There can be no player development factory without monetary incentive.
First let me be clear; without competent coaches, all the money in the world will not develop a quality player.
So assuming there’s a capable coach, what makes you think he will do everything in his power to develop his pupils? And I assure you, that’s what it’s going to take.
In the top soccer nations, the jobs of youth coaches are on the line. You better have kids that continue up the club’s pro pipeline, or there’s going to be a problem.
You see the clubs there are financially invested in the youth within their farms, and they will only get a return if players make the 1st team or are sold. So not only are the coach’s careers on the line, but more fundamentally the clubs are under the gun to hire the best possible farmers.
Elite coaches are hired, inept coaches are fired. And aside from the black art of identifying a quality trainer, there is a very good metric to assist. That is, how does a coach’s pupil do at the next/top level?
No such market exists in the US. What incentive does a club or coach currently have in truly developing a player?
Gary, no pun intended, but this is right on the money. I’ve always found it odd that Americans are so resistant to free markets when it comes to sports. Leagues here are cartels and the utmost is done to protect teams economically, and there is little incentive to take any significant risks.
This is most obvious in any discussion about the possibility of promotion and relegation in US soccer. Bring it up and instantly you’ll hear why it could never work and you’ll hear about clubs going out of business if relegated, etc., etc. The fact is that a system promotion and relegation, and the multiplicity of teams and leagues that it supports, are vital in developing those crucial economic incentives. If you’re a third division club that wants to be a first division club someday, you’re going to need players and money, and finding and developing top quality players is the route to both. At the same time, if you’re a first division club wanting to avoid someday becoming a third division club, players and money are your tools for staying up, and again, find and developing players is paramount.
The question is, can professional soccer here in the US be made to accept the higher levels of risk associated with creating the necessary economic incentives. It’s impossible to say for sure, but for me, signs point to no.
Gary Kleiban says
I agree. The lack of a promotion/relegation system would definitely incentivize the clubs at all levels. Money again being the driver – you gain/lose depending on what flight you’re in.
I don’t know what the true drivers for not implementing this are. I can see how the league chose not to have such a thing at its founding. They didn’t fully understand what the market would be, and hence the viability of a pro league. Plus a number of other arguments about how soccer can’t function in the US the same way as it does elsewhere. I’m certain just having one flight was the right choice.
I get it. The arguments seem quite logical – on the surface anyway. Without all the details of the market, one can’t assess it’s robustness, and hence whether adding promotion/relegation would truly be unstable, as the powers that be suggest.
But I think these discussion should be more prominent – 17 years into the league – than they currently are.
Its useful to examine the current money trail too, which leads to the sort of win at all costs mentality. Clubs try to put together super teams at relatively young ages to compete for trophies, development be damned, just pick the best athletes and early developers. The coach/club who can put the team together gets the spoils, not through developing the players, but basically recruiting.
This is the system we have boys and girls alike and it hampers development, hampers the masses getting decent education. It also helps to fuel the sort of “shit” approach to the game that typifies the youth game further undermining quality. This is the sort of approach that USSF protects with its status quo choices and ultimately the belief that Bob Bradley is an appropriate choice to “lead the line”.
Our current system is driven by youth trophies, state, region, and national plus showcase tournaments. In addition its the college scholarships that figure into the sale’s pitch to mom and dad. Quality of the actual education isn’t even on the radar and to be frank most parents haven’t a clue anyway. Their model of what good coaching and play comes from the NFL (and maybe the EPL with the idiotic musings of the play-by-play commentators providing “wisdom”). Our consumer-driven system is run by coaches often selling a substandard product, to people who can’t tell the difference between the best and complete garbage.
Gary Kleiban says
We really have to be careful with the “winning vs development” rhetoric. This is just a small slice of a big pie as far as our problems are concerned.
Others would have you believe that “winning” is fundamentally what is in the way of development. This is not true.
They would have you believe that eliminating the pressure to win will set up an environment where true development can flourish. Again, this is simply not true.
This is yet another lesson our country will learn the hard way. We are just beginning to understand that lack of athleticism is not our problem. Now we’ll waste 10 to 15 years getting over the “winning” myth.
