Concerned about Surf Cup

My daughter and I just came back from the premier Manchester City Americas Cup organized by Surf down in San Diego. This is basically a copy of the elite Surf Cup held every July/August at the same venues.

This tournament (like last year and like Surf Cup) was well organized and brings some of the top teams together to compete. Manchester City FC brought their U13B academy team over from the UK and a Mexican academy team came too.

Hotels are good and the logistics work well. We had perfect soccer weather this time – cloudy pretty much all three days, but not too cold. Just right for the players.

However, I have one big concern.

The SoCal Sports Complex fields are not in good enough shape anymore for elite teams.

The fields have short, compact grass which is nice, but the surface is so damaged that pretty much any ball played on the surface bobbles and bounces along the surface. This makes it difficult to control the ball and accurately pass and shoot. It makes it difficult to use technical skills.

So what I saw over and over again is that power and speed dominates over technical skills and smart passing and movement. If passes can’t be executed with a high degree of control and the receiver has difficulties getting control of the ball and then execute a skill move or subsequent pass then all the opponents need to do is use aggressive pressing to suffocate the opponents.

Teams with bigger, stronger, more athletic players win. But this is precisely what we need to get away from in our country.

We can’t have our (elite) youth compete under circumstances that clearly favor athleticism and power over technical skills, smart passing and movement, and creativity.

For me Surf Cup has lost some of its shine this weekend. The results are much less meaningful as a signal of player quality and the quality of player development at elite clubs.

I very much hope they can find a way to bring the SoCal Sports Complex fields up to elite standard. The ball needs to run true, similar to artificial turf fields.

Everything else about Surf Cup is great, but without quality fields it becomes more of a soccer festival and less an elite soccer competition showcasing truly quality futbol.

The image above shows the tag line for Surf Cup: “Through These Gates Walk The Best Of The Best”. I very much hope that this is/remains true!

The myth of the athlete deficit in U.S. soccer

One of the most common explanations for why we cannot compete on the international stage is that our ‘best’ athletes don’t play soccer. If only our football or basketball or baseball or track athletes played the game!

That is a fallacy in my view. Here’s why:

First, soccer is not a sport where large size, strength, bulk, and speed make for elite players. Do those skinny  5′ 7″ to 5′ 9″ superstars in the above photo look like football and basketball players? Soccer is as much artistic as it is athletic.

The better soccer players have a range of skills and technical ability, quickness, great ball control and touch, and a vision for player movements and space. Soccer players have to creatively solve the many hundreds of micro-problems they encounter during a game, which goes well beyond just speed and bulk.

Second, unusually large or tall athletes that tend to be successful in football or basketball or track don’t necessarily have the right physical attributes for soccer. For example, most of them would not be quick, agile, and light-footed enough.

Many of them would be able to muscle smaller players off the ball (if they can get close enough), or shield the ball, or outrun many/most soccer players in a straight-line sprint, but those are not meaningful predictors of success in soccer, especially for quality soccer.

To be clear, if soccer became the number one sport in our country then one would expect the pool of raw talent available to soccer to improve/expand too, of course. And it would most likely help us move up the rankings, but for as long as we focus on the athletic attributes that we celebrate in football and basketball and track, we will not be able to compete internationally against soccer powerhouses.

Might there be a way to roughly estimate the best we could achieve by focusing primarily on athletic attributes we’re familiar with from football and basketball and track?

A good comparison might be the English national team. It is generally accepted that English players are physical, athletic, fast, but lacking in technique, skill, creativity, quickness, and a deeper tactical understanding of the game.

England has similar athletic raw material as here in our country and soccer is by far the number one sport. Most of the ‘big guys’ start playing soccer when they are young.

The result is that England won the World Cup in 1966 as hosts, but their best performance since has only been a semi-final appearance in 1990.

England has never won the  European Championships – their best performances being semi-final appearances at the 1968 and 1996 Championships, the latter of which they hosted.

At the most recent World Cup (2014) England was eliminated at the group stage for the first time since the 1958 World Cup, and the first time at a major tournament since Euro 2000. England’s points total of one from three matches was its worst ever in the World Cup, obtaining one point from drawing against Costa Rica in their last match.

Another good, primarily athletically focused, underperforming soccer comparison might be Russia. It is generally considered to be one of the top ‘athletically talented’ countries and also has a deep soccer tradition.

