Player development can be broken into 5 major components:
- The household/parent/family influence.
- The playing on your own influence.
- The pickup game influence.
- The structured club training influence.
- The personal training influence.
Each taps into a piece of the puzzle.
Some may be more important than others.
There’s definitely overlap between each.
And finally, in the end, there are still matters of circumstance that can make or break you.
All that complexity is what leads to differing opinions, nitpicking, and of course many thinking they’re an expert.
In the American soccer environment, the following is what has been validated by my experience time and time again.
1) The household/parent/family influence varies between cultures.
The “affluent suburban culture” is generally not conducive to top level player development for quite a few reasons. Here’s a couple:
- The values in this culture heavily emphasize academics, strict rule-following (kills creativity and street smarts), a soft ‘everyone gets a trophy’ mentality, among other things. All of which breed player mediocrity.
- A large proportion of parents in this demographic don’t seem to have much, if any, playing experience. Certainly not at a decent level. Nor do they have a soccer heritage where knowledge, culture, and experience can be passed down.
Do you guys understand that certain cultures are better equipped for achieving excellence in certain areas?
Shouldn't be so controversial.
— 3four3 (@3four3) May 22, 2017
If you want to help remedy this, you better double down in the components below, and allow other cultures to permeate a player’s core values.
2) Playing on your own
Yes, we’re all aware of this. Go find a wall, and make it your best friend. Go find videos of world class players and try to mimic them.
3) Pickup Games
This is a huge deficiency in the traditional American player, particularly the suburban club soccer player. That’s a problem. As pickup games are perhaps an indispensable source to developing what is special in a player.
Without pickup games … the intangibles of flavor, technique, and mentality are compromised. Without pickup games, there’s a high probability a mediocre player is the end result.
4) Structured Club Training
This is where team-specific training is, and should be, the principal focus. Remember, football is a team game (11v11), it is not a player’s game.
In this regard, just about every club in the country, with the exception of maybe a few clubs that happen to be housing an outlier coach, completely fail with respect to top level player development.
They are not necessarily to blame, though, as there is little to no incentive to pursue the development of top level professionals.
As such, club business models are not aligned with excellence in training.
The mentality is soft.
Technique is not a priority.
Tactical training is essentially non existent.
5) Personal Training
Perhaps the only passing grade American soccer gets, is in this category. Maybe.
Not necessarily because what’s being offered is great, but rather an appreciable number of players subscribe to this, and it’s difficult to screw up. By far, the value proposition of personal training – as it currently exists – is large amounts of touches/repetitions.
* If you’re a coach, you can get started with the nation’s leading possession-based methodology here.
* If you’re a parent, you can get started with the 343masterclass.
This is fantastic stuff . On twitter I’ve seen this kid Vinicius from Brazil and more recently this AZ kid Calvin Stengs, who is otherworldly — particularly the videos of Stengs I’ve seen who destroys and creates, is given free range to go everywhere and anywhere he wants on the pitch it seems. Anybody have any idea how good a player has to be to have total creative freedom. I don’t. He’s 18.
This is not taught in an academy setting. Period. I am so glad US Soccer is trying to build pathways and pipelines to raise the technical standard and build a problem solving mentality especially for younger and younger age groups as this is how it exists all over the world …
(Pathways and pipelines that many many just crush and to be honest is exhausting to see, hear and read over and over…but I guess necessary. This by the way, is a tacit request to not be so doom and gloom about pretty much every facet of the game stateside on twitter — as it can become a turn off for those people who recognize the message and its urgency and are advocates to this message being preached. Being told you suck at every turn is its own form of torture and I genuinely hope this is taken as honest criticism and considered.)
Ultimately though, its the culture that drives this type of player and it is the pulpit upon which the author, I believe preaches. My deepest hopes are soccer and MLS as it becomes more mainstream helps build more and more generations of people who love the game and play outside of the youth travel soccer and academy setting. We still produce some of the best baseball players in the world and kids don’t play that in the fields or streets anymore so maybe there is hope.
