The Big Picture
We live in a non-soccer culture that is dominated by the “Major Sports” such as: Football, Basketball and Baseball. Of course, these are on TV 24-7 and they keep getting more and more popular. Their attendance and TV audiences keep increasing. They have “Big Money” involving sponsors, boosters and fans. According to statistics and Television ratings, this is big entertainment, this is what people watch, this is what people want.
There’s also another culture that’s stayed under the radar, and that is the soccer culture. It is our own Soccer Culture where there is also tremendous growth also occurring. Maybe not so much in TV ratings and sponsors, but it’s definitely growing steadily in other subtle ways. There are over 4.5 million registered youth players in the U.S. and according to a 2010 stat, there were 747,955 High School students that participated in soccer. Football was number one with 1.1 million, Basketball was second with 979,000 and Baseball had 473,503. In the 12-24 age group, the most popular Professional Sport was Football with 24%, followed by Soccer at 13.7%. The NBA was 3rd at 13.1%, College Football 9% and Baseball 8.1%. So what do these stats tell us?
They tell us that soccer is popular and is becoming more so every day. The true telling stats are the amount of youth players playing soccer and the 12-24 age group that are real soccer fans. We are not competing with the NFL, but we definitely have developed our own identity. Soccer is for everyone, male, female, big, small, fast, slow, young, old. We all start playing, and then most of us become lifetime fans as we get older and unable to play competitively.
Today we can watch Major League Soccer (MLS); US Men’s and Women’s National Teams; English Premier Leagues; Latin American Leagues; European Leagues; College Soccer, and it goes on and on. We have at least 6 full time soccer TV Networks. I don’t have the exact numbers, but I am willing to bet that soccer has the most fans and followers in the world.
How does all of this transfer to youth soccer and more specifically Claremont Stars? People see the popularity of soccer and how it is good for children. Parents want to see their children participate in active, healthy activities. They want their children to learn about work ethic, competition, commitment, and being part of a group/team. More than anything, they want their children to have fun. Well, soccer is fun.
Our Club’s approach has always been of developing a positive learning environment for our players while having fun. We want to teach the necessary skills to play the game competitively and to become the best player possible. In the last year we have increased the number of teams to 23 with the majority being Under 12. There are many other very good clubs in the area that are our competition. The biggest problem for all club is the saturation of teams in our area: too many teams, not enough quality players. So, responsibility of developing players falls to the clubs. That’s where our Club comes in because our approach is to develop players and not winning at the risk of under developing players.
Of course we want to win every game and have it be a positive experience, but we all know that’s not realistic. We would also like to see the next Alex Morgan and the next Clint Dempsey come out of our club, and that may happen, but the chances are probably one in two million. So we can’t promise that, but we can guarantee that our club is trying to teach the right things while having fun. So far our coaching staff is doing a good job of teaching skills and tactics to our teams and players. I’ve had the opportunity to see our teams play this fall and I am happy with the progress the club is making. Of course there’s always for room for improvement and we are always looking at those details because we want to continue improving.
So the Big Picture simply means looking at Soccer today and seeing how it affects us all. We live in it, it touches us and it affects us. Soccer is here to stay and The Claremont Stars is doing its part to keep it in perspective. It should be fun!
This month I would like to discuss player development. Player development has been the primary objective of The Claremont Stars Soccer Club for many years. We have tried several different methods in developing players, from team training; to group training; to individual training; to academy training. We strongly believe in developing players’ individual soccer skills so that they can become the best possible players they can be.
In my experiences and travels I have studied different ways of developing players and I haven’t noticed too many significant differences in the methodologies used, there are actually more similarities than differences. A major similarity is the amount of skill repetitions that take place in practice, in other words the more touches on the ball the more players will improve.
I am sure the likes of Leonel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo had lots of touches on the ball between the ages of 6 and 12. I am also sure they were also allowed lots of creativity and freedom in their play growing up. These players are the icons in today’s game and young players try to emulate them, so why not as coaches try to create an environment for our players to do so. In other words teach our players the fundamental skills of soccer especially dribbling, passing and receiving which are the 3 skills that are used the most by all field players. Shooting and heading are more specialized skills used more by defenders and forwards so at young ages are not as important. While teaching these skills we should allow young players to be creative and use their imagination while playing small sided games and at times in full field games. The risk there will be hearing some parents and other players making negative comments about other players trying to be showoffs or Messis or Ronaldos. The solution is to educate all that it is OK to try creativity and not allow it to be abused, in other words teach players what part of the field to try it. For example, encourage creativity in the final 3rd of the field without sacrificing team play.
It is also important to maximize training time by having young players having a ball at their feet as much as possible and not have them stand in lines waiting for their turn. Warm-ups, exercises and fitness should be all with a ball. I remember one of my mentors telling me “you don’t teach a swimmer how to swim by having him running laps around the pool. You teach him by having him in the water practicing the different strokes”. It makes sense to me, that’s exactly what you do developing soccer players, teach them by having them practicing the different skills (strokes).
As players get older into their adolescent years, the coach can teach more tactics because the game becomes more of a team game. Unlike younger players that whether we like it or not soccer is more individual. The tactics should include small group (2v2 to 6v6) and some team tactics (7v7 to 11v11). Of course teaching these tactics require knowledge and experience as a player and or as coach. Coaches that coach youth should be students of the game, by learning new methods or observing games of higher levels like Major League Soccer, English Premier League, Copa Libertadores or Champions League.
