Too Young To Play "Competitive" Soccer?

Discussion in 'Youth & HS Soccer' started by Li mu bei, Sep 3, 2006.

  1. Li mu bei

    Li mu bei Member

    Jun 5, 2001
    Kettering, OH
    Columbus Crew
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    First, some background . . . I'm 29, have played the game since I was five (I'm still playing indoor and some outdoor), and I have followed international and professional club soccer since the 86 WC. I played competitively from U-12 to U-19. For a bit of trivia, my high school soccer coach was a former Chelsea player (circa mid 1970s) who also coached Troy Perkins' club team, back in 1995 (Troy was in 7th or 8th Grade and would practice with us during the high school season; I always gave him a really hard time, but he loved it and has always been a great guy).

    Anyway, I married and had two kids early. Between work and school, both full-time, I couldn't make the time commitment necessary to play collegiate ball, though I received athletic scholarship offers (I had to go the academic only route).

    The point of offering my background is to convey the fact that I am intimately familiar with the game, am reasonably skilled (even at my age . . . lol), and have a solid grasp of tactics and strategy.

    To continue with some more background, my wife and I were divorced in 2001. When my daughter was 5, my ex-wife registered my daughter in a local recreational league.

    I was firmly against the idea of my daughter playing "organized" soccer at such a young age--the parent-coaches usually don't know what they are doing and, instead, instill bad habits for the sake of having a "team." At the time, I was getting ready to begin law-school and wasn’t available to coach (.i.e, substituting the kids in and out of the game, making sure they were having fun while learning little things, and making sure the parents formed a victory tunnel whether we won or lost . . . lol).

    Regardless, my worst fear was that my daughter would be made into a kick-ball player. I just wanted her to be able to have fun AND not pick-up bad habits.

    From the time my daughter was a toddler, I played "soccer" with her, taught her little things, and generally had fun playing with her and a ball. I would have liked her to be a forward, but by the time she was 5, I could see that she was well-suited to become a midfielder. She was: (1) naturally aggressive, (2) surprisingly aware of the "field" and players (when we played pick-up games in the yard with neighborhood kids), (3) exceptionally skilled on the ball (for her age), (4) and highly intuitive in her positioning. Unlike most kids she didn't look down at the ball when playing (it really was amazing; I thought I had a prodigy on my hands . . . lol.)

    But, my worst fears were realized. The coach of the U-6 team got tired of the team being outscored and, thus, put my daughter on the back-line. The coach told my daughter to stay in her own half and not to cross the midfield stripe. The coach taught my daughter to "boot" the ball.

    I begged my wife to take my daughter off the team and just let her play for fun without the ridiculous "structure" that was being imposed on her.

    Sadly, my daughter stayed with that coach for the next 4 years.

    A month or so ago, my daughter "made" a "B" select u-10 team, for only a thousand dollars, plus the cost of uniforms and miscellaneous equipment. :rolleyes:

    There are 5 girls on the "B" team who are reasonably skilled, 5 girls who are average, and five girls who need hidden when on the field. My daughter is one of the girls who needs hidden (after four years with her old coach, my daughter is lost, having had all skill coached out of her, besides "booting" the ball up-field. :rolleyes: . . . the weekends, holidays, and summers that I have with my daughter were never enough to overcome the repetitive and bad coaching). Since my daughter needs hidden, she now plays forward.

    My daughter's team just completed a tournament today and were outscored 14-0 over the course of three games. The other "select teams" were composed of teams where the vast majority of girls had played with each other for a few years at the rec-level and whose parents had hired or otherwise obtained a decent coach at the U-6 level (I asked the parents of the three teams we played).

    My daughter talked to me for an hours after the last game today; today, she realized that she isn’t one of the better players on her team and told me she doesn’t know what she is doing. She asked me to pick her up everyday that she doesn’t have practice and “really teach her soccer.” I’m laughing now, but it broke my heart earlier. My ex now realizes there is a big problem; astonishingly she came up to me after the game and admitted that it was a mistake to let our daughter play on the previous team. So, I am hopeful that I can help my daughter become the player she wants to be.

    End of background . . . .

    With the all of the above in mind, I suspect that the primary benefit of "good" coaches at the very young age level is in not instilling bad habits in the players and in providing an environment in which natural growth is facilitated. In other words, I doubt that coaches really "teach" anything to very young players (e.g., through repetition); rather, I suspect that good coaches are more passive, "showing" things to kids for the kids to pick-up on their own and at their own pace. I suspect that good coaches also correct any bad technical habits that develop, before they become serious deficiencies.

    Right now, I'm wondering: (1) what is the value that "select" U-10 teams provide their young players (happy parents who can say that their kid plays select ball? . . . lol), (2) what is the conventional wisdom on providing “structured” play for younger kids, and (3) when is it too young to play competitively?

    I’ve looked on the internet and haven’t really found any answers and I would appreciate perspective other than mine.