But Russia has achieved little at the international level – reaching the semi-finals of Euro 2008 marks the only time that they passed the group stages of a major tournament these last ~25 years. Their best finish at the World Cup was fourth in 1966. At the European Championships they finished second three times (1964, 1972, 1988) when athleticism and brute force played a much bigger role in soccer.

Germany tends to have more athletic players also, but they’ve invested heavily in the artistic/technical aspects of player development these last twenty years. And even elite German soccer players are, by and large, not like our football and basketball players.

In other words, if soccer becomes the number one sport here and can draw on a larger pool of athletic ‘raw material’ (and everything else stays the same) then the best we can expect to achieve is arguably the English success record (which is better than the US record, but I’m assuming we want to aim for the top).

So to join the best in the world we have to look beyond our typical U.S. view of athleticism and add the many non-athletic elements that make for truly world-class soccer in countries like Spain, Germany, Argentina, and Brasil.

All this is good news in my view. We can become World Champions without having to wait for soccer to overtake football and/or basketball in popularity. Waiting for ‘our best athletes to play soccer’ is a fallacy.

Athletes especially suitable for football and basketball are not necessarily especially suitable for soccer, and vice versa. All sports can co-exist without materially cannibalising each other.

We have enough diverse athletic ‘raw material’ of different shapes and sizes to be internationally competitive in all sports. We just need to focus on the right player attributes for each sport.

It’s all there. We just have to do it right.

Why have our women dominated internationally and might that change soon?

Our women’s national team has an impressive record. According to this Wikipedia page, the U.S. WNT has three World Cup titles, four Olympic gold medals, seven CONCACAF Gold Cup wins, and ten Algarve Cups.

The WNT has been ranked either 1st or 2nd in the world these last 20+ years. Click here for more information on rankings over the years.

So why are our women so dominant given the relatively limited soccer culture in our country and the lack of international competitiveness of our men? The relative difference between our women and men is enormous.

I believe there are two key reasons – both are cultural. By way of background, I grew up in Germany during the 70s and 80s, and played and watched soccer in Europe during the 80s and 90s.

First, the role of women in society started to change here much sooner than in other countries. More so than in any other country girls and women were encouraged to grow up confident and equal to men, including becoming athletes.

Yes, we still have some way to go before there’s true equality, but for all practical intents and purposes from a soccer perspective the opportunities for girls and women opened up much sooner here than in other countries.

This process started in the 70s and accelerated in the 80s and 90s. Other countries, including those in Western Europe, changed too, of course, but typically trailed the U.S. by a decade or two, depending on the specific country. And some countries such as Mexico are arguably further behind still.

If your pool of potential players already has a big fundamental cultural mindset advantage then it’s going to be easier to turn them into world-class athletes. The ‘raw material’ here was so much more suitable to competing in sports.

Second, our women were able to flourish precisely because we never had a strong soccer culture. Soccer culture outside the U.S. is very ‘macho’. You would never see girls or women play the game – ever. Not even a pick-up game in a neighborhood park or on the school yard during breaks.

It was and still is a man’s sport in most of the rest of the world and especially in soccer-mad countries. This massively discouraged girls to play. Think ‘American Football culture’ when you reflect on ‘soccer culture’ outside our country.

These two reasons provided the foundation to which we added relatively ample financial resources, a large population, and broadly available quality facilities.

And the college system provided a good development environment for our girls to mature into competitive women. The various pro-leagues over the years also helped post-college.

In a nutshell, our girls were free to play and learn the beautiful game much sooner than in other parts of the world. They were more athletic, more confident, had more experience playing from a young age, and there are many of them in our relatively large country.

So far so good. So very good, actually.

However, our dominance might come to an end sometime in next five to ten years unless we re-think player development and selection for our girls.

In my view, our women are playing an athletic style of play with too little technical skills and creativity. We’ve dominated the world this way because, frankly, the competition was so weak physically and mentally.

Here’s an excellent article on this very topic, published a couple of weeks ago: “As a women’s soccer nation, we have a skill problem.”

It worked well and fitted nicely with our American focus on speed and power. We also didn’t have to match the coaching quality and understanding of the game that soccer-mad countries like Germany and Spain have because those countries did not apply any of that know-how to their women. So our coaching here was good enough.

But this is now changing.

The national soccer federations in Europe recently made developing women’s soccer a priority. This started about five to ten years ago in Germany, France, and Japan. Latin American countries such as Brazil are taking this seriously now too. England also recently started to develop a competitive women’s soccer program.

