force and the near complete inability of players to properly shield the ball.

    • El Memo says

      I’m a little confused about your statement: “Two of the main areas of weakness in our brand of soccer is its brute force and the near complete inability of players to properly shield the ball.” Do you mean to state that a)the two American Players played very physically (brute force) and b)the rest of the players (not used to the aggressiveness) could not shield the ball?
      It is very frustrating to play with players / teams that play jungle ball. And, it is a known fact that unskilled players make up their lack of skill with aggressiveness. HOWEVER, one cannot shy away from the fact that soccer is a “contact” sport. Believe me, I would rather not have this factor play a role, but it does – just watch Copa Libertadores (especially certain countries.)
      I decide to work on a controlled game, but to overlook the physical aspect of the game will cause problems down the road as well – it has for me.

      • Nancee says

        Ah, hey el Memo. I recognize it is a physical game, yes. But the American brand of football tends to rely a bit more on physicality in my experience particularly when compared to a more wily technique driven game from some of our neighbors. Our National identity and first instinct seems to be tackle over contain. Maybe I am wrong. I am uncertain the anecdote was even germane to the topic. I know they are young kids, but thought it was interesting how the parents from the other continents found that day’s game a bit ridiculous by comparison- the 2 US Bulls rushing around hitting everything. As far a shielding the ball, I feel it is a very overlooked aspect of youth soccer- how to use the body and how to use the arms to properly create time and space to process the next idea. A well timed rump into the mid-section tends to work well. Be well.

  27. Eric D says

    BTW- If your a coach and missed the window for the 3four3 coaching course, then I recommend it when it opens again. A few of my parents have played at a high level, have always enjoyed my training, but they have commented on the change of play they have seen in the boys in our last two friendlies. They really like the technical aspect of what my players have shown and the kids are connecting the dots between our technical and tactical work much more clearly. It will be a long process but Its worth the time IMO.

    If your just looking for new and amazing drills its not the course for you. If your looking to learn about the subtle nuances of how to train possession and are willing to watch and re watch the video segments and replicate the subtle things that go into the training that make the various sessions powerful then its the right call.

    Seeing a master teacher in action makes you a much better coach than fancy new drills. Their philosophy is KISS and mastery.

    I followed the US curriculum to a T and my players improved but never really mastered any thing. They were decent at most aspects of the game but mastered none of it compared to their age level. The course picks out a few key cornerstones to their style of play and then requires your team to work tirelessly on those cornerstones until they execute them regularly in match conditions and then you add a layer or two more.

  28. Hristo says

    Youth soccer has a fundamental, systemic problem in that the masses confuse (purposely or irrationally) size and height with potential and incorrectly align possession soccer (recent phenomenon) to wrong player characteristics.

    I often watch out 16 Academy and the 15s who practice with them. At 16, the majority of players are physically bigger and stronger and faster than those on the B-team. But that’s it. Their size, speed, strength does not provide a tactical advantage or technical superiority or mental quickness. There are players on the B-team who are technically brilliant, tactically intelligent, and mentally quick. Their weakness are things like size, strength, aggressiveness, sometimes confidence to go for a 1v1 or hard into a tackle. But these things are easier to learn than tactics and technique and often come with maturity and exposure to higher level players.

    Instead of developing these promising players, too many coaches opt for the physical short-term win now solution. Then they say we can’t play tika-taka possession in a game because “I lack the players”. A self-serving philosophy.

    Having a philosophy is powerful. To be meaningful the right players with proper characteristics are a necessity. The philosophy is the gears and the players the oil and the coach the conductor. It’s synergistic. The model my club uses has the elements totally wrong, misaligned.

    If we want to play possession, then bring on the players who can flourish in one-two touch, movement, patience, technique when needed, tactical understanding, mental quickness and competitiveness. Unless we’re talking the keeper or center-half, size is a third or fourth level consideration. Size needs to trump lack of skill or tactics. Size has to provide a tactical advantage. If the goal is to develop players for the long-term, developing elite players, focusing on size is WRONG! In my many travels and years of soccer, size is not the distinguishing criteria for elite players. Yet it is the basis of player segregation in American youth soccer.