    Thanks in advance.
  2. loghyr

    loghyr ex-CFB

    Jul 11, 2006
    If she had not played Rec ball and was just now trying out for this select team, do you think her experience would have been any different?

    Or if you had coached her, would you have expected her to be further along?

    Do you think a bad showing at 10 means she will not blossom later?

    I don't think a 10 year old already has all of their potential all used up. My son is just now starting, at 9, to get confident with ball skills. In main, he suffered from not being aggressive when he was 6 or 7. He would let his team mates take the ball away from him.

    I don't think he got the best coaching back then, and I was his coach for part of that. But I've learned and I hope I am preparing him for a competitive team next year. I'm still his coach and my focus is not on winning but on making him and his team mates better suited for the game.

    I just watched a U11 girl's competitive game yesterday, probably a B versus an A team. The B team had no concept of position, team work, support, or a goalie. The A team did and probably had been playing together either as a Rec team or on an Academy squad.

    I know of U10 Rec teams from last year who could have beaten this squad. The coach appears to have good credentials.

    I think the team could be coached to play better. It might take a couple of years to mold them, but a few years ago, their ability might have been normal for the first time a U11 competitive team played a real game. Academies are changing that here.

    The only thing I thought the coach was doing wrong was his goalie selection - she didn't want the ball and would not go for it in her 6. She wouldn't bend down and she wouldn't wrap it up. She couldn't punt and she put goal kicks in the middle (which the other team converted). I didn't blame her, I blamed her coach.

    Anyway, I think it has been normal for competitive coaches to have to basically start from scratch to develop skills. A trend here is the academy program, basically a PDP on steriods. This basically pushes paid coaching down the age groups.

    I chose not to put my son into it for play, not because of the money or I thought he wouldn't learn skills, but because I wanted him to have a last year of relaxing play. I know he would have learned, we had him do a month of it over the summer.

    I guess I'm saying that being an average player on a competitive B team is not the end of your daughter's soccer career. She is starting to realize that she owns getting better. She is starting to see that it isn't just what she puts in at the team practice which counts, it is also what she does on her own (whether with you or just by herself).

    She is at the best time to develop her skills and if she decides to toughen up, she can develop her mental skills. (I never think it is too old to learn, I'm keeping a few steps in front of my U10s in juggling skills.)

    By the way, you didn't say (or perhaps it is too early to judge), but do you think her new coach will be able to develop her as player?
  3. Li mu bei

    Li mu bei Member

    Jun 5, 2001
    Kettering, OH
    Columbus Crew
    Nat'l Team:
    United States

    For example, she used to be comfortable with the ball at her feet (without playing in a league). Now, she has been trained to react nervously and boot the ball toward the opposing goal, anytime the ball is anywhere near her.

    It's really all she knows how to do.

    She can't even dribble anymore.

    It is as if she unlearned what she knew and didn't pick anything up over the course of four years.

    Regardless, I don't know that I think of it in terms of being "further along," but I do think that she would not be as far behind--she wouldn't have "unlearned" and she wouldn't have the bad habits she has.

    Perhaps she would have different bad habits, but I highly doubt that such potential bad habits would be of the same magnitude as the ones she currently has.

    I don't know. But, as I said, I have hope the she has the desire to invest her time and energy into improving her game. If she doesn’t, it’s not the end of the world.

    I must have communicated something I didn’t intend; I don’t believe that my daughter’s potential has somehow vanished.

    I related the background material, including the material on my daughter, to highlight my personal experience with the danger of the poorly coached young, to highlight the absurdity of serious competition for the very young, and to—ultimately—pose my three questions, which are at the end of my post.

    I honestly have no frame of reference for the youth game, other than as a player. I haven’t been a “professional” youth soccer aficionado, like I am of the senior international and international club game (I feel that it’s my job to follow the sport at those levels . . . lol.).

    If you don’t mind me asking, what is your background with the game?

    I’ve found some links and those sources seem to indicate that improving technical ability should be the primary goal through the age of 14.

    So it seems like the experts would approve of what you are doing.

    I think that I understand what you are saying.

    Personally, I think the U-11 or U-12 age is where kids should make the choice to play seriously, if that is what they want. It’s what I’m actually doing with my son (he lives with me, while my daughter lives with my ex).

    Regardless, every U-10 girls teams that looked decent at the tournament, had been together at the rec level with a coach who, at the very least, didn’t hurt the children’s development.

    So, as paid coaches are pushed down the age groups, I guess that I’m still wondering what the value of a paid coach is for the U-10 girls level. Is it just to make certain that the kids are not ruined? That they don’t regress? That they get ahead? Is it the prestige of having a paid coach? Is it the product of too much disposable income? Is it anything definite or concrete?

    As I saw the matter this weekend, there was very, very little difference among the better U-10 girls teams (i.e., the three teams that beat my daughters team). They ALL had continuity for several years and, presumably, coaches who were minimally competent during those years of continuity.