Gary, I believe in winning, it is the manner that people get there that inhibits our development. When winning comes from the right mentality, hard work, and “true grit” there is nothing wrong with it. It is the winning that comes from exploiting some combination of early development and God-given athleticism when we get into problems. Note, I did not say God-given talent because a lot of the talent we have in our player pool is over-looked in favor of athleticism.
As an example, the USA’s striker problems come directly from this. Rather than skill and intelligence the USA’s strikers are big and/or fast giving them a distinct advantage along the development path. They don’t develop or are not chosen for skill or intelligence thus failing to perform at the highest level. The lack of a playmaker is more of the same. This whole cycle provides ample reason for the lack of American Xavi’s or Messi’s. I think they are out there and we are missing them or worse yet driving them out of the game before they develop into what they could be. The American system just does not nurture them, in fact, I believe it does the opposite, it stifles and pushes them away.
What I’ve seen locally in my son’s age group shaped these views. Coaches who are viewed as “successful” are those who win by recruiting the best talent into super teams at U-11. The recruiting is done without regard for the damage done to everyone else. The whole thing is driven by producing the best tournament team to compete in the State Cup and up the chain. The coach who succeeds is the best recruiter and not the best developer. Some of them play good soccer, but a lot play ugly and win.
Somehow the USA needs to figure out how to reverse this trend and produce a system that motivates better intrinsic outcomes. The small money in the current youth structure stands in the way, the largely flawed collegiate system stands in the way, and the MLS stands in the way. The pseudo-English/Scottish legacy and culture of soccer in the USA stands in the way. Most of these forces could be refocused for good, but only if someone had an actual plan and idea of the problems. The most fortunate trend is the inability the true nature of quality to escape notice through the power of globalization.
Winning, in my eyes, truly matters in soccer much moreso than any other sport, BUT only at the highest levels of competition. In other words, how far does USMNT and USWNT advance in World Cup? That matters. That is the gauge if any of our ideas and actions work. Also, how many USA players are on the field in the European Champions League… the club level “winners”. So far I don’t know of any.
Right now, Everton is advancing in the EPL standings because of the additions of Americans. That is sort of the type of winning that I am saying that matters.
Winning at the college, high school, travel, and god-forbid the rec level is all happy horseshit because the competition is nothing in the grand scheme, yet it seems to have such a big impact of how our kids experience the game.
Right now, in my little town there is all this talk on the board about how to keep our best players from leaving and decimating our teams as they have been doing. It seems, some of our kids are good enough to move to the regional DAs and this is seen as a failure because we’ll lose our games in our flights this spring. I’m arguing that this is our greatest success. The families don’t leave just the one kid. The infra-structure that developed the kid doesn’t move with him. The other kids in the league still go to school with him and now know it’s possible to move on up the ladder starting from our town league… ugh… winning is everything, but only from the proper perspective.
What happened to the American kid’s team when he moved to La Masia? I’m guessing the quality went down temporarily, but is back to par with some jazzed up new blood that think they’ll be next to go to Barcelona.
Ken S. says
Totally agree jesran. American parents don’t fully understand what the “highest level” of soccer really is. They “know” it’s the World Cup, but functionally they have no clue. For most of them it stops at college. And now MLS steps in and says (falsely) that THEY are the highest level, and they convince just enough people of this to help sustain their league and nothing more. You’re absolutely correct: we need to educate Americans on what the real path is for soccer so they’ll understand that it’s not only just OK that one of our own has gotten to another level, but that this should be the goal. Then we keep on that path and bring along even more players that can do the same thing to fill in behind them. Suddenly the pipeline is full. When we’ve done that , MLS will have to accomodate the influx of talent with appropriate compensation or lose out entirely. Your comment “The infra-structure that developed the (American La Masia) kid doesn’t move with him” is correct, but right now that type of player in my opinion is more “self-produced” in the US and they excel almost in spite of the infrastructure. Maybe the kid’s club is truly unique (I haven’t revisited the story so it might be), but there are a lot of clubs out there that have that one kid who just gets in done on their own, with their (knowledgable) parents’ help. We’ve got to do a much better job making sure the clubs are actually PRODUCING players like this. And that does start with what your overall point is: not crying foul when one of these kids flies the coop, but instead trying to create the next one, and the one after that.
