THE FUTURE OF US SOCCER
The only country in the world that has more children playing soccer other than the United States of America is Brazil. This South American nation has a rich history of producing world class players, yet their system has less structure than the current system used here in the U.S. In 2007, the United States Soccer Federation introduced the U.S. Soccer Development Academy to encourage clubs to develop U16 & U18 Male soccer players. The developmental approach was introduced for clubs to start creating elite soccer players and reduce the focus on winning games. Although this approach taken by US Soccer is good for the game, many US Youth Soccer State Associations realize that player development needs to become a priority and take place with the younger age groups. FC Torjäger realizes the Academy approach is vital if our players and club desire to compete on a higher level.
WHAT ARE ACADEMIES?
An Academy is when a club/association keeps a collection of players within an age group as opposed to placing them on individual teams. Some Academies do not “cut” or “tryout” younger players and all children that want to play can participate. Kentucky Youth Soccer highly recommend that clubs keep all U9 players who try-out to stay within the program. The Academy is a concept that is based on the professional soccer club systems from around the world. There are no “A, B, and C” teams with these Academies as players stay in pools and can be moved back and forth according to their progress and development throughout the seasonal year. The emphasis is on developing players and FUN! Currently travel/select clubs throughout the majority of the United States have players attend a one or two day “tryout.” Players are then placed on teams according to their abilities, or cut from having the opportunity to be coached and play/train within a competitive environment.
The Academy approach accommodates and accepts that younger players still have a lot of learning and growing to do within the game and recognize that putting them in an environment where they would receive more training than matches is more developmentally appropriate. This approach would allow clubs to keep players in larger pools, foster development over winning, and let these young players play freely. Success is a byproduct of player development. There is a saying that without technique there’s no tactics. With the Academy approach, the focus on improving the individual player’s technique will be emphasized because players will be in an environment where they will not have to worry about making poor decisions or fear of failure during the match. Young players need to get a “feel” for the game; to learn to play instinctively. Young players will be allowed to show their abilities in an environment in which they will still be playing against competition without the “fear” of losing a match. At the same time young players will learn to make decisions in a match-like setting while getting more touches on the ball, thereby improving their technical development. If clubs are going to produce better teams in the future, then clubs must first produce players that are better technically. There is absolutely no way that anyone can predict how good a nine/ten year old player is going to be. So many players get missed when we have them “tryout”, which can cause these young players to get discouraged if they don’t make the level. This can cause a snowball affect, as parents become disgruntled and look to move to another organization so that their child can play on the so called “A” team. Coaches have roles and responsibilities as well as taking care of our actions without letting egos undermine our real purpose. With young players it is the coaches’ job to develop every player without discretion of ability. How many times have we seen late bloomers? An Academy will provide an environment that will allow these young players to experiment and play without the fear of losing a match. The Developmental Academy will foster an environment where players will look to be more creative, take risks, become better with the ball and have more fun. Young players are dropping out of the sport of soccer by the time they are 13 or 14 years of age. Research has shown that 70% of all kids drop out of sports. The main reason soccer is no longer fun (according to players who drop out) is due to pressure to win or failure due to an emphasis on results over development and FUN. The excitement of playing matches also wears off when they become a teenager due to the pure fact of having so many games so early in their young soccer careers.
