By Tim Bradbury, Director of Coaching Instruction
I have been involved in the high school debate for more than 20 years. I was actually drawn into it by one of my players, a young man in Rockville Centre, NY. Paul was one of those conscientious teenagers who got the developmental approach and readily understood the benefits of a possession based approach. On one of my free afternoons I offered to go to watch South Side play. Paul was visibly shaken by the idea and suggested that I avoid at all costs. I thought he was kidding and asked why, Paul explained that if he were to control it, calm the game down and pass sideways or backwards he would be immediately yanked off the field and crucified for doing so. I thought he was exaggerating and went anyway. Paul was 100% right and I felt bad that he had to prove his point.
Since the above incident, and after attempting to watch a few other high school games, my initial feelings regarding High School Soccer have simply been reinforced. I understand the issues more clearly now but remain convinced that the high school environment must change if our high level players are going to ever fulfill their potential.
I watched with interest as the Academy system led by the USSF initiated a rule that all Academy players must withdraw from their high school teams. I understood the reason for the rule, they wanted to protect our top soccer athletes and not place them in environments that would damage their soccer growth. I was disappointed that they did not try to educate first, they simply presented a rule (which I know has been broken).
We have many top level players that for a variety of reasons do not enter the Academy system and we have many players that love the game and simply want to be able to fulfill their potential. This article is for you.
Let us first consider the positives of a High School program:
- A good school has a sense of community – anything that helps students feel part of this is good.
- Concept of TEAM – the High school Varsity team may be the one team that truly inspires a good sense of being a loyal team member… players who make it are unlikely to do anything to let the program down.
- Social worth – rightly or wrongly the young men and women who make these teams are placed on a pedestal by the rest of the school community.
- Learning to balance – players invested in these programs, learn to balance the academic and athletic demands.
- Keeping them busy – during the hectic season with 2 hour practices a night and 2/3 games a week plus school work they are unlikely to get in any mischief.
- Endless pasta parties – this one sits in the middle of positive and negative. How much pasta is good for you and seniors driving around younger members of teams at strange times of night can lead to problems. The drinking culture somewhat associated with this is one which should be condemned by all.
The negatives that need to be considered:
- High school sport seems to have no concept of the issue of periodization – the fact that players need rest or their bodies simply start to collapse. Many high school programs under the disguise of captain’s practices started running weeks ago. Too many of these programs are the "old school" marine mentality.
- The rules of the games – constant re-entry means that the uneducated coach simply treats the athletes like pieces of meat. Players are told to run around at 100 miles an hour and when you can’t, I will substitute you for the next horse that can. The rules in high school soccer detract from the game being played in the manner which makes it the world’s most popular sport.
- Uneducated coaches – the majority of teams have coaches involved who have no coaching licenses or background in physical education at all. How can this system be supported? It is the biggest contradiction of all (I hope Principal’s and AD’s are reading this)! How can an establishment dedicated to education put someone in charge of a sport in which they have no education?
- LTADP – Long term athletic development plan – all Club sports have now morphed into annual events. Spring Soccer finishes if you are successful around the end of June. Players should take 4-6 weeks rest for their bodies to recuperate and recharge. High school soccer has already begun (please stop pretending the kids run while the coach sits in his car, this is an insult to all) …High school soccer 6 days a week September through November. As soon as that ends, training starts for College showcases with Club team. We are physically breaking our players down and giving them little chance to succeed.
- Athlete behavior – As a nation we seem unsure of how we expect our best athletes to behave. The knock on affect seems to be high school teams who are too frequently on the wrong side of model behavior. Our young men and women cannot be permitted to believe that putting on a uniform is anything other than a privilege.
- Rules – The rules of high school soccer must be changed to protect the integrity of the game. The rest of the world may have it right, adopt FIFA rules and perhaps the coaches will start treating the players like people rather than pieces of meat.
I hope that all parents and players consider carefully all sides of the high school soccer debate and make a informed decision based upon all the facts.
I have tried in my time in the US to help offer programs and advice to any high school coach interested and would like to take this opportunity to do so again. Please feel free to contact me at this address if you are interested in any of the coaching education programs we offer.