Dennis Bergkamp, one of the recent global stars (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dennis_Bergkamp) and a product of Ajax’s youth program, compares the coaching of his youth to what he sees today:
“If I look at my coaches during my youth at Ajax, with all due respect they were two elderly men who would stand at the side of the pitch, shouting a few things. So in a way you create your own career, you create your own development, and that helps you later on. Whereas now there are a lot of coaches, everyone has got their badge, they all think they are Mourinho or Wenger, even with the 12- to 13-year-olds.
“They know exactly what to do, what kind of exercises they have to do with the kids, and in a way they [the kids] don’t have to think for themselves any more. It is all done for them. It’s a problem because they [the kids] don’t think for themselves.
“If they [the kids] get a new situation, they look to someone as if to say, ‘What do I have to do now?’ I believe that is over-coaching. It’s too much. Let them have their freedom. You have to create the environment where they can be unique and not a clone.”
Today’s soccer landscape (in Europe and here) is different than it was back when Bergkamp was young, of course. Many of the changes in youth coaching were for the better, including the types of drills and the more rigorous certification of coaches that he refers to. But I think his main point about players having no individuality, no creativity is worth keeping in mind.
At a fundamental level, players are faced with an ongoing series of problems to solve during games and the question is are we developing players that can solve those problems creatively and effectively without having to fall back on ‘just’ systems of play or something they were shown before repeatedly by their coaches. Can they improvise? Are they willing to take (smart) risks? How big is their toolkit, their bag of tricks?
Clones (using Bergkamp’s words) typically only solve the more obvious problems and don’t make for entertaining soccer, the lifeblood of the game.
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