Youth Soccer Development
This has been a major buzzword in soccer for the past 3-5 years. The truth is youth soccer players today are better than they have ever been. Players today are more technically and tactically savvy at very young ages which demonstrates how far the sport has come in our country and the world. There are a couple reasons for this IMHO: 1) Soccer is readily available on TV and YouTube at any given time via the internet. This gives players exposure to the sport with ease. When I was growing up, I would have to stay up until 11pm to catch the Sockers or Dallas Sidekicks on USA Network. Today you can log into the ESPN App and watch matches from all over the world at all ages or catch match highlights on YT. 2) We have more and more parents today who had youth soccer experiences who are getting their kids involved earlier. 25-30 years ago, soccer coaches were usually a Dad who played football in High School and had a background in athletics. Today, you have access to former players at the professional, semi-pro and college levels. All of these factors create a genesis for creating future soccer stars.
Patience in Youth Soccer Development
Having been a coach in San Diego for the past 10 years and 5 years on the East Coast I’ve seen parents who are becoming more and more savvy to the game. I will often catch parents citing Warren Barton’s halftime comments from an EPL game while talking with me about that day’s big match. I enjoy this because it shows me that the parents are tuned in and are trying to educate themselves and form their own opinions around soccer. The only problem with a little information is that it can be detrimental to the development curve.
One of the aspects in youth soccer development I have noticed is a lack of parental patience. Many parents want to see a golden road to success. They want their child’s development to look like an airplane takeoff, when in reality, proper development looks more like a successful stock chart. 1 step back, 2 steps forward.
I think as parents we need to become comfortable with the idea of our children struggling. The struggle is where character is built and that is where life tests us along the way to make sure we are going after exactly what we want. If you don’t have the internal fortitude to make it through your struggle, then the child isn’t ready for the next level and the rewards/responsibilities that go along with it. I’ve seen many parents at a club who believe that their kid is stagnating. They transfer clubs and like a firecracker, the kid is doing great. For 6 months. After the dopamine wears off from the “new love” with the new club, they find their child having the same issues as 6 months earlier…only wearing a different jersey. This is where it becomes key for parents to understand that development is a process, and it won’t happen overnight. There will be blissful times and long quiet rides home from training/matches. Honor both, and here is why.
Youth Soccer Development Formula
I teach this to all my teams, when they are winning and on top and when they are losing and feeling down. It has served me well in life in both soccer, business, and other ventures.
1. If you think you are staying in one place, “treading water” as I call it, you are actually falling behind, you just haven’t figured it out yet. Always keep pushing yourself on to the next level.
2. If you think you are falling behind, you are actually moving forward, you just haven’t seen the benefits yet. (This is where the struggle is and kids have to fight through the learning curve and parents have to find patience.)
3. If you think you are on top, don’t get comfortable, because there are players and teams training right now to take you down. What are you doing about it?
Just to delve a little further into #3 and make the point. Pele was arguably the best player of his time, and then Maradona came around. The difference is neither of those players had each other pushing them on during their prime years (Pele was at the end of his career while Maradona was ramping up). To this point, Messi and Ronaldo are as phenomenal as they are because they have each other. They compete for goals in all competitions, Ballon D’ Or, and in every other statistic of the game. The truth is they are very different players, but without each other they would never have been propelled to the greatness we are fortunate to unfold before us. And let me go on record that it will be a long time before we see a rivalry and 2 players of this caliber driving each other like they are, so enjoy the next couple prime years.
Final Points on Youth Soccer Development
Allow yourself as a parent to grow comfortable in the struggle. The best thing you can do is utilize your own experience and educate your players that this will pass, if you keep pressing on. Can’t sit still, must go forward. And once your player finds himself comfortable with their development or thinking they have arrived, you must push them on further because others are coming. One of the best feelings as a coach is to have developed a self-reliant, confident soccer player. A player who understands that no matter what situation he or she finds himself in, they can sort it out. Whether physically on the field or mentally on/off the field.