And what sets these countries apart from us is more emphasis on the technical and creative aspects of the game. I haven’t done a detailed analysis of this nor can I point to any hard evidence to support my claim, but it is apparent to me when I watch international games.

I also see a strong bias toward athleticism and speed watching girls teams play in leagues and various tournaments, including the top ECNL teams.

The smaller, slower, technically superior ten, eleven, or twelve year old player isn’t valued as highly as they should if longer-term player development is the goal. The perfect player has both athleticism and excellent technical skills plus lots of creativity, of course, but that is rare.

So if we don’t start to focus much more on technical skills and creativity then we might sometime soon lose most games against up and coming women’s national teams such as France.

And these countries do have a tremendous depth of understanding of the game that we don’t (yet) have here in our country. Transfer all that to the women’s side of the sport and you should end up with very competitive teams.

If we don’t change will we end up in a similar situation that our men’s team is in. Athletic and solid, but no creativity and understanding of the game at the deepest level.

It seems like USSF leadership recognizes this too and it’s the main reason for launching the Girls’ Development Academy to replace ECNL, without collaborating with ECNL. This article summarizes is nicely. I’m quoting a key passage:

“The aim is to standardize coaching and development in order to push the best players up through a system that can feed the national team with highly-skilled players.

What U.S. Soccer hopes to mitigate are the uncoordinated ways in which the best American youth soccer players are coached. There’s too much screaming on the sidelines and too much emphasis is placed on winning while development of individual talent of the best players is secondary. This move is overdue.

Five years ago, Heinrichs and Ellis said they “flipped the model upside down” about what kinds of players they wanted to see come through to the senior women’s team. Instead of merely seeking out the strongest, biggest, fastest and most athletic players, the new emphasis was on tactical and technical ability. The new academy will standardize practices to make sure the best young players get consistent coaching and training.”

Let’s see where things stand in five to ten years!

What is creativity in soccer?

Creativity is used a lot to describe the better soccer players. And many of us probably recognize it when we see it during a youth or pro game. I have posted many times about the importance of encouraging creativity in our youngsters, most recently an article on the lack of top midfielders in our country and a post about risk-averse defenders.

The impact of creativity cannot be underestimated. It massively impacts the quality and entertainment of every soccer game across all age groups and levels. It’s as relevant for lower-level U9 games as it is for elite pro games.

And a lack of creativity isn’t just an issue here in our country. For example, it’s arguably the single biggest reason for England’s relative underperformance on the international stage (and until recently, but to a lesser extent, also in the country where I grew up, Germany) and why the English Premier League is so dominated by elite foreign players. (English teams have the resources to buy talent from all over the world because more than in any other country England focused heavily on the business of sports these last two decades. So the English clubs and the League are doing well, but not the English national team.)

According to one English youth soccer coach: “So many England internationals from the past 30 years have grown to become more functional than creative, and the fact that I have to hark back to players like Hoddle and Gascoigne to remember truly creative, unpredictable, England players is a concern for English football. This rigid, predictable footballer is a product of the coaching they received when they were young.”

But what is ‘creativity’? More technical elements such as dribbling or super skills? Or more team-based elements such as pass-and-move patterns? Or something else?

Before I suggest a definition of ‘creativity’ let’s take a step back and read this excerpt from a recent article on how U.S. Soccer is attempting to improve coaching quality (slightly edited for clarity and brevity; blue font is my emphasis):

“Soccer is a player’s game. The 22 people knocking a ball around a big field are bound by few rules. Predictable patterns rarely occur. As a result, coaches can’t succeed by designing plays and ordering players to execute them, as they can in, say, football. Players have to make judgment calls in the moment, on their own.

This means that rote skills, while essential, are not in themselves adequate. The thing that makes better players is decision making. They need to integrate not just how to do something but whether, when, and why. There are parallels to the difficulty many students have solving problems independently. If you give kids a math problem and tell them how to solve it they can usually do it. But if you give them a problem and it’s not clear how to solve it, they struggle.

Jürgen Klinsmann, a former German world soccer star, World Cup winner, coach of the German National Team, and currently coach of our U.S. men’s team, has remarked that it’s hard to get Americans to see that a soccer coach cannot be “the decision maker on the field,” but should instead be a guide. “This is a very different approach. I tell them, ‘No, you’re not making the decision. The decision is made by the kid on the field.’ ”

Outside the U.S., most soccer players learn to play independently very early on.  We don’t have a lot of unstructured play where kids can develop creativity. It’s a lot of tournaments and pressure and sideline parents and trophies.”

