Buzzwords. Grrrr. What are buzzwords in the youth soccer world? How about buzzphrases? I just made up a word, yes, but someone had to say it. Both are the bane of a good coach’s existence.
“Winning isn’t important right now”
“Everyone plays at least half a game”
“We have a great track record of college players”
Those are the ones I can think of right now but I’m sure you’ve heard plenty more. Let’s go ahead and examine these, shall we?
Yes, you might see your child playing college soccer someday but the chances of playing college are slimmer by the day due to the explosion of soccer in the country. Plus, if a club has a large listing of former players who have moved on to play in college, take into consideration three things:
- What kind of percentage is it? It’s probably pretty low compared to how many players have come through the system.
- Some clubs are known for counting a kid as one of theirs even if he/she didn’t play but a year with them. That means that kid is probably counted for 2, 3, or even more clubs!
- Based upon the NCAA scholarship allowances, collegiate soccer teams don’t have nearly as many scholarships as other larger sports even at the Division 1 level. You might have 9 full scholarships for an entire Division 1 men’s team. To clarify this it means the equivalent of 9 full scholarships DIVIDED among the 25 or so players. The math tells us that this isn’t very cost effective to pay $1500+ a year for 10 years just for a $1000/year scholarship. D3 teams don’t even have athletic scholarships.
“Everyone plays at least half a game”
This is true at many recreational leagues even if a bit misleading. At the “competitive” level nothing is guaranteed. Let’s therefore focus on the former level.
One kid may play a half but the “star” play can still play an entire game. You’re paying the same amount as that family but why does their kid get more time to play and learn? That’s not fun. Plus, not playing means less time seeing the ball and less time to improve.
While I’ll argue that most coaches encourage fun, not all do. Until you can guarantee that coaches are all fostering a love for the game and letting the kids play as they wish instead of constantly berating them, be wary of this phrase.
“Development” and “Winning isn’t important right now”
I couldn’t not put these together as you’ll probably never hear one without the other. How many times have we all been told that a club or team isn’t about winning but is about development? All the time, right? So often, in fact, that I don’t feel it means anything of substance these days.
Development means to improve but over what time period? With all there is to learn one would normally expect this would be over the long haul. What happens to coaches and teams that don’t win right away? Parents and club directors get antsy. I mean, the parents are spending all of this money and aren’t seeing the wins right away. Directors aren’t seeing them either. This is when we need to ask ourselves when it turns from development into needing to win. A 9 year old isn’t going to have the skillset needed to be a high caliber player. Even most 13 year olds don’t. In my opinion and from experience, the “wins” won’t be seen until 13-14. Coincidentally, that’s when higher order tactics tend to be introduced at a level kids can fully grasp. You can’t run before you can walk so why would a kid be able to understand tactics if he/she can’t be comfortable possessing the ball? You can’t make those quick 1-2 touch passes if you can’t control the ball and put it where you want.
Much of this issue comes down to communication. Parents – through no fault of their own – don’t always understand the end result because they aren’t educated in the nuances of what a coach sees day in and day out. If I’m coaching younger kids I may say they had a great game but someone else may say they didn’t fair so well. Why? Maybe I was focusing on something specific while the other person was only looking at goals scored or conceded. As a coach I’ve had this happen to me and unfortunately it came from a club director and was said to my players! That’s definitely a no go in my book. A good coach will see things in baby steps. If a kid makes a great leap, that’s awesome, but let’s not get carried away and judge the rest of the kids by one standout player. Just like you go through pre-school to elementary school to middle school to high school and they all are built upon each other’s learned skills, sports education is the same way.
It’s a long process and we need to appreciate the little things that will eventually add up. That day when it clicks? BAM! It’s a beautiful thing. Until then, don’t get caught up in the wins and losses. Don’t get discouraged if your team is beat 10-0 by another team full of more physically developed kids. I can almost guarantee you that those kids probably aren’t learning the skills needed and by the time they hit that magic zone of 13-14 years old, they will become frustrated by their formerly “lesser” competition and quite often these are the kids that quit sports. A good coach will keep you in the know and explain what is going on, what the general expectations are, and how the team is doing on a player-by-player basis. If you have a question or concerns, don’t hesitate to ask but please, do it politely; coaches sometimes get skittish around parents. Hopefully we’ve done a good job of putting this information on our website as well.