Light Years Behind– Let’s Be Honest
Let’s say it. Aloud and with the positive intention to affect change.
Let’s not complain, whine or run. Forget about marketing, media and myths. Let’s be honest with each other. We know where we stand and that is far behind where we need to be. No egos, no territorial wars, no super clubs or super tournaments are going to change the truth. No fancy uniforms or family vans solve this reality. We are in this together and we all seek a brilliant outcome.
As a US parent raising Dutch-American children in Spain, I have some insight into the reality of youth development. Having spent years educating youth and watching trainings, I may have also have formed some provocative opinions. And believe me, I wish my observations were not as harsh as they may be perceived. But innovation can only come from the difference between what is and what might be. And I have dedicated my entire professional life to what might be.
Here we go...
Youth training is lacking.
Well-intended coaches are conducting cookie cutter sessions that deprive our children of total development and more importantly total enjoyment.
Our players are light years behind.
US youth players are great children but light years behind their counterparts in Catalonia. They can kick and they can run but they do not understand why, when and where to do so. They lack spatial awareness and conceptual understanding in ways that prejudice their potency. Our children are craving more, seeking better and deserve such.
The MLS is fantastic and limited.
The MLS is a wonderful domestic league offering entertainment and opportunity. But to suggest that it is where the best play, or where the best young players are being nurtured is nonsense. Our best need to cross the Atlantic whenever possible and that is no slight on our capable colleagues working for the league. Our national goal should be to develop a player for FC Barcelona, Manchester United or Bayern Munich.
Tournaments do not develop players.
Participating in a tournament can be an engaging and enriching experience. The value is clear. However, tournaments are not pure talent development. They are merely a marvelous moment in time to celebrate all that is good about competing.
US Youth Rankings are Irrelevant
Ranking one youth team from North Carolina with a team from Northern California is not only woefully inaccurate, but also misleading. We are sending the wrong messages to parents and players suggesting that these rankings matter even one bit. The ranking game is an irresponsible manipulation of information.
Winning Matters but not in the way we think.
Competing is about matching one’s talent, intelligence and skill against a worthy opponent. That opponent is not the enemy but an ally in a learning journey. The game may be heated and hard, but the day is a celebration of what we has been learned and what yet remains. A match should be a player’s reward and not the manifestation of a coach’s ego.
We must be proud of where we are and from where we have come. But we will only enact change when we hold ourselves accountable for today’s reality. Change must come from the leaders of a purposeful revolution.
So, let’s do this.
First, we can be better educators, leaders and coaches if we accept that change is required. This is not a slight on my younger self or yesterday’s ideas. Change is a necessary constant for craftsman and we must embrace it.
Second, let us not wait for an administrative body to lead innovation. Committed people in national organizations are very busy administering the sport and running leagues. They are part of the solution but not its catalyst. Innovation comes from the field and will grow against the grain of policy making.
Third, let’s place footballers first. The best two metrics we need to use are the following...
- Is my child having fun?
- Is my child learning?
That’s it. If these two things are happening then we are on a noble path. Some children will take that joy and development to the highest levels of the game and others will knock the ball about in recreation and adult leagues for a lifetime. In both cases, we have succeeded as mentors.
I am hopeful about the future of youth development. There is more potential than we can even imagine. But potential remains potential until it is activated and nurtured well.
I am on a mission to rethink and redesign talent development and it is abundantly comforting knowing that I am not alone. There are highly qualified people who will share this quest. They may be stifled in silence and swamped in politics, but they are courageous and capable coaches.
When the chorus of change is given voice, the change we need will waltz into the lives of every young player who dreams of something more.