So with that background in mind let’s turn back to ‘creativity’. When you break down a soccer game into its smallest, most fundamental elements it comes down to this:

Players are faced with an endless series of problem-solving micro-moments during games.

These micro-moments could last anywhere from a split-second (for example, controlling the ball in very tight spaces or a goalkeeper reacting to a sudden shot on goal) to a handful of seconds (for example, a midfielder moving with the ball looking for passing options).

Some of these micro-moments repeat themselves over time and youngsters simply learn from experience what to do in those moments.

But many of these micro-moments are new or different and force a player to make immediate decisions about how to solve them. And as the standard of play increases the player has to use increasingly creative ways to deal with these micro-moments.

For example, simply physically shielding the ball against a physically inferior and ‘simpler’ player won’t work against clever/crafty players (physically inferior or not) because they know how to fake you out and poke the ball away. Or clever players know how to use teamwork to double up on you and take the ball away.

Another example is that athletic youngsters can have much success simply touching the ball into space past a defender and then sprinting past them toward goal, especially when they are younger and/or playing against inferior players.

That’s certainly one way to repeatedly solve those how-do-I-get-past-a-defender micro-problems. But this won’t work anymore when matched up against athletic defenders and a defensive team working well together to cover each other. So now what? Is this athletic youngster able to get past the defenders other than through speed and/or physicality?

Often ‘unpredictability’ goes hand in hand with creativity. In general, the more unpredictable the way the micro-problem is solved the more likely it is that he or she will outfox the opponent and succeed.

And, just as important for the longer-term growth of the game in our country, the more entertaining it is to watch the game across all levels and age groups.

And what does a youngster need to creatively solve those micro-problems?

  1. Soccer IQ – a fundamental understanding of the game, including the relationship between the ball, the players, space and movement;
  2. Large toolkit – broad and deep technical skills, ball control and touch, accurate passing, ability to shoot, ambidexterity, off-the-ball movement, etc.
  3. Mental agility – is the youngster constantly paying attention and reading the game, processing split-second decisions, coming up with clever solutions, imagining a couple of moves ahead;
  4. Confidence – especially with the ball in tight, pressured situations in your own defensive third; does he or she have the confidence to do the unexpected and experiment with new solutions or is he or she worried about making mistakes?

So ‘creativity’ is not just one thing. It’s not just dribbling skills or accurate passing movements or sprinting or great shots on goal. It’s all of the above (and more) applied at the right moments to solve the endless series of often unpredictable micro-problems players face during games.

And the earlier and more often our youngsters attempt to solve those problems creatively the sooner their conscious thought (which is measured in seconds) becomes instinct (which is measured in a second or less), further speeding up and improving the quality of their game.

And it’s the coach’s job to help his youngsters develop as large a toolkit as possible and the positive mental attitude to become smarter, more creative players over time even if that means losing many more games.

Encourage that eight, nine, or ten year old defender to dribble past an attacker even if your team is more likely to lose possession.

Celebrate the attempted Maradona move by the midfielder even if a simpler touch past the opponent would have had a higher chance of working.

Applaud your speedy attacker for working with his teammate on a series of two or three wall-passes instead of simply using his or her speed to leave that obviously slower defender in the dust.

Admire a beautiful sequence of one-touch passing movements even if two touches would have retained possession for longer.

The list is endless.

For the good of this beautiful game, coaches and parents, please teach, encourage, and celebrate creative problem solving across all age groups and levels. Coaches will develop better players, parents will be more entertained during games, and our youngsters will enjoy playing more and for longer.

And then one day in the not too distant future we will bring the World Cup trophy to our country.

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.

 

Our Biggest Struggle

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Nice goal @Futsal Euros

Futsal Euro Championship now underway until Feb 13. Watch live at www.uefa.tv.

Just pass it to the goalkeeper!!

Consider these two scenarios:

In scenario one a nine, ten, or eleven year old defender without an easy/obvious forward passing option and attackers closing in simply passes the ball, without fail, back to his goalkeeper (or simply kicks it up the field to relieve the pressure). This defender very rarely loses the ball and never concedes a goal.

In scenario two a nine, ten, or eleven year old defender more often than not attempts to dribble past the attacker (or attempts to use a first-touch past the attacker) and/or dribbles up-field in search of a passing option. Half the time he/she fails and it leads to turnovers and even conceded goals and lost games.

Picture this young defender on your son’s or daughter’s team for a moment. What would go through your mind if you observed scenario two during practice scrimmages or league games?