    I remember juggling with my dad when I was 6. I thought that we were pretty cool when we juggled seven times in a row (my highest in a row ever). Lol.

    I’m not certain, as it is too soon to tell. But, I am willing to speculate that—AS IS—she is too far behind the curve to be a worthwhile investment of the time and attention of her coach. So, I have my doubts. I really do think that it will be entirely up to my daughter to improve enough that she becomes a contributing member of the team. She really shouldn’t be there, at least right now. If I am forced to be honest, as a coach, I wouldn’t have accepted her on the team. She offers to it nothing other than $$$$$.

    I guess I am looking at it as the first major opportunity of her life for my daughter to see the value of hard-work.
  4. loghyr

    loghyr ex-CFB

    Jul 11, 2006
    Before I started as an U6, I learned to play on the mean streets of a Scottish village. I played for 2-3 years as a teenager on what would probably now be a rec team. The guy who coached was mainly doing it for his two sons and he didn't bother to teach us anything. We won games and seasons, but there was no real practices or pressure.

    After I started coaching, I've progressed up the USYA coaching ladder to the point I know when I have to step down if I want my son to go farther. I know I'm a better coach for young kids than some people who've played through college. By young, I mean U8 and below.

    So the reason she is on the B team instead of the A team is probably your appraisal. As she is now, she couldn't make an A team. But you have to remember the reason she is on the B team instead of a rec team is that she did show potential. Either she is fast (which I suspect since they have her at forward) or she showed some skill that you are not being objective about.

    As you orginally stated, they selected 10 girls who need to be developed. That is probably normal for a B team and they have to believe that they can develop some of these girls. Whether she emerges from it does depend on if she is willing to work.

    Right now, for me, having my son in soccer is about him learning the value of hard-work. He saw that in part last season when I always pitted him against the talented but arrogant player on the team. He went from being ridiculed by the kid to showing him up. He responded well to the taunting and used it as fuel to get better in soccer.

    Over this past summer, I've seen him start to own his development. He'd go to practices at a PDP and whine on the way there, but stay late to work with a coach. He's willing to do things with me that stressed him out in baseball and made him quit - the equivalent of playing catch, one touch passing.

    I've found that it is hard to be objective when evaluating my son. At times I expect more from him than I do others. When I hear others praise him, I tend to ask what are they getting out of it? E.g., is this a coach who next year I might be paying $50 a month for training? And other times I tend to think more highly of him than I suspect I should.

    I'd be happy if he could boot the smack out of a ball - it is a skill he hasn't mastered. But right now as an U10 player, I'm happy to expose him to skills, to push the envelope of what he is comfortable with, and to get him ready for competitive training next year.

    The U11 girls competitive team I watched yesterday was a really bad team. So much so that it would be hard to judge how good individuals on the team really placed. I suspect that given a season of working on team work, they can mesh and be competitive. The coach wasn't going ballisitic or verbally insulting the girls.

    Could that be true with your daughter's team as well? Remember, they have just started working together and they are being compared to teams which have had the core players together for some time.

    In any event, your daughter is starting to realize the most important concept I came across this summer:

    The team practice is where you get together to work on being better as a team. If you hope to get better as an individual, are you scheduling individual practices for yourself?
  5. JohnR

    JohnR Member+

    Jun 23, 2000
    Chicago, IL
    You're right, a good coach of a ULittle team won't do a whole lot of game coaching, and won't overcoach the training, either. Although emphasizing the fundamentals (ball striking, head up, reading the game) should be expected and delivered.

    Is that better than no coach at all? Certainly for the majority of kids who have parents who lack soccer backgrounds. In your case, maybe not. But it sure as shooting shouldn't be worse.

    Your daughter had a dud coach and a dud experience. That's very much too bad. But they're not all like that for the ULittles.
  6. Bird1812

    Bird1812 New Member

    Nov 10, 2004
    How does a 9 or 10 year old schedule practices for him or herself? Obviously they are dependent on their parents to do so, but the biggest problem (although this is not the case with Li mu bei) is that most parents put their faith in the fact that the club coach of select teams know what they are doing. The reality of the situation is that many times these coaches know very little more than what the parent knows and often what they do know is detrimental to the age group they are coaching. How often do we see coaches who think they are coaching adults in small bodies? Too often IMO and perhaps the issue of the team practice being the time to prepare a better team might be considered an example. You can't produce a better team, if you don't first produce better players. The training that is done pre-puberty should be based on the individual first, not the team. I'd be willing to bet Li mu bei's daughter's coach doesn't understand this.