  29. tim says

    People, people, people,
    I enjoy reading the many different opinions on this blog,but honestly surprised by a few ideas posted. To me it makes so much more sense to follow the “Champions” lead. Why would you not?? Why do you think the United States should reinvent a new soccer development model? Why not attempt to replicate South America and Europe? Won’t be exact but the craziness I’m reading here is baseless and without historical data. As Gary replied to earlier post, “soccer is not losing the best kids in America, these kids are not quitting the sport”. Why is it so important to keep the “C” team kid engaged in the sport. Why should we base soccer development on the “exception” of a “c” team kid hitting a growth cycle and dominating youth soccer? That is the exception! Size is not an issue in the best soccer country’s in the world so why are we American’s making such a big deal over it.
    Neymar and messi never had trouble maintaining possession of the ball and 2 of the best players on the planet weight under 150. And they rarely lose the ball. Your NFC championship comment was silly and pointless. Just because some playground kid took the ball from your child doesn’t mean it’s American football. It only means your kid can’t protect the ball from his opponent, and that’s all it means!
    Let not reinvent this wheel folks! It’s already round and working just fine elsewhere. I bet the top 8 teams to finish the world cup this summer don’t divide their kids by height, weight, and hair color. If you’re 12, then go play with 12 year olds.

    • Kana says

      “Size is not an issue in the best soccer country’s in the world so why are we American’s making such a big deal over it.”

      They don’t make it a big deal because they [top soccer countries] understand it’s not solely about size. I happen to be in the camp that believes American soccer cares too much about size. Size at the expense of other real important things like quick feet, smarts, decision making. I don’t need to be convinced otherwise because I’ve seen it for years. But we each have our own experiences and respect those who feel US youth soccer isn’t about size.

  30. Nancee says

    Tim. I recognize the slippery discourse that can occur between people communicating on-line, however you have attributed the posts of other people to mine I feel. I try not to over think things too much, but you last comment has been on my mind, probably more than necessary. So I will continue to defend my position. I was using a story/anecdote to comment on the physical nature of the game in our country as viewed by the non-american members of the weekly game I host. I think dividing kids based on height and weight is nonsensical or hair color as you sarcastically comment. I did however post that MLS clubs (at least Philadelphia) are dividing age groups out by the half year and this is a good thing as it more closely groups kids. I imagine if you look at birth dates across the board for U12-U9 ‘elite/select/premier’ level teams you would find that greater than %65 of them is made of kids born in the first half of a year (january-May). I have seen it attributed here on this blog-o-sphere multiple times, including by the author of the articles himself that part of the problem with US soccer is the direct love affair we have with bigger, faster, stronger players. If our ‘elite/select/priemer’ youth teams tend towards the bias of bigger, faster, stronger than that is a problem and can potentially stall the development of a future really really good footballer. I feel you took the comments of multiple posts, people ‘trying to reinvent the wheel’ and heaped them together into a response that singled out the ‘NFC Championship’ comment that was highlighting the nature of our style of American play: if you can’t go around it, go through it. Thanks.

  31. Lothar says

    Jeremy, here’s a free idea you can try out for yourself to see if little kids – specifically boys – don’t care about winning. Take yourself to a gym or park, find a group playing a sport – any sport will do, even tennis or disc golf with just 2 players – and ask them what the score is.
    When they tell you within 3 seconds of hearing you ask, then you’ll know what many of us already do – winning does matter to those who are inclined to be winners. They aren’t traumatized by keeping score and/or wanting/trying to win. It’s hardwired into them.
    No coaches or parents there heckling them, instructing them where to go, how to do it, or when to do it – and they WILL be keeping and KNOW the score.
    Carry on.

    • Jeremy says

      I agree completely. Please interpret my words more carefully, sir. I am fully aware that winning matters deeply to a plethora of children of all ages. There are kids across the world who are very competitive from an early age and always retain the drive. I am not referring to those kids.

      However, there is absolutely a group of children who co-exist who do not feel that competitive drive at such a young age and others who never feel it. And there are kids in this subset who surely possess undeniable talent as well. Too many of these kids are being lost because of burnout. I’m getting tired of writing the same crap all over again, so the detail will probably be lacking in this post, but you are, essentially assuming that all young boys are competitive and care about winning. Johann Cruyff constantly complained that Michael Laudrup could have been so much greater than he was but didn’t have enough competitive fire. The statistics on talented kids who suffer burnout in Minnesota hockey’s youth ranks are staggering. I’m saying that this is a phenomenon that exists in all sports and these kids shouldn’t be lost. I would like to see youth soccer more segmented. More developed kids play in a league dedicated to more developed kids. More competitive kids play in a league that emphasizes competition and winning. Potential late-bloomers or kids who lack confidence should have a league where winning isn’t as valued at such a young age and it’s designed to make them more comfortable with the ball and develop their skills without as much potential for embarrassment. That’s what I’m saying. There should be options. It shouldn’t be so damned uniformly designed.