I suspect for many of you it would be something along the lines of “what is he/she doing? Don’t dribble there – it’s dangerous. Just pass it back to the goalkeeper!”

In my view, this is where what we see the pros do on TV and a conscious or unconscious preference for ‘winning’ clash with true player development. Here’s why:

That defender in scenario one can develop into a solid player. Simple passes, little risk taking, and probably a focus on athleticism using his/her body to defend against attackers. He/she will probably rarely be accused of directly conceding goals. Reliable and solid.

But also very predictable and with a limited tool kit. And as the standard of play increases over the years a simple pass back to his/her goalkeeper or another defender often won’t be the right decision. But it’s pretty much all he/she knows.

For example, when faced with high-pressing opposition there simply won’t be time or space to pass back to the goalkeeper. That would be the worst decision to make because it puts the goalkeeper under enormous pressure to ‘solve the problem’. So while the goalkeeper might technically concede a goal it was actually the defender who tossed the ‘hot potato’ to the goalkeeper. The defender needs to be able to creatively overcome the pressure and figure out how to work the ball up the field.

Another example is learning to work the ball out of your own defensive third when the opponent has lost the ball during an attack. In these situations it is often the case that, say, 14, 16 or even 18 players crowd your team’s defensive third which makes any easy pass to the goalkeeper or another teammate unlikely. A quality defender needs to be able to help work the ball up into the middle third with many opponents close by.

And in these situations the defender needs a larger tool kit, including the skills and confidence to dribble, fake movements, pass accurately in very tight spaces, and overall solve problems creatively and unpredictably. He/she has to be much more than just a reliable athletic risk-averse passer.

So which of the two young defenders will have a larger problem solving tool kit when they are fourteen or sixteen? The one in scenario one or two? I hope you agree that this is more likely going to be the defender in scenario two.

And keep in mind that teaching a skillful and creative fourteen or sixteen year old defender to be more risk-averse by passing back to the goalkeeper more often is much easier than teaching that defender in scenario one to be more skillful and creative to solve the much more challenging problems he/she will be facing as the quality of opponents increases.

In fact, it is probably fair to say that, for all practical intents and purposes, it is impossible to teach a sixteen year old player to be more skillful and creative. This part of player development needs to start when the player is just five or six and then intensely cultivated as the youngster grows up.

It is difficult to teach an old dog new tricks, and sixteen is ‘old’ when it comes to skills and creativity development in soccer. And the more skillful and creative those tricks, the more difficult. But teaching a skillful and creative fourteen or sixteen year old to pass back more often is orders of magnitude easier.

This is another example of ‘failing for the future‘. I strongly suggest you read my blog post on that topic. It’s one of the most important concepts in player development in my view.

 

THIS is world-class young talent. Pirlo surely would agree. How do we get to this in our country?

Quality of college players according to superstar Andrea Pirlo

“Young players arrive in MLS from colleges. They don’t know tactics and very little technically. Physically, a lot.”

-Andrea Pirlo, one of the best playmaking midfielders of all time. Won pretty much everything there is to win with AC Milan, Juventus, and Italy, including the World Cup in 2006. Currently playing for New York City FC.

via @Gazzetta_it

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

Does player size matter? The FC Barcelona youth coaches’ perspective.

I spoke to two FC Barcelona youth coaches in Spain earlier today and asked them whether they take size into account when assessing youngsters.

Their response: “Never”.

We all know that size and athleticism matters if you want to win youth games. We’ve all seen those stronger, faster youngsters dominate games. Teams win this way.

But size and athleticism are a weak predictor of longer term success in soccer and has little to do with true longer-term player development. It misses the essence of the game.

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.

Failing for the Future

This post goes to the core of coaching quality and player development, and the problems that come from focusing on ‘winning’ instead of ‘competing’. I have posted about this topic many times before including here, here, and here.

Failing for the Future is a term coined by Todd Beane, former professional player, coach, teacher, father, and blogger. He is the son-in-law of Johan Cruyff, one of the legends of the game.

Here is his post in its entirety:

My son failed this weekend and I was so proud of him for doing so.

Unfortunately, while I was in awe of his courage his coach was screaming at him. Let me explain how the very same event can be a point of pride for his father and a point of disgust for his trainer.

My boy sprinted down the right flank toward the goal as Jan, the left winger, centered a low driven ball toward the top of the box. Jordan beat his man by a step and as the ball came across he took his best effort with his left foot.

