Playing to win felt great! And that’s the problem.

I coached my youngest daughter’s U11 futsal team this winter, which ended with the U.S. Futsal Northwest Regionals in San Jose a couple of weeks ago. They ended up second.

During the season we emphasized learning to play the game ‘right’, which includes ball control, skills, and playing out from the back. The emphasis was on ‘player development’, which doesn’t pay off until years later.

We played the same way during the tournament, including playing out from the back and using dribbling and/or passing to work the ball into the final third.

We won against all teams this winter (partly because their players were relatively weak) apart from one aggressive team with stronger players that didn’t give my girls any time on the ball, including when we were trying to work the ball out from the back.

These opposing girls were clearly the best opponents we had faced all winter – their futsal club had ‘recruited’ very good players from various outdoor clubs in places like Santa Rosa and the Greater Sacramento area.

So we lost the ball a lot near our goal and then all the opponents had to do was take lots of shots on goal.

They had a couple of skillful players that did some nice things, but overall this was aggression and intensity overcoming players that are still learning to control the ball at age 10/11.

The score during our group game was 5:13 against us, and it could have been worse.

Turns out both teams ended up in the Final so we played them again.

To give my team a chance to win I decided to change our tactics.

Instead of playing out from the back I told the girls to kick that ball up the field and then pressure the other team in their half.

I also kept one girl deep in the other team’s half. I instructed my girls to kick that ball up the field in the general direction of our lone forward and then run after it to pressure the other team in their own half.

This worked wonders. The other team lead 3:2 with five minutes to go, but the score should have been 3:2 in our favor if it wasn’t for two refereeing mistakes. And we had a couple more great chances but couldn’t finish.

To be clear, I’m not complaining about the referees and neither I nor the players or parents protested during or after the game.

The only reason I’m bringing this up is to point out how evenly matched the teams suddenly were.

We went from a completely one-sided 5:13 to a de-facto 3:2 by changing our tactics dramatically.

The game was very exciting and everyone was happy despite the loss. The overall feeling was that the girls battled hard and could have won the Final. And also nice to avoid a repeat of the earlier drubbing.

It felt great!

Now here’s the key issue:

My only objective was to win that Final. The tactical changes and the player instructions had only one goal in mind: to win. There was zero player development.

The quality of soccer was poor. No team controlled the ball for more than a few seconds and it was mostly hustle and long balls to avoid pressure.

Now imagine you’re a coach of one of our outdoor club teams. You’re playing in leagues and tourneys with relatively evenly matched opponents and often stronger teams.

In contrast, recall that our futsal opponents this winter were significantly weaker than us. So it was easy to play the ‘right’ way….even if we lost the ball playing out from the back the odds of the opponent scoring a goal was relatively low.

For the mathematically inclined: the probability weighted ‘cost’ of playing the ‘right’ way (in terms of losing games) was low compared to the gains.

The vast majority of coaches feel the pressure to win games, leagues and tournaments to keep players and their paying parents happy.

The coach needs to pay his/her bills and put food on the table, and the amount they earn is directly related to how satisfied families and the club’s Director of Coaching are.

And it just feels great to win more often than not. One can get addicted to the euphoria of winning, the happy faces, and the write-up on the club’s website…

It becomes very difficult to truly develop players because you will lose a lot of games for many years.

For example, playing out from the back and encouraging players to develop and apply dribbling skills will backfire for many years.

However, players that develop the right way will eventually dominate the same opponents that beat them up when they were younger.

My oldest daughter’s U15 team learned to play the right way. The skills, the dribbling, the off-the-ball movement, the accurate passing, the shooting technique….are nice to watch.

They demolished the opponents 13:0 in the Final of a major tournament, won Regionals and Nationals last year, and are undefeated in all futsal competitions.

And they always (!) play out from the back, they always (!) use skills and ball control and beautiful passing combinations.

They easily beat opponents that try to use physical aggression and/or kick the ball up the field. In fact, we like this because we regain possession and simply work the ball back into the other team’s final third.

It’s a simple law of nature that the other team can’t score without possession. The only team that can score is the team that possesses the ball.

“For me ball possession is the most important thing. It’s the first step and then the second, third and fourth steps can come after. With the ball, you have more possibilities to create something and to concede fewer chances. Soccer is about having the ball, playing and dealing with the ball. Because when we have the ball we score a lot of goals and we don’t concede a lot.”

Pep Guardiola 2015

Here are two brief clips from that U15 Final to give you a taste for their technical skills and ball possession abilities:

To get to this point of soccer skills and IQ you need to have learned all those more sophisticated soccer skills.

It is an absolute guarantee that these girls would not even be close to their soccer proficiency if they hadn’t put in the hard work and patience and been coached to develop as players from a young age.

We were fortunate to have had coaches that for the most part focused on player development and not ‘winning’ and the parents supported that development ‘project’.

So which route do you take? Have some fun and focus on winning these next couple of years or be patient and focus on learning to become better soccer players despite many painful losses and no trophies?

It takes a very strong coach and DOC to truly focus on player development. And patient players and parents.

Everything is stacked against it, but it’s the only way to elevate soccer in our country.

And it’s the only way if you want your son or daughter to become the best they can be at soccer.

And if a club and/or coach prefers to mostly ‘play to win’ then that is fine too. Many players and parents might well prefer this.

But please don’t pretend you’re doing otherwise. Be honest and transparent about it, and let players and families decide which route they want to take.

That futsal Final felt great and I would do it the same way again. But I’m glad we only had to play that way once this winter.

However, outdoor coaches playing most games against evenly matched or stronger teams will have a strong incentive to ‘play to win’ most of the time. Keep this in mind.

Play with happiness. Play free. Be creative. Just play with the ball.

Read the below letter from Ronaldinho and then watch the clip at the end. Enjoy!

Dear eight-year-old Ronaldinho,

Tomorrow, when you come home from playing football, there will be a lot of people in your house. Your uncles, friends of your family and some other people you won’t recognize will be in the kitchen. At first, you’ll think you’re just late for the party. Everybody’s there to celebrate the 18th birthday of your brother, Roberto.

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Ronaldinho the boy with brother Roberto

Usually when you come home from football, mom is always laughing or joking around.

But this time, she’ll be crying.

And then you will see Roberto. He will put his arm around you and bring you inside the bathroom so you can be alone. Then he will tell you something you won’t understand.

“There was an accident. Dad is gone. He died.”

It won’t make sense to you. What does that mean? When is he coming back? How could dad be gone?