      • Nancee says

        maybe some of the other children Jeremy speaks of develop a bit differently (like the great Johan Cruyff who has been quoted as saying) and tend to think of the game of football as a collaboration between teammate trying to solve a puzzle rather than playing a game merely to be won. Hard to argue about Cruyff’s soccer IQ. Maybe games aren’t played just to be won they are played to be played. Who knows.

  32. tim says

    Without kids and a wife I guess it’s just you and your big thesaurus at night. Yes, I knew soccer without a ball was a joke. I assumed your first long winded post was also pure satire but your follow up comments lead me to believe you actually believe this crap. Again, no need to reinvent anything as segmentation already exist- YMCA, i9, recreational, competitive, competitive travel, highschool, academy, mls acdemy, 3v3, futsal, indoor,..
    My “stay safe” was not a threat but sincere concern for your type. The type bothered by real life competition, dodge balls, pretty girls, and shadows. Kids that lack the burning internal drive to compete can still be wonderful human beings and add tremendous value to our society, they just won’t play in the World Cup- and that’s OK.

    • Jeremy says

      I detest when any open section devolves into a one v one dispute, That is so very selfish, so I will try to end it here. The reason you perturb me is because of your constant assumptions. You literally know nothing about me yet you continue to try to psychoanalyze me. What evidence do you have that I’m afraid of dodge ball and pretty girls? I loved dodge ball as I previously mentioned and wished we played it in high school. The pretties girl I ever saw with my own two eyes I chased oh so competitively for four years trying to win her away from her boyfriend. She eventually married the guy and it still hurts. I am absolutely competitive about things I care about. To suggest, however, that there is no such thing as a talented kid who lacks confidence or competitive drive is displaying a glaring lack of understanding of the human condition. All I’m saying is that we should do more to try to reach each and every kid., which we don’t. It is a metrical fact that, as a country, we rank quite low in terms of our appreciation and caretaking of children. The Dutch rank number one, at least according to the NYT. This is why I initially stated we should take more of a Dutch approach to teaching our kids soccer. You ridiculed my mentioning of teaching kids soccer on half-sized or less concrete pitches with 4 to a side, but the Croatians actually do this. To rip a page out of your book, you sound like the oh so typical meatheaded, unlearned jock who is nearly universally derided. And, in typical jock fashion, you mock and ridicule the more educated, insinuate that those less competitive than you are Darwinian failures who fear girls and deserve “sincere concern” and demonstrate little understanding of other cultures.

      You also make it sound like there either isn’t a problem with our youth soccer development or that you hold all the answers to solving its problems. To tell me smart guy, what are your prospective solutions? And when I talk about segmentation, of course I know it exists, but nearly everyone can agree it is nigh useless due to the methodology used in segmenting the players. We focus on meaningless attributes such as size and age and not on meaningful things like technical ability, tactical awareness and maturity.

      And the only “thesaurus” I need is the one in my head. Every word I use I come to the table already in possession of, bub. Although, kudos on not thinking a thesaurus is a dinosaur. Lastly, why are you so rude? Your very first correspondence with me was saturated in slights and hints of not being good enough to post here.

  33. El Memo says

    I am disappointed in what this has turned out to be.
    I agree to some extent, don’t reinvent the wheel. There has been decades of evolution and need to recognize and take advantage. But, our landscape is different. I don’t want to go into differences, because it will sound like excuses. Like you say, it won’t be perfect.
    However, I slightly disagree with your comment about not discussing physical attributes. The only reason is that IT IS a problem IF coaches base their decisions solely/mainly on these attributes and are not smart enough to recognize Soccer IQ and Technical Skill. I agree, work with your kid, teach him/her how to shield the ball – even when smaller in stature. But, if you say don’t talk / complain about height is that to a)Coaches who love athletic type or to b)those who complain their kid is not picked because of this? You said it to b) and maybe should say it louder to a).
    I don’t agree with your theory on country population density, etc., I could be wrong, but doubt it.
    I agree, some kids may not have the initial drive or may be late bloomers. Let’s watch for these and build that confidence. They’ll surprise us.

    At the end of the day, we need to continue to work on developing skills, soccer IQ and even athletecisim AND probably most importantly grit (which will affect the others positively). We cannot oversee one or the other and need to weigh them all when selecting players.
    Hope it helps.

  34. Coach S says

    This is quickly becoming my favorite forum on the interwebs, and Jeremy, my favorite fictional novelist. I say that because, man it takes quite an imagination to write the way he does!

