The Truth About Developing Top Soccer Players
I have changed so much over the years because of my experiences in the game. I’ve lost interest in coaching the coaches because I found out how we develop players at the youngest ages.
For me, the Entry Level is the most crucial development phase before a Child crosses the line into organized play. With this head-start, which is usually facilitated by parents using the methodology of ball mastery, most kids, even paired with an inexperienced parent/coach, seem to develop well. The “Just Let Em’ Play” mantra appears actually to work. It doesn’t seem to work when a child has not been exposed to a ball and is quickly thrown into full-pressure games. Kids in more cultured soccer environments fall in love with the ball way before joining a team. If you understand this, parents are by far the most essential link to early facilitating that love for the ball.
The Coaching World always tries to catch up with new philosophies, methodologies, more coaches’ education, up-to-date curriculums, advanced coaching licenses, etc. I’m just not convinced these are the Silver Bullets needed because when I look at the countries that develop the best players in the world, they don’t have all of these programs. They do have outstanding players to work with from very young ages. I’ve seen volunteer, inexperienced parent coaches that look like Master Coaches because they’ve inherited very good players. I’ve also seen some very experienced Coaches rendered useless because they are working with a bunch of kids that have never touched a ball before.
Getting the Entry Level Correct means getting kids comfortable and competent with a ball at their feet before they join organized play, which is by the age of 6yrs old, and most of the other problems that we’re trying to find cures for cease to exist. I’ve seen this personally with my boys, now 14 and 17, who are top players in Japan. It’s not the coaching that has been the difference at the youngest ages; it’s been knowledgeable parents who get their kids off to a flying head-start. This isn’t to say that coaches are not necessary. They are!
But when it comes to skill acquisition, which is the basic building block similar to adding and subtracting or learning the alphabet. The reality is the Soccer world has not caught up to what science already knows. The learning of technical skills can happen much earlier. And it usually occurs at home with parents.
Most of the time, when you see the top players, it’s the head-start they got before joining organized play. It’s that quiet practice that most never know about. My two boys joined teams coached by inexperienced volunteer parents who knew little about coaching or playing the game.
The difference was my boys were already technically proficient before joining the team. They both went on to play as their team’s #10, and both were selected as Captains. They are 4yrs apart. The inexperienced volunteer parent coaches let them play and didn’t over-coach them. This turned out to be an excellent environment for both of my boys. This is when “Just Let Em’ Play” works.
Most of today’s coaching methodologies try to make up for the poor quality of players. Most never learned the basic building blocks to build a solid foundation, which is why so many kids quit. Coaches try desperately to develop the players. But the reality is many kids hit a wall because they never learned the basics. Many kids struggle to control a ball under no pressure, let alone under full pressure. Kids can’t even run with a ball at their feet or change direction with the ball while running, or beat an opponent in front of them, behind them, or by their side.
Maybe it’s the pushy parent or the undesirable coach ruining things. Still, from my experience, with my kids and many others, the coach doesn’t have as much influence as we all believe when learning to play early. Parents are far more impactful with their children. Kids are constantly seeking approval, attention, and praise from their parents. There is a special bond between child and parent which is difficult to replicate with a coach at the youngest ages. The coaching world needs to understand this vital relationship and figure out how to involve parents in their kids’ development instead of looking at parents as adversaries.
I enjoy your FUNdamental SOCCER content, but I think it works best when kids have mastered the basic building blocks to take advantage of the great coaching you and others are trying to provide! A majority of kids who play soccer worldwide are technically poor. We need more knowledgeable parents to engage with their kids through FUN playtime, encouraging ball mastery. This will set them up for early success once they’ve joined an organized team!
Then and only then can coaches do what they are supposed to, Coach!