Commentary

Developing smarter players: What we should and shouldn't coach at the younger ages -- and why

By Christian Lavers

The greatest area for improvement in American youth soccer is in the sophistication of thought and decision-making of players.

While the USA has no shortage of great athletes, and players with a decent level of basic technique are common in top youth leagues, there is a dearth of players at U-14 and above who can read the game, understand decision-making cues, and show creativity and competence in identifying and executing potential solutions.

This independent decision-making process is the bridge that so few players cross between having the technique to manipulate a ball (more common) and having the skill to execute a soccer decision at the right time and place. In fact, the gulf between the millions of youth players at U-12 and younger playing the sport and the few at U-14 and above who show real game insight reflects a vast, systemic issue in development.

This gulf is not created because of ill intent of those involved in youth coaching or parenting; it is created through a fundamental and widespread misunderstanding of what it takes to learn the sport and of what it takes to learn how to think in the game. The systemic confusion is destroying the ability of the vast majority of youth players in America to think, understand, and play at higher levels.

Raising the level of thought and sophistication in youth soccer is not a matter of more rules and regulations, or more lines on the field or greater numbers of players, it is a matter of creating more understanding.

Improving understanding begins with educating parents and coaches about what belongs on the youth field and what does not, and just as critically important and often missing -- why it belongs or does not. It is a matter of creating a training process that teaches and empowers young players to make informed decisions based on understanding cues and context in the moment, and in those decisions teaching them to prioritize possession of the ball above all else.

The solutions for change are more obvious than many think, and three suggested thoughts are below.

1. In order to think fast, players must first be taught how to think

This sentence is not a tautology, and understanding the difference between the first clause and the second is critical to understanding how to develop youth soccer players.

Every weekend, on the sidelines of almost every youth game in the country, players will hear multiple variations of the statement “you have to play faster” repeated over and over. While an instruction to “play faster” (or a variant of it) may be a totally appropriate instruction for a more developed soccer player who understands the game, to almost every American player at U-12 and younger, this comment is complete nonsense, and potentially very destructive to thinking in general:

• To a player who doesn’t know what to look for, where to look, when to look, or why to make one decision or another, the comment to “play faster” is meaningless. The response from an older, more mature mind is obvious: “do what faster?”

• To a player who has some understanding of decision-making concepts but who struggles to control a bouncing ball, needs an extra touch to control a pass, or struggles to accurately pass with technique, the comment is also meaningless. The snarky internal response from a teenage player with the same technical problems is also obvious: “I know it should be faster, but I can’t control the ball.”

Telling the vast majority of youth players to play faster -- when they do not solidly grasp decision-making principles or when they aren’t capable of consistently passing and receiving the ball -- is actually unintentionally sending a very different message: “don’t think and don’t make a mistake by losing the ball.” It is equivalent to yelling at an elementary school math student that is first learning multiplication to “multiply faster” -- the instruction itself creates panic and an instinct to immediately respond with a random number and hoping to be right.

The instruction for a player to do something faster when he or she is unable to comprehend the reason for the action or physically execute the action is antithetical to thinking and learning.

The random number provided by the pressured math student becomes the random “decision” from the pressured soccer player. You may recognize the symptoms of this panic: (i) players who play towards the first person that they see in front of them -- regardless of whether they are open or there is a passing lane to them; (ii) players who play in the same direction they are facing all the time and never look around for other options; or (iii) at its worst, players that simply kick the ball forward and pretend or rationalize that there is intent and thought behind the action. But, in a testament to the efficacy of adult instruction, in every situation they do “it” faster -- kick the ball away and lose possession very quickly and very often.

Instead of asking young players to do things faster, we will develop far more thoughtful and sophisticated players in the long-term by asking them to look, evaluate, and decide with the priority of keeping possession, and then by being patient with the time it takes a young mind to process the avalanche of information that comes at them once their eyes and minds are open.

Encouraging young players to take the time to look, evaluate and decide, and to do so while prizing the ball, is what allows them to understand the “why” in their decisions, become creative in their solutions, and then ultimately to learn how to see the game faster and better. This encouragement is the soil for sophistication and empowered decision-making to grow.

