By Tim Bradbury, Director of Coaching Instruction, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association
In teaching courses for the NSCAA , US Soccer and the United States Youth Soccer Association, I have been lucky enough to share many great moments with coaches from all over the US. I have found that no matter what the course or the initials of the hosting organization, there are hundreds of coaches in the youth game willing to give up their family and vacation time to become better coaches. The clear majority have a true love for the game and appear to have player development concerns as their driver. They are holistic in nature and show genuine concern for their players.
Many share the same concerns about the game, parent attitudes and player development issues. Two of these issues were illustrated far too well in one of the last courses I taught with Sam Snow, the US Youth technical director. Each deserves a special mention and each reinforce the same sad point. The present youth sports climate in the US is dominated by the MORE, MORE, MORE mantra and that we have completely lost track of the thought that kids should be allowed to play. To explain a little more clearly, they should be allowed to play in the traditional sense of the word, without pressure, in environments they create where the only goal is to have FUN!
I can think of hundreds of examples that show how FUN is being eradicated from youth sports but for this prose and too keep it as brief read, I will keep it to the two that Sam decided to share with me.
The Kid with Many Clubs-I admit to meeting many players who have had many clubs. Increasingly, I meet a good number who play for more than one club at the same time. I have shared previously stories of ODP kids who play for six teams and on average play six games a weekend. This summer, I had the unfortunate experience of meeting a 7-year-old young lady who is now on her fourth club. I innocently asked the young lady if her family had moved to a new house many times and was quickly told by the lady herself that this was not the case. I want to be as clear and definite as possible on this. Players age seven and under should be playing in environments that put FUN as the primary focus in every practice and every game. They should be allowed to experiment, create and solve problems in any way they choose with no pressure at all FROM ANYONE. They deserve and have the right to play a formal game (4v4) that makes some sense without parents and coaches shouting ridiculous orders at them as they try to make sense of a complicated game. More is not better: more players on the field, more orders from misguided parents and more games that eventually extinguish any love for they may have for the game are all bad ideas.
The Club with an Under-6 Academy Director-Sam sent me a email from a press announcement from a club proudly announcing their Under-6 Academy Director. As if the suggestion of a U6 Academy is not troubling enough, the post on went to announce that the young man taking on the job was an All-American college player, a college coach and had his A license. How on earth do any of these experiences or qualifications help him relate to and can coach in the Under-6 age group? It is simple, they don’t. It is a bit like taking on a job as a chief and saying your qualifications are you have a driving license plus strength and conditioning certificate. The roles and the qualifications just do not match.
Over the years the dangerous words in soccer have changed. We started with Premier (get this title and you’re good and should be playing highly competitive games all over the globe as frequently as you can). Next, we had Elite. This meant you're even better than Premier and should be training seven days a week, playing 200 games a year, and at least have thousands of dollars’ worth of training gear. The astute business men in soccer quickly figured out the “bigger,” the quicker parents came running with check books open. The latest word in the draw them, convince them to do too much too soon and take their money is…Academy. To set the record straight, any club or group of people can use the word Academy, they can create their own methods, player programs and basically teach the game however they want. Indeed many clubs and coaching organizations have done so, all with varying degrees of legitimacy. The official US Soccer Developmental Academy programs are all governed by very firm guidelines, especially in terms of training session/ number of games ratio that players are allowed to be involved in. For a list of the US Soccer Developmental Academy clubs, interested parents should visit ussoccerda.com.
I advise all soccer parents to carefully consider the atmosphere and environment in which their child is learning the beautiful game. I urge this in doing so you avoid a rush to as much competitive soccer as possible, as young as possible. Be careful not to extinguish their love for sport in your search for excellence. Far too many young people are being forced into a life with no physical activity due to misguided first steps when they began.