    Let me shed some light on on this whole debate using the KISS principle. America was late to the futbal/futbol/football/soccer party. Why aren’t we stronger on the world level??? We have been doing it wrong. (period)

    America has flourished in so many other niches, and this is based on progressiveness. Why does our WNT perform so well on the world stage? Progressive initiatives for females relative to the world gave them a leg up. Baseball, basketball, skateboarding, surfing, rap music??? We kick ass in all those things because we invented it.

    American culture (which I’ve eluded to in previous post), in general, has a lot to do with our kid’s inability to persevere into greatness. We DO have varying levels of competition being offered in ample environments. What we don’t have, unfortunately, is ample backbone. And let me say this, Japan is quickly becoming a soccer powerhouse on every level, and if you know anything about the Japanese sports culture, you would know that their standards and approaches are extremely intense. Cultural difference.

    KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK GANG! This is entertaining!

  35. Eric D says

    Coach S- Agree with much of what you say about American culture and the soccer world. I do think it is a fatal flaw to think that we cant do things better and innovate.

    I agree that we need to emulate what is working in other places and that our cultural difference has an impact on the results, BUT we cannot discount the research that shows the world is missing out and limiting the talent pool by doing what we have always done out of habit or tradition.

    Every statistical analysis report that I have read proves that at the younger ages sports club/travel teams are very heavy with players at the older end of the age cut off dates. That gap widens as those kids get more time at the sport, better coaching etc. If we limit our talent pool through ineffective measures thats not good.

    Solutions need to be discussed and some old ideas need to be changed or thrown out completely.

    Do we need to be harder on our kids and not baby them-yes! We are becoming a very mentally weak nation through too much coddling.

    Ideas like splitting up kids by 6 month benchmarks and over coddling are quit different concepts. Can you run rigorous, demanding training with this type of innovation- yes. Is it different- yes. Is it stupid to ignore a glaring issue even if everyone is doing it-yes. Do I agree with every idea written- no. Do I respect Jeremy for having some ideas that are outside the box- sure.

  36. Neeskens says

    Some of Japan’s success is that they have made a commitment to train in specific ways and been consistent.
    In the US we had the English invasion of coaches in the 80′s and 90′s..each with different ideas. This was followed by the anti-English wave of coaching with another group of ideas.

    Japan looked at the success of the Dutch soccer ( Ajax- 1970′s) and some of their systems ( Weil Coerver even though was not fully embraced by KNVB) and in the mid 80′s/early 90′s decided this is how we will train…and they stuck to a system that works and were patient and didn’t let parents or coaches change like moths to light with the next great soccer wheel invention.

    17000 kids/week training consistently in this system for many years. Japan had basically ZERO soccer culture..it certainly established wasn’t prior to the US.
    Their women’s team is more much more technical than the US. They just didn’t quite have the big athlete like Wambach or Morgan’s speed.
    Men: they have Kagawa, Nagatoma and a#10 like Honda..world class players created in last 10-15 years.

    Coerver has been around since the early 80′s. To me its like in the 1980′s the US was given a formula on how to create Toyota’s, a line of car that has consistently been some of the world’s best. But we said “no”, this is America and we are individuals, we will not uniformly adopt a system; Rather various individuals had better ideas and will create a quality product like a Mercedes.
    Instead we got a bunch of hodgepodge organizations,and ideas and made Chevette’s, Aztec’s, Tempos for 3 decades..with an occasional Mustang :)

    I’m not saying Japan is the highest level of soccer in the world. I’m saying look where they started. Nobody would say, as so many like to say “they have it in their blood”. Look at the Asian stereotype here in US..the least athletic then look at Honda the player..brilliant 10 IMO.

    When the VHS was invented and Weil went down to Brazil to watch some of of the greats but also the streets. His radical idea was that those moves weren’t “in their blood’ but could be learned…so he taped them and broke them down slowly so they could be taught.
    Something like Coerver is just one tool and not the complete answer..its more complex but I think we can learn something from the Japanese soccer story.

    • Coach S says

      Coach Gary,

      I hope you keep your deleting to a minimum or reconsider deleting altogether, as everyone is just presenting thought provoking discussion ideas that we can all learn from (and one thing is certain, it stems from passionate voices). Also, I beg to differ, this IS a forum. It’s a forum where peers can share ideas/concepts. If this is not a forum, but in actuality just a oneway evangelical street, that would be disappointing. I can understand taking action if there are personal attacks, threats, or things of that nature, however if that is not of issue, unnecessary censorship will suck the life out of progress.