A major factor that affects player development is the winning at all cost syndrome. Our culture puts a lot of emphasis on winning which slows down technical development because players are not allowed to take risks with the ball which may result in making a mistake and allowing a goal which may mean losing a game. Players will not improve if they are not allowed to make mistakes. It should be OK to make mistakes and maybe even lose some games. The problem becomes that if a team loses too many games people view it as a weakness and a perhaps see it as a bad team. It is very rare when a team wins at a young age and continues winning for ever. Promotion and relegation also affect development. Coaches and teams are afraid of losing so they don’t play with confidence and become very conservative, they don’t necessarily play to win but “play not to lose”, which affects his players’ development. The players are not allowed to dribble or take too many touches on the ball. We hear things like “pass the ball” or “get rid of the ball” or “don’t be selfish”. Do you think people yelled those things to Kobe Bryant or Leonel Messi? Probably yes but, there were people around them, maybe coaches that created an environment for them to thrive. What is ironic is that these are great individual players but they are ultimate team players now that they are adults. Messi this year has scored 52 goals in 52 games but his team has won the La Liga Championship and is route to winning the Champions League title later this month.
Claremont Stars’ methodology to player development has varied over the years but our approach has not. We want our players to develop and become the best players they can be and enjoy the game. We are adding a Young Stars Academy Program to our Club which will be a yearlong ongoing program. It will be for the serious young player (6 to 10 years old) that wants to improve their skill and learn to play the game correctly at a young age. The details will come out soon so stay tuned.
Soccer is a great sport and there are several reasons why it’s the most popular in the world which we will discuss at a later date. So let’s continue developing players as a nation, we at Claremont Stars will do our part.
January and February are usually transitional months for youth soccer teams. High School age players are representing their schools; 9 to 14 age players are getting ready for State Cup or regrouping for next year. As is always the norm our club will be conducting tryouts; February 19 and 20 (9 a.m.); Wed., Feb. 23 (6 p.m.)for ages U8-U14; and Feb 26 and 27 (9 a.m.) for ages U15-U18 for next year’s age group. All try outs will be at Vista Elementary in Claremont (visit www.claremontstars.com for details).
It’s always exciting to see what talent will come around to form new teams. We are willing and looking to form from 1 to 3 teams per age group based on talent and based on quantities of players. New teams forming will also depend on the quality of coaching. Our coaches will have to go through a screening process to make sure they are qualified and will be a good fit for that particular team. Our coaching staff is made up of a wide variety of backgrounds from former professional players; to college coaches; to former college players to coaches that have spent their time educating themselves to become qualified coaches.
As we said on last month’s letter our club is making changes and one major one is we will require all coaches to acquire the appropriate coaching education via licensing and monthly training sessions under my tutelage. Players and coaches all need development and we are committing to that. We will also implement more players, and coaches’ clinics and camps throughout the year for our club members as well as others in the community.
Our club also would like to be more involved in the community by providing opportunities for children to have healthy soccer activities such as weekly and monthly clinics.
As the Technical Director I am personally involved in coaching education throughout the country. This past January (2 - 11) I was instructor for the US Soccer “A” License held at the Home Depot Center in Carson California in which 40 coaches (mainly college coaches, directors of coaching and professional coaches) participated for 9 days. Their objective is to acquire the highest level license offered by the US Soccer Coaching Schools. This is one of the most highly respected licenses in the world sanctioned by soccer’s ultimate governing body FIFA.
This is a grueling course that goes on for 9 days and it includes numerous lectures; field sessions and thorough scrutiny by the Instructional Staff. The last 2 days is all testing that includes oral examinations and on field practical testing. So needless to say is a test of physical and mental endurance as well as dedication and commitment by all coaching candidates. My job is one of assuring that people passing the course are of high standard and are ready to go back to their teams with the highest level of knowledge available.
Recently I was also a presenter at this year’s National Soccer Coaches Association of America convention held in Baltimore, Maryland. I had the privilege of doing a lecture on the “Development of the Youth Player for the Professional Game.” I chose this topic based on all my years of coaching youth players and my experience as Assistant Coach with Chivas USA of Major League Soccer last year, which gave me the opportunity to acquire firsthand knowledge of knowing what it takes a player to become a paid professional. I also did a field session on “Technical Training with Tactical Applications” in front of about 300 coaches. I utilized a team of 16 players and put them through some passing and possession exercises.
I have been fortunate enough to coach at all levels in this country from youth, college, Olympic Development, National Teams, Women’s Professional, female and male but it wasn’t until last year that had the opportunity to work with men professional players. Being part of Major League Soccer was priceless and my plan is to use these experiences to direct our club accordingly.
I think that young soccer players dream of becoming Professional Players but of course the chances are very slim. Of course players have the opportunity to play College Soccer which is a great experience. Our club has had many players gone on to play professionally, in college and acquiring an education while doing it. Part of our mission is to provide the environment for players to have the opportunity to reach their dreams. This takes years of commitment and hard work both by players and their parents.
Our club is committed to contribute in the development of our players and me personally being involved in Coaching Education at the State and National level one would think should benefit our club development as well.