Dad was the one who told you play creatively on the football pitch, the one who told you to play with a free style — to just play with the ball. He believed in you more than anyone. When Roberto started playing professional football for Grêmio last year, Dad told everyone, “Roberto is good, but watch his younger brother coming up.”

Dad was a superhero. He loved football so much that even after working at the shipyard during the week, he would work security at Grêmio’s stadium on the weekend. How could you never see him again? You won’t understand what Roberto is telling you.

You’re not going to feel sadness right away. That will come later. A few years from now, you will accept that Dad is never coming back on earth. But what I want you to understand is that every time you have a ball at your feet, Dad will be with you.

When you have a football at your feet, you are free. You are happy. It’s almost like you are hearing music. That feeling will make you want to spread joy to others.

You are lucky because you have Roberto. Even though he’s 10 years older and already playing for Grêmio, Roberto will be there for you always. He won’t just be a brother, he will become like a father to you. And more than anything, he’ll be your hero.

You’ll want to play like him, you’ll want to be like him. Every morning, when you head to Grêmio — you will play for the youth side, while Roberto plays for the senior team — you’ll get to walk into the locker room with your big brother, the football star. And every night, when you go to bed, you’ll think, I get to share a room with my idol.

There are no posters on the walls in the bedroom you share, there’s only a small TV. It won’t matter anyway, because you won’t have time to watch any matches together. When he’s not traveling for matches, Roberto is taking you outside to play more football.

Where you live in Porto Alegre, there are drugs and gangs and that kind of stuff around. It’s going to be tough, but as long as you are playing football — on the street, at the park, with your dog — you will feel safe.

Yes, I said your dog, by the way. He’s a tireless defender.

You’ll play with Roberto. You’ll play with other kids and older guys at the park. But eventually everyone will get tired — and you will want to keep playing. So make sure you always take your dog, Bombom, out with you. Bombom is a mutt. A real Brazilian dog. And even Brazilian dogs love football. He’ll be great practice for dribbling and skills … and maybe the first casualty of the “Elastico.”

Years from now, when you are playing in Europe, a few defenders will remind you of Bombom.

Childhood is going to be very different for you. By the time you’re 13, people will have started talking about you. They’ll talk about your skills and what you’re able to do with a ball. At this time, football is still just a game to you. But in 1994, when you are 14, the World Cup will show you that football is more than just a simple game.

July 17, 1994, is a day every Brazilian remembers. On that day, you’ll be traveling with the Grêmio youth team for a match in Belo Horizonte. The World Cup final is on TV, and it’ll be Brazil against Italy. Yes, that’s right, the Canarinho will be in a World Cup final for the first time in 24 years. The whole country will seem to stop.

Everywhere in Belo Horizonte, there will be Brazilian flags. There will be no colors except green and yellow that day. Every single spot in the city will have the match turned on and be filled with people.

You’ll be watching with your teammates. The final whistle will blow with the score tied 0–0. The game will go to a penalty shootout.

Italy misses their first PK, and so does Brazil. Then Italy scores. And then … Romario steps up. His shot curves to the left … hits the post … and flies in the goal. The guys on the team are screaming and yelling.

Italy scores and there’s silence again.

Branco scores for Brazil … Taffarel makes a save for Brazil … Dunga scores for Brazil.…

Then, the moment that will not just change your life, but the lives of millions of Brazilians.…

Baggio steps up to the spot for Italy and misses.

Brazil are World Cup champions.

brazildungaworldcupchampions

During the crazy celebration, it’s going to become clear to you what you want to do for the rest of your life. You’re going to finally realize what football means to Brazilians. You’re going to feel the power of this sport. Most importantly, you will see the happiness that football can bring to regular people.

“I’m going to play for Brazil,” you’ll tell yourself that day.

Not everyone is going to believe in you, especially with the way you play.

There will be some coaches — alright, one in particular — who will tell you not to play the way you do. He will think you need to be more serious, that you need to stop dribbling so much. “You’ll never in your life make it as a footballer,” he’ll say.

Use those words as motivation. Use them to keep you focused. And then think about the players who did play the game beautifully — Dener, Maradona, Ronaldo.

Think about what Dad said, to play free and to just play with the ball. Play with joy. This is something that many coaches will not understand, but when you are on the pitch, you will never calculate. Everything will come naturally. Before you have time to think, your feet have already made a decision.

Creativity will take you further than calculation.

One day, just a few months after you watch Romario lift the ’94 World Cup, your coach at Grêmio is going to pull you into his office after training. He’ll tell you that you’ve been called up to the Brazilian under-17 national team.

When you get to the training camp in Teresópolis, you will see something that you will never forget: When you walk into the cafeteria, you’ll notice the framed photos hanging on the walls — Pelé, Zico, Bebeto.

You’ll be walking the same halls as those legends. You’ll sit at the same cafeteria tables that Romario, Ronaldo and Rivaldo sat in. You’ll eat the same food they ate. You’ll sleep in the same dorms they slept in. When you put your head down to sleep, your last thought will be, I wonder which of my heroes slept on this pillow, too.

For the next four years, you will do nothing but play football. You will spend your life on buses and training pitches. In fact, from 1995 to 2003, you will never take a vacation. It will be very intense.

But when you turn 18, you will achieve something your father would have been very proud of. You will make your debut for Grêmio’s senior team. The only sad part is that Roberto won’t be there. A knee injury will cut his time at Grêmio short and he’ll go to Switzerland to play. You won’t get to share the pitch with your hero, but you’ve spent so many years watching Roberto that you’ll know what to do and how to act.

On match days, you’ll walk through the car park where your father used to work security on the weekends. You’ll enter the dressing room where your brother used to take you as a kid. You’ll pull on the blue and black Grêmio shirt. You’ll think: Life can’t get any better than this. You’ll think you have finally made it, playing for your hometown club.

But this is not where your story ends.

The next year, you will play your first senior match with the Brazilian national team. A funny thing will happen. You will actually show up to your first training camp a day later than your teammates. Why? You’ll be delayed by a match with Grêmio in the final of the Campeonato Gaúcho tournament against Internacional.

Playing for Internacional will be the captain of the ’94 World Cup team, Dunga.

You will play very well in this match. So when you arrive to the pitch for your first day of training with Brazil, your new teammates — the guys you watched win the ’94 World Cup — will be talking about one player: the small kid wearing number 10.

They’ll be talking about you.

They’ll be talking about how you dribbled past Dunga. They’ll be talking about your title-winning goal. But don’t get too confident, because they’re not going to go easy on you. This will be the most important moment of your life. When you get to this level, people will expect many things of you.