    Li mu bei, can you get your daughter out of this situation? Any chance the club might let you coach the team? The longer your daughter learns bad habits, the harder it will be to undo the damage. Several years ago, a friend of mine started coaching a U11 premier team. This was a team of exceptional athletes and he had grown up playing soccer in another country, so he knew the game pretty well (although that doesn't necessarily mean you know how to coach kids, but in this case he did a good job). Prior to this, those kids had learned the fundamentals from the parent coaches in their community soccer programs and one group of kids in particular had been taught to trap the ball inproperly, by meeting the ball with their shinguards. I don't think I have to tell you where the ball goes when you do this (and BTW, most of the advance coaches I know aren't teaching kids to "trap" the ball, but instead to "receive and prepare" the ball). My friend was going to try to break them of this habit. He coached those kids for 2 years, but I now watch them play in high school and they are still trapping the ball with their shinguards. Old habits die hard and kids are apt to revert to what they were intially taught when under pressure. I often see this in the premier league, even when clubs and coaches do their best to teach the kids to play a possession style of soccer. When in a tough game, the kids revert to the bang it down the field style that many were taught in their community soccer programs. The kids that do not are usually the ones that were taught early to keep the ball on the ground. They call the years 9 to 12 the Golden Age of Soccer Learning, but from my observations, I'm beginning to think, it really has to start even earlier.

    USvsIRELAND Member+

    Jul 19, 2004
    This probably is not the best advice buuuut....

    Sign her up for a rec team. You coach it. Play her central attacking midfield and let her dribble, shoot, etc. all she likes. It will boost her confidence if she does well and let her practice against not as good players.
  8. Willis Carrier

    Willis Carrier New Member

    Aug 25, 2006
    I agree with this...Your daughter will get more playing time and the coaching you desire. Her teamates will get better coaching too. You'll get to spend more time with your daughter (something that's hard to do with working parents even when the parents aren't split) before she turns into a teenager and decides that you don't know anything.

    If she was already "good" but playing on a team with "excellent" players, I might make a different suggestion because she'd be learning from better players. In your case, there doesn't sound like there are that many better players to learn from.
  9. scoachd1

    scoachd1 Member+

    Jun 2, 2004
    Southern California
    She was playing "recreational" soccer not "competitive." The problem is coaching. If you want to give her a fighting chance to play at a higher level (and she's way behind now) you need to get in with a good coach as soon as possible. What you should look for are coaches that demand their players do the correct things the correct way. Require players to use both feet roughly equally and play the ball with the left foot when its on the left side. They should demand excellence and the environment should be one of players working hard to improve their game.

    The instruction at this age should primarily be on individual skills. Games are used to give players a chance to use their skills. They should praise players when they use their skills.

    Kids in this environment will want to win games so coaches will generally play to win but will work to get kids playing time where they can and will not teach kids to play the wrong way in order to achieve short term gains. Your daughter probably won't be able to get much playing time on a team like this in the short term. But if you think she is willing to stick it out for a full year of training without out a lot of playing time and she has the athletic ability to hang with the rest of the kids she will have a chance.

    I realize that this is counter to the popular advice that most will give (for example some suggest going down to recreational ball). A few years ago I probably would have agreed with them. But I've seen examples of kids thrive. A good friend of mine's son didn't start to blossom until he was U15. For several years he was a sub with minimal playing time but got a ton of time on the ball and faced skilled players each week in a fanstastic training environment. Ended up getting a FULL ride (not just money for books and a few extra dollars - something that is far more common for boys if they are lucky enough to get some money) at an outstanding University. In the end its not about money for school, but instead giving your daughter a chance to succeed if she really wants to play soccer.

    The hard part is finding a club like this. You have to spend time watching practices. Since you played you should be able to pick out whether coaches are correcting poor technique or not.
  10. Bird1812

    Bird1812 New Member

    Nov 10, 2004
    I am all for putting kids in the best training environment available and expecting them to work hard once there, but that should include playing time at U10. In fact I think it should include playing time through the pre-puberty years as well. And this has nothing to do with PC policy on playing time. It has to do with kids being allowed to learn the game on the field of play.

    And any parent that uses possible scholarships as motivation, whether it's to motivate the kid or themselves (to get the kid into such an environment) does both the kid and the sport a disservice. Kid should be motivated by the fact that soccer is fun to play WHICH IS WHY THESE KIDS SHOULD SEE PLAYING TIME! Motivation should be soccer is fun to play, even more fun to play if played well. End of story.

    Frankly, I just minutes ago had a conversation with a former South American national team player, who agrees whole heartedly with what I am saying. He is appalled with the pressure we put on our kids so early and the fact that kids in the US never have a chance to play just for the sake of playing and enjoyment. In his country, a child this age wouldn't even be in a competitive soccer program yet.
  11. scoachd1

    scoachd1 Member+

    Jun 2, 2004
    Southern California
    Playing time is certainly important. But this is to say its critical that a kid get to play in every game with his elite team. There are other places to play. Schools. Recreational teams. Friendly games where the team is not that interested in results. For example I know a kid that plays in a recreational Hispanic league. Its not great, but the level isn't bad and some kids would be ODP level in many places.