As with a math student, a young soccer player needs time to work these things out -- to figure out where, when, and how to look, and to think about what decision to make to try to keep the ball. For a player at U-12 and younger, the quantity and speed of information coming to them in a 9v9 game is massive -- and intimidating. Which brings up point No. 2.

2. Stop coaching and encouraging high pressing: instructing young soccer players at U-12 and younger to press high is not coaching defending, and it is not teaching anything

Similar to the first point, at first blush this sentence may seem counter-intuitive, but there is a difference between teaching defending and capitalizing on youthful incompetence.

High pressing and defending high on the field is a valid tactic when playing games where the result is most important. It is also valid when challenging players who have understanding of decision-making principles and basic passing and receiving technique to learn how to read the game faster and make faster decisions -- in training or in games.

However, encouraging players at U-12 and younger to constantly high press each other is merely using adult, results-oriented thinking and desire to win to take advantage of the naivety and lack of understanding of children. If this sounds harsh, consider a few of the situations in which this type of coaching or encouragement is most obvious:

Instructing players to press or “mark-up” on the opponent’s defenders when the opponent has a goal kick. At these ages, most players can’t consistently pass the ball accurately over more than 10-15 yards, and most don’t know how to make decisions very well (see point one above). With that knowledge, adults organizing on a goal kick to take away all the options for these players to pass is a great way to create counterattack chances to score -- starting only 15 yards from goal. It involves no decision-making and thinking by the players being instructed to press beyond to “mark” (e.g. stand next to) a specific person. It places the opponent in a no-win situation, and takes away almost any chance for them to make a successful decision. This instruction almost entirely takes away any chance for players to think (offensively or defensively) in exchange for the desired outcome of winning a game through manipulation.

Instructing players to press or “mark” the opponent’s defenders when the opponent’s goalkeeper has the ball. See all above comments.

Instructing players to “run through” bouncing balls. In this example, the words themselves betray the thought -- “use your body as a blunt object to propel the ball forward toward the goal with whatever surface happens to make contact with it.

These examples are 3 of countless different ways in which “tactical” aggression is encouraged to take advantage of lack of ability or lack of understanding of players at U-12 and younger. Adult encouragement of these actions takes away the ability of every player involved to think: on one side, a player is presented with incredibly little chance of successfully accomplishing any potential decision with the ball, and on the other side a player is relieved of any need to decide how to defend -- where to move, when to run, how to make spaces small as a group, etc.

Perhaps most distressing, this type of defensive instruction is most effective when employed against players and teams that are actually encouraged to try to think and make decisions. It is the perfect mis-match of aggression vs. thought, physical vs. mental, now vs. long-term, win vs. develop, instruct vs. teach. While many think it is reflective of “good coaching” it is actually reflective only of misplaced priorities directed very effectively and efficiently.

Instead of encouraging and instructing players at U-12 and younger to high press, development would be greatly enhanced if coaches left defensive pressing totally off the curriculum at these ages, and refrained from coaching it at all (in games and training).

Instead, spend this time teaching almost any other skill or technique in the game (the ability to receive, dribble, pass, or shoot), or encouraging players to think (asking them what they see, where their teammates are, where the space is, etc.). By removing high and mindless pressure from youth soccer, every player on the field would have greater opportunity to think for themselves, find their own solutions, and learn through their own decisions.

Coaching defending at these young age groups should involve teaching footwork, coordination and balance, how to recognize when the ball is protected or not protected, and how to tackle to win the ball instead of just kicking it away. It should revolve around the idea that defending is best done in small spaces, and that players should communicate to try and defend together.

These are sophisticated concepts that players will find much challenge and enjoyment in understanding -- and they revolve around decision-making, communication, and empowerment.

If we can raise the level of adult understanding in the first two points, there is one final concept that will help in greatly increasing the chances of developing more sophisticated players.