Will you keep playing your way?

Or will you start to calculate? Will you play it safe?

The only advice I have to give you is this: Do it your way. Be free. Hear the music. This is the only way for you to live your life.

Playing for Brazil will change your life. All of a sudden, doors you never even knew were available to you will start to open.

You’ll start to think about playing in Europe, where a lot of your heroes went to prove themselves. Ronaldo will tell you about life in Barcelona. You’ll see his awards, his Ballon d’Or, his club trophies. Suddenly, you’ll want to make history too. You will start to dream beyond Grêmio. In 2001, you will sign with Paris Saint-Germain.

How can I tell a kid who was born in a wooden house in a favela what life will be like in Europe? It’s impossible. You will not understand, even if I tell you. From the time you leave for Paris, then Barcelona, then Milan, everything will go by very, very fast. Some of the media in Europe will not understand your style of play. They will not understand why you are always smiling.

Well, you are smiling because football is fun. Why would you be serious? Your goal is to spread joy. I’ll say it again — creativity over calculation.

Stay free, and you’ll win a World Cup for Brazil.

Stay free, and you’ll win the Champions League, La Liga and Serie A.

Stay free, and you’ll win a Ballon d’Or.

What you’ll be most proud of, though, is helping to change football in Barcelona through your style of play. When you arrive there, Real Madrid will be the power of Spanish football. By the time you leave the club, kids will be dreaming of playing “the Barcelona way.”

Listen to me, though. Your role in this will be about much more than what you do on the pitch.

ronaldinhoworldcupchampion
Ronaldinho as World Cup Champion

At Barcelona, you’ll hear about this kid on the youth team. He wears number 10 like you. He’s small like you. He plays with the ball like you. You and your teammates will go watch him play for Barcelona’s youth squad, and at that moment you’ll know he’s going to be more than a great footballer. The kid is different. His name is Leo Messi.

You’ll tell the coaches to bring him up to play with you on the senior side. When he arrives, the Barcelona players will be talking about him like the Brazilian players were talking about you.

I want you to give him one piece of advice.

Tell him, “Play with happiness. Play free. Just play with the ball.”

Even when you are gone, the free style will live on in Barcelona through Messi.

ronaldinho and messi

A lot will happen in your life, good and bad. But everything that happens, you will owe to football. When people question your style, or why you smile after you lose a match, I want you to think of one memory.

When your father leaves this earth, you won’t have any movies of him. Your family doesn’t have much money, so your parents don’t own a video camera. You won’t be able to hear your father’s voice, or hear him laughing again.

But among his possessions, there is one thing you’ll always have to remember him by. It’s a photo of you and him playing football together. You are smiling, happy — with the ball at your feet. He is happy watching you.

When the money comes — and the pressure, and the critics — stay free.

Play as he told you to play.

Play with the ball.

[Click here for a clip showing Ronaldinho play with the ball and his opponents.]

—Ronaldinho

signatureronaldinho

The original was published by The Players’ Tribune. Click here for the original article in English, here for the Spanish version, and here for the Portuguese version.

Where to play futsal in NorCal

Please leave a comment at the end of this post if you know of any more futsal clubs, leagues, and/or tourneys so I can update this post. It would be great to make this list as complete as possible. Thank you!

Tens of thousands of kids across NorCal are getting ready for the winter futsal season. Most of the clubs mentioned below offer year-round futsal programs, but there’s definitely a huge surge during the winter months when the outdoor soccer season slows down.

I can’t say this enough – you MUST try futsal. Your sons and daughters are almost certainly going to have a blast and will learn a lot too. It’s excellent for player development. And you will enjoy watching the games – there’s much more action than outdoor soccer and your son/daughter is in the middle of the action pretty much all the time – there are only four field players per team.

If these clips don’t convince you then I don’t know what will: FIFA clip on futsal and superstar Falcao and this compilation of futsal skills.

You don’t have to join a futsal club or be part of one of our soccer clubs to participate – many futsal teams are coached by volunteer parents with soccer background. Simply pull a group of seven to nine outdoor teammates or friends from different outdoor clubs together, register your team, and go play.

With the help of awesome soccer mom Gaby and encyclopedic soccer dad Mark, here goes:

FUTSAL CLUBS (click on the club name for website or FB page)

Futsal Kingz – skills and fun for all levels and age groups, both boys and girls, across various locations in the South Bay. Tim Newsome and his team are GREAT! I can’t recommend them enough. Sessions and camps year-round, both competitive and recreational. Also compete in tournaments, most recently winning U.S. Futsal Nationals in the U8 and U9 age bracket.

World United Futsal Academy (WUFA) – competitive futsal mostly for boys, but girls are welcome too. Led by Vava Marques, USA National Futsal Team Coach, who grew up playing the game competitively and pro in Brazil, and Daniel Berdejo-del-Fresno, who grew up in Spain and most recently was the Head of Coaching & Sports Science at the International Futsal Academy in England and since 2010 on the coaching staff of the England Futsal National Teams. Daniel also wrote a free book on futsal coaching.

World-class coaching for the strongly committed soccer/futsal players. Year-round sessions. Close relationship with FC Barcelona’s futsal program in Spain, including training at FC Barcelona’s facilities and hosting of FC Barcelona futsal coaches in Palo Alto.

wufaphoto

Burlingamer in the North Bay and in Evergreen (South/East San Jose). This also includes the Gamer Futsal School. Nice facility and quality coaching year-round. GFS owners Jen Short and Roxy Kamal also serve as the U.S. Futsal Women’s National Team Coaches, and teams compete in various tournaments.

burlingamerphoto.jpg

Legends Futsal in Central and South San Jose. One of the oldest futsal clubs in the Bay Area. Very competitive across all age groups for both boys and girls. Also now have a semi-pro mens team I believe.

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Futsal Without Borders in San Jose. Organized by passionate soccer mom, Diana. Compete in Bay Area, regional, and national futsal leagues and tourneys, and also organize international futsal trips, but little ongoing coaching and player development. Primarily recruiting kids from the strongest outdoor soccer clubs to maximize performance at tourneys.

Bulldogs Futsal – based in Pleasanton and affiliated with Ballistic United Soccer Club. Compete in leagues and tourneys. Also click here for more information. Founder Rob Bell wrote a book on futsal.

Futsal 415 in San Francisco. Compete in leagues and tourneys. Regular practices.

Stanislaus United in Modesto. Compete in leagues and tourneys. Regular practices.

