One of the reasons I started the LeftFoot Coaching Academy was that I was tired of being part of a system that threw away it’s own kids because they weren’t good enough for the top teams at a young ageor they couldn’t keep the players in the program due to losing players to other clubs.
It’s no secret to anyone who’s been part of youth soccer that if you make the lowest team at the youngest age it’s next to impossible to advance through the system. It’s not that there is a direct motive by club administrators, volunteers or coaches to keep kids from developing into better players but we know several factors that influence that process and the solutions to address the issue are few and far between.
The first is COACHING, and why part of the motto of the LeftFoot Coaching Academy is Coaching Matters, because it makes the difference in how a kid responds to physical and emotional stress,–how they learn techniques, gain confidence and succeed. Coaching implies both tactical, technical and developmental approaches. Youth coaches also have to know what is developmentally appropriate both physically and cognitively. How a u10 player is different than a u16 and how it changes both the process of coaching and the appearance of the game.
Youth coaching also has to be appropriate for the process of learning the nuances of the game not just what wins, but the array of tactical and technical diversity that is within the game. The final piece of coaching is the length of coaching which can change year to year, and season to season, but there are few instances of long term coaching without any attachment to team formation or success.
Players get cut, leave, get injured, but rarely do coaches stay with players, they usually only stay assigned to teams. As such, the long term development of the player is then left to the parent and not a seasoned professional dedicated to the player.
The second factor in limiting player development is OPPORTUNITY. Often times the second or third team does not train frequently enough to address the significant levels of agility, coordination, lack of technique and speed of play issues that limited the player selection to begin the process. If you consider a comparison of touches you’ll see why.
Assume for a minute that you played for a coach that wanted a minimum three touches for every game at u10 and u11. Now also assume that included practices and games. Team A is the three touch team and Team B is the one touch team.
Assume that each player on Team A received about 40-60 touches per game and 1,000 to 2,000 touches per practice while Team B averaged 20-30 touches per game and only 500 touches per practice.
Both teams played 10 games, but team A had twenty practices and team B only had ten practices. Yet Team B won a majority of their games and qualified for state and Team A lost their district, but as a we say,” the kids had fun.”
By the end of the season Team A has about 30,000 touches compared to Team B who only had about 5,200. Who do you think will have had the most amount of development over one season or even two seasons when that gap will increase to 60,000 and 10,000 touches respectively! It would take Team B five seasons just to reach the level of touches that Team A had in one year! ( Also consider, if you played defender on either of those teams your touches would decrease even more dramatically.)
When I say that the development curve is based on opportunity what I am including is the opportunity to practice and to play with the ball.
I completely see the challenges here in terms of programming for the third team and the first team for each and every club. And that’s why the third factor limiting player development is the commitment of the other players when the emphasis is based on team training and development. Let me explain.
If we as administrators and coaches organize our programming on the lowest common denominator, the team, and then we factor in how many teams divided by how much training space and then schedule accordingly the number of coaches, managers, uniforms, etc, we need for winter training we end up only organizing space. We then have to guarantee or influence how many players will fill that space and then program for that space is used.
Yet we forget that what really is the most important variable of the entire process is the commitment of the family and individual player. Are they dual sport or committed to only one sport and winter activity? Would certain players come five days a week or just three days a week or maybe just once a week? How can we program for that when we’re programing based on teams?
We get stuck in the process of figuring out how to spread out the costs of the entire program relative to the individual price of the team and each player. In some cases we’ll end up supplementing some teams at the expense of others and one team will have 80% of their players show up while another team will only have 30-45% of their team show up.
Factor in the kids who don’t want to be there, the distractions, the frequency of practice and the multiple sport kids and out of 50 kids in the age group only 20-30 really got anything out of winter training. Furthermore, winter training was hit or miss if it ever landed in the actual games throughout the summer since there was a technical trainer that had no relationship to the actual summer coach and games.
After a while a committed family will then turn to alternatives where other committed families gather, usually another club because of the commitment of the players around them is more intense, more frequent and more reliable.
Over time more players leave because based on the individual needs and desires of the player the original community club can’t program or fulfill the need because the pool of skilled committed players isn’t large enough.
As the story goes, clubs end up losing players from both directions. Clubs lose the top players to the dominant clubs and they lose the bottom players to other sports. Yet as a whole we have yet to develop any depth within the age group or the addition of any new and special players from within, why?
One reason is that there is no place to go if you’re looking for long term athletic development that isn’t based on team formation and then stay at your community club. There are clinics and camps, but those depend on the quality of the instructor and the ability of the individual player to self-reinforce the process of technical training. Also, every camp and clinic starts over at square one rather than emphasize progressive skills training from week to week and month to month for the individual player. The Buddhists’ would say, that you need to meet the player where they are at and take them where they could be.
At the LeftFoot Coaching Academy I’ve watched several players really grow through the long term developmental process and have now coached players for over two to four years, longer than their team coaches in some cases. In one case a player has had four different coaches in the span of four years with the same club. As I’ve been with her and the family through that process– who knows their kid and what she can do, and what she’s working on in her game. Who celebrates her success with her? Who counsels her as she travels the path of youth soccer?
By adding in players from multiple clubs, levels, teams and genders at the LeftFoot Coaching Academy I’ve been able to create an environment that encourages the individual to shine and take control of the game without sacrificing the rhythm of the game.
While teams are focused on passing and tactics, players here are honing their individual skills in an environment that allows each player to develop at their own speed. You’d be amazed watching the u11’s take on the u14’s and how some of them are working on the same moves, but at different speeds.
Several solutions that the LeftFoot Coaching Academy tries to address in the player development process are:
- Coaching quality, nationally licensed, over fifteen years of college, high school and club experience yet focused on individual technical training.
- Long term development; coaching is based on individual player development from year to year rather than as a player within a team focused on team results.
- Skills based education and physical development, players learn how to move, decelerate, accelerate, with an emphasis on coordination, balance, rhythm, spatial orientation and power.
- Proper technical training that has it roots in the martial arts and movement science as it relates to the growing body, foot-skills, dribbling, speed and ball striking.
- Psychological training that uses modern tools such as visualization, imagery, task oriented goals, and goal setting for games and skills
- A drop in schedule that allows players and families to come play and train when they want and schedule their training based on their decisions, schedule and opportunity.
- A committed clientele of players that are multi-age, dual-gender and multi-skilled to bring out the best in younger and older players alike.
- A club free zone where players are safe from recruitment, exclusion, status or team dynamics.
As I coached at one of the “elite” level clubs I saw how many kids were excluded from the chances of getting better. When I became part of the problem I moved to resolve the process only to get caught up in murky club dynamics.
This is why I felt that it was important to disassociate myself from clubs and teams to focus only on the player, yet at the same time work with all of the clubs in the area to help their bubble players get better and raise the level of play for all coaches and players in the state.
If LFC could be a home for all players from every club then community clubs could have a place to send their best kids to get better and also give their bubble kids a chance to improve as well. Watching how players from multiple teams play against each other in a club/status safe place has been fun to watch and something that we need to encourage even more.
In the next couple of days I’ll share another great success story with you about how a player who was once ranked 63rd out of 65 players at her community club is now playing for one of the best programs in the nation after three years of coaching at LeftFoot Coaching Academy. She was thrown away by her club and several others, but not by me. (Read: Diamond in the Rough)
Let’s make sure as we finish tryouts that we don’t throw away any kids, and try to give them the chance to succeed within the sport and life itself.