    Before he started playing club soccer, he an average recreational player who was a small kid with quick feet who was pretty fast. Since he was small, unskilled and not particularly fast he didn't get much playing time in club. Usually 15 minutes would be a lot for most games - but within a few months - parents starting noticing the difference in his play. Fast forward a year and a half and he still small but is now the dominant player on his recreational team. He's also learned how to shoot and learned how to take advantage of his quickness so now he's up to playing up half the game. He's still not through puberty so he's still at a physical disadvatage, but when he does several coaches believe he will be one of the best players on the team.

    Mention of scholarship was simply to define the level of player. Actually the best motivation is when players are learn to enjoy the process of improving. Then practice is not work, but instead an enjoyable part of the process of improving. Certainly games are fun as well.

    The activities for children are probably much more structured than many places in the world. Certainly more structured than when I grew up. I also tend to believe the significant increase in structure overall has not been a good thing.

    But the issue is whether someone should go into a select (AKA competitive) vs non-select (AKA recreational) environment. The kids on the select teams I'm involved with love to play the game. You see many with a ball where ever they go. They play at school. They play against each other at half-time when they are hanging around in between tournament games or watching siblings play. Some play in several leagues.

    Pressure is a matter of outlook. Some kids are terrified by taking PK's while others love the thrill. The kids on the select teams I've worked with want to succeed and enjoy the process of getting better. The trick is teaching the kids to learn to enjoy working hard which is what the best coaches and club environments are able to do.
  12. Bird1812

    Bird1812 New Member

    Nov 10, 2004
    Just my opinion, but I think the club a youth player plays for (and pays for) should be responsible for providing that player with all the necessary playing time needed to develop. The onus is on the club and the coach. A player and his/her parents shouldn't have to go looking elsewhere to find that extra needed playing time (unless of course it is in an unstructured environment like the backyard or school playground). Coaches from Mass. who use the excuse that if a player is not getting playing time on their club team, they can always dual roster for their town or school teams is a copout IMO. These coaches also tend to lament the fact that the town and school coaches haven't got a clue and undo all that the clubs have taught these same players by providing often contradictory instruction.

    And here is an additional point to be made. Laureano Ruiz, who has overseen the youth programs at Barcelona and currently at Racing Santander has been quoted as saying "Physcial fitness is achieved during matches and maintained during training" and points out that teams that may be training very hard pre-season must still have games arranged for them in order to begin to get match fit. He goes on to say that this is just as true for substitutes or players who are recovering from injury. So if a youth coach is not providing playing time to a youth player because that player is not deemed up to snuff (whether it's skill, size or whatever), then that coach is also denying that player the ability to become match fit. I have to ask why would this be so? I think the obvious answer is that team success is deemed more important then individual player success.

    The difference between the experience of kids in South America and those of kids here in the US is that those kids are learning the game in a non-structured setting from their fathers, brothers and the kids down the street. This certainly doesn't mean these kids aren't competitive or that no pressure is ever placed on them to succeed within that format, but no one is telling them, "We have one game this week and you can't play because we might not win if you do." In the US, we are willing to jeopardize the learning aspects of game participation in favor of competition for competition sake and then we wonder why we can't produce high level soccer players. To quote Ruiz again, too many are competition addicts who allow the need to win (the euphoria of winning) ahead of a player's need to learn the game.
  13. TyffaneeSue

    TyffaneeSue moderator
    Staff Member

    Nov 15, 2003
    San Jose Earthquakes
    I don't know what you all call "recreational" soccer, but any child who stays with a coach for 4 years is not participating in recreational soccer as I understand it.

    I am a board member with our regional AYSO, and we truly are recreational. All volunteers, no permanent teams (different coaches every year unless a parent is coaching), emphasis on getting out there, trying out different positions, making friends, and having fun. We don't officially keep score until U12, though the kids always know who's winning anyway. We also support our coaches with a ton of professional training and hire professional trainers to come to practices and assist the coaches so as to avoid the "parent coaches who teach kids bad habits" accusations.

    Our area used to have an elite club system that complemented AYSO, recruiting the very best players starting at age 10 or 11--as you note, Lmb, a good age for kids to make that decision-- for teams that played year-round. A lot of those players were so motivated that they continued to play AY--to be with their friends--while participating in club soccer. That system worked well, I thought, but then a couple of parents decided to grow the club league (after all, there is money to be made in that business) so are trying to keep the elite designation while essentially allowing any child to join the league. They do differentiate between recreational and competitive teams, but I have heard horror stories from a number of parents about abusive coaching techniques and poor player management.

    Even worse, they are forming "recreational" club teams with kids as young as 5 (similar to Lmb's daughter's experience) and locking them into positions despite the fact that it's not developmentally appropriate. Some of the kids may enjoy it, but it's mostly a status thing for the parents.