Futsal Factory in Sacramento. Compete in leagues and tourneys. Regular practices.

Anthem FC in Sacramento. Compete in leagues and tourneys. Regular practices.

Futsal Gilroy Fuego in Gilroy. Compete in leagues and tourneys. Regular practices.

Liga De Leon in Marin County. Regular practices and in-house league.

There are lots of futsal camps and weekly drop-in practices, plus futsal coaching workshops. Some outdoor soccer clubs such as De Anza Force, Red StarLFC Bay AreaSan Juan SC, and Lamorinda SC organize in-house futsal activities too, but I’m not listing those here. Some of these are small-sided games played on turf, so make sure you confirm if these clubs offer real futsal.

WINTER FUTSAL LEAGUES (click on the league name for website or FB page)

Futsal San Jose – this league is the most popular in the South Bay/San Jose area. Hundreds of teams across all age groups, both boys and girls, compete from the first weekend in December to end-February. This league uses a clever ranking and game scheduling system that matches teams based on previous weekends’ game results. Sign up now!

Stanford-Palo Alto Futsal League – teams compete in January & February. This league is organized by Vava Marques from WUFA (see above). Teams are grouped by age and ability. Sign up now!

San Francisco Futsal League – organized by SF Recreation & Parks and played at 13 centers across the city from January to March, U5-U18 boys and girls teams compete in recreational, intermediate, and advanced divisions. Note that the city website refers to ‘indoor soccer league’, but it’s futsal.

Gilroy Futsal League – based down South in Gilroy. Facebook page here.

Alameda Futsal – their website is a little outdated, but click here for the Facebook page.

Diablo Valley Futsal League – based in Walnut Creek/San Ramon. Facebook page here.

NorCal Futsal League – based in Martinez.

East Bay Futsal League – based in Oakland/Alameda.

East Bay Winter League – based in El Cerrito. Hosted by Tottenham Hotspur East Bay.

Mustang Futsal League – based in Danville. Organized by Mustang SC but open to all.

Northern California Futsal League – based in Rocklin and Mather. Run by Futsal Factory for competitive teams/players. Also run the Northern California Developmental Futsal League for less competitive teams/players.

Marin Futsal League – based in Mill Valley. One of the longest-running and largest futsal leagues in NorCal. Also have a Facebook page here.

Also, this webpage lists leagues and clubs including some that aren’t listed above. Some of the information seems to be out of date though.

FUTSAL TOURNAMENTS (click on the tourney name for website or FB page)

Blackhawks Annual Holiday Futsal Tournament – December 29/30 in Sacramento, CA. Open to comp, rec, and high school teams.

U.S. Youth Futsal Northern California Regional Championships – December 3/4 in Rocklin, CA. Only four weeks to go if you’re interested – sign up now! Winners of this tourney can compete at Nationals in Kansas Feb 17-20.

U.S. Futsal Northwest Regional Championship – March 10-12 at the San Jose Convention Center. Very competitive tourney. Winners and runners-up can compete at Nationals below.

U.S. Futsal National Championship – July 13-16 at the San Jose Convention Center. Very competitive.

Keep in mind that the above two Nationals don’t actually attract the various Regional/State Champions from around the country because youth teams are not (yet) willing to travel far (and incur the cost) for futsal. So Regionals can often be more competitive than Nationals. This will change over time with futsal’s continuing growth.

By way of background, U.S. Youth Futsal and U.S. Futsal are the two competing national futsal organizations. My understanding is that both have the same status with the U.S. Soccer Federation, and that USYF is stronger on the East Coast while USF is stronger on the West Coast.

Please leave a comment below if you know of any more futsal clubs, leagues, and/or tournaments. Thank you!

Futsal season opens in six weeks! It’s super fun and awesome for player development.

Clarifying rules for development academy players (boys and girls)

With the recent expansion of the US Soccer Development Academy (DA) to the younger U-12 age bracket (which will actually be the ‘old’ U-11 age bracket starting Fall 2017) for boys and the launch of the Girls’ Development Academy in the Fall next year, it might be helpful to clarify the rules for DA players doing non-DA activities.

The rules are more difficult to understand and interpret than I expected, and even emailed clarifications I received directly from the DA aren’t necessarily 100% clear, at least to me.

Please let me know in the comments below if you think there are inaccuracies and/or missing pieces of information.

With that in mind, here are the rules for all DA players, boys and girls, starting at U12:

DA clubs are responsible for developing an individual development plan for each player. This plan is meant to have each player’s best interest in mind to further his/her soccer development.

With that in mind, the DA is very focused on an appropriate train-to-play-to-rest ratio for the longer-term healthy development of players. This ratio is understood by all DA clubs and is taken into consideration when designing the individual player development plans.

Given that the DA-mandated activity load is already substantial, any additional outside activities are cause for concern.

Therefore:

DA players are not allowed to compete in *any* non-DA league or tourney. This includes activities such as high school soccer, beach soccer tourneys, and winter futsal leagues/tourneys. In fact, this applies to any *sport*.

DA clubs can apply for exemptions to compete in elite non-DA activities such as Dallas Cup, Surf Cup, and tournaments in Europe, but this is at the club/team level, not for individual players. Approval requires a written request by the club to academy staff for decision making.

And any non-DA *training* done outside the club’s training program such as additional strength conditioning sessions, private clinics, or weekly futsal practices are at the discretion of the player’s club and have to fit into the player’s overall development plan.

In other words, the player’s club can make a case-by-case decision to allow non-DA *training* if the DA club believes it to be beneficial for the player’s development.

However, my understanding is that any training exemptions are rare, so for all practical intents and purposes you should assume that non-DA training won’t be allowed.

During the DA off-season from mid-July (after Nationals) to the first week in September (about 6-8 weeks), players are permitted to get outside training and attend outside camps (ID camps, soccer, camps, college camps etc.).

But any consideration of outside training even during the off-season has to be brought to the attention of the club and discussed with them to make sure the training is in the best interest of the player.

I’m in two minds about this.

On the one hand, having flexibility to pursue soccer activities outside the regular DA structure could help youngsters enjoy the game more and for longer. For example, traveling to Spain during the Christmas/New Year break to train and play futsal at FC Barcelona (with a Bay Area non-DA futsal group) would surely help motivate a soccer-passionate youngster.

But on the other hand, the schedule for DA players truly is heavy already. The time commitment and physical exertion is considerable. And how many parents are in a position to make the right decisions regarding their youngster’s possible over-exertion? Many of us might think we can make the right decision “because we know our son or daughter best”, but I’m not sure about that, at least not at this elite level.