Anyway, as usual this is the responsibility of informed parents to build a culture of free play then truly let go and let them play, a mentality of the street as best as possible, THEN tell your kid to play his game no matter what- even when in an high level travel setting or academy setting- which not incidentally may wind up ostracizing the player as unteachable to ‘The System’. Just one big dice roll.
Watch Vinicius. Watch Calvin. Two young kids in a sea of expanding football consciousness where they are special special talents but just two talents in the sea. thank you for this article. Keep teaching sirs, I’m all in, just lighten up a little, maybe?
Yes…..finally my phone updates me with a message from you. I’ve been waiting for this for months….coming every few weeks to look and read some REAL content on our beautiful sport….and what do I get, another in your face, no holds barred, simply plain truth……please don’t stop and keep these coming.
Gary Kleiban says
That’s what we’re here for, Ali.
It’ll be 8 years in August. Yikes! 🙂
Kit Elliott says
All of these are great points, and for my club teams, numbers 1 and 4 are what challenge my player’s development the most.
Getting exposure for my girls has been a real challenge because our club and city are not on the map in terms of soccer. I have several players who are serious about playing at the highest level, but there is not an outlet for them around here — the nearest location would be San Jose.
We play under a club that has no unified philosophy or style, but we have had huge success in our two team’s development, with 3four3 being a major influence in our training methodology. Until we can get more teams and form our own club, we will have to keep diverting our best players to bigger clubs up north, or risk them losing their chance to progress to the next level.
Structured training is an important factor and it’s vital to not just have the right training, but the right connections and exposure so your best players can move up the pipeline.
Gary Kleiban says
Matters of circumstance are a huge influence on how far a player goes:
But don’t let it discourage you.
Issues like these never go away. As we all “level up” in our careers, we find the issues level up as well – they may just manifest themselves differently, but they’re still there.
Tom Rowney says
I came across a video of your U-13s, 2014 game on Youtube. Clearly, your players are on a different planet (even for So. Cal.) in terms of their tech, tact and psych/soc skills. I suspect their athletic skills are on a par with their peers. What also impressed me was their physical-emotional control and sportsmanship. I don’t really recall a single egregious or mildly dangerous inadvertent foul! That’s what you get when you’re interested in developing confident, accomplished performers and not gorillas in Adidas cleats.
I concur with everything you have put forward in this article. I would perhaps counsel a little tweaking regarding your view of “structured club training”. It’s true, at the macro level football is a “team” game that requires significant coordination between teammates. But it’s often the individual moments of “magic” or composure that make the difference at the highest level.
Developing players with this kind of magic isn’t easy but it helps if you can adequately address the micro, moment-to-moment individual duels as well as the team possession ethic. In short, the game can also be viewed as a series of ongoing, moment-to-moment individual duels.
I’m not just talking one vs one dribbling moments as I’m sure you’ll understand. But, for example, if your opponent switches off for a second and forgets to establish a solid “starting position” are you capable of taking full advantage of his/her mistake. Likewise, you’re unlikely to develop the ability to make the penetrating, incisive pass if you let your immediate opponent stifle your ability to observe “devastating gaps”. When defending, are you thinking about an appropriate starting position vis-à-vis your immediate or assigned opponent while still providing cover for a teammate?
I’m pretty sure you intuitively understand the macro-micro difference — your boys were essentially perfection in this regard as far as individual and team possession was concerned and I doubt they came up with the kind of advanced decision-making they displayed in this game by themselves.
Is the macro-micro distinction important? I think so. Without that desire to accept and embrace the challenge of the individual momentary battle, your players may not develop the special class of skills that make the difference at the highest adult levels, particularly in an around the opponent’s penalty area. Think Messi or Suarez for example — more than adequate “team” players of course, but their desire to prevail in the individual battle is what they really get paid for!
A pleasure watching your team play — hopefully one day I’ll get to see one of them live.