    All my kids have played soccer, and the youngest, who is 9, is an excellent player. He loves AYSO, but we have a fall league only, and I just cannot see getting him involved in any of the local club leagues. But that is a different dilemma.

    I agree with USvsIreland and Willis C--if it were my daughter, I would sign her up for an AYSO-type league and volunteer to coach. Maybe once she reacquires the mindset that soccer is supposed to be fun, the rest will come back too.
  14. eplkewell

    eplkewell Member

    Aug 27, 2004
    Grand Rapids, MI
    I in no way consider myself to be a youth soccer expert. I instead think of myself as more or a product of the youth soccer system. I'm a college student, and I grew up playing rec soccer. I played only rec leagues through middle school, and in high school, finally began playing club soccer. However, neither of these experiences helped me as much as the additional work I did by myself. I'm aware most nine- and ten-year-olds won't have the ambition to do this (or even most high school players for that matter), but the best way to improve is repetition. I got my high school coach to show me a couple of touches I could practice and how to shoot a ball, then I spent hours a day practicing it. I always felt that lower level soccer should be about playing soccer. Coaching, I felt, was only necessary as far as putting players in positions and making sure someone brought a treat for after the game. Kids will learn the most by playing the game when they are with others, and working on their 'skill' on their own time.

    As far as positions go at a young age, I'm in favor of everyone playing everywhere. Until you are at least in middle school, no player should be a midfielder or a forward. I played as a defender almost exclusively until my junior year of high school. When I was asked to play midfield, I found myself unprepared to play a new position. You never know where a person is going to be needed to play ten years down the line, so everyone whould be capable of playing everywhere.
  15. scoachd1

    scoachd1 Member+

    Jun 2, 2004
    Southern California
    The role of the youth coach & club should be to provide good solid technical instruction and an achievement oriented atmosphere. But if the players want to be good, they are going to have to practice and play outside the structure of the club. The young player in question is behind. The only way she is going to catch up is to be taught what to do and then spend the time on her own doing it. The rest of the players should not have to put their development on hold for her to catch up if she ever does.

    I don't find recreational ball an issue with younger players. If they are taught what to do and why to do it, their time spent playing provides more reptitions.

    Youth and professional levels are different as are younger and older players. With younger players the practices and games should almost be interchangeable. Also, if you have a good environment, your practices can be games and even greater intensity than games.

    As far as development goes, you cannot let the development of players that are not prepared to play at a level impede the development of the rest of the players that are. Recreational soccer does this and that is why it is a very poor player development environment.

    You got the first part right - the US is behind in coaching particularly at the youngest ages where players learn the fastest. But that is rapidly changing and that is why our younger players are much more skilled than they used to be.

    As far as competition goes, it is far more cut-throat elsewhere than in the US. Everyone tries to make the top clubs, but only a fraction of those that try are selected. Of those that make the top club, if you are playing well you are with the first team. The moment you drop your form, another kid is in your place. The US is a country club environment by comparison.

    Your knowledge is primarily based on what you read rather than personal experience. Here's something from topdrawer about a pretty good U14 player from Cal-North

    To get a better idea of where Sebastian stood, Francisco took his son back to Buenos Aires when he was 11 and managed to get him a training date with his favorite club, Argentine giants River Plate.

    “I took him to River Plate just to see the level, the difference there. The kids there play because they have no other choice, they feel it’s the only way the family can keep up, the same as Brazil,” Francisco said. “There were 60 guys at a tryout and they were only taking 5, and my son was one of the 5 they invited.”
  16. scoachd1

    scoachd1 Member+

    Jun 2, 2004
    Southern California
    AYSO is not the only model of recreational play. For example, in little league baseball kids are often picked in an "organization" when they are younger and move up together as they get older. They key definition of recreational play is that everyone that joins gets put on a team. In select, only the kids that are selected get to make the team. Where the definitions get a little bit blurred is something like the old AYSO+/YDP programs where everyone gets to play on a team, but teams are selected by ability grouping.

    I was also part of AYSO and knew/know many of the people in the strongest regions as well as those in programs like plus/progressive play/YDP etc. A key part of learning is environment and the difference between AYSO and a better club is pretty drastic.

    For a while I was involved in both AYSO and club soccer. I used to hear all kinds of horror stories about clubs in my rounds at AYSO conferences. But the funny part was that I had heard from some insiders that many of the National Board of Directors had their own players playing on club while at the same time bad mouthing it.

    Its also funny when you talk about positions at club compared to AYSO. When I go watch recreational soccer games I often see kids the mid-field stripe appear as a line which players dare not cross. I'm sure it exists with some really poor club coaches, but I can't recall ever seeing kids play that way. There are certainly some very good AYSO coaches and many poor club coaches. For example I coached my kid in AYSO and I like to think I am a pretty good coach. But in my experience, many of the better AYSO coaches in a region will take a bunch of kids and form club teams only to become some of the worst club coaches.