And then there are the resources that USSF and the DA clubs invest in the development of our elite players. Shouldn’t the DA and the clubs be able to protect that ‘investment’ for the longer-term?

Nevertheless, clubs need to do a much better job providing individualized holistic player development, not just focus on improving team-level play. And this is supposed to set the DA apart from non-DA programs – individual player development.

In contrast to non-DA players, who have a lot of flexibility to change teams/clubs/coaches and engage in a range of different soccer activities, DA players have to put a lot of trust into their DA club and coaches to truly take care of their entire player development needs and interests.

This isn’t easy – there are many points of view supporting both sides of this debate. Please let me know what you think in the comments section below. Keep in mind that we are talking about the most elite girls and boys players in our country when you consider the pros and cons of these DA rules.

Thank you!

Here are some relevant links and pasted information from those sources:

From http://www.ussoccerda.com/overview-program-benefits:

No Outside Activity/Competitions

To maintain a focus on club training environments, Academy players and teams do not play in any outside competitions without written permission from the U.S. Soccer Development Academy staff.

This includes any other leagues, tournaments, State Cup competitions, ODP or All-Star events. Development Academy players for all teams must choose to participate in the Academy full-time and forgo playing for their high school teams.

Full-time Academy players can only participate on their designated Academy team, with only two exceptions: U.S. Soccer Training Centers and Youth National Team duty.

The Development Academy upholds this rule because we believe elite players require world class environments. The Development Academy’s 10-month Program allows for a greater opportunity to institute style of play and implement a system according to U.S. Soccer’s Development Philosophy.

It also gives teams increased opportunities for younger kids in their club to “play up” against older players in both training and matches, thereby accelerating their development.

From http://www.ussoccerda.com/overview-academy-structure:

Outside Activity/Competition

Academy players and teams cannot play in any outside competitions without written permission from the Development Academy staff. This includes any other leagues, high school season, tournaments, State Cup competitions, ODP or All-Star events. There are two potential exceptions to this rule, provided they are approved by Development Academy staff:

  1. Domestic and international tournaments: Domestic & international tournaments may be permitted if they meet Academy’s technical standards of one game per day and elite competition. Examples of permitted events include the Dallas Cup, Surf Cup, Disney Showcase, and other International events
  2. Possibility for friendly games: Academy clubs can schedule friendly games to provide players with a heightened development experience. The games must not be part of an organized competition (i.e. tournament, league or camp) as defined in the non-participation regulations, and all competitions must adhere to all Academy standards and guidelines.

From http://www.ussoccerda.com/faq:

Can Academy players participate with non-Academy teams during the season? Full-time Academy players are only permitted to participate on their Academy team, and National Team duty.

Which teams participate in 10-month programming and do not allow high school participation? The entire Academy program does not participate in high school programming.

Phenomenal 13 year old Karamoko Dembele – you will watch this in stunned silence

Astonishing freestyler – enjoy!

Unprecedented probably in any sport: *opponents* celebrate retiring futsal legend Falcao after defeating his Brazilian team in the Quarterfinals of the Futsal World Cup

Have you ever seen a professional sports team celebrate an opponent during a major competition? This speaks volumes about Falcao’s status in the world of soccer, and futsal in particular.

Falcao retired today at age 39. He brought immeasurable joy to futbol and inspired a generation of players, including Neymar, through his ginga. He lifted futsal to new heights and will be forever remembered alongside greats such as Pele, Cruyff, Maradona, Ronaldinho, and Messi. Thank you for the magic, Falcao!

And respect to the Iranian players for this kind of sportsmanship!

Here’s a 40-second clip showing the celebration immediately after the Quarterfinal and then take a look at the FIFA clip on Falcao.

 

Italian youth soccer “calcio” culture

SoccerAmerica published a great article on one Bay Area family’s experiences in the Italian youth soccer scene. It’s written by Chris Pepe who’s son plays on the U12 Juventus DA team here in the Bay Area. Thank you for sharing your experiences, Chris!

Click here for the full article. For brevity, I took the liberty of posting only the key parts of Chris’ article below. I recognize immediately what Chris describes from my time growing up in Europe. The same observations apply to Latin America.

The difference between a soccer culture that is deeply embedded within society and one that is just another scheduled sports activity shows itself on the fields of play.

If you’re interested in my views on this please click here, here, and here for additional articles.

Ok, here are Chris’ observations in Italy:

“At some point in the evolution of soccer in the USA, it seems we all became convinced that our children could or even would play professionally … statistics be damned! A truly American belief, born out of our eternal optimism and sometimes nauseating can-do spirit.

Despite the lack of a broad-based structure to scout and identify young talent, we still believe our kid will be the one. Irrespective of the millions of kids playing soccer for countless hours every day, we think the two hours on Monday, Wednesday and Friday is enough.

Despite the desire buried deep inside the impoverished kid that needs to play to find a better life, we are convinced it can be done. It’s a matter of expectations, and if there is one area where the USA over-indexes against its soccer-rich counterparts, it’s in confidence and its closest offsprings: expectations.

In Italy, instead, it is generally accepted at an early age that your kid won’t play for Inter or AC Milan. The best talent is selected early on, in some ways lowering the level of expectations that your son will become a professional player, and easing your desired outcome for this weekend’s game.

Nationwide rankings are not discussed or, to the best of my knowledge, even kept at the youth level here. The game is not played to bolster coaches’ ratings or build association points or prestige.

The Italian youth soccer game forms part of an intricate social structure that contains layers of amateur teams and professional associations that neatly ladder up to the professional Serie A.

Every town and village has its own top-flight squad, and a structure below that ladders its way up. Whether the top team plays in Serie A, B or C, or somewhere below, matters little other than the fact that it enables every player in every town to continue to play for as long as they may choose.

In our adopted town in Italy, knowing that the ‘best’ and most connected kids were playing for our local Serie B youth team, Vicenza Calcio, weekends have become much more relaxing. Oh sure, you do get to play against them, if only to see how the game is properly played.

And, yes, exposure is possible even at the lowest levels and in the smallest town, but is identified early on freeing the mind and the soul to play for the love of the game and with no particular professional ends in mind.

My son’s new school in Italy is attached to one of the many local churches, Chiesa del Carmine. As tourists, we had often marveled at the number of churches in Italy, rarely seeing the hidden courtyard sheltering a small calcetto court behind. Think small-sided 5v5 games on a basketball-style court. [Side note from this blogger: click here for a similar neighborhood court I came across wandering around downtown Barcelona recently.]