3. Stop coaching and encouraging a game of field position: constantly coaching and encouraging players to “get behind,” “go forward,” and “be safe,” is not teaching how to attack

Teaching how to attack involves a few fundamental and incredibly complex concepts: (i) how to keep the ball (individually and collectively); (ii) how to advance up the field in possession of the ball; and (iii) how to create chances to score.

Each concept becomes progressively more difficult than the last, because the closer players move to the opponent’s goal, the less time and space they typically find -- there are more defenders near them and there is more urgency to defend.

It is very easy to skip all of the nuances and details in these concepts, (and all the principles they involve that guide the decision-making process), and jump to the instruction “get it behind the defense.” This instruction has a simplistic charm, ruthless efficiency, and convenient correlation to other American sports: the ball is farther away from your goal and closer to the opponent’s goal, and now every mistake that is made is in your favor, with little negative consequence.

In fact, when paired with aggression and high pressing, the combination creates a devastatingly effective group of … 10-year-olds -- who are not thinking, and who are learning nothing.

Instead of coaching field position, teach players the importance of keeping possession of the ball -- and the advantages it provides. Teach them to treasure the ball, and how to position themselves to be in a passing lane to help their teammate so the team can maintain possession of the ball.

Teach them that, if possible, they should receive facing forward but they should always decide whether it makes sense to go forward -- or in another direction to find space. Teach them how to recognize what the defenders are doing (are they grouped together or spread out?), and how that positioning impacts where space may exist to help keep possession. Teach them that space means time, and creating space is the first concept in keeping the ball.

This final concept, teaching players how to keep the ball, progress, and create chances, is probably the most difficult thing to do in coaching. It is also the most difficult thing for players to do -- because it combines thinking and execution in progressively smaller spaces with more and more defensive pressure.

If as a youth soccer country we can begin to correct the first two areas -- (i) to teach thinking before demanding faster actions, and (ii) to limit encouragement of high pressing, we will have exponentially moved the needle in creating a youth environment that fosters more thoughtful and independent players.

Doing so will allow every player more opportunity to look, evaluate, and decide -- on both sides of the ball. In some ways, the third point in this article will come as a by-product of correcting the first two -- and we will all be better for it.

First, youth players will enjoy the game far more because they will be free to think, learn, and express their own ideas -- to see and feel personal growth in understanding every week. As these players age, they will become more intelligent in their understanding of the game, and more confident in their ability to make decisions successfully -- and the game will be more intellectually demanding with players making decisions independently, faster and better.

Ultimately, when these players mature, we will see them playing the “beautiful game” that everyone hungers to watch -- because the seeds of understanding and empowerment were planted and carefully nurtured so many years prior instead of being suffocated in the results-driven current reality.

(Christian Lavers is the President of the Elite Clubs National League [ECNL] and the Executive Vice President of US Club Soccer. He also the Director of Coaching for FC Wisconsin Eclipse, and has helped develop male and female players that have gone on to play for U.S. youth national teams, professional teams, and hundreds who have moved on to play collegiate soccer. Lavers was an assistant coach for the Chicago Red Stars in the women’s professional league (NWSL) in 2013-2015, helping the team to second place in the league in the 2015 season. Lavers has led teams to National Final Fours at five different levels -- the ECNL National Finals, the USYS National Championships, the USASA National Championships, the W-League Final Four, and the WPSL Final Four. In 2011, Lavers’ U18 girls team became the first and only Wisconsin team ever [boys or girls] to win a USYS National Championship.)

34 comments about "Developing smarter players: What we should and shouldn't coach at the younger ages -- and why".
  1. Scott Johnson, September 28, 2016 at 7:30 p.m.

    It almost seems the only way to do this--is with league rules that enforce it. The "no pressing goal kicks" and "no punting" rules in U10 and under (at least out here in Orygun) is a step in the right direction. OTOH, our state's adaptation of no-heading for U12 and under, WITHOUT some of these other changes, increases the ability of speedy teams to break defenses the "wrong" way--often times the best way for the defense to clear a punt is to head it in the other direction; now kids are often "shouldering" the ball (dropping it into a dangerous position), and those who forget and do head it face an IFK close to their goals. High pressing can be dealt with by an offsides line--of course, that might encourage getting behind the defense. That said--even if teams are to be taught to play the "right way", they need to learn to defend against teams that play the "wrong way".