I’m completely clueless as to the amount of money youth clubs receive for winning a tournament or league, but I imagine it isn’t enough since kids still are paying to play nowadays.
On the other hand, if youth coaches put full investment on the players they find (free to play), and pass the cost to college/professional coaches who wish to recruit their products, wouldn’t that eliminate the dependency on cup play and the overall pay-to-play environment? Not sure what kind of movement it would take to get youth coaches to start charging recruiters, but I think that if everyone would start doing it, it’s not like the recruiters would just stop recruiting. I mean someone’s gonna start giving in eventually….since they always need new talent. Even though it sounds like a shrewd business selling the youth, it should atleast put the pyramid right-side-up again. And at the same time, it should definitely take skilled coach(es) to be able to trust their talent hunting abilities enough to fully invest in a kid. That I think would do wonders in naturally weeding out bad coaches (investors) and the good ones since the risks are higher.
Plus, last I heard was that colleges get all the money anyways. And if not, it might give them a reason to receive more funding for their programs. : P
Gary Kleiban says
It’s a tough nut to crack with lots of competing interests and legal issues.
At this point I don’t know what the best (and feasible/legal) business mechanism would be. Future posts will explore this topic. But there is zero doubt in my mind that money must be aligned with player development. There has to be an ROI to develop players, otherwise it will never happen.
So what is the solution to our problem here in the US? One thing I am sure of, as a parent, is that we need more knowledgeable consumers- parents. For example, as hard as I try to make the right soccer decisions for my kids, it’s amazing how many times I find myself thinking stupid (well, ok, semi-stupid) thoughts about why they should be playing this position or be on that team. We need more parents who are better educated about what is good for the development of their children, and then they need to express those preferences to the clubs, at all levels.
And since the “pay to play” system probably won’t go away any time soon, it needs to be better organized, with better leadership at the top- starting with symbolic and real USSF leadership that does the kinds of things discussed in this blog.
We’ll not get a European-style system here anytime soon, so we have to configure our systems to produce similar effects. I think it starts with more intelligent parents.
Part of it will be education (thank you, Kleibans), but there is a cultural component, too. One of the wonderful things about this country is the warm notion that anybody can be anything they want. While that is true in a very general sense, it is often interpreted in the specific sense, and that causes trouble; if you suck at math, no amount of preparation will make you into Albert Einstein; if you are slow as molasses, no amount of SAQ training will give you Leo Messi explosiveness, agility, and quickness. If you are 5’4″ tall full-gr0wn, you will never hold the world record for the 100 meter freestyle swim. Sorry. In a system where people set more realistic goals for themselves, we will eliminate many of the “traffic jams” of middle class ambition that block up each others’ true potential. Club coaches could still make money- perhaps they would make more money selling more realistic dreams to parents?
Does any of this make sense, or am I just tired this weekend?
Gary Kleiban says
Alberto, I agree with you that a well educated consumer of “soccer products and services” is hugely important! I wouldn’t have started this blog otherwise.
You see the fundamental requirement for player development is the coaching. And to get the right coaches, you need the right market forces (that’s the point). Now, the above post shows what that looks like in other countries. Specifically, their pro-player-pipeline enforces it. The consumer of player development services/products are the professional clubs.
Here that doesn’t exist. For now, our consumers are indeed the parents. So we depend on them making good choices. We need them to be educated.
Gary, I wouldn’t be so bold as to believe that I’m a completely educated consumer. I’m a lot better educated than when my kids started, but its been the school of hard knocks. When I started about 10-11 years ago I knew next to nothing. I grew up playing American football and soccer was an exotic, foreign game full of much different concepts and principles. I loved it and ate it up.
I was thrown into coaching 5-6 year olds without any real knowledge of the game or what I should be doing. Four years later I was thrust by circumstances into our big pond (the most competitive league in our small state), and sought to learn a lot very fast. I learned a lot, mostly that the kids deserved a better coach than me since I could never recover from not playing as a kid.