The Carmine courtyard has a small-sized soccer field, and numerous well-spaced trees that act as goalposts for any number of after school pick-up games. As the courtyard turns into a public park in the afternoons, kids from the neighborhood rush to pick teams, wearing last years Juve or Milan shirt bought at the market for 10 euro.

They Ro Sham Bo to determine teams, and proceed to play with reckless abandon. There is no structure or hired coach, there are no fees or scheduled breaks. Kids only stop play to cheer the slickest new move, or to get pointers on how to execute the latest trick. Older kids look out for younger kids, and younger kids test their toughness against older kids.

No meals will be missed, but kids play until darkness descends and their hearts are full of the beautiful game. It is here among friends where new moves are tried, individual skills are honed, and confidence is built.

In the USA, I would drop off my son at assigned times to run and kick and learn soccer’s structured basic skill-set. I would then rush to bring my daughter to her practice at the same time; do a bit of shopping; or maybe sneak in a run.

There was never an after school pick-up game or other opportunity to play. I could often convince my friend Marvin, a Salvadoran-American, to bring his three sons and meet at the local park. But even then, we never had enough players for a spirited match, and would make up games or run through drills.

I have often believed that U.S. youth soccer is dominated by ‘organized’ babysitting, as opposed to spontaneous play, and this notion has been reaffirmed while living in a country that has soccer as part of its very DNA.

While soccer remains perched on the cusp of a real mainstream following in the USA, we continue to excel at ‘soccer-by-appointment,’ rather than evolving into a sport driven by passion. Kids in Italy, while not quite filling every piazza with neighborhood match-ups, still play calcio more for the fun of it than for the appointed necessity of it all.

On my son’s Italian team (San Lazzaro), sponsored by the local pizza joint (Pizzeria Albera), there is no one outstanding athlete that can out-run the pack, and score off a long ball sent from the defense. It helps of course that, at this age (until age 13), kids play 9-a-side games on small-ish fields, with even smaller goals. There are three periods of 20 minutes a-piece, and little substituting.

At the start of each game, kids line up and walk to the center circle, while parents applaud both sides in an effort to set a standard for fair play. Once play begins, the focus is on playing the game properly and as one cohesive unit, one team. When the ball does cross the end-line, the keeper, no matter his skill level, must always play the ball from the back to his expectant defenders.

The team will then work the ball up through the midfield, and across the halfway line. Sure, this leads to countless mistakes and numerous unaccounted-for goals; irrespective, the emphasis remains the same, and the game must still be initiated from the back. It’s a rare match when the keeper punts the ball more than twice, and even more rare for a long ball to be played.

Winning remains an objective, however it’s the appearance of play, the ‘bella figura,’ that matters most. Losing well and looking good are acceptable; losing bad and looking bad are not.

Calcio and life are inextricably intertwined in so many ways here. Here you learn from a very young age that soccer is much more than a game. It’s a way of life.”

We hold this truth to be self-evident, but let’s hear it from one of the best coaches in the world

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Sportsmanship message from NorCal Premier Soccer – unfortunately too easily forgotten as the season unfolds

As we head into the fall season, we would like to encourage players, coaches, family members, club officials, and referees to take a moment to consider how they will behave around their upcoming soccer games. All play an important role in our small piece of the “World’s Game”, all deserve to be treated respectfully.

While we absolutely encourage everyone to give their best effort, trying to win, we also believe a sense of soccer fellowship should be maintained at all times ­among opponents, opposing fans, and referees.

Treat each other with courtesy, remember your opponents are just like you, fans of the game, only in a different uniform, playing for a different club, supporting a different team, or in the case of referees, with a different role to play.

Whatever part you play, be a role model. Set an example. Your positive example is incredibly valuable to those who witness it!

The rules must be respected – they maintain a player’s health and safety, provide everyone a fair chance to win each match, and provide necessary checks and balances to govern a game full of emotions.

Referees must be respected and treated properly ­- without them the games cannot be played. Remember they are sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers. They are our fellow soccer fans and they deserve our patience. Our praise, respect and admiration should be shown to them for taking on what is often a thankless task.

Finally, respect the game! Soccer, futebol, fussball, football, whatever you may call it, is the greatest sport in the world – for it to continue to grow and remain healthy in our country it absolutely needs us to respect… its fields, its players, its fans, its referees and its coaches.

Thank you very much,

Norcal Board of Directors

Blind players in Brazil using sound to play the game they love

Youth National Team coach: “Players aren’t as creative as they used to be”

If you’re familiar with my blog then you know how important I think creativity is for player development and that I’m concerned about an overemphasis on quick passing at too early an age. I hear “don’t dribble” too often.

Click here, here, and here for just some of my posts on this topic.

So I was glad to read the following comments from our U16 National Team coach, Shaun Tsakiris, during an interview with GoalNation at Surf Cup a few weeks ago:

“It’s interesting, I think our youth soccer players aren’t as creative as they used to be.

We’re so structured in training that we’ve lost a little creativity in our players. I think we’ve created more good players and less special players.

I often remind myself not to take the love of the game and the creativity away from my players.

While the Federation has made great strides in coaching education in the past few years, even I have to remember not to over-structure.

It is our responsibility as coaches to help our players develop the creative aspects of the game.”

FC Barcelona values in action here in the Bay Area

My youngest participated in the FC Barcelona Summer Camp here in the Bay Area two weeks ago. My older two participated two years ago.

Authentic FC Barcelona coaches fly in from Spain to run these camps throughout the country every summer.

Before I describe our experiences, take a look at the above photo. Why do you think the kids are lined up like this? I’ll share the reason toward the end of this post.

I can recommend this summer camp because the kids are exposed to a truly positive futbol experience.

The soccer specific coaching is very good, of course, but, just as important, the coaches also emphasize and teach values.

These values are explained on the FC Barcelona website and include respect, effort, ambition, teamwork, and humility. And under ‘ambition’ you will see discipline and patience.

These aren’t just empty words – I’ve seen these in action many times in different situations these last few years – during summer camps here in the U.S. (both outdoor and futsal), during visits to FC Barcelona in Spain where my kids trained with Barça coaches, and during a tournament in Spain where we competed against and were able to observe FC Barcelona youth teams and coaches.

What makes these experiences so positive is the warmth and passion of these coaches. They expect a lot of course, but they don’t let these performance expectations overtake a values-based approach to developing youngsters.