      • says

        If it detracts from the central topic of the article, it will be subject to deletion.

        Those who choose to comment must make every effort to abide by the essence of the comment policy.

        This is not a forum or message board. Perhaps I’ve been far too liberal in what’s been allowed – and that’s sent the wrong signal.

        • Benjamin Yates says

          Gary, not that it matters, but I happen to approve of more moderating from you in the comments section. I come here for intelligent discussion centered on a particular style and approach to the game.There are many online forums where people can hash out other footballing issues. Keep up the great work.

  37. Noah Creagh says

    You dont have to sacrifice winning for intelligent attacking soccer and positive player development. Both can be achieved at the same time. You need one to have the other and vice versa..both are connected or as Gary puts it “winning is the currency that allows you to continue your process”. Winning buys you time to continue your work as a coach. Everything is a process. And quite frankly Im not sure that most of us can truly grasp what Gary is writing as of lately. I dont believe thats the fault of him by any means..hes not hiding anything from us either..rather it is a result of him being much farther along in the process. This post which appears very straightforward on the surface (which it is) has a lot of depth as far as culture goes. To grasp this post about winning..for some people it may require a big shift in their culture. Thats not a bad thing at all its just a matter of realizing how far along YOU are in the process and kind of taking a step back. I started reading this blog a few years back and have only recently gone back and looked at posts I THOUGHT I understood at the time..And quite frankly I wasn’t even close sometimes. I would recommend that to anyone who hasn’t done that yet..go back and review this entire blog from start to finish..if you’ve been here a while youll probably be surprised at how much you have shaped your philosophy since with the help of 3four3. And if your’e just starting out don’t even think about trying to skip over all the stuff at the beginning and going straight to Who Else Wants To Win? Work your way from the start..theres a lot of fantastic stuff there. Anyhow, another great post Gary which I will probably look back on sometime from now with better understanding. Winning does matter, and people would be foolish to believe that the big academies in Europe dont care about winning. Otherwise why else would they set up entire organizations and infrastructures filled with top coaches, teachers and mentors, and spend top dollar on facilities where they control their pupils every move geared towards maximizing their development??

    • Nancee says

      It’s funny that you write this Noah. I stumbled here about 8 months ago by some internet wormhole and picked up with the ongoing conversation and realized the thinking was way ahead of where I am. I trusted I needed to go back so began to read through every post since the August 09 and almost every comment in return and have started over from the beginning again. I absolutely believe this is the place to be to begin to understand the nature of how the game needs to be played. How the game needs to be taught. I love to write and appreciate the opportunity to voice what I believe, what I am learning- along with some obvious gaps in my understanding. What I find is it can be challenging to stay on topic just like in any conversation between multiple parties. One of the highlights of the week though is getting the next article to continue to separate my thinking from the vast majority of parents/coaches and governing bodies in general. So much to learn. So much to learn.

  38. Nancee says

    Horst Wein finds the level of pressure on 7 and 8 year olds laughable. Strong advocate for the fun in soccer until at least 12, as witnessed by his Funino program. Here’s a guy who has worked with many of the great clubs in the world.

  39. says

    Hi again everyone.

    I do find there are some good on-topic nuggets in many of these comments, that can advance the premise of the main article.

    Unfortunately they are buried under a mountain of other things that go against the spirit of our comment policy, and hence the educational objective of 3four3.

    So, in hopes of preserving some of those nuggets, and for those interested, consider copying your comments before I mass delete everything (very soon). Then I can only hope you’ll consider editing the crap out of it, and reposting something that keeps us on track.

    Thank you.

  40. Soccerman says

    Here’s an example of context to the winning matters. Sent to me on another forum in response to saying that a club team that wins a lot is playing route 1, kick and chase soccer.

    “And how did Barca look against Bayern…Once people figure out that bigger, stronger, tougher athletes win, and finess loses maybe the US will go somewhere.Im assuming your kid plays for a loser…it is about winning, dont ever forget that..loser”

    • Jeremy says

      And do you agree with what is written in the quotes? Cuz if so, it was just one CL tie with an injured Messi. Two games don’t prove or disprove an entire philosophy.

        • Luke Symons says

          Bayern might not be the best example for the advocates of jungle ball to use to promote their anachronistic philosophy. Bayern are a possession team and they played Barcelona straight up. Their physicality gave them an edge but they mostly won by playing good football – they were the better team last year, and I think they’re even better now with Guardiola.
          But games like that loss to Celtic and USA’s win over Spain in 2009 really bring the neanderthals out of the woodwork. End of an era? Is this the death of tiki-taka? All the people who are usually sulking or complaining about refs and diving are out dancing in the streets. It’s ok because it doesn’t take long for these people to be brought down to earth.