At the end of the day the one lesson that stands out is nothing matters more than the quality of the coach, nothing. The club doesn’t matter, the wins don’t matter. My moment of realization came from the state ODP system. The first year my son did it, the coach was great and even though he didn’t make the traveling squad, it was a positive learning experience. The next year the coach was a complete asshole, simply filtered the team into those who would travel, and those who would be dismissed. No learning, nothing positive, and my son swore off ODP as a waste of time, and this time around it was.
It was a terrible way to learn a valuable lesson.
Bill said “At the end of the day the one lesson that stands out is nothing matters more than the quality of the coach, nothing. ”
I tend to agree with this notion as evidenced by USMNT placing so poorly internationally despite apparent growth. We’ll see with Klinsman how important a top quality coach is…
But a couple of thought concerning this problem of bad US coaches:
1. It seems more solvable to me than developing top notch American attacking mid-fielders (for example) because we can hire outside help (i.e Klinsman) and we can publish standards. This is the US standard as of earlier this year, but it will be updated with fresh Klinsman concepts soon I’m sure. Would this have helped to read when you first started coaching Bill?
2. If the problem is bad coaches, not bad players, then maybe should we advocate putting a few minutes into every training session into making our kids better coaches when they come of age and it is their turn? Teaching the future teachers, if you will. I think about my 12 year old son (who has autism btw) who may not ever be an MLS star like he wants to be because physically he’s a few years behind. By the time he catches up it may be too late, but he is very good at memorizing the skills and concepts of play as he would be with coaching concepts. Maybe he and many of our other youngsters would benefit from learning to teach while still in their playing years.
3. Maybe this dude from Akron really knows some coaching things that he can share with the rest of us. In other words, let’s take take the best example we have of domestic success, hold it up, scrutinize it and improve on it. Has he published anything? Has anybody analyzed him?
So to answer your question, the curriculum would have been great back then, but still wouldn’t have up for my lack of solid core skills. The ability to demonstrate and understand the nuance and subtlety of skills is something that I don’t have. My son on the other hand will when its time for him to coach.
My son is now in high school. It is stunning that we can’t manage to get competent high school coaches (OK he’s a JV player, but still!). From what I see high school soccer is just a prelude to the clusterfuck that is college soccer. While these competitions aren’t perfect by any stretch, why are they allowed to continue in this fashion. It is a bit perplexing. The answer is education, a lot of coaching education, and then more education.
I’ve finally figured out that most of the “good” youth coaches as measured by winning, are really good at harvesting talent. They often do this by some combination of marketing and unethical conduct. For example, the state club champs in my son’s age group harvested the big and fast players from a number of teams. They play a horrible style of soccer, kick-and-run, midfield pressure with lots of subs revolving around big fast forwards and centerbacks. No build-up play, no possession, its just ram the fucking ball down your throat soccer. In the end they’ll get lots of college scholarships to play more of the same shitty soccer.
In the end I have faith that my son will part of a generation that will make huge strides, and my grandchildren will have the benefit of far better coaching than my kids despite my best efforts. If we don’t seriously change the motivating forces in youth soccer these improvements will fall short. To succeed youth soccer needs to cast off the shackles that American traditional youth sports places on it. Our approach to youth sports is one of our greatest hinderances.
BillR, you are very quotable today: “the clusterfuck that is college (high school) soccer”; the “harvesting” of players. I think that nails it. Thanks for expanding my soccer vocabulary in a most functional way. “Clusterfuck” soccer sounds much better than “headless chicken” soccer.
