It’s well known one of the advantages players outside the US have is pickup ball.
Across the globe, players of all ages from 7 year olds to adults benefit from the street game – that informal pickup culture the American player lacks. The barrio, as hispanic/latino cultures call it, is where strong mentalities, ball skills (of the smooth, not mechanized variety), and the dark arts of the game are forged.
- This is something you can’t get at your club.
- This is something you can’t get with personal training.
And this is something that is critical to top-level player development, perhaps most critical.
If a player doesn’t have this throughout their early developmental years … well, the player will likely never have “it”.
Again, remember this is not us speaking in theoretical terms, or parroting what countless world class players have said. This is us speaking from decades of personal experience working with players at all ages and levels, up to and including the cutting edge in the United States.
I’ve been quite outspoken about the ‘soft suburban culture’ over the years and how that negatively impacts a player’s formation. The best players, historically, and from personal experience, by and large don’t come from a soft, pampered, background. They come from struggle, and having to earn every inch of progress.
Nothing does that better than the self-regulating streets.
Nothing does that better than pickup game culture:
- Where you clown, and get clowned.
- Where you may not get as many games, or any, as the next guy because you don’t get on a team that often.
- Where you may be called ‘little man’ because you’re younger, smaller, or just not as good as everyone … yet.
- Where even the best baller in the barrio may get shown up by an up-and-comer, a new-comer, or a ringer.
- Where every inch of respect is earned, not given.
Privilege and entitlements go out the window here folks. This is the jungle.
But these are also among the fondest memories of virtually all footballers. Aside from building irreplaceable footballing skills, it builds character that lasts a lifetime.
After years of wanting to bring this to the suburban community, we’ve finally acquired a field and are building this for players within reach of Fullerton, CA. If you want in on the action, here’s how you can get the details.
If you aren’t local to us, we hope you’ll launch pickup games yourself or find a location where it’s already happening.
Players at the earliest of ages will gain more from a weekly experience in that environment than practically any structured club program.
I have a bill under filibuster in my it takes an Act of Congress to find 4 or 6 kids for a pick up game. Truly annoying. So from the minds and necessity of invention I’ve invented Fockey, had my other kids hold up wisks, spoons, ladles, to help create vision beyond the immediate defender, we have Porch Ball, Foot Volley, every imaginable game for developing touch we can think of- settle a ball off the second story roof in two tries immediate walk to Rita’s, we bend free kicks around the tree and over the vehicle to garner a much needed point before dinner and countless other games. I put my kid’s dick in the dirt… every time. No mercy. No coddling. Only a dad acting as a savage or big brother or neighborhood kid three years older with zero interest in preserving someones ‘feelings’. Then debrief after with love and hugs. This is the only way…as the Act of Congress is still under filibuster.
I’ve written before about this here. Nothing new.
George Vista says
Right on. I have young boys (1 and 4) and want to get them in the mix ASAP. There are no kids even outside anymore, and if they are, they’re jumping in their parents’ SUV. I’m trying to find a way to create pickup in our local neighborhood.
My kid went to an elementary school with a mixed demographic. PE coaches built a soccer pitch and the kids would play every day at recess 2x 20 minutes daily. Great playing experience. Adults need to butt out though – no taking away the ball when little clumsy Johnny comes crying to teacher that his friends always make him play keeper.
Mediocrity is now system in America. Unlike basketball, where it’s cultural in sense that in DNA of inner-city kids to play ball and it’s “their thing”, white suburbia (the primary clientele of club soccer) doesn’t play pick-up. Paid activity with mom driving her BMW.
Struggle begets desire and commitment to better oneself. That’s lacking.
“Fairness” on the playground due to legalities has neutered the free wheeling days of my youth and kids nowadays are controlled by the system.
The arrow of our future is firmly to increased control (mentally and physically), less creative outlets at young ages, more structure. Helicopter parents, government, soccer clubs, etc . . . .
(A helicopter parent jumps in front of their child (metaphorically) to clear all obstacles, remove learn by failure opportunities, thus developing kids who can only survive when spoon-fed and protected . . . kind of like those Sci-Fi movies where everyone wears same white jumpsuit and forced to think alike because “its’ good for them and protecting them”.))
Kids and coaches go to soccer camp. It’s a temporary paid activity experience. Not structural. Not deep. Not reborn. Arrogance (in coaches) and foolishness (lack of vision and direction in players, which is not their fault as they can only learn from their environment) quickly creep back to return to old habits.
I used to be voracious Twitter follower of all things soccer and pro/rel. But like the book Gary mentioned “Fooled by Randomness”, I stopped. Seldom partake in random events like the day’s top news story. Likewise, I seldom post on Twitter as it’s verbal jabs. Nothing structural or deep coming from it. Also why I don’t watch daily news, same reasons as author of “Fooled by Randomness”.
Less is more. Gary has many followers on Twitter. As I’ve been doing, quite victories are structural, deep. Barbs on Twitter are fleeting. No one engages in personal conversation. Just barbs. The rush and experience of the moment. “Aaah, I showed him.” Nothing structural or deep.
Doug Mark says
Gary, this is, imho, this point is the single most important deficiency for USA kids compared to their international counterparts and kudos to you for pointing it out and instigating the creation of a “pickup game” scene. Coaches at all levels have a team to coach…yes you work on fundamentals some at practices, but you need teamwork and tactics and that takes up practice time. The 1v1 skills and the crossovers and perfect passes and overall creativity need to be honed by our kids on playgrounds and in parks…and driveways…from the youngest ages…and it’s not.