The coaches never raised their voices (apart from making sure instructions can be heard, of course) and I’ve never seen any of them pull their face or turn around in frustration if the youngsters made mistakes.

They applaud effort, not results. They focus on learning, on guided discovery, not ‘answers’ and ‘instructions’.

They focus on creating an environment where experimentation is encouraged. They focus on teaching soccer IQ, a way of thinking about the essence of the game.

And here’s how this values based approach shows itself in more visible ways, through appearance, habits, and conduct:

  • never be late – if you arrive 15 minutes before the scheduled time, you are late;
  • shake hands when you arrive and when you leave – welcome each other;
  • jerseys are always tucked in;
  • uniforms, including bags and jackets, look neat and clean – no exceptions; you reflect yourself, your teammates, your team, your club, and ultimately your region and country (note that FC Barcelona first and foremost proudly represents Catalunya);
  • laces are always tied properly;
  • players line up and walk behind the coach;
  • nobody talks when the coaches talk – you listen and can ask questions;
  • apply what you are being taught to show that you want to learn;
  • youngsters will watch other teams in between their own tourney games…
  • …and they will sit quietly and pay attention, even to weak/boring teams;

The list goes on.

Now let’s get back to my opening question. Why do the FC Barcelona coaches teach the kids to line up in the semi-circle you see in the photo above?

For arguably the single most important value, listed first on this FC Barcelona website: respect. The two coaches taught the kids at my daughter’s summer camp that it is disrespectful to turn your back on your teammates.

Finally, let me comment on an aspect of these summer camps that often leads to misguided parental hopes and motivations.

Every summer the Barça coaches select one or two players from each camp to join a ‘Team USA’ for an international tournament in Barcelona.

A lot of parents I’ve met at these camps appear to be there in the hope that their son is going to be ‘discovered’ by FC Barcelona.

And after every camp there’s the inevitable complaining that x, y, and z youngster shouldn’t have been picked. My son or that other boy was a much better player! He scored many goals! And he was running so much more! He had more skills than that other player!

Well, let’s be clear that none of the youngsters attending these summer camps are being selected for a pro career at FC Barcelona.

The Barça coaches specifically tell the parents that they are not necessarily looking to just select the best soccer players. They are looking for that (relatively rare) combination of soccer ability and positive character. They are being selected because they clearly enjoy the beautiful game and reflect the Barça values.

It’s not about scouting the next Messi and it’s definitely not about encouraging that lone wolf player who might be the strongest and most competitive player and most skillful on the field, but rarely smiles and has no real interest in teamwork, humility, and the other players at camp.

I wish more clubs and coaches and parents would take these values more seriously.

There’s no magic, but you have to truly live and breathe them consistently, both the big picture and the details, every day.

barcacampholdinghandscirclecropped

We’re not developing risk-averse robots, right?

You MUST watch this movie

If you have any interest in soccer and want to understand the essence of the beautiful game then you ABSOLUTELY have to watch this movie. Trailer below.

Watch it with your sons and daughters. And then share it with your friends and teammates…and your coaches!

It’s about much more than Pele. It’s about the heart and soul of soccer – about ginga, about technical skills, about creativity, and about enjoying the game.

“I don’t know if we will win, but we will show them a beautiful game.”

Brazil Head Coach before taking the field in the Final of the 1958 World Cup

If you know my blog you will know that I’ve written about this many times, including here, here, here, and here. I could go on.

Creativity is intelligence having fun

This headline quote is from Albert Einstein. You probably know by now that I believe in the importance of teaching, encouraging, and celebrating creativity of play in our youngsters. I firmly believe that our youngsters need as large a problem-solving toolkit as possible.

Well, here’s another reason to foster creativity: our kids need to be able to express themselves creatively on the field otherwise they will sooner or later lose interest in this beautiful game.

Soccer is played and enjoyed as much with the brain as it is with the body.

The more we enforce rigid systems of play and ‘simple’ risk-averse behavior the more likely it is that we will lose our youngsters to boredom.

When they are younger they are more heavily influenced by external factors such as parental expectations and the social aspect. They are more likely to go along with whatever the coaches (and parents) want them to do, irrespective of how challenged they might feel mentally.

But this changes rapidly as they become more independent as teenagers. The risk of losing interest increases as they get older because they increasingly have to be self-motivated to put the time and effort into practicing multiple times a week and competing on weekends.

If youngsters aren’t having fun they will sooner or later stop playing the game. It’s as simple as that.

So by not encouraging creativity from an early age we end up with players that can’t compete internationally, a much less entertaining experience for spectators, and a much smaller pool of youngsters that stick with the game.

Big investment in futsal

Mark Cuban has jumped into futsal here in the United States. And, according to the Dallas Morning News, FC Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Corinthians, and Boca Juniors will all own individual franchises.

In addition, some of Cuban’s NBA peers are also getting involved, including the Buss family, owners of the LA Lakers, and Mikhail Prokhorov, the Russian oligarch owner of the Brooklyn Nets.

The aim is to put together the preeminent futsal league in the world, bringing the best talent the game has to offer to the United States.

The attraction is the money spent on sports and, increasingly soccer, here. Our facilities are also typically very good and existing venues can easily be converted to futsal arenas.

And click here for an article discussing some of the rules modifications.

It’s early days, but let’s hope this works out!

Here’s a photo taken at the UEFA European Futsal Championships that is currently underway – 11,000 in attendance!

futsaleuros

And here’s a clip showing the dramatic 2:1 quarterfinal win by Serbia over Ukraine with 0.30 seconds left on the clock. Note the electrifying atmosphere!

You have to click on the link to YouTube unfortunately. And the deciding goal is at 2:25.

 

Your son or daughter is playing futsal this winter, right? It’s super fun!

Messi and Ronaldo on futsal

“During my childhood in Portugal, all we played was futsal. If it wasn’t for futsal, I wouldn’t be the player I am today.”

Cristiano Ronaldo

“As a little boy in Argentina, I played futsal on the streets and for my club. It was tremendous fun and it helped me become who I am today.”

Lionel Messi

Spanish street soccer culture

I came across this futsal court wandering through a neighborhood in central Barcelona this morning.

This is soccer culture. Easy access for the kids that live around here, emphasis on street soccer, and skills in a small space.

Imagine what could be if this was possible in the U.S.

Another unbelievable youngster. Amazing artistry – the essence of soccer. There is no better foundation than skills.

Superstars that became great with the help of futsal. Your kid is playing futsal this winter, right?

Unbelievably skillful and creative youngster – enjoy!