Soccer Grit says
MAY I ADD TO…….. examine the current money trail too, which leads to the sort of WIN at all costs mentality. SUPER clubs try to put together super teams at relatively YOUNGER and YOUNGER ages to compete for trophies, development be damned, just pick the best athletes and early developers. The coach/club who can put the team together gets the spoils, NOT through developing the MATURITY of players and teams PERSONALITY , but basically RECRUITING……..Our current system is driven by youth trophies, state, region, and national plus showcase tournaments. In addition its the limited college scholarships that figure into the sale’s pitch to mom and dad. Quality of the actual education (NOW BEING DECIDED BY SOPHMORE AGE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS) isn’t even on the radar and to be frank most parents haven’t a clue anyway. Their model of what good coaching and play comes from the NFL (and maybe the EPL with the idiotic musings of the play-by-play commentators providing “wisdom”) . Our consumer-driven system is run by coaches often selling a substandard product, to people who can’t tell the difference between the best and complete garbage …………………AND IN ACTUALLY THIS DEVELOPEMENT SYSTEM TAKES AWAY FROM PLAYER ENJOYMENT , DEVELOPING MATURITY AND CAREOVER LIFESKILLS BECAUSE THE SOCCER IMPROVEMENT IS BEING EMPHASIZED AND CLAIMED BY ORGANIZATION NOT THE SELF DEDICATION OF THE INDIVIDUAL. Yes this is the good , the bad, and ugly truth that is basic premise that under cuts mass player development. Money first youth clubs, SOME now further perpetuating their image with additional establishment of ECLN trying to ACCENTUATE a club brand as the premier place to train with a emphasis on eliteness because that’s all the parents can understand or evaluate about kids personal growth, involvement and development with club. Unfortunately these supposedly elite clubs initially recruit the biggest, fastest and not necessarily best long range prospects for development from ever increasing wider geographic areas and population with less ethnic, economic and diverse base considerations. The chosen ones have the advantage early of practicing with and against initially better teams and players. Each year slower developing less economically blessed players who would be able to affect the game more because of ball control and receptive to team soccer thinking as they get older are ignored or not politically promoted at the increasing competitive level in the feeder chain to national age group teams. As an example of WINNING at all cost in local scene occurred here at state cup. A well known youth club coach instructed some of his players on his team to lose a deciding shootout, because another older bigger faster team, but not as skilled, in the same elite club and age group he presumed would do better in regions than HIS younger team. It was obvious the clubs WINNING brand affecting clubs bottom line was more important in that club coaches ethical thinking than his own teams efforts. And of course guess what super club got chosen for ECNL status here. The other club or school chosen in state for ENCL ….RECRUITS NATIONWIDE under the ruse of giving supposedly need based educational scholarships for players to play and live at their school. A whole reeducation of the fee paying parents of players about elements of personal growth and education as well as player development based on ball skills and control with increasing team soccer IQ needs to redirected from the top and bottom of system to have greater benefits in mass player development. This new direction should come from the grassroots of state youth soccer organization and also from the top MLS , W-league clubs youth participation and education programs . Like to plug one new but great organization here locally trying increase the opportunities and ideas of availability of personal development around soccer culture is named Tony Sanneh Foundation. Your support and encouragement would greatly appreciated. A side note this player was coached by one of our states best coaches and game teachers and not developed by a self proclaimed elite soccer organization. He never was recognized nationally or even reached regional ODP status as youth but went on to become one of Americas most dynamic players at world cup.
I agree that there will be negatives that come with the creation of the ECNL. However, I think at this point it also offers some tantalizing possibility too. For example, with the creation of just a handful of elite teams, parents of the “elite” players are going to find their influence greatly reduced as they will no longer have nearly as much leverage when it comes to brow beating coaches with threats of leaving the team. Or in other words, we now have a model under the pay to play structure where-by the best players parents are no longer calling the shots (as it will be much harder to yank their kids and find anything close to a comparable team)… which is something a lot of people have been trying to figure out for a long time.
Anyway, I’m interested in your thoughts?
Of course my comment didn’t get at the problem of how to change the money motives within youth development in the USA. It seems that the MLS does not have enough money to change things drastically, although a little bit. It would help if MLS were a more technical league (or it would help if any “high-end” outlet for players were technical).
Perhaps the best hope if for leagues from outside the USA take some interest in developing the youth of America. Prospects for this are dim, but improving. An enlightened USSF could go a long way to planting the seeds necessary for this to happen. An enlightened USSF would solve a lot of problems to start with though!
Gary Kleiban says
I would love for foreign clubs to take an interest. I just don’t know if it makes sense for them to do so from a return on investment perspective. I think we’re gonna have to figure things out on our own.