ADULT: COACH & PARENT DEVELOPMENT
Are adults involved with the youth soccer game more concerned about the outcome of the single match or season and failing to see the bigger picture? Or is the message received by soccer authorities confusing because nobody really knows how to measure success? Currently, in many Youth Soccer Leagues, the model to measure success is on a result based format. With each passing season the amount of problems reported are increasing within these leagues. It is usually due to sideline behavior by the coach or parents and pressure to win. When observing teams that play under the pressure to win games, the quality of soccer and the player’s confidence in taking risks does not prevail. The majority of adults in today’s society played sports growing up in a non structured environment. They could play without any pressure, without adults dictating their every move and would solve problems for themselves. Society has changed in many different ways resulting in fewer opportunities for children to engage in “free play.” In order for us to keep developing technically efficient soccer players and creating teams that play without fear of taking risks, we have to create a happy medium where everyone can experiment with the game. Youth Soccer Clubs are now businesses with the common theme among clubs being “if we don’t create winning at a young age, parents become disgruntled and take their child to another organization.” Realistically does it matter who wins at these young age groups? Do 16 year olds remember their season record from when they were 8 years old? The measuring tool that should be used for youth team/club success at the youngest age groups is overall player development rather than wins and losses. Coaches go through a season in fear of not just losing games but whether they are going to please the parents. Instead the focus should be about developing players’ enthusiasm and love for the game. In a study conducted by Dr. Brent Walker, (Sports Psychologist for the United States Soccer Federation and Founder of “Play in the Zone”) players and parents were asked simple questions on what aspects of the game they value higher than others. As you will see from the results below, even though the parents were 100% behind a developmental approach, the underlying message is that they still value winning higher than what players do. At first glance you may believe that majority of the coaches and parents have a player development mentality, but with player’s success and competition and playing time rated as high as it is, the underlying focus switches to winning without the parent or coach realizing. “Academy Soccer” may cause adults to perceive that this is just simply going to U9recreational soccer, which is not the case. Actually, the Academy Format is a bridge between Recreational and Challenge levels of play geared for players that aspire someday to play at a higher level. The academy approach would allow for a “true” club environment to be created. Players would not necessarily be placed onto a team but would play with various different players and allow them to experience different competition during training sessions and Play Days. This will also lead to coaching development as now club directors of coaching can “mentor” a new/young coach in this environment. Take away the emphasis of “results” and now these young coaches will be able to teach these young players. We are now getting more young people that are familiar with the game but they don’t want to coach in clubs or a travel environment due to time and commitment. If each club has an Academy then we can get young coaches that have played the game at a higher level to teach without the fear of some parent looking at their watch and/or the result at the end of the match.
This Academy approach is “Player-Centered” and not “Coach Controlled.” Soccer is a player centered game isn’t it? With the Developmental Academy approach young players will be in an environment where they are challenged at their own pace. More players need to be included as opposed to excluded in these younger age groups and this format will do just that. Below is an excerpt from the US Soccer Federations “Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States”: “When we place children in travel soccer too soon the emphasis is subtly being placed on the team result and winning the game, rather than on the individual player’s performance. If the team doesn’t win, then it doesn’t get to play in this league or that division or in this particular tournament. Thus, coaches feel the pressure and start recruiting bigger, stronger kids that can help secure the victory-now. They start playing more of a long ball game and placing the emphasis on direct play. They want the ball out of their end as quickly as possible. What the coaches should be doing is, building out of the back, keeping possession of the ball, encouraging risk takers and fl air and placing the emphasis on the individual’s technical abilities. Are the coaches allowing an environment to flourish that allows the players to make mistakes because they know long term development is what they are really after? The answer is no, because there is too much pressure to succeed at every step along the way. If this coach loses too many games then he risks losing his players to a more “successful” team. The parents will want to move their child to a “winner,” or get rid of him and bring in (in some cases hire) another coach. Thus, the environment becomes individually stifling and the player’s creativity takes a back seat to the winning mentality”.
During the first 2 years of a young referee’s career 7 out of 10 quit officiating games. One of the big reasons they drop out is due to verbal abuse or grief dealt by adults. Referees feel it is not worth the money, time or hassle to help in developing the game. In the Academy approach, young referees will gain invaluable experience in calling a match and not worry about the outcome. Younger referees who are often called upon to call U9 matches can now be “mentored” in an environment that is developmentally appropriate for them as well. Clubs can use players from some of the older age group teams as referees. This in return will allow these older players to give back to the game and gain a better understanding of what it takes to officiate a game. Clubs can then use referee assignors or even club/academy directors to guide these young referees throughout the games. We need to provide an environment for our young referees to learn while managing a quality match. The need to retain future referees is vital. No Referees = No games!!
FC Torjäger ACADEMY GUIDELINES
Each age group will be assigned a group coach or coaches. It is recommended that each coach hold a minimum of a D license or be working towards this achievement. Each coach will have to be approved by Coach Koch. The method for admitting players into the FC Torjäger Academy includes the “No-Cut Policy” for U10 teams and below and is highly recommended for U12 teams. Every player who wishes to join should be accepted unless the numbers exceed the playing space available and/or coaching staff is limited. (To be successful each team should strive for a maximum of a 12:1 player/coach ratio.) Coaches should be clear that the players within their own Academy team are those who desire to play at a higher level. Each coach should promote/advertise that the Challenge Academy is a step above recreation soccer. However, recreational players are permitted to participate should they wish to make the step up.