  2. Ahmet Guvener, September 28, 2016 at 7:48 p.m.

    Excellent article... The problem is that the U12 US players are over coached. Teach them the basic skills and let them enjoy the game. So simple...

  3. Wooden Ships replied, September 28, 2016 at 10:52 p.m.

    I agree Ahmet. The game has become more important to the parents and coaches and the kids can't match that passion. It's sad.

  4. don Lamb replied, September 28, 2016 at 11:01 p.m.

    Coaching youth players is simple? Something tells me that you don't actually do it. We are talking about kids who are in what is known as their "Golden Age of Learning," and you want to let them just kick the ball at the goal for an hour? Or just set up a game and "let em play." That's not teaching, and children this age need to be taught if they want to understand something at a high level. They should also enjoy and want to do it in their own time -- no big deal if they don't. Fostering an environment that strikes a balance between these aspects of playing is not all that simple.

  5. R2 Dad, September 28, 2016 at 9:31 p.m.

    Great article--must-read for U8 parents. The author mentions "posession" about a dozen times, so obviously he believes that to be important. Unfortunately, there are many, many kids/parents/coaches out there who are no so-inclined. To them possession is a tactic, not a strategy. What do you say to convince them having the ball is important, if it is the basis for intelligent play and players?

  6. K Hakim, September 28, 2016 at 9:46 p.m.

    This article is total hypocrisy especially in the girls game. Here is someone who works in a made up league of self proclaimed "elite" clubs where the sole reason for implementing it was to create better competition for the teams in these clubs, to attract better athletes from other competing clubs in their area and consider themselves the top level of youth soccer. Well, I have seen hundreds of ECNL games across the country and the amount of sophisticated or intelligent soccer I have seen the past 6 years I can count on one hand. So ECNL has collected all these athletes and yet all they do, which is basically all they do in high school and college soccer too, is have better warriors competing aggressively for the ball. Of course there are good coaches and thus good players and teams in practically every part of the country. But there were such people well before ECNL. We did not need ECNL to develop Mia Hamm, Tiffany Milbrett, Kristine Lilly or Carla Overbeck. In the time ECNL has been formed we have not seen America spawn a player anywhere near the level of those quality players since. But we have seen faster and more powerful athletes. So how does this relate to the points in the article? Winning games 10-0 and losing 10-0 is all part of development. Going from one extreme to the other week to week is part of life. It is part of learning. It is part of having fun, expressing oneself and making mistakes, but try again, over and over until you become a better player. When you take that easy game away, you take away the time for your late developers to learn. When every game is fast and hard fought, only your best athletes are often played and thus involved and even they don't get better as players, but rather only better warriors. So over powering or over running opponents is the norm in elite female soccer today. The finesse players, the tricksters, the creators, vanish. Coaches think of themselves as Klopp and Conte rather than Guardiola or Wenger. They even park the bus like Mourinho and hit on the break. But so few actually allow their players to dribble and play from back to front by taking risks. So their defenders clear the ball but cannot play under pressure 1v1 or even 1v4. So we never see a female Beckanbaur, David Luiz, Stones, Desailly, or Maldini. This is because we don't give them time to develop those skills thru puberty. The article writer wants to talk about U12 because that is pre ECNL. So his frustration is not being able to recruit thinking players at U13. That's what he's worried about. So many coaches think they are 3 players away from winning that championship or beating that rival. They focus on what they don't have instead of what they do have. I have seen clubs of 10,000 to 25,000 players never develop a National pool player in their system. But when I coach 10-20 players at least one makes that level every 4 years. Why? Because I allow them to have fun with the ball in ALL games. That's it.