  41. Noah Creagh says

    Okay. Re doing my last post as it seems I strayed a bit. Take two. First off, you dont have to sacrifice winning for player development. Both can be achieved and bear in mind that everything is a process. Yes I understand not every player develops at the same rate ..Does that mean that you should stop everything for those few players that are developing too slowly? Not if you want the best of the best..Not if you want real results. I believe if you are trying to build an environment where everyone is developing at a positive and steady rate it has to be competitive. When I train my teams I turn a lot of activities we do into a competition. ..And you know what ? They love it! They eat it up and everyone improves and achieves something that day! If you are trying to build a strong, possession based program that breeds intelligent and competitive players match the environment in training and on game day with what you want. It also holds the players attention and keeps them on their toes. And dont be fooled by the “They dont believe in winning over when developing players in Europe” or whatever nonsensical things they are saying now… EVERYTHING they do is geared towards winning! Is not setting up an academy where you control players eating habits, bed times, practice hours, time with family etc geared towards a bigger picture..? The weeding out the players who cant take it versus the players who can? To get those hungry intelligent players to the first team so they can….help them win?? Weather by selling them so the club can have more $$$ or developing for first team action..its all to help them win! And so they match the environment to make it so. And as far as winning vs fun…..I have never in my life seen a child walk off the field having just won a game looking depressed. WINNING IS FUN!! And ultimately we cant do without it.

    • Tim says

      Thank you Noah,
      I didn’t read your first take but agree 100% on your second. Training and teaching to the lowest skill level is in many ways the American belief. We have a president and political system corrupted with the idea “No child left behind” benefits everyone and the collective whole. I don’t have the stats but I can’t find the logic in this idea. Gary mentioned this in a previous post and my memory jogged by Noah.
      In my opinion the most academically challenged and uninterested 12-14 year olds should be directed towards a trade of some kind. If they decide at 16 to invent the next Facebook then so be it and good for them. Another great American story, we have so many. However, the responsibility to improve and the desire to compete in this world should rest solely on the individual. The educational system should not “hold back” the elite and brightest minds because tommy is having trouble counting to 10.
      Why should soccer or athletics in general be any different? The outlier or the exception in Business find their own path and our society benefits, and is better because of it. I’ve never read an article about Harvard, Microsoft, GE,…. looking through trailer parks hoping to find the next Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. Are they missed? Sure, but they eventually and often become the “exception”. Not the best analogy but trusting this audience understands my angle.
      There are many on this site (IMHO) that believe our national player pool is far too small in number and our identification process is missing the next messi. I don’t agree at all. In fact, I’m encouraged by what I’ve witnessed over the last year and I think our younger national teams are competing well on the global stage. A few players are overlooked and miss an early opportunity but they’re usually afforded another chance if they continue to work hard.
      I think we would see a higher level of skill, a higher level of tactical understanding, and an overall higher level of soccer as a country if we train to the top 10-20% beginning at an early age. Valuable soccer time is wasted concentrating on the bottom 60%-70%.
      Its somewhat ruthless, and It may sound like I’m coming from a place void of emotion and feeling. I’m not, just offering a solution to a soccer problem on a soccer blog. This is not the Dr. Phil show for me. Thanks for reading.

      • Nancee says

        Hey Tim. I have a curious question regarding training to the lowest skill level. What is your position on training to those kids least inclined to dominate? Do you consider that the lowerst skill level as well? What do you make of the kid with quite good touch, reading of the game, strong psychology, a collection of functional football moves that doesnt express it yet at 8 or 9 or ten. What are your critieria to pick an elite team? How would your selection process look? What I see happening quite often is open play games were the kids trying out playing against each other which is a good metric, but one that can often overlook quite a few kids that may not have that internal drive to dominate or ‘play chippy’ or with an edge. Thanks.

  42. Luke Symons says

    I think a lot of promising soccer players are lost because they’re not finding it sufficiently competitive. When I was a kid, several talented players around my age quit between 12 and 15 to concentrate on basketball, hockey or some other sport. I think in urban centres soccer is seen with more legitimacy (both because of quality of competition and for cultural factors).
    Rec soccer and elite soccer are non-overlapping circles. As this is a blog about the latter, what we should be worried about if we’re discussing player retention is losing players from the elite camp. Those in the rec camp (nothing wrong with it) can worry about making sure that it’s recreational enough over there.