    If your youngest is a boy (I'm less sure about girls) who might want to play at a higher level when he gets older, you best move him to a good soccer environment soon. If you know the game well enough to teach your child and have some good Hispanic leagues then you can wait a few more years. But otherwise, you child will be fighting a very large uphill developmental battle.
  17. Bird1812

    Bird1812 New Member

    Nov 10, 2004
    Sorry Dave, but I don't buy what you are selling. You speak of kids who can't keep up holding back better players. In the US, those better players are held back by the simple fact that rarely are they moved to a higher level because the team would suffer if they were. Our focus in the US is on team success not individual player success and the responsibility of how to improve as a player is placed on those that are often the least likely to know what to do, the parents' of young players. And isn't that exactly the reason that the second child does better than the first? The tenacious parent, such as myself, learns from the mistakes with the first. Until youth coaches in the US can understand the difference between team success and individual success, I don't see the US producing many top level male soccer players. As long as there are youth coaches who can rationalize 9 and 10 year olds sitting the bench any who do make it will do so despite of the system, not because of it.

    I base what I know on what I read? And then you go on to tell us what you read in Top Drawer? Whatever, but I suspect my experience is much like your own, involved with a nationally ranked program, who does a pretty good job in terms of success at high level national tournaments, but could do a much better job in terms of educating the players within that organization.

    There is a major difference between clubs like River Plate and youth clubs in the US - and it comes in the form of those who finance the clubs. That highly competitive environment which you speak comes from the fact that players are competing for a free ride to a possible professional career, but that certainly doesn't mean that every professional club creates a cutthroat environment for their youth players. While many in the US may envision themselves to be at the same level, the fact is the typical youth club in the US should be considered a service agency designed to provide kids with a soccer education that is paid for by their parents. And clubs in the US should be looking to the professional youth clubs across the world to find the best way to educate the kids in their programs. Not just the annointed ones, but all the kids, and that means finding opportunities for those kids to play is part and parcel of the kids' education and the clubs' responsibilities, otherwise don't take these kids into the program. Or designate them what they are, a practice player (which is what my club is now doing).
  18. TyffaneeSue

    TyffaneeSue moderator
    Staff Member

    Nov 15, 2003
    San Jose Earthquakes
    Never would I say that AYSO is the only youth recreational league! I am familiar with other models in other sports as well as other models in soccer. The complaints I hear about club teams come from parents with kids on those teams. We have one person on our board who has three kids, one of whom played club soccer for a few years. The girl is now 13 and is back at AYSO, where her mom says she is finally happy and playing better than she has in years. (When she mentioned this to me, it reminded me of Li's story.) As for my youngest, he's been in camps and clinics taught by Earthquakes players where he has been one of the few (if not the only) non-club player and also one of the youngest, and he has more than held his own. I'm not really worried about AYSO ruining him, and the people who run our club system are corrupt, so I am going to have to look farther afield (but not too far) if he (not I) decides he wants to play club soccer.

    But I digress. The problem I see with club sports (and many other professionally oriented activities for kids) is that the focus is on selling the parents (all too willing to believe) that their kids are destined to be stars. BS. The kids spend years and years practicing or taking classes for 4-6 hours a day, they skip birthday parties and extracurriculars and friends to focus on whatever. And then at age 13 or 14 they crash and burn psychologically or physically (my 20 yo daughter's boyfriend was an ODP soccer player who can't run at all thanks to injuries, and anecdotally I understand this is not uncommon) and whoops--there went a chunk of their childhood. I wouldn't call it child abuse because in most cases the kids are as enamored of the star ideal as their parents, but it is sad.

    I'm not fooling myself that my kids will be athletes (they do have my klutz genes, after all). My job is to support them in whatever endeavors they choose to pursue, with the hope that they grow up to become high functioning and happy members of society. (If you know anything about pro athletes in general, the prognosis for a happy productive life is not great.)

    Bottom line: why recreational soccer? Well, not because it will facilitate a child becoming a star, because it probably won't, but because it imparts lessons that will help my children succeed no matter how they choose to spend their personal/professional lives. Most significantly, how to work with a wide range of talents--most of us don't get to spend our working lives with handpicked superstars--to help motivate those who aren't at our level and to work around those who insist on daisy picking. How to serve as a model for kids who are less capable.

    AYSO coaches may be mere parents, but if their philosophy is to let the kids play (something we emphasize in our region) then that forces the kids to take more responsibility for their own actions, to think about where they are and what they are doing rather than to await orders from the coach. I won't say that club teams don't offer the same opportunities for personal growth, but because a lot of the teams around here are coached by guys (mostly men) whose egos are on the line, that kind of individual growth is far less likely than it is in a more kid-centric setting. Of course there are tradeoffs, but to say that one system is unilaterally superior to another just isn't true.
  19. Bird1812

    Bird1812 New Member

    Nov 10, 2004
    Since I do read so much, here's one I came across, written before the 1998 World Cup that provides some insight into some professional clubs' youth programs. As an aside, how much have we changed since the article was written? Comparing my own two kids who are 8 years apart, I can say from personal experience that we have changed a lot and yet, it seems, the song remains the same.