Actually, they are starting to take an interest. Arsenal recently formed a partnership with one of the clubs in my area. It will be interesting to see how this progresses and if others follow suit.
Thank you Gary for the fantastic blog. As someone who is getting my first real exposure to the beautiful game through my kids, I appreciate what you are doing to help educate Americans.
just found out the blog yesterday and its good to see you all doing this. As an African American i see U.S. soccer totally over looks our culture. The game is not even in our culture, and what is happening in the states, is just like what happened in Brazil in the 1920’s. White or social elite control the game, when in order to have mass development, the game has to define a culture, just as it is for latin americans. The game has to go to the street first, then u develop them after the street made them. Well here’s what i’m doing in DC,
What is Joga SC
3 players from Joga 8 year old and two 7 year olds
and you guys will be hearing a lot of noise coming from us in the next year. Again great blog and I’ll be posting you guys articles on twitter and facebook.
Kephern prez of Joga SC
The USA clearly doesn’t deliver enough players to the best world stage. We have over 3MM of more than 20MM registered male youth soccer players in the world (~15%), but represent less than 4% of European leagues (the best world stage). How much is that because we don’t deliver the quality of players and how much is just because we don’t have the pipeline to Europe to get exposure? Every topic and idea on this site seems geared to developing a better youth soccer player in the USA that could one day play in Europe and that is very cool, but there seems to be one critical bottleneck not discussed. Even if we could resolve all these issues with a snap of our fingers (better coaches, parents, improve clubs and pay to play, recruit based not just on bigger, faster etc.) we still have a problem. We would have an adequate supply of quality players, but still no link to the demand. The MLS will not offer fame or big bucks for homegrown talent anytime soon and European clubs, where the fame and fortune is for soccer, rarely recruit US players. Why would they? They rarely see them. Our system is like an isolated island geared to play locally and peak locally at the D1 or MLS level. A few groups like Brian’s team or the U14 ID Sqrd program can leverage relationships and afford to give US kids exposure against the best at FC Barcelona or Madrid in profile tourneys like the MIC Cup in Spain. The cost of playing overseas is generally prohibitive…a factor of 10 higher…thousands of dollars per player for one event…more than the player may spend for a whole year of competitive regional soccer here which can be expensive in its own right. It is a difficult situation, but arguably much easier to correct than all the other issues discussed in here. It may take a decade or more just to move the needle on changing all the legacy institutions and fighting ways entrenched ways of thinking in US youth soccer, but the pipeline or exposure problem can be solved quickly with money. Why is there no discussion or program built around expanding the number of our best kids exposed to high level European youth soccer? It seems to me this should be the 1st step for real change. If it is 40 kids today getting that exposure at only a couple age groups let’s make it 400 in a couple years at all age groups and 1,000 a year or two after that! If the cost is $2K per head maybe only $2MM/yr pays for this program. Couldn’t Nike and other corporate sponsors make that happen? If it gave rise to just one American Neymar the ROI for Nike alone would be enormous! Maybe once large groups of our best youth players are exposed to and measured against world class benchmarks it will shed some light on all the other problems that cannot be solved with a simple fix. Shouldn’t this be a topic in itself? It seems to me the 1st place to start if we want to produce more pro players on the best world stage is solving the problem of getting them to that stage (Europe) to play while they are still young.
I know this is an old post, but I was cruising through again and some of the comments have me wondering. What are you to do if you are a parent with a kid who shows good technical skill at U8 U9 and you choose to not have them compete on these multiple elite teams of choosing. What if you have them play locally in IM, seek excellent technical training, let them play small sided games as much as possible, find pick up games for free expression. What if a developed philosophy of technical training each week that is guided by planned parental involvement is created. What if you choose this path but then are one of the kids that is on the outside of ‘the system’ and never given a fair look when they turn 13 or 14 or 15? The scary thing- both ignorant parents and/or knowing parents are almost forced into this money grab elite/select mentality for fear of being left behind or never noticed. My hopes are that true quality will be rewarded someday but if the people looking and judging that quality don’t change, whats the point?