By Tim Bradbury, Director of Coaching Instruction, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association
Strange days indeed. So many great things going on in youth soccer and, of course, the international stage as well. With the recent performances of Eastern New York ODP boys and girls teams in both the North and South at the Regional Tournament in New Jersey in terms of both style of play and results, one could easily be persuaded that the youth game was in a good place. As requested by the US Soccer national staff, our ODP teams all build out of the back, play a possession-based game that highlights player development and are led by a group of coaches who let the players think and solve the problems of the game themselves. All good stuff.
Then you go home and turn on the TV and the good times roll on. Whether it be the Copa America Centenario or the European Championships, the world’s elite players are easy to watch. The coverage is great, the games are generally entertaining and end-to-end and, most of all, this generation of soccer players seem at last to be soccer fans. They are watching the games, finding their heroes and then, most importantly, trying to duplicate what they have seen on the training fields.
When you turn the lens to the coaching arena ,lots of positive signs that good things are happening. Both US Soccer and the NSCAA continue to evolve their higher level courses making new demands of coaches that can only help improve the environment that youth players get to develop within. US Soccer’s pathway now culminates in three specific A licenses. One A for youth coaches, one A for adults and one A for those coaching in the professional game. I will write more about changes to advanced level courses in the future but if we look at the more locally run courses at F, E and D level the numbers are incredibly positive. Eastern new York will host a record number of F, E and D licenses in the next 12 months. This means that more and more kids will get to be trained and educated in the game by a qualified coach. This summer, Eastern New York will host sold out US Youth National Youth Courses and US Soccer C licenses, and the demand for these courses seems only to be on the increase.
So just when you think the sun is coming up and the road ahead is clear––it hits you like a volley from Messi––the bolt comes in the form of the word commitment.
Soccer at its very best is a holistic game. The growth of the person mirrored by the growth of the player. The relationship between learning to push yourself, to be disciplined and get to practice on time and to stay late practicing on your own, to be prepared to sacrifice your own desires and needs as a player for the good of the team is a journey of moral development, ethics and character and is summed up by the word COMMITMENT.
The word commitment now seems to have morphed into CONVENIENT. I will be there when it suits and if I can which many seem to think is the definition of commitment is PLAIN AND SIMPLY WRONG.
Being committed means you get to all the practices and games that the team you have joined are scheduled to play. It means if they practice or play, then you do too. It means that barring illness or family emergency, you make it. This is as simple truth and one of the lessons that playing sport has always helped young players learn. How have we come so far and got so lost that the word commitment means take it or leave it and do what we want? How can this be helping the character development of our players? How can any parent willingly sign their kids up for two, three or four teams knowing full well that it will be impossible to meet the commitment they have asked for? How do these parents eventually explain to their kids that being committed means you get there no matter what?
I am concerned about the life lessons are kids are learning, I am concerned about the damage we are doing to the concept of team and I am even more concerned by the amount of adults who simply want to scream at coaches who ask players to meet the promises they made when they joined a team.
I have two friends (yes, many of you will be surprised by this) who regularly read these articles. Both recently told me that they enjoyed the last two pieces the best because in addition to recognizing a problem, I presented a solution. Not wanting to let these two down, I strongly urge that we get back to a time where:
1. Our word is our bond.
2. If we join a team we meet all the commitments of the team.
3. If we fail to meet these commitments, we do not blame the team or coach for having the audacity to suggest that good team members get too everything.
4. Sports is seen as great place to build character not tear it down.