Pro/rel arguments & my responses from recent Twitter

Argument: We cannot have pro/rel until there’s enough support!

My response: That’s putting the cart before the horse.

Here’s more: That means, I think support results from pro/rel than pro/rel resulting from support. If that’s right, preventing pro/rel, will just hinder the support.

How does support result from pro/rel?

There are the easy-to-see benefits that I see touted often, like pro/rel makes the relegation battle more interesting, as well as the contests to get promoted from the lower leagues.

But, I think most of the benefits comes from the changes that happen that are harder for folks to see. I wrote more in depth about those here, where I write that I believe 90% of the benefit of pro/rel comes from the changes in incentives at the grassroots level.

That explains why I believe pro/rel results in support, rather than having to wait for the support to be there for pro/rel.

To me, that would be like someone saying that we shouldn’t invent the hamburger before we see support for the hamburger. It doesn’t make sense.

Recent from Twitter: Why soccer players in the U.S. don’t have spatial awareness

TOVO Academy Todd Beane asked why soccer youth in the US lack spatial awareness.

My answer: Too much time at training spent making up for basic skill dev not accomplished informally with family and friends.

I believe Beane’s preferred answer is that spatial awareness training isn’t prioritized in American soccer.

Which, I also agree with. But, I think that goes back to my answer.

Spatial awareness training just doesn’t get your team much advantage on the pitch on Saturday in the U.S. if the kids can’t get the ball to that space.

If, as Tom Byers points out, kids came to their first club team as 8 yo’s with the basics, then teams would be working a whole lot less on the basics and more on the spatial awareness, if it were to emerge as a competitive margin.

But, at the present moment, the two primary competitive margins in the U.S. are how many players on the team have the basics and how good the team’s top 1 or 2 players are. So, clubs spend a lot time recruiting those top 1-2 players and try teaching the rest of the kids the basics.

Btw…I’ve seen teams at age 8 or 9 with great spatial awareness. They just happened to be made up of children of recent immigrants from soccer cultures, who play with their family and friends all the time. Some of these teams didn’t even practice as a team. They just signed up to play and could still pound the kids working on basics 10-1.

In the Twitter thread, Beane mentioned that he has seen American teen boys with good skills that also lack awareness. What he hasn’t seen is where those kids came from. How long ago did they cement those skills? Have they still been playing on teams where they are the 1-2 good players, while everyone else lacks the basics?

Here’s another point of comparison. Relatively low level American basketball players have good spatial awareness. I believe they learned most of that in informal play. Organized play may have put some finishing touches on it, but 75% of it was there by the time kids are making the cut to competitive teams by age 11 or 12.

Cross pollinated soccer free play

I see lots of soccer coaches talk about the importance of building free play into practices. The current US Soccer practice framework is called “play-practice-play.”

I, too, was once a believer of this and tried it, but changed my mind when it seemed move the kids backwards on development.

Thinking about how I learned basketball in my childhood, 90% came from what I call cross pollinated free play. That is, I played soccer informally with lots of different groups of folks and from each group, I learned different things and, I think, they learned stuff from my group.

I also played with folks of all different ages, older and younger, and of differing skill levels. The older or more skilled players transferred their knowledge and skill, implicitly and explicitly.

Free play at soccer practice, especially among the same team or group of teams, is a sterile bubble that misses out on this cross pollination. It tends to be a Galapagos Islands of evolution. What evolves from that free play, doesn’t match up well when tested against folks with more cross pollination.

Ideas for soccer camps

Tis’ the season for soccer camps. I’ve seen my share, but admittedly, not all. So, maybe what I’m about to write is already done in some places. If so, would love to hear about it. I just haven’t seen it.

The soccer camps I’ve seen are slightly more relaxed versions of soccer practice, where kids go from station to station and do stuff and get zero to little personal feedback that can help them improve.

Here are things I think would be cool.

Coaches, show us what you got!

It drives me nuts when camp hosts barely touch the ball. The most inspiring moments I’ve had is seeing, up close, someone way better than me do something so I can see how it looks when someone good does it.

I recall taking some kids to a pro indoor soccer match. We sat close. During warmups one of the players juggled. You could tell it was next level with clean touch, perfect height and control. These kids had been bucking learning to juggle. “Too hard! You don’t need it on the field!” But when they saw it up close, their eyes lit up and it got them interested.

So, show how it’s done!

