This may not sit well with coaches, but it may be time to be honest as educators. How many of us are “dummying down” our trainings and then complaining about the lack of intelligent players?
Answer: Too many of us.
“My players do not understand football well enough to play that way,” a coach replied during a preseason training we offered in California. “We will be vulnerable in matches.”
This U12 coach was stunned when I agreed. He was even more stunned when I told him that he just made my argument for me.
“Exactly,” I replied.
“Your players do not understand football well enough,” I continued, “so who is going to change that reality?”
I went on to explain that if we lower our expectations we are dooming our players to mediocrity. What self-respecting coach would do that? All of us really. We do it week in and week out, year in and year out to avoid the short-term discomfort and potential weekend loss that reflects poorly on us as coaches. But what about the consequences of our cautiousness on our players?
If we seek intelligent, competent, and creative players at the age of seventeen, wouldn’t we want to do everything in our power to start developing that player today?
Let’s stop dummying down expectations and then expecting football wizards to emerge. It does not happen that way. Imagine watching a grade school teacher sticking with simple addition because multiplication is a bit too difficult for the students and errors may occur. Imagine that the teacher says he prefers guaranteed success, as it would reflect poorly on him if the children were to struggle with new concepts. Seems absurd when we put it this way, no?
Solution. Crank it up a notch. Introduce sophisticated concepts at young ages. At TOVO, we call this “conceptual layering” and we ask that the players train with joy, with energy and even with a fair amount of initial failure. Coupled with positive encouragement, you would be amazed at what high expectations can accomplish with our young players. They are challenged. They are inspired. They are treated with the confidence that they can learn. And interestingly enough, they do!
Please do not build systems of play that are the safest, least vulnerable and least demanding intellectually. That may serve us, but it does not serve our youth. Let them play in a way that requires constant thought. They may not master what we ask on day one, but will do so in the near future.
As my conversation continued with the U12 coach, I ended with one final comment, “Having your center back be more vulnerable today will make him a smarter and more alert footballer tomorrow.”
He was baffled by the apparent contradiction and I was thirsty for his response and the conversation to come.