What’s the difference between competitive and rec soccer

As I was learning soccer, I had a tough time telling the difference between rec and competitive. But, I finally learned.

For competitive players, organized soccer is a small part of their soccer world. They’ve learned 5-30% of what they know about soccer in organized soccer. The rest comes from home, friends and their own interest.

For rec players, organized soccer makes up 80-100% of their soccer world.

Soccer clubs package and sell rec soccer as competitive soccer to parents, so a lot of kids are playing rec soccer, but think they are playing competitive.

Parents can’t tell the difference. Same uniforms, backpacks, cleats, officials, soccer fields, coaches, trophies and costs. The coaches have the same licenses and probably played college or semi-pro, somewhere, even if you never heard of the college or team.

What is different is what is played on the field.

In rec ball, most of the game is 50/50s, turnovers and incomplete passes.

This results from lacking the basic skills of trapping, dribbling and passing the ball because rec players only have a fraction of the cumulative repetition they need to build the muscle memory and foot-eye coordination to be competent since they rarely practice on their own.

In competitive, most of the game is the team working together to keep the ball with high pass completion and building on basic passing patterns and working into more complex patterns to try to get a shot.

This results from players being competent with trapping, dribbling and passing the ball because they have enough cumulative reps in their lifetime to have built the muscle memory and coordination.

There is much more to soccer than these three skills, but you need these to get there and rec players never can get there because they can’t do these three things.

Imagine baseball if the players can’t catch or throw. Imagine basketball if the players can’t catch, dribble or pass. It would look like much of ‘competitive’ (expensive rec) soccer in the U.S.

Rec players are the players I wrote about in the previous post. They fell in love with playing, but never fell in love with the ball. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if all they want to do is show up and play, save yourself time and money and keep them playing in the local rec league.

The good news is, from my perspective, the effort to become a competitive player isn’t immense. It’s amazing what some practice can do.

The bad news is that rec players won’t do it.

Bang for your improvement buck: Love for the ball vs. love of playing

One problem with the way organized soccer works in the U.S. is that it gets kids to fall in love with playing soccer without falling in love with the ball.

The problem is that they love to play it, but they don’t love to practice it or have too many thoughts about getting better.

What’s not to love about playing? We make quite the production of it. Nice uniforms, nice fields, nice soccer complexes, officials and lots of folks cheering on the kids.

Even sideline toxicity sends the message that the kids are doing something important if adults get that worked up about it.

Why get better? They get to play either way, and occasionally, even if just by luck, they get to be the hero.

I agree with Tom Byer. Kids don’t quit soccer because of all the BS ‘the research’ points to. They quit when the kids who love the ball are kicking their teeth in and they realize they are years behind them and it would take years and effort that they aren’t willing to put in to catch up.

In other words, for all those years they loved to ‘play’ soccer, they never actually learned some of soccer’s ball basics.

Equal play time in youth sports, Part II

From Twitter (I’m Seth):

I wrote more about my experience here.

We overestimate how much development happens during games. We think it’s 80% of development when it really should be about 5%.

That overestimation makes us believe play time is more important then it really is, which is why coaches tweet about equal play time and parents might lose their marbles about it every now and then.

Organized games should be viewed like math tests. Tests aren’t the place to learn math skills. The learning happens while preparing for tests. The test is where you show what you learned.

If you did not prepare for the test, you might learn a few things while taking it, but just a tiny fraction had you prepared.

I think we would be much better off if we view organized games like that.

Bad News Bears Soccer

I’ve watched too many games over the past couple years of high school aged kids where the following passage from Tom Byer’s book, Soccer Starts at Home, comes to mind:

“Soccer is a passing and shooting game, but passing and shooting has to come after learning how to control the ball. And passing and shooting comes so much easier if you do that.

I watch kids’ teams play soccer and despair sometimes. ‘How can they be so bad?’ I ask myself. Most kids can’t even move the ball from one foot to the other.

What’s the problem?

The problem is people don’t know what the problem is.”

The problem is that there are basics of the game and these kids don’t have them and as Tom points out, nobody seems to notice.

They can’t receive, pass or dribble.

Most of their first touches turn the ball over and put the team in a better spot.

Passing completion is less than 20% and too many are to the feet of the opponent.

Balls are often dribbled directly into the defender’s feet and lost.

Goalkeepers repeatedly distribute the ball directly to the other team.

Scoring chances come at the tail end of incredible strings of lucky events, rather than purposeful action.

It’s mostly 50/50 ball as neither team ever has possession of the ball for more than a few touches.

The players have no idea how to communicate and they all seem to want to make excuses for their own mishaps and blame others for mishaps.

Dumb soccer debate: Isolated vs. opposed training

Is there a sport that doesn’t require both?

Is there a sport where the amount of one or the other doesn’t depend on the current skill level, or whether the movement is new to player?

Is there a sport where skills aren’t first built in isolated training and then honed under pressure and in competition?

‘But, Ronaldo was created in the opposed training environment of street soccer!’

Has anyone asked him if he ever worked on new moves on his own, at home or on the sideline waiting for next, before trying them in out against others?

Here’s what I notice about those on either side of the debate.

Advocates of opposed training deal primarily with players who develop 95% of their skills away from training, at home or in pickup. Out of sight, out of mind. Since they don’t see how much effort these players put into those skills, they think all players have that level of ability or they think they got to that level of ability with their opposed team training environment and discount the effort the players do on their own.

The opposed training advocates also tend to straw man the “isolated” side of the debate as if the other side believes isolated training is the only thing needed. I haven’t seen anyone who believes that. Rather, they support progression from isolated to competition.