Evaluate individual technique and give pointers on how to improve it

Work 1-on-1 or small groups in evaluating technique on key skills like shooting, receiving, passing and dribbling and give pointers on a 2-3 things each individual can work on to improve technique.

I think a soccer camp is a waste if each player doesn’t walk away with a couple of specific insights on what they can work on to improve their own technique.

Teach one or two really fun things that can also be used in games

Kids should be learning the basics on their own and at regular practice. I think camps should be place to introduce one or two next level skills that can also be useful in a game, like pulling wild balls out of the air, beating someone on first touch and how to flick the ball on. These aren’t things that coaches typically have the luxury to work on at practice, but they can be very useful.

Give an overall honest assessment to parents and players on where they are at and what they can do to improve

I also think it’s a waste if kids walk away from soccer camps without having received some overall feedback on where the coaches on where they are in their development. Players should be benefiting from feedback from a variety of sources, not just their team coach.

This doesn’t have to be all encompassing. “Hey, you’re strong on the ball, but can really work on that first touch and thinking about where you are passing.”

Have some cool contests

One thing I do see at camps are games that are a bit more fun than the typical soccer practice drill. But, why not take it further?

Who can best bend a ball around a dummy? Most accurate 60 yard drive? Who can get 4 corners shots the quickest? Highest (in the air) juggle and still maintain control? Judging on dribbling through a gauntlet of an obstacle course. Judge on things like control, creativity, number of changes of direction and number of surfaces used on the ball. Who can blast a watermelon into bits with their shot?

Maybe have one or two of these types of contest over the camp.

2 Coaches v 7 Campers

I love Youtube videos out of Japan that show 3 pros vs 100 kids and the pros win. This is fun for the kids, plus it makes the kids think and models the skill and tactics they should be moving toward.

Adjust the numbers based on the age and skill level of the campers.

In my younger days, I taught a group of neighborhood kids basketball on my driveway. I’m not that good, but at the time I could beat them 1v5, so they got sick of losing and actually listened to me and soon enough we were playing 2v2 or 3v3 because they got better.

Other random thoughts on goofy contests:

How many defenders can you beat in a row on the dribble? Most creative juggling routine. Most body parts used in a consecutive juggle.

Why winning doesn’t matter in youth soccer…yet

I think participation trophies are bunk. But, so is winning.

When I ask parents about their kids’ soccer game they tell me the score and nearly every kid, it seems, is on a team that wins 5-1.

When we see 8 year-old’s win 5-1 in baseball, we don’t get carried away with thoughts of pro contracts when the winning team dropped 60% of the balls.

When talking about their kid’s baseball game, these parents don’t focus on the score. They say, “got a lot of work to do. Lots of dropped balls.” They know that 10 yo’s who drop 60% of the balls get cut.

They play catch in the yard.

Most parents don’t know enough about soccer. They see the 5-1 soccer win as a sign of stardom, even with the winning team’s 90% turnover ratio.

There are couple of misleading feedback loops in youth soccer that perpetuate this.

One is that 10 yo’s with 90% turnover ratios don’t get cut because of the participation culture in the U.S. Many 10 yo’s with 90% turnover ratios believe they are playing elite level, competitive soccer.

Another problem is few people are aware that competent players have low turnover ratios, which I also trace to the participation culture. When teams play against other teams with high turnover ratios within their skill bracket, to ‘keep them participating,’ high turnover ratios seems normal and people watching those games tend to think hustle and athleticism is what sets players apart. It does when neither team can do much with the ball.

A sign of progress will be when parents stop telling me the scores to their 8 yo’s soccer games, and instead say, “had fun, they won, but a lot of work to do! Way too many turnovers. We’re working on it in the yard, though!”

Coaching Corner: What’s your plus/minus?

It can be tough to separate your performance from your team’s performance. Sometimes your team wins despite you playing lousy. Sometimes they lose despite you playing well.

After every game, win or loss, you should ask yourself what you can do better? A great way to help answer that is with the plus/minus system.

What’s that? It’s a way to estimate your contribution to the team.

Give yourself a plus 1 when you do something good for the team, like scoring a goal, getting an assist, creating a key turnover that leads to a scoring chance or shutting down a key scoring chance of the other team.

Give yourself a minus 1 when you do something that disadvantages your team, liking making a turnover that leads to a goal for them.

Keep track as it happens. Scored a goal! +1. Got an assist! +1 Missed a tackle and got beat setting up shot for other team. -1. You’re at +1 net.

Of course, you’d like to end up in the plus, meaning you contributed positively to your team’s performance.