Don’t be an arse.

Youngsters need to have fun practicing and playing the game!

“Football is not only about victory, draw or defeat. It’s much more than that. It’s not just we versus them. Football is a child’s game that grown-ups take seriously. But it doesn’t need to be serious all the time. I want to have fun. I want to make people happy. I want to keep playing, dribbling and scoring.”

Neymar Jr., 2015

Rotate positions, give equal playing time, and praise.

As part of the overhaul of English soccer player development, the English Football Association recently introduced new youth coaching modules.

I’m quoting below from an article in the highly respected Independent newspaper and the last sentence really struck me as key.

There is probably only one coach that I have observed over the years here in the Bay Area who truly takes this modern, positive approach to youth player development to heart and that is Matt Tudor (@matthewtudor).

He immediately came to mind when I read the below bolded sentence.

Changing the culture of a nation’s grassroots football coaches is a slow process when decades of bad habits need correcting.

We were well into the 21st century before the Football Association realized the decline of street and schools football meant young players were learning the game in structured leagues “coached” by parents.

While well-meaning, these volunteers usually lacked training in both educational methods and football techniques; they were often also more interested in winning matches than long-term player development.

The consequences can be seen from the parks, where wannabe Mourinhos are still barking orders to nine-year-olds, to the Premier League, where barely a third of players are native.

The old win-at-all-costs style is out, in its place a child-centered philosophy that encourages coaches to let their players learn through guided discovery rather than instruction. There is now an emphasis on rotating positions, providing equal playing time, and praise rather than criticism.

Those three principles in that last sentence are absolutely fundamental for true holistic young player development in my view.

If you truly don’t play to win (compete, yes, but not win) then you will, for example, give your youngsters the opportunity to learn the game in different positions even if you weaken your team by doing so.

A nine, ten, eleven year old is simply too young to specialize in only one position.

You will also give your youngsters equal playing time so they all feel included and get a chance to develop as players. You can’t develop if you’re sitting on the bench mostly!

Unfortunately, despite lots of talk about these principles out there, you have to be a strong-minded coach to stick to these principles.

Thank you for all you do with the youngsters, Matt!

Play with joy!

This is just as important for the youngster playing recreationally as it is for the youngster with elite talent. They need to enjoy the game.

As a referee amongst many dozens of youngsters on the field every week I see too much sadness because of misguided parents and coaches. You can see it on their faces. You can see it in their body language.

Parents, please find the right soccer environment for your son or daughter. Make sure they are having a good time. And simply focus on the positive.

If it was important for Neymar then surely it’s important for all youngsters:

Clubs were going all-out for Neymar when he was 13. His talents were in abundance and it drew more money than the family had ever seen.

But Neymar’s dad turned down a very lucrative offer from Real Madrid, instead staying with hometown club Santos.

“Just six days into our trip to Madrid, my son and I couldn’t take any more. Everything just felt different for us.

I’ve had many struggles in my life. I’m an adult, a grown man, but my son was just a kid and I could sense that he felt overwhelmed by it all.

Sometimes being pushed like that can be hugely beneficial, but sometimes it can be equally detrimental.

The air was getting heavier. He missed everything. It was too early. I didn’t care that we were abdicating from so much money.

All I wanted was for him to continue to play with joy. And there was no joy on those days.

No money could ever change that.”

– Neymar Sr.

One of Neymar’s tattoos reads ‘Ousadia e Alegria’, which translate to ‘boldness and joy’.

Let’s do soccer a massive favor.

You might have read a couple of my posts that talk about the massive negative impact of our lack of soccer culture, concerns that we might be over-coaching and creating clones, and the importance of encouraging creativity and skills.

I came across the following interview with one of the top Scottish stars, Barry Ferguson, and quote key passages here:

“Thirty years ago I was seven. And every day was the same.

Run home from primary school, dump my bag, get my joggies and T-shirt on, grab my goalie gloves, boots and ball and straight back out.

An hour and a half later I’d hear my dad whistle and I knew it was time for dinner. Run back home, square sausage and chips. Bang.

Scran it down, run straight back out the door, start playing again, get a stitch, feel sick, lie on the grass for five minutes then get back on the park.

A couple of hours later I’d hear another whistle and knew it was bath time. That was it. That was my whole life. And I couldn’t have been happier.

These days I watch a lot of the Under-20 games and I’m not a fan. I can’t help but look at these kids and think they’ve been over-coached.

I’m not having a go at the coaches because they are trying their best. But the problem goes deeper. It’s more to do with modern life and the way our youngsters are growing up.

Now I look at these 10-11-12-year-olds who are already signed up with clubs playing pro youth football.

It’s like they’re living in a completely different world. They’ve got all the latest kit, washed and ironed for them, the new boots, the slicked-back hair and everything is laid on for them at the best facilities.

But when I look at their wee faces I don’t see the same enjoyment I felt at that age. Half of them look as if they are bored to death and going through the motions. As if they’d rather be at home playing FIFA 2016.

I can’t blame them either because I watch the way these training sessions are being put on and I shake my head in disbelief. When I was a boy I used to enjoy coaching sessions and I really loved the drills we got.

But they were much more simple back then. These days it’s as if the coach is trying to be the star, setting up drills that are so OTT and so complicated that half the time the kids don’t know what’s going on.

Somewhere along the line we have taken the fun out of football and if we can find a way to bring that back then we’ll be doing our entire game a massive favor.

Give these kids a ball. Give them simple instructions and let them play. Let them try to copy Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi and don’t criticize them when they do a step-over or try an overhead kick.

Yes, from time to time you might tell them not to try these things inside their own penalty box – there’s a time and place – but the whole point is we need to let these kids express themselves and enjoy playing the game.

I’m sick of watching 10-year-olds playing in a rigid 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1, terrified to get caught out of position in case they are told off by the coach.

No wonder they get fed up with football. By the time they reach Under-20s they have been completely conditioned into playing the game a certain way. They are not individual football players, they are clones.

Of course, not everything that was done ‘back then’ is necessary better than today. Soccer and coaching methods have evolved considerably over time and they will continue to evolve.

But I think it’s worth taking a moment to at least reflect on Barry’s observations.

Give youngsters enough freedom to experiment (and fail)!

“Training is incredibly important, yet improvisation is just as crucial. It’s only in the heat of the game that you’ll discover whether it works or not.”

Neymar Jr.

“My role was to give him freedom, not block his talent and try to improve his technical abilities.”

Alcides Magri, Neymar’s futsal coach at Gremetal