  7. Wooden Ships replied, September 28, 2016 at 11:26 p.m.

    Use to recruit college players at the showcase-spectacle tournaments. So often it was witnessing legions of drones. That sounds harsh, not what I'm intending. It was kind of rare to find the player that exhibited the child like joy of playing. I had several over the years, early in their college experience, that finally asked themselves why they were playing. Several posters here have mentioned all these advanced concepts of development and how best to derive them. Gives me a headache. Our country has changed, its just not safe anymore, regardless of your location, to allow for free play where virtually every aspect of the game happened without Doctorates of Soccer overseeing every little thing.

  8. Hodor Spo replied, September 29, 2016 at 12:31 p.m.

    K Hakim. You hit this right on the spot. Most of these soccer gurus only see talent in power, speed and physicality, but send those players a fast ball and it will bounce yards away from their foot yet those players get the most playing time, most attention and probably scholarships. The slowly developed skillful players who aged slowly, aren't as big, aren't as fast, can't push as hard and aren't strong enough due to their late physical development has the superior footwork, spends hours working their craft and has superb finesse in their game are snubbed. US is one of the most advance countries in the world producing majority of the world's best athletes, yet they cannot produce decent soccer players is due to the fact that these "heads" are just making money off of hopeful parents yet act as half-ass coaches who doesn't practice what they preach. H Hakim, if you are who you say, you can be the coach for my daughters any day. And it's rare to find someone who thinks differently like you from these "Heads". I have not found one coach that focuses on development over winning.

  9. Mark Konty replied, October 6, 2016 at 5:19 p.m.

    We don't have more thinking players in the US because we cut them before they even reach 12U. More physically gifted players are selected at 12u levels. This includes not just speed and power, but also balance and agility that we see in highly technically gifted young players. Kids who can't dribble through the other team or run down the kids who can, are cut at tryouts and labeled "not ready for select soccer." I've found in this group of kids many, many players whose thinking abilities far outstripped their athletic ability, but they drop out of soccer by 13u when they cannot make select-travel teams. Yet we cut the high-thinking kids early on and train only the high-athleticism kids. It is far easier to teach a kid speed, power, balance, agility and technical skills, than it is to teach them how to think--especially when they hit puberty and EVERYONE's body changes. Where are the smart US soccer players? Not playing soccer anymore.

  10. Miguel Dedo, September 28, 2016 at 10:37 p.m.

    The three suggestions are one tautology and two negatives -- what not to do. If this is elite coaching then I am for common.

  11. don Lamb replied, September 28, 2016 at 10:52 p.m.

    I was hoping it would be a bit more constructive, too...

  12. don Lamb, September 28, 2016 at 10:37 p.m.

    There is so much to coaching youth players! They are capable of so much, but they need to be taught much of what children in other countries pick up automatically based on how they grow up. Many people think that you cannot start coaching a player until they are 10 or 12. Not true at all: IN THE GAME: 4. Coach the players who are OFF the ball instead of the player who has the ball. Those who say that tactics should not be taught at young ages are wasting valuable opportunities to coach. Since no practice time should be spent coaching the big game at this point, the coach should be coaching the heck out of "competitive" games. These games should be informal and allow for flexibility in choosing rosters. Let the players play in different positions. During the game, teach the principles of the game that will translate to higher levels, and play a formation that causes the players to work with each other, be aware of each other, etc. rather than a formation that just asks the player to perform a specific role.
    AT TRAINING: 5. Teach the kids the four things on the field that they should be aware of: your teammates, your opponent, the ball, and the space.
    6. Use lots and lots of rondos. Make this a staple of play. The players must learn to receive the ball and play the ball to a teammate in a live environment.
    7. Teach the kids some basic rules of dribbling and then let them experiment: a. keep the ball on your foot, b. move your feet quickly, c. keep the ball on the outside of your body (ie, on a shoulder, not your belly button, ie, one foot dribble, the other foot moves your body), d. use all surfaces of the foot. Have them dribble nondirectionally like this during every practice emphasizing dynamism.
    8. Try to build coordinative structures within the athletes. Have them do exercises that relate to specific techniques in the game for a very brief part of training.
    9. Play a fun game for a couple of minutes that focuses on a specific skill and technique (preferably that they just focused on).
    10. Teach the principles of the game in conditioned small sided environments. Set up environments from 2 and 3 v 0 to 2v2 and 3v3.
    11. Small sided games should utilize two goals for each team to attack.
    12. Let them play informal 2v2 or 3v3 games. Include all of the players in every game most of the time (using neutral players/numbers up when necessary).
    13. Encourage them and teach them lessons about life.