  43. Noah Creagh says

    Your players who are the true ballers will NOT quit. There are players who exist…right here..in this very country..Who will NOT give up the sport bc they are depressed with it..or they find american football or hockey more fun. And they WANT to win, they want to practice in a competitive environment and they want to play competitive games, they want to max out their potential under a coach who knows what they are doing and WANTS to win. Pro and Rec mind sets again..In a Pro mindset trust me..Winning matters.

    • Luke Symons says

      I’ll backtrack on my first point somewhat – I may have veered toward the “what if Iverson played soccer” type argument without realizing it. I meant it not in terms of athleticism but in terms of people with the necessary drive to become elite, but I thought about it and in the end it’s pretty much the same argument. You’re right, there are still enough talented and driven players out there.
      I do think it’s a problem that in a lot of North America, the things you mentioned – the competitive environment, the elite coaches who will max out a player’s potential, the opportunities to go to the next level – are extremely limited because rec attitude is so pervasive. Other sports here seem to get the concept of the separation of Rec and Elite/Pro development, but for whatever reason in soccer not enough people seem to get it.

  44. Eric D says

    The major conflict I see here is the different age groups that each of us coach and the lenses we are using as we debate the topic of winning, development and mindset.

    Those coaching the youngers are passionate about creating a life long passion for the sport for as many players as possible (a key component for US soccer success is developing a large life long fan base). They are on this site because they also believe in the possession movement and are looking for ways to incorporate the philosophy into their training.

    Those that are coaching the olders/ academy teams that are looking for the next great professional to elevate the sport in the US (Another key ingredient to making the sport more popular in the US is to have a home grown superstar). They are focuses on the kids with the drive, killer instinct etc. to make soccer their craft.

    Thats the battle here. One group that wants to see more kids love the sport and give the very young kids time to learn to love the sport, not be driven away and develop the skills and mindset needed by the olders above. The other is focused on finding the diamonds and developing them into the future stars of tomorrow. My belief is that you need both to develop that winning mind set that as the kids get older and improved talent identification you’ll have a better product.

    • Nancee says

      This is a discerning point of view. Well done. As mentioned earlier in another post, I hold the teaching of Horst Wein in high regard and nowhere in any of his books and I’ve read them- does he say, competition and the nature of winning should be the prime mover for young kids. We absolutely have to develop a culture that adores the game. Sure we can teach to really really good kids to build a quality professional style player but making the game absolutely something a kid wants to do is paramount up to a certain age. This whole notion of tournaments and select and elite and player development at U6 U7 U8 U9 is absolutely ridiculous. However anyone reading it from the other point of view says it is an absolutely necessary part of our US soccer process. I wonder. As gary says, winning is important and it is the stuff that allows you to continue the process and I agree with this but I also can easily argue the other side.

  45. Noah Creagh says

    What do we all mean by progress and process..I guess thats different for everyone. Okay, at four five six and seven years old..Im far more concerned with making kids in love with the ball and the game. Absolutely im all for that..but for me, once we get into the latter stages of seven to eleven years old..Its not just about winning, its about HOW we win. Introduction of tactics commence! Right there! Kids can learn the team tactics needed to be successful! A tactic is just a decision! and taught age appropriate of course (not talking double pivot, false nine, false press etc) Im talking basic where to move and why. So as I mentioned before you begin to make the environment more competitive and introduce simple decision making in an age appropriate way! You teach them to be competitive and to win. But not just to “win”…how to win. Follow me? You can make practice fun AND competitive…AND STILL WIN. Let me reiterate…I have never seen depressed winners!!

  46. Hristo says

    Soccer and player development are different but not mutually exclusive. I see youth development as stages of maturity from a coach / club perspective. Barcelona is self-sustaining through its La Masia Academy. They stand alone. Behind them are clubs like Ajax or Academies like, Boca Juniors, Santos, Clairefontaine. Their model is to develop and sell. Feeder clubs. Behind them are clubs like Milan, PSG, Madrid, and many others who have an Academy but largely buy and sell players. This is the biggest bubble of teams. Then there is MLS and other lower-tier Academies. They develop average professionals. American competitive clubs are a level below this, to include USSDA. Then there’s AYSO and rec.

    As you work your way down the levels, you start to realize developing quality has many factors. Things like money, the draw of a big club, higher standards, trajectory / purpose of player development, coaching, scouting, no-cost Academies for players, cutthroat release of players and coaches who don’t perform or develop at right trajectory, a viable tiered league system with corresponding youth academies, tradition, culture. We are not to this level and can’t develop elite world class players despite all the available information to learn from. It’s harder than that. Much harder! We are limited by a glass ceiling of where we are as a country in footballing maturity. There are anecdotal exceptions (e.g., the Kleiban’s success), but the norm is mediocrity.