Between us we call it his LD referring to his left foot being his Less Dominant foot. The ball did not find the back of the net as he had hoped and it passed listlessly just wide of the goal. This was the fabulous moment that made me so proud.

The coach recognized that my eight year old could have put the team in the lead if he maneuvered the ball to his right foot and shot with his dominant foot. After all we were tied 0-0 and winning is everything, right?

“Jordan!” with disgust whistled its way across the field from the lips of his coach and landed painfully in the heart of my child. To his credit, my son has become a bit immune to nonsense by now and he would ask me of the situation in the car on the way home.

“Papa, did you see when I missed the goal in the first half?”, he asked.

“Yeah, and I thought that was brilliant!” I replied.

He knows by now exactly why I was so proud of him.

The game determines with which foot you should strike the ball, not the coach. This situation demanded a left footed shot and my son delivered. Not well, but he obeyed the beautiful game and gave it his best go with his LD.

Ironically, later in the game, he flicked one past the keeper with his LD on a short post run and the coach seemed OK with that tally.

I share this because so many times our players fail for the wrong reasons.

They avoid at all cost that which the game requires by cutting the ball back to their strong foot. Mostly just to avoid the embarrassment of what might happen – like missing a goal. Or being yelled at, for example.

When they fail for the right reasons I like to call this “failing for the future”. Today, my son made the right decision and failed for the right reason. He may not master this LD shooting today or even this year, but he will master it in the future if he has the courage to fail now for future success. All will be well if he meets the call to action with the foot that is called into action.

I would rather have a coach that encourages children to work on their weaknesses and to fortify their strengths but that is not the case this year.

If winning is about short term results only then I prefer to change my definition of success.

Can you imagine a 3rd grader teacher screaming at your child for trying a math problem they have not learned yet to solve?

How long would that teacher stay employed? Not long I would imagine. We do not accept it in our schools and teachers would not berate a child for giving their best – whatever their best may be at the moment.

Imagine instead a group of players praised for taking risks and supported when they try their best for the right reasons.

Imagine coaches doing what teachers do when they guide their students on a road of discovery.

Imagine working through the problems you cannot solve today and finding solutions for tomorrow.

Failure is just a symptom of a skill unmastered and nothing more.

In fact, failing is only failure when we do not see it as a positive part of the learning process. So, while my son may have not scored the goal of his dreams, he will someday and I will be there to remind him of a time when he was eight years old and had the courage to fail for his future.

Source: Failing for the Future

Mastery comes from trying. Let the kids try and fail, coaches and parents! Encourage it, celebrate it.

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!

Clones pass the ball pretty much all the time

“They [many coaches] may be coaching individuality out of our kids with their ‘pass the ball at all times’ philosophy.”

Gordon Strachan, Manager/Coach of Scotland National Team, leading an overhaul of youth player development in Scotland.

Never use the outside foot. What???

U.S. born and raised experienced coach guesting with my daughter’s U13 team tonight:

“Never use the outside foot to pass, especially not in midfield and defence.”

My daughter’s Argentinian head coach standing in the technical area during a recent game clapping and calling out:

“Great curved pass with the outside foot! Very important skill to have. Very good!”

Argentinian coach played pro in Argentina and Mexico.

No further comment.

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.

Futsal season kicks off in a few weeks. You MUST join! It’s super fun and great for skills!

Really great clip – sit back and enjoy the magic. The lifeblood of soccer! (click on the HD icon on the bottom right for best quality)

100 ways to flick up the ball – share with your kids!

Unbelievable 8 year olds. We need to encourage skills and dribbling more and for longer here in the U.S.!

Quick passing isn’t enough

Some of my recent posts describe my concerns about too much focus on ‘quick passing & moving’ at too young an age. Coaches are trying to copy the Barcelona style of possession play and many parents are happy to see lots of passes being strung together and tend not to like the player who doesn’t pass quickly.

But I’m concerned that this leads to one-dimensional soccer and doesn’t give the players what they need to creatively solve problems during games against strong, tactically smart opposition.

I am concerned that we are not emphasizing enough a critical part of youth player development: creativity, technical skills, and risk taking, that, when later combined with smart passing and fast movement, leads to top-level, entertaining soccer.

So take a look at this clip from Barcelona’s youth academy. These are ten or eleven year old boys. Watch carefully the many skills and soccer IQ used just in these ten seconds. Their toolkit is large already!

Creative, instinctive, entertaining

The Making Of Ronaldo

Great documentary on Cristiano Ronaldo. Enjoy!

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