  13. Bob Ashpole, September 29, 2016 at 1:06 a.m.

    The article has a lot of good points but I believe the second point is inconsistent. The author bemoans the lack of attacking game sense, but then in his second point tells coaches that teaching kids how to press is bad. Players need to be smart the whole 90 minutes, not just when they are in possession. Packing the 18 during a goal kick is not pressing. It is not even good soccer. Where is the depth? I hate it when people yell "Mark up" when a team is playing a zone defense. We have a whole generation of players who don't know the difference between man-to-man and zone defenses. I can sum up coaching U-Littles in one word: Fundamentals. I can also sum up the problem in two words: Joy-stick coaching.

  14. Bob Ashpole replied, September 29, 2016 at 5:16 p.m.

    Mr. Lavers how do you start introducing a zone press to U-Littles? I don't start with the concept of a line of confrontation. I start with the transition to defense, a block zone three lines deep putting immediate pressure on the ball and forming cover and balance around the first defender. I teach recovery and exchange of roles when the first defender is beaten. Only after these concepts are taught would I introduce the line of confrontation concept, but that progression is for another season. I get the feeling you have never had to teach complete novices. Where would you start?

  15. Bob Ashpole replied, October 1, 2016 at 2:28 p.m.

    I also disagree in part 3 with the notion that attacking tactics include "incredibly complex concepts." The concepts are simple to understand. What Mr. Lavers is actually saying is that successful execution is difficult. Generally speaking the best attacking tactics are simple but attacking is technically much more challenging than defending. Game plans and systems are complex, but only when coaches want to control the game instead of the players.

  16. Gary Allen, September 29, 2016 at 7:42 a.m.

    Good article Christian. Unfortunately, most coaches are too one-dimensional in their thinking and coaching, and do not look at training as opportunities to present problems for the players to solve. I have written numerous articles over the years concerning this issue. One that would compliment Mr. Lavers article well is a two-part article I wrote a number of years ago on Speed of Play. Just google my name Gary R. Allen soccer articles speed of play. Cheers.

  17. Joe Linzner, September 29, 2016 at 10:02 a.m.

    When I grew up and played soccer I was always told a few things. Do not hog the ball, If you don't have the ball you can't lose it, more than 3 touches and you tend to loose the ball, the ball rolls faster than you can dribble so let it roll. Forwards were told to always keep an eye on the keeper, shoot from distance, always face the ball.... Passes must be Crisp with any part of the foot etc..... Off the ball on offense, find the open space, do not loiter, be always on the move....
    During practice never in a game.... I used to charge my kids a nickel for every touch over the 3rd touch... in any case I tried to make it fun... got to be where the kids themselves competed with touch accounts, the guy with the most touches got a little piggy cookie.. ball began to move very quickly.....

  18. C Stephans, September 29, 2016 at 10:20 a.m.

    The suggestions of not applying pressure on the other team's half, not encouraging players to quicken their play and not telling players to go up or back sounds a bit like a response to a bad day at the field where these things rubbed someone the wrong way. Whether for better or worse, I don't think these are practical. I don't see anything wrong with a high press at any level. To tell players to back off is akin to telling them to lessen their desire to get the ball and score. Developing that hunger is as important to US Soccer as anything.

    Playing quicker with the ball is practical, unless the other team agrees to the first suggestion to back off pressing then if a player doesn't play quicker, he won't have a chance to play it at all.

    I agree that coaches and parents dictate to players what to do way too much; yet, young players still need basic instructions about positioning and getting back on defense or going forward. Maybe it needs to be more general, but I think it is part of coaching.

