I think we can all agree that the best should always get recognized and rise to the highest level. It is a basic principle that enables any country, company, team, etc to maximize their potential. In the case of a soccer team, we obviously want the best players, coach, management and staff possible.
Today we’ll focus exclusively on player selection for the youth National Teams – “the Top”.
We have had numerous one on one conversations with national team scouts for a couple of years. And they do know more than your typical club or collegiate coach.
However, their understanding of the game and player quality, although better than most, is not remotely impressive. It leaves me concluding, these can’t be the best eyes the country has.
The Basic Process
First, the scouts around the country watch the high level club, collegiate, and pro games. Make their assessment of players, then select the handful they believe are elite. These are then invited to National Team Camps, where further evaluation occurs by the National Team coach and staff. Finally, from the camp(s) a final selection occurs to form the team that will participate in a competition.
We’ve been to many camps, and this is where the biggest crime is committed. The players who demonstrated true quality end up not being selected.
What on God’s earth is the coaching staff watching? What is their criteria?
If they were judging based on Technical Quality and Soccer IQ, they have it completely wrong. From their selections, they seem to be willing to sacrifice these two critical traits in favor of physical attributes like strength and speed.
Well, looking at historical results, including our most recent U-20 World Cup blunder, it should be evident that something is wrong. We are not getting better.
Now, there are a number of reasons that can be cited for our shortcomings. Anything from infrastructure, to money, to youth development, to college – the list is quite long. But one thing that can be immediately fixed and requires no long term development, is a shift in our selection criteria. Size and speed need to be given a much smaller weight in favor of player quality.
It’s unbearable to think that a 5’6 Iniesta or Xavi, would be cut from our national teams. These are two of the best, if not the best, midfielders in the world. Guess what, if born in this country, I would bet the farm they would never have made the final cut. Instead of enjoying them on TV, you might have them taking your order at a local restaurant.
The country’s best players are not being selected. They are falling through the two final filters in the selection process.
Truly elite players are often times missed by scouts. And of the handful the scouts do manage to identify, maybe one, if any, end up surviving the final cut by the coaches.
What are we left with? Mediocre players representing our country. Instead of that truly delicious sweet cream we enjoy, we are given sour cream.
The result? Junk on the field, and the results to prove it.
You forgot another 5’6″ guy, Lionel Messi. He’s only the best player in the world though. I can see how you could forget him!!?!!
Gary Kleiban says
Very true Rafael! The list of world class players who would not have made it here is pretty long.
It’s a shame really… I mean the game is just fast and strong now. It’s not even fun to watch anymore, I wanna see skill over some guy running as fast as he can and not be able to trap a ball. Soccer was at it’s prime in the 80’s and 90’s if you ask me. That’s when real soccer was played, I mean yes you do need to be strong to put tackles in, win the ball in the air and fast to be a good athlete. But they had so much skill, now and days you see silly passes and players passing when they have time or carrying the ball when they need to just make a simple pass and they are out of pressure. I watched the U-20 U.S team play, I know we have more skill in this country than that. Cause if we don’t then we are in big trouble when the next world cup comes ah knocking.
This post touches on favoring wrong player types. The link to Technical and Soccer IQ further discusses incorrect player id . . . something we frequently talk about. You can narrow it down to the recent “possessors” and “fumblers’ that I believe Jesran identified. What’s even worse is unaware fumblers (i.e, players who can only read the game as it’s happening instead of a play or two ahead). But if they are big, physical, aggressive they are in good standing with coaches who prefer that to a possessor who may be more composed, less aggressive, not as big. Scouts and coaches using playre id ranking critera that is hurtful to long-term improvement of US soccer.
El Memo says
With Try-Outs underway or coming up for many clubs across the US, I wanted to ask:
What do you watch for in a player? How can you best /quickest measure, as you only have a few sessions with the players? How is it different at the different ages (Starting with U9s and up)? I have my own thoughts, and my approach is not being utilized anywhere. But, wanted to hear from others. It seems that coaches/trainers just run a bunch of small sided games and a full game along with some racing (wtf.)
I know there are tangibles like physical attributes. But, I believe other skills (physical / mental) can also be measured and would be interested to hear from the community on these. Thanks.
I think it comes down to what you as a coach is looking for in a player to best support your style of play / philosophy. Hopefully that supports developing quality at U18 and beyond and not short-sighted win now at U9 mentality.
As a benchmark on what olders do (or don’t), my son’s USSDA club had internal U15/16 tryouts. All sessions of small sided games. Practice as normal doing same stuff. Nothing to separate quality from average. Nothing to put players under pressure, new and uncomfortable situations to see how they responded. Nothing to test quality, technique, tactical understanding, speed of play.
We were hoping for better attention to quality in recognition of the years of preparation for this big milestone of getting onto a USSDA U16 Academy side.
El Memo says
Thanks for the response. I agree that selecting players is based on style of play.
Your second paragraph gets to what I am asking. Selecting seems to be an “art” but one where the “artist” (the coach) is always right – which does not ensure accountability. (Don’t give me “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” s****. We’ve seen beauty in the CL.)
Coaches at Try Outs have players scrimmage and coaches supposedly see everything clearly all of a sudden. Don’t get me wrong, I think some coaches do know what they are looking for. But, like you say why not put players under stress to “separate quality from average, to put players under pressure, new and uncomfortable situations to see how they responded, to test quality, technique, tactical understanding, speed of play.” I agree, these is the characteristics we should be looking for.
So, the second part of the question: What approach would you take to define / measure?
If you do a vision and awareness excercise and your fastest / tallest / strongest player fails miserably, doesn’t it say something? The player selection or the coaching is wrong.
To be honest, I am surprised others haven’t chimed in, as passionate as is the community.
I am still awaiting an answer on the HOW.
Just a Mom says
Wanted to share my experience. I fully believe in possession soccer. I never played but my husband did. We are at a USSDA club. Only four players from our team were promoted to U16 academy. The ones who were promoted were the most aggressive players, not the most technical or tactical (far from it). In fact, all four of those players are overly aggressive, which affects composure for tactical play. They constantly got the ire of the coach. But they were big and strong and always had a free pass. Saw this for years. They have average technique. I’ve know most of these boys since they were U8. I know their game and am close to their families, so this is being said out of understanding of player abilities. The most technical and tactically advanced players on our team weren’t selected (about 4 or 5 fall into this category). They are very composed players but they don’t run around slide tackling everyone and throwing their weight around. They are aggressive at right time. It was an eye opener they didn’t make Academy. Three of the boys (from our “B” team) made academy but they are coach’s sons. That raised a lot of eyebrows. Hmmmh! The club talks thinking, awareness and possession but promotes physical and aggressive players. It’s quite sad.
How can so many be so wrong about so much at the expense of so many. I remember an episode of Sponge Bob Squarepants. It was about opposite day. Whatever you said had the opposite meaning. How fitting for the majority of coaches.
El Memo says
Yields quickest “results” in a Results Oriented via Athletes in Sports Society. Also, requires the least amount of effort to yield those “Results.”