    Our growth as a footballing nation is not linear. We are going through a maturation of playing philosophy in last 5-years. 5-10 more years and it should be mature enough to move to next stage of maturity. We’ve created USSDA and possession has washed up on the shore. I believe that next stage has to either be development of a viable league tiers of professional soccer, improved college game, improved coaching, and better player id of elite players at the national and professional at U16 and above. All of these need to happen. Possession is gaining its own speed. Someone needs to start championing the next level of maturity.

    Gary, I’m hoping you can begin that dialogue on this site. Development of the game as you correctly state.

  47. Nuno says

    For the ones interested in the psychology side of the subject here’s a very interesting perspective from a world respected neuro scientist:

  48. CDO says

    Long time reader but noticed this site not as active as before.

    Something I don’t recall being talked about on this site is that technical, tactical, physical, and mental are the building blocks (in that order) of player development. Yet at about U16 and older (especially USSDA 16 and above into college and pro), the most important thing is mental.

    Why? Depending on the player and playing style of the coach / team / club — physical, tactical, and technical can jockey in order of importance. Each player has a role. The one constant is mental. It (mental) controls ALL playing skills and abilities. You can be the best technical and/or tactical, but without the proper mental makeup it’s nothing. Same holds true for size, height / stature, physical strength, speed, and so forth. There are a lot of gentle giants and intimidating small badgers at all levels. Those with all the attributes but lack the fire. The Pete Rose types can go far. The footballing mentality is the catalyst. And that’s why the brain is the #1 weapon of a player.

    A winning mentality, not winning at all costs, is what we need to promote. It’s been talked about before. Developing the footballing mentality. If you’ve played at a high level or been around the game for a long time and understand it, you will know what I mean. There are soccer players and then there are footballers.

  49. CDO says

    one final post . . . .

    Another item I wanted to talk about differently is how players develop. I’ve heard and read “it’s not linear”. That is too basic an explanation. Development is NOT exponential. Meaning it can’t grow w/o limit. Development has a natural limit. Everyone is different. Growth is rapid early on, then diminishes and gradually levels out no matter the repetition. Knowledge can increase, but that too has an upper limit. What can grow is the speed at which the mind recognizes. Hopefully that means quicker physical reaction. That’s experience, knowledge.

    There are also stages of development based on age and level of competition. Everyone is different.

    Technical best developed before U14. Physical and tactical starts about U14 on. Mental best mastered at U16 and above. You can learn tactics earlier, but typically need maturity to optimize it. Physical needs mental maturity (not being “scared”).

    A good coach knows understands above and how to develop each player with a winning attitude. Doesn’t crush hopes because he is a late growth spurt or hurt confidence when a player makes mistakes. The road to mastery is filled with mistakes. There is a difference in a coach (someone who orders robots around with a joystick) and a true teacher-mentor. The latter develops footballers.

  50. James B. says

    An Article about soccer in India and them hosting the U17 World Cup in 2017 – here’s a quote: “Heavy defeats in the youth tournament could have a detrimental impact on the development of football in India if players, fans and sponsors lose confidence in a country where cricket already is all-pervading.”


      • CDO says

        Music to my ears James B.!

        As I said before, it’s all about mentality. Desire to do whatever it takes. A footballer versus a soccer player. At younger ages here in USA, coaches think size = passion and desire. You can be very competitive and be small and just because you don’t run over or use braun over opponents, doesn’t mean you aren’t physical enough. Being competitive and passionate is so much more.

  51. Jason says

    “Winning is the currency that enables you to continue your process.”

    I wish this were always true.

    I agree 100% with the post – but yet another of the f-ed up aspect of the game in this country is that a coach can get turned on in a heartbeat, no matter his/her results.

    I’ve been at a medium-sized club since August and have been in charge of 48 games total between my two teams. I have lost 4 of them – 1 while playing up an age group. My teams have tournaments and State Cup. Despite this, I’m building a depressing/hilarious collection of emails from parents and DOCs. I’ve come to dread the sound of my phone; it’s usually something depressing. I won’t go into detail and I’m not asking for sympathy; I can handle it. And I know I am far from alone in this.

    Playing time is equal; I don’t yell at the players; I’m not sarcastic or mean. I’m not perfect, but I don’t do any of the obvious things that might bring heat on a coach. But it still comes.

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