THE PROCESS IN YOUTH SOCCER:
Pedagogy, Humanities, Skill, Mind and Decision Making
We are in a hurry. We are hurried, restless and anxious about the final product. We forgot the Process. We forgot the means that lead us to develop young players, and conduct us to the objective reality and information. We forgot pedagogics, youth development, and the way we can properly do both things. A little disclosure: I do perceive soccer and any sports as humanities and as cultural phenomena. In my perspective, soccer and sports use humanistic and scientific combined approaches. What I am writing here, follows that line of thought. And I do believe that soccer, youth soccer, coaching methodology and the way we do and analyze things are rooted in culture. My words attempt to reflect on youth soccer as a cultural, scientific and humanistic product.
Therefore, in the contemporary world, there is not much patience. And, most of all, there is little thought or awareness for the idea of process - and how things require a process to become things. Here, I would like to discuss the Process of youth soccer development.
When comes down to sports, obviously, everyone loves to win – no doubt. And it easier to educate and developing while winning every game. But, is it more important for young people (in a country trying to develop soccer) to learn, grow up, and develop their capacities, or it is more important to win a youth championship? In this context, is it worthwhile to demand the same from children as we require from those adults playing at the high-rank levels? I believe not - that does not make any sense.
Following the same line of thought, I noticed that quick and very positive results are demanded from young players. But after a few years, when it is time to provide them opportunities in the higher and more demanding ranks, one of these two things usually happens: 1) the youngster never receives a proper chance to play; or 2) if the youngster receives that proper opportunity, they present key weaknesses that prevent them from becoming successful, or at least accomplished the expected potential. Why does this happen? Because the Process usually failed. Yes, the training process, the methodology. In many cases – too many - maybe the young player was even a champion and a physically dominant individual in all the past age groups. But maybe this happened through "shortcuts", such a relying too much on the physicality and relying on “kick and rush”, instead of learning and developing certain “tools” that later are decisive in his development and consolidation as a competition athlete.
There is an ignorance and instant glorification trap here: instead of developing a strong and creative relationship with the ball, it is easier to punt or play a long ball to the fastest on the field; instead of focusing on decision making and spatial awareness, it is easier to kick, rush, kick again, and use your physique to win a couple of 50/50 balls. Instead of thinking and developing emotional intelligence combined with a good relationship with the ball, it is easier to run a lot (a lot!), and play infinite series of long balls. Often, youth teams win a lot by creating such easy shortcuts. But often they are also propagating a certain “ignorance” about the game of soccer.
The Process is something that starts at six or seven years of age, and rarely ends before twenty-three years of age. And it is in the younger ages that this process must be more rigorous, highly pedagogical, creative/liberator, adequate and constantly analyzed and adapted. It is without haste and with methodology that the best ones are developed. It is required highly practical and pedagogic approach, because the practice, the act of doing it, it is what will sort out and show us the truth. It is evident that an "outlier" or a genius, will always be an "outlier" or a genius. But the majority, us the "common mortals", need to go through certain stages of development and must have a pedagogical accompaniment, which must be structured and appropriate according to their reality.
So, I believe that always striving for simplistic formulas, “kick and rush” and only focusing on scoring goals no matter what, is not always the best way. It is not absolutely always wrong; it is a solution that sometimes should be free to exist – if in certain moments a team cannot do anything else. It cannot be the norm and the rule for youth soccer.
What I defend is that young people need to create a more and constant relationship of "intimacy" with the ball, and simultaneously gradually knowing the game in its various dimensions. They primarily need to develop that relationship of “intimacy” with the ball – their skill, their touch/contact, their ball domain, their pass, and their dribble. Simultaneously, they need to work the decision making, the knowledge concerning the use of space, the movement, and the dynamic of the game, and their emotional intelligence. Another key knowledge are the specific principles of soccer, both for the offense and defense, that should be gradually learn while the other key elements are developed. In later stages or the early development (possibly around 14-15 years old), players must understand the different moments of the game, and being able to use past knowledge in those different moments. It is not about major tactical and structural ideals and enforcing tactics in kids. It is about knowledge, skill, decision making, and the mind of the player.
A simple exercise: what do you do with an athlete who only plays long balls, and who cannot correctly execute a simple ball reception and a pass? What to do with a young player who only runs vertically and who does not know how to use space and provide passing option or support to teammates? These are questions I leave here for reflection. Usually these problems exist in many American clubs, in many states, and in many countries outside of North America. And the question is: if one is ten years old, it is possible to work and give the children more tools to be a good and knowledgeable player. If the player is twenty-three, he will probably be of little use-if not dismissed. Unfortunately, we see too many players with this profile cease their activity at age 16/18 because they lack the ability to keep up with the rest of the team, and to keep up with the demands of the game itself.
On the other hand, we can also talk about values and behavior. If your morale is to win at any cost and complain about superior decisions and referees, it is only natural that you will be turned away. That is, the development process meets all the dimensions. Our athletes must know how to be on and off the field, as well as how they should have competent technical, knowledge, tactical, physical and intellectual behaviors and within what the sport demands.
It is therefore appropriate to look a little further into the Process. It is necessary to understand and be highly critical of what is being done. We need to see if the young are developing positively, if in turn they are growing as athletes and as human beings and if they can be, by way of example, competent in the treatment of the ball and in the understanding of the game – being knowledgeable. We the coaches, the parents, the directors, the coordinators, must understand this idea of process. We must understand that the player learning curve and their mistakes are part of the training. And, finally, we must know how to relativize the result and not focus on the score/final result as the only evaluation element. Actually, the final score/result might be the least important element in youth soccer. The most important things are the Process, the pedagogical side of the game, and the love that our players hold for the game. We all need to think more about developing, about creating a Process, than winning games or leagues. There will be time to win, a lot of time, if we have the right Process. And the youth will be closer to success if they have the right skills, tools, and minds to play the game. Skill, knowledge and decision making will always leave them closer to develop properly, to enjoy the game, and later – if the game allow – win.
Finally, oftentimes we see young people being pushed across the youth system. We see young players being pushed to and across the game. We seem them being forced to achieve that victorious final score/result. But we forgot that they need to grow. Sometimes there is such a rush for them to play the game that later on, at the age when they should actually be legitimate players, and assume themselves as adult athletes, they simply do not have space – they did not learn.
And this space, this space at the adult level, depends on many things. As you know, sometimes success it is not always related to whether you are well or ill-developed/trained. But surely a well-developed athlete, the product of an appropriate Process, will find it easier to look for his own space. And it does not have to be in the club where he graduated, it could be in another club. If the Process works, if we are pedagogical, we will always have space in football - in sport in general - and in society for these athletes.
Article originally published in Portuguese at Bola na Rede (2015): https://bolanarede.pt/…/f…/vamos-olhar-para-o-processo-ok-2/
Grass Roots Education: Play, Practice, Play- read about the new grassroots changes to coaching education and why US Youth Soccer is embracing this approach.
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