    I simply don't think these are the top three things to change to improve US soccer, and they may not even be in the top ten.

  19. beautiful game, September 29, 2016 at 10:43 a.m.

    Purpose & execution, amen.

  20. Kevin Sims, September 29, 2016 at 12:15 p.m.

    Goal of soccer coach? Enable & support development of players into independent, autonomous decision makers. So ... Emphasize: mastery of the ball; positioning rather than positions; purposeful possession that sets the stage for successful attacks = goals; concepts of play; cues to making decisions rather than decisions/what to do; defend to recreate attack rather than purely destroy; taking informed & wise risks @ right time & place; making friends with failure as valuable learning, teachable moments; and ... FUN, "GO FOR IT" ENVIRONMENTS WITH BUNCHES OF TECHNICAL & TACTICAL REPETITIONS.

  21. Daniel Clifton, September 30, 2016 at 10:34 a.m.

    The issue as All American has pointed out is pay to play. With pay to play the parents are the boss so the goal is to win, win, win. Years ago I had numerous experiences with parents wanting me to do things like only play your "best players" and let the rest mainly watch from the sideline, and scream and yell at ten and eleven year old girls in order to motivate them. Some of the parents are absolutely delusional about their own children, and some of them are living through their children. I ended up preferring to coach recreational soccer where the parents are for the most part reasonable. I believe one of the most important things to do as a coach is to put the children in a position to learn on their own in practice. Then during games they will think for themselves about how to react to situations. Constant yelling from the sideline re what the children should be doing just doesn't work.

  22. don Lamb replied, September 30, 2016 at 11:42 a.m.

    When you pay a doctor, do you tell him how to do the surgery? Pay to play does not inherently mean that the correct environment cannot be created. If the coach has a philosophy and communicates well to educate the parents, they will go along with what the plan is.

  23. Bob Ashpole replied, September 30, 2016 at 12:06 p.m.

    Don, I think you are considering a lack of confrontation as agreement with a plan. The presentation at the parents meeting only buys the coach some time to gain their respect. The problem is that some parents only respect winning. I don't see that problem ever going away. Players are going to leave for various reasons regardless. The best approach is for youth coaches to focus on player development while they can. Anything else is a wasted opportunity.

  24. don Lamb replied, September 30, 2016 at 2:49 p.m.

    Bob - See Scott J's comment below. Sure some parents only respect winning, but they can raise their little monster in another program. There has never been more information out there stressing the importance of development over winning. In fact, it's become a cliche that not many actually understand the meaning of. The point is that pay to play does not, in itself, present barriers for player development. It might present issues for player participation, but not for player development.

  25. Bob Ashpole replied, September 30, 2016 at 5:32 p.m.

    I agree generally that "pay to play" is not actually the problem. The problem is one of viewpoint and conflicting interests. Parents are typically focused on advancing one individual--their child--in what they see as a zero sum game. The youth coach typically favors the interests of his favorite players and sometimes his team. At worst the youth coach measures his own success by his team's match results. Clubs tend to favor their "flagship" competitive teams. In spite of all this it is possible that some clubs and coaches actually development some players. I think Scott J's analysis is focused too much on organized play. Using music as an example, working hard during music lessons is good, but without independent practice the opportunity for real development is lost. Standout U-Little players generally are helped more by parents, friends, and older siblings than youth coaches. How much time is spent playing with a ball is the controlling factor in the long term.

  26. Sara P, September 30, 2016 at 1:10 p.m.

    Pay to play is the not problem. Pay to play is the reality of soccer in a country where there is NO MONEY in the sport, so clubs can’t fund youth programs out of some senior team’s surplus $. The money has to come from somewhere, in the US, that’s the parents.

    So what to do? Find those clubs/coaches in your area that do support player development first, winning second. If there aren’t any, join the big club factory, but encourage your kid to take the technical training seriously, get extra if it’s available. Most importantly check your own attitude as a parent and help your kid take the longer term view. For example, if your kid is the natural athlete, encourage them to not rely only on speed to beat the defender, but keep the ball close to their feet and pick their head up. Fewer goals at U8, but way more dangerous at U18.

