Most of us have seen that TV show or movie where the cowboy jumps on a horse’s back with the aim of domestication. The wild animal violently resists being ridden and will buck, jump, twist, whatever it takes to knock the cowboy on his ass! After all, the horse is wild and doesn’t want to change it’s nature. It has always had complete freedom to roam as it pleased.
Coaching has some parallels. There is a new player on your team that has a certain notion of how to play. You, as a coach, try to bring him around to your (hopefully better) philosophy and teach him to leave much of his past behind. Depending how much of a gap there is and the age of the player (younger is obviously better), this transition can be smooth or a nightmare.
Some players may integrate immediately, others may take months, and some may never adapt.
I want to provide my take based on experience and observation on how this relates at the youth and professional level.
At the youth level, this is generally not a huge obstacle since the coaching here is horrific. Meaning there isn’t much structure or tactical requirements imposed on players like in top soccer nations – the kids here have free-reign by comparison. Coaches choose a formation, assign positions, throw 11 on the field and say “work hard”. There is no identity to a team (no style), and so no well defined detailed roles for each player. Actually, nevermind … if there is one ubiquitous role that every player is lectured on here, it’s:
As a result, going from one club to the next is pretty much the same. Unfortunately, since we want to truly develop our players, this situation makes our job that more difficult. Virtually all players that we’ve had, have never been exposed to excellent instruction. It’s always been a constant battle to bring them around and see the light.
In our experience, if we catch them early on – before they reach 16 – then chances of success are good – the earlier the better. Sixteen to Eighteen year olds have proven to be less malleable and we have had our share of failures. Although I will add that it seems to also be a function of their soccer heritage.
This has huge implications for the future professional American player.
Since these guys came up through this horrendous system – quite frankly receiving ignorant instruction. If and when some team in Europe gives them a chance, most never adapt. All of a sudden their coach wants to place them in a clearly defined tactical role.
This is shocking! Failure is eminent. This horse can not be broken.
LE Eisenmenger says
Good points here, but one error in the first graph. Rodeo horses do not buck because of their wild nature. They buck because there is a belt cinched tightly over their groin which causes them agony. This is a coward’s sport. Besides, it’s a myth that horses are “broken,” they’re trained with behavior modification and encouragement and love, like pets and children.
Aside from that, 14-16 is late. In all seriousness, I’d like you to write a story about how to re-teach a team of 16 year-olds how to look at the game. You can address them individually and as a group, but it’s also teaching them that previous coaches (often parents) are misinformed, ignorant, and lazy. No matter how you try to avoid this, make it sound better, they’re smart and understand this. Many already suspect this and distrust their coaches. They’ve had so many that have taught them contradictory things.
Gary Kleiban says
Thanks for the comment LE!
Yeah, I knew it was technically inaccurate while writing. I just wanted to get the main point across. But thanks for letting everyone know.
About the 16 year-olds, that’s a good point. Yes, in most cases they will understand what you are saying and want to buy into the program. The problem arises on the field. Their muscle memory and instinct is to do what they’ve always done before. That’s the real problem!
I’ll try to write up something more detailed …
Gabe Ferreira says
Very true, every year that passes after the age of 14 makes it harder and harder to change the way you play. Speaking from my own experience.
Great post. I really like the content on this website and will be sure to come back.
I especially like your point about the quality of coaching in this country. Until Soccer players are surrounded by quality coaches from a young age, this country will always be a few steps behind.
Gary Kleiban says