My four boys (14-12-10-8) free play all the time…constantly really. I can tell it has shaped the skills of each and how each plays. Each plays the way they do because they play together within a 2-4-6 year spread. Each is good, but different. Are they similar? Yes; the same? No. Their differences, mostly developed in free play, is critically important to their individual development.
Yet, I have also begun to see how these differences, honed in free play, may actually “set them back” because if a club expects certain skills and a certain style that don’t obviously or easily or closely compare with the skills/creativity/awareness/habits they have developed in free play, then they the must “unlearn” what has been “self-taught” over countless hours so that they can conform to the vision of “talent” expected at the club.
Many say creativity is lacking or deficient because of the lack of free play in the development process (me included), but maybe the lack of recognizing different and unique types of creativity also contribute to this perceived “lack” of creativity. If I look for what is the same, I may not see what is different.
My boys are 5-7-9YO. The 9YO plays U10 and the 5-7 U8. The 5YO started U8 when he was four. We live in “white suburbia” but I make sure the game permeates our household and yard. We have practice balls that stay in the bag and then we have 4-5 “yard balls”(retired practice balls) that the 14 kids in our neighborhood play with. Hell, they even get in trouble for playing in the house using oranges. When I go outside I’m pleased to see all of the kids, girls and boys all playing some version soccer that they have created. Rules are made, broken, revised and enforced all by them. When I take my boys to the club, you can see the difference. My 5YO has no problem charging an 8YO and stealing the ball and my 7YO uses his “tricks” to beat kids at practice and in games. My 9YO inspires his peers with his unfailing comfort on the ball with or without pressure. At their elementary school they regularly play soccer with their friends and random kids come up to me during the day asking if they can play on my team. (I’m a teacher at their school.)
I send my boys 10 and 7 to a public school that is 98% ESOL instead of the suburban white majority school they’re supposed to attend by address. I’ve observed recess at both and it’s shockingly different. Everyday they get a game of street soccer. Kids at their school bring goalie gloves from home, and they make sure they’re wearing shoes to ball in at recess. Sometimes it’s every kid alone fending off all comers and other times you see the cliques form and ballers unite. Winning matters to them, and they make sure everyone knows the hierarchy on the play ground. I watch them try and school each other and talk trash while doing so. I love it, and it’s not found on the same level at the suburban playground.
Games, like soccer follow rules. Referees control and enforce. Coaches dictate, plan, organize tactics. Kids learn to play within the rules. Somewhat robotic, deterministic. Change things up and they fall apart. You’re rewarded by how well you conform to the system.
That is why street soccer, pick-up is so important. No rules, no officiating. Just win by all costs. You learn to be tricky, creative, quick thinking, adaptable, flexible physically and mentally to what unfolds. You’re challenged to be the best.
Organized games serve their purpose. Street soccer serves its purpose. I’d much rather mold a savvy, thinking, swaggering, “i’m better than you and going to kick your as son the pitch” kid than a trained robot. That’s exactly what i’m trying to do, but doing it outside of USA in Philippines. Same thing that goes on all over the world, especially in South America, Africa, Mexico, Europe. And then those kids molded in professional club with a pyramid from which to progress to their abilities. So much in USA needs to change I believe it’s not possible. Just minor candles in sea of darkness, such as the Kleibans.
I remember the street game when I lived in Jordan. We played anywhere… and it was not a grass or turf. Concrete and asphalt. We setup goals using big stones or what ever was available and played…. I tell my son this and he wishes he can do the same but as mentioned before, i live in that white suburban neighborhood…no kids play outside, HOA, neighbors freak out if kids actually play in the streets let alone in their yards. Neighbors even frown because of the noise kids make.
My sons team played in the mundialito in Spain few weeks ago. They did well but the teams they played against were great tough, full contact, lots of fouls, pulling shirts. Referees allowed the play to continue and when there was a foul cards were not handed out. The US kids that were in the tournament were shocked on how these European/African and South American played even the parents had that face of wtf….! Let’s not mention the foreign parents yelling, chanting and singing with horns and drums while our American parents quiet scared afraid to show support or enthusiasm for their kids. This’s shunned upon and parents are kicked out of US youth soccer games. As for US youth soccer refs, they will call a foul with a card if you breath on the opponent.
US soccer has a long way to go and a lot of change to create talent and love of the game to be able to compete at that high level in the youth age. Even though USMNT is doing well our kids still need that street play fun mentality to become like the rest. Until then, we won’t have those kids that will grow to become the likes of Messi, Cristiano, Neymar, kaka, and yohan.
Americans are so conditioned by the big sports here that a foul is a foul and must be called. We’re so black and white with the rules. When I’m reffing, some kids get mad because I just let them play unless a foul causes a disadvantage. Parents are always yelling about fouls, and the kids stop play because of it.
I agree that pickup soccer is THE missing element in soccer in the U.S.
I think this effort sounds good. I especially like the length (26 weeks with 75 hours of pickup play). I’ll be interested to see what you learn in the process. I’ve tried holding summer sessions with my team that are focused more on pickup and teaching simple games (like knockout and around the world) that can help them develop their skills if they do them. Good luck.
Unfortunately, for my group, it just doesn’t carry over outside of those get-togethers. They won’t do it unless an adult is leading it. They might try, but it only takes one or two meatheads to derail them.
I posted thoughts I gleaned from John’s great podcasts about this subject with Kephurn and Sacha here:
Ryan Fraley says
Germany is a pretty prosperous country and yet they have a high level of technical mastery out of their system, how is that so? Do they encourage their kids to play spontaneously? I want people, more than anything, to realize that just because they live in a suburb doesn’t mean they have to capitulate to a soft, suburban soccer mentality.