Those who advocate isolated training typically work with players that do not work on their own or play pickup to develop their skills and need a healthy foundation of isolated training to build muscle memory before working up to using in competition.

Why do kids quit sports?

When I discuss this topic with folks, I’m often referred to ‘research’ that pins blame on things like toxic sidelines, pressure to win and bad coaching.

I’m treated as a heretic to suggest that quitting sports is natural and our goal shouldn’t necessarily be to reduce the attrition rate.

While I’ve seen my fair share of toxicity (and probably contributed to some), I am skeptical that improving on those will reduce attrition, though I am all for improving on those.

I addressed that topic a few years ago here.

I believe kids quit sports because they’re just not that into it and have interests they are more into.

I’ll add that I am skeptical of the validity of research. In the business world, I’ve too often seen similar market research that tries to identify reasons customers switch brands. I’ve watched too many managers lose their jobs building initiatives around those findings to find out fixing those reasons didn’t move the needle on customer behavior.

When a former player identifies reasons like toxic sidelines for quitting the sport, the obvious follow-up question is, “If toxic sidelines were eliminated, would you keep playing?”

Most say no, which means that wasn’t the real reason.

How do you inspire love for the soccer?

I don’t know. Do you?

If so, please share.

I discussed this recently with another coach.

He told me something that I used to believe strongly, too: part of the club and coach’s responsibility is to develop interest in the sport.

I still believe that. But, my experience tells me that club and coach is a tiny part of that process for most kids.

Early on I thought sparking an interest would be easy. There were times I thought I was onto something, but the raised interest seemed to revert to the mean of barely interested after a short time.

Too often, unexpectedly, I found that teaching kids the fundamentals was counterproductive to sparking an interest. I discovered some kids loved the unstructured chasing of the ball and the game lost its magic for them as they learned there was some method to the madness and they were expected to learn it if they wanted to continue to play.

I also noticed that kids from soccer households seemed to like soccer more than those that didn’t. Pulisic and Sargent are great examples. It’s obvious that both were much more strongly influenced by coming from households where both parents had played at relatively high-levels than by their club experiences. Has either even mentioned an influential youth coach?

Few kids, maybe 10%, not from a soccer family developed a true interest in the sport. Some liked the activity, but not enough to do anything on their own. Others simply didn’t like it and quit as soon as their parents let them.

That’s why I like Tom Byer’s book, Soccer Starts at Home. He’s onto something that we overlook about all sports: a good deal of interest level and skill acquisition occurs starting at age 1 or 2 and is a product of the environment and activities that engage the young kids in their home.

We believe kids ‘get coordinated’ between ages 7 and 10 and can suddenly throw baseballs with pinpoint accuracy, for example. But what really happens is that many kids have been playing catch with all sorts of things since they could walk and we overlook how instrumental those 6-7 years of unstructured development were.

Go some place where kids don’t grow up playing catch and watch an otherwise coordinated and athletic adult try to throw a baseball for the first time and they look as coordinated and accurate doing that as a typical American 5-year-old.

If the goal is to grow soccer and improve the men’s players at the top level in the U.S, I think there’s a 10x better chance starting with the route Tom has identified rather than what we currently have.

The system we currently have rewards participation, rather than progress, and keeps kids doing the activity of soccer (rather than developing as soccer players) long past what their interest and ability level would warrant in other sports.

How many 14-year-old competitive basketball players are there who never played pickup basketball or shot on their driveway or park hoop for hours on end? Probably not many, unless they are tall and can block shots.

How many 14-year-old competitive soccer players do we have who have never played pickup soccer or shot on a backyard or park goal for hours on end? Too many. Maybe most.

Who is responsible for developing a soccer player?

One problem with the participation culture of soccer in the US is that too many parents and players hand the keys of development over to clubs and coaches.

Clubs and coaches don’t do much to dissuade that idea, because it’s a selling point.

Contrast that with clubs in soccer countries, where the player owns their own development and they see the club as a place to showcase their ability, compete to get better and maybe get some helpful guidance from coaches along the way.

How differently do players in these two environments behave? Exactly how Kephern Fuller described on a 3Four3 podcast that I wrote about here.

Fuller has experience in American and European soccer clubs and here’s how I summarized the astute observations he shared in that podcast:

He said a key difference is the players knowing where they’re going. American kids don’t have a good sense of this. They are content to say they’re the best on the team and their team has had some success, but they don’t have a sense beyond that of what good soccer looks like or what kind of player they are working to become.

He said, European kids have a much clearer picture of what they want to become. This shows up in the effort they put in on and off the field and how seriously they take and compete within a drills during training.

That’s because European kids own their development, while American kids let development be something that happens to them.

It’s okay for kids to quit soccer

A few weeks into one season, the parent comes to me and says, “Sorry, we’re done.”

“Why?”

“You told him to practice for 10-15 minutes a day with the ball. For 3 weeks, I asked if he practiced like coach asked. Every time the answer was no. 10-15 minutes a day isn’t too much to ask. If he’s not going to follow through on his end, not even once, that tells me he doesn’t want to play”

Respect.

Most parents won’t make that call.

Pro/rel is the cause, not the effect

Saw on Twitter:

This is like saying that before we allow competitors to McDonald’s, we must have viable competitors to McDonald’s in every inch of the U.S.

In other words, nonsense. Ed has cause and effect backwards, putting the cart before the horse.

The infrastructure Ed desires results from a system that incentivizes it, not from hoping it happens while preventing the incentives that results in it.

The best way to get competition to McDonald’s is to allow it to happen by opening the system to let competitors emerge. Some of those have resulted in large chains like Burger King, Wendy’s, Chili’s and Red Robin, and a plethora of local joints.