    And here is another thing to consider that defines the difference between the professional clubs' youth programs and our own amateur youth clubs. The professionals design their training programs, in part, according to the individual needs of their players. There will be collective sessions when the squad works as a whole, but there will also be small group training where players of similar type can work on specific areas of their game, based on their strengths and weaknesses. So if you are going to be comparing the professional clubs to our amateur clubs to excuse what goes on with some of our youth teams, let's make sure we are comparing apples to apples. Obviously we are not.
  20. JohnR

    JohnR Member+

    Jun 23, 2000
    Chicago, IL
    Bird -

    Brazil doesn't "cull" until ages 14/15?

    Adriano - Flamengo, age 7
    Ronaldinho - Gremio, 7

    While googling Ronaldo, I see that Cristiano Ronaldo moved several hundred miles at the age of 12 to join Sporting Lisbon's youth squad.

    I'm fine with the notion espoused by Pele of holding off on professional contracts, but in terms of deciding which youngsters will receive free training, the professional clubs can, will, and do cull at very young ages. They are much more demanding & rigorous than in the U.S. They are correct from an economic stance in doing so, and I daresay that such rigor ends up with better adult soccer players, too.
  21. CVAL

    CVAL Member

    Dec 8, 2004

    Ah there you have gone and said it. To be a professional player 3 hrs of practice a week is fine until at least 18.

    You can never tell who will be good well, until they are playing in the pros and even then you might not really know.
  22. JohnR

    JohnR Member+

    Jun 23, 2000
    Chicago, IL
    With our guys, that is truer more often than we would like!
  23. Bird1812

    Bird1812 New Member

    Nov 10, 2004
    Note this from The Principles of Brazilian Soccer by Jose Thadeu Gonsalves in reference to Brazilian professional clubs' youth programs:
    And someone is confused as Wikpedia lists Ronaldinho at Gremio from 1997 - 2001 which would make him 17, not 7.

    And Andriano was 15.
  24. JohnR

    JohnR Member+

    Jun 23, 2000
    Chicago, IL
    You are confusing their pro debuts with when they were selected for a professional youth team. They each joined a professional youth team when they were 7. Thereby beating out many, many other kids who wished to enjoy the honor.

    For example, "When Adriano was 7 his mother took him to the Rio de Janeiro club Flamengo where he mainly played five-a-side football until he was ten, after which he began to get a name for himself as a gifted central defender/left-back at the club's youth team."

    PERFDBDAN New Member

    May 6, 2004

    Your quote from Gonclaves comes from page 30 of his book. Reread the previous pages, and in particular the immediately preceding paragraph in which Gonclaves describes players going to professional clubs at "very young" ages and clubs with selection and professional training for a few as young as age 6. He notes the need for competent coaches at these ages, and for players at the "Development Dept. 6 to 9 years old" to be the best "educators" in the club.

    Gonclaves experience is with the Brazilian club Vitoria. I have seen the same - players selected for training with the club at age 6 and 7 - in the Brazilian clubs Vasco da Gama and Flamingo. You will see it at the "Talent Days" run by Ajax, which is a huge tryout held for players aged 6 to 14.

    Gonclaves does recommend that players wait to tryout out with a professional club till they are mature. Wise advice if you have seen the conditions present in many professional clubs in Brazil. Probably wise for most players who need to mature both physically and mentally to present the best image of themselves.

    The overwhelming amount of peer reviewed research suggests that separation by ability leads to the best development of players - both those at the top and those at the bottom. You do need good coaching, as well. But to argue that we should have one and not the other is like arguing we only need water and can skip breathing. Both are essential. Both need to be implemented.

    People like Fleck are often confused and uninformed about what transpires at the top clubs. They grossly over generalize. They assume that because one club separates players by age 8 or 9 and discards those not taken, all do that. Very bad assumption. I know many good clubs that reevaluate their talent on a regular basis, moving players up and down.

    The comment, "Fleck also said he opposes the practice of highly skilled kids ‘playing up into higher age divisions". is symptomatic of his distorted world view. He is a minority of one in this view, with even such as Tom Turner (and you know what I think of him), the coaching staff at clubs like Ajax, the US National Team coaches all disagree with Fleck and encourage playing up in age when a player dominates his own age group.

    Finally, we should compare apples to apples. You have a large body of knowledge gained from reading and investigation and your experiences with your daughters in Massachusetts town and club soccer. Your experiences are broader than most, but limited. Many clubs do train players individually. Many offer not only individual training during team training, but special individual training on days when the team does not train. I think many of our differences stem from our different experiences and I would hazard that yours are more limited than mine or scoachd's knowing a little of his background. There are many clubs across the country that do far more than you know or appreciate.

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