    Remind them to train hard, play hard, have fun, and not to get hung up on the short term rewards and recognition that will favor the big, fast kids who grew early. Change takes time, and until the US starts losing on a regular basis to more technical countries, any change will be incremental. It starts with parents and how they approach their kid’s development.

  27. Bob Ashpole replied, September 30, 2016 at 5:41 p.m.

    In the long run the kid who is going to be a future professional athlete is the one whose parent's couldn't stop him from playing if they tried. "Natural athlete" is myth. Some people have advantages others don't but advantages mean nothing without long term dedicated effort. Progress is not about where development starts, but where you are now and will be next year.

  28. Bob Ashpole replied, October 1, 2016 at 2:14 p.m.

    "The problem in the U.S.A. is they start travel soccer at too early an age. That's totally detrimental. It becomes more like winning and collecting hardware than about having kids play and learning from playing." --Alfonso Mondelo, MLS Director of Player Programs. He also made statements in favor of training compensation, but he is employed by MLS so it is unclear to me if he favors sharing compensation with clubs outside of MLS.

  29. don Lamb replied, October 1, 2016 at 3:21 p.m.

    Training compensation is necessary, but it won't do much for 95% of the coaches out there. Even for those who receive it, it won't be enough to stop the pay to play set up. Training compensation in itself doesn't fund organizations.

  30. don Lamb replied, October 1, 2016 at 11:48 p.m.

    The rest of the world has training compensation, yes, but that is not the main source of income for very many of these producers of talent. I am sure that you realize that there is much much more money involved in the game in other countries. A player signing a pro contract in a second or third division is making decent money. That is not the case here. So to answer your question: The reason it wouldn't change the mindset of youth coaches here is because of the lack of money that is available to trickle down through these contracts and because such a small number of players reach the professional level anyway. If you are a coach or club who is setting your hopes and budgets on your kids turning pro, there is a good chance that you are going to go hungry. How many players have you produced that have big contracts?

  31. Bob Ashpole replied, October 2, 2016 at 12:49 a.m.

    Training compensation makes more sense for the professional clubs. They train many players, but only a few make the first team. What economic motive exists to have a youth academy if a professional club may skip the expense altogether and sign players trained by other clubs. Training compensation spreads the cost of developing professional players. It is not so much about making a profit as it is about sharing business expenses.

  32. Chris J, September 30, 2016 at 1:24 p.m.

    Scott J, assume you are talking primarily about girls, given the until the US starts losing comment. Couldn't agree more, any change needs to start with the parents.

  33. R2 Dad replied, September 30, 2016 at 4:39 p.m.

    Yes, agreed, parents are ninnies. Now what? How is this battleship turned around? Inertia favors the status quo. JK was brought in to blow up the disfunctional leagues but all that has happened is they've lain the DA over the top of it. Lipstick on a pig.

  34. David Israel, October 6, 2016 at 8:32 p.m.

    "The greatest area for improvement in American youth soccer is in the sophistication of thought and decision-making of players."

    That's just not true. It's the skills stupid -

    http://www.espnfc.com/united-states/story/2966708/trajectory-skills-set-christian-pulisic-apart-from-past-us-phenoms-fc

    Pulisic is the first non-goalie American player to have the skills to compete at this high of a level. If we want more players like him then we have to stop the make believe that "USA has no shortage of great athletes, and players with a decent level of basic technique are common in top youth leagues".

    What is "decent" level of basic technique supposed to get anyone? When a top level team in America plays against a weak team you will see great high level decision making, wonderful creativity, possession and anything else you would tactically care about. But as soon as that same team goes up against a tough team and the pressure increases then all of that goes away.

    It's because against the weak team they had time to trap with a couple of touches and then prepare to pass or shoot with a few more. Against a strong team you have to be able to trap and pass and shoot much faster. The technical demands are greater and so thought and decision making seem to disappear but really its just lack of ball control.

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