But, the minuses give you specific things to think about and work on.

The last game I played I had some minuses. One was that I took a first touch directly toward a defender, reducing my options for what came next. I recovered, but what came next wasn’t nearly as good as it could have been had I did what I intended, to cut the ball to the defender’s left, setting me up for diagonal dribble into space and several open passing options.

I will go home and work on that touch.

The plus/minus system isn’t perfect. You won’t remember everything and your assessment may not always agree with others. But, you will get more out of trying to keep track than not.

The added benefit is that it will help you think about the game at a deeper level,which will help you discover more ways to contribute. Do you give yourself a plus for that extra hustle that forced a bad pass allowing a teammate to intercept? Yes.

How about for drawing a defender out, opening space for your teammate to score? Why not?

What about for telling a teammate to turn because they had a wide open field behind them, and they dribble in setting up a shot? Yes.

Pro/rel arguments & my responses culled from recent Twitter

Argument: Owners of American soccer teams will not accept pro/rel.

Response: Has anyone asked the owners? If so, please point me to it. I haven’t seen it.

Actions speak louder than words. Several owners also own teams in pro/rel leagues elsewhere. This tells me that they are not all opposed to the idea. I also know of several owners of American soccer clubs, like Rocco Commisso, who would welcome it.

Let’s stop reading their minds.

Argument: Fans want to watch elite players, pro/rel doesn’t matter so much.

Response: Pro/rel does a better job at filtering up the elite players to watch, since clubs compete with each other to get that talent rather than colluding with other clubs to spread the talent for the sake of parity.

To understand this, it’s good to understand the difference between a league operated on open collusion amongst owners for talent and one with independent clubs competing to attract that talent.

Argument: TV networks wouldn’t want a NYCFC to be replaced by Ithaca United.

Response: First, NYCFC is owned by the Manchester City ownership group, which knows how to stay away from relegation zone.

Second, this perpetuates the myth that the main driver of ratings is the size of a team’s home market. This neglects a basic observation in the world of soccer: why so many people around the world who do not live in Manchester, London, Barcelona or Madrid, love to watch clubs based in those cities.

Ithaca United in its current state may not attract a lot of tv viewers, in our out of its market. Neither does NYCFC. Either team, built around the incentives to put, dollar for dollar, the best team possible on the field will be far more interesting to watch by more folks.

For the mediocre-by-design parity sports model, size of home market is a factor. But, even in soccer hasn’t proven out to be nearly the factor it is for the NFL, NBA, MLB or NHL.

For the ‘may the best club win’ sports model, it has been proven around the world that the top level can draw eyeballs from beyond their home territories, while still drawing considerable native support for lower division clubs.

Fair warning to FIFA

Dear FIFA,

While I know you are not angels, you have created a global system that’s made your sport super popular, based on a simple idea: sporting merit.

Here’s a warning. The experiment you let run in the U.S. is a parasite that will consume you if you do not act soon.

They told you that the U.S. is different. You were curious to know if their way could work, so you allowed and even funded the experiment. Why not? You didn’t have much to lose then and a lot to gain if soccer grew in the U.S.

Over the past 25 years, soccer has grown in the U.S.

To the casual observer, it looks like its top pro league has grown, too. But, you know as well as anyone that is a con job that is propped up by money from international competitions, as TV revenue for MLS, itself, is not enough to sustain the league.

There’s good reason for that. As Americans learn soccer, we want to watch the best players, best teams and best coaches in the world, so we tune into watch the world’s top leagues. Watching the mediocrity-by-design of MLS soccer is fun in-person, but not compelling enough to keep our attention on TV when we have so many other good options.

But, here’s the deal. The guys in charge in the U.S. are as greedy as you, maybe more.

That they haven’t transferred the success from other American sports leagues to the MLS has not made them any more willing to accept your model for soccer that has been proven the world over.

Rather, they may be coming for you.The European Super League was the first attempt to graft American sports collusion onto your game. They won’t stop.

Rather than replicate your proven model for success, they will come seeking to take command of the cash flows your way has created.

You can stop it. Simply start enforcing your regulations on US Soccer or open the door to charter another federation in the U.S. that will abide by your regs.

Personal finance basics

Here are a few things I wish I would have known better when I was starting my adult life.

Pay yourself first: Automate regular investments into retirement and non-retirement accounts.

Take full advantage of any company match that you might have for your retirement accounts.

Non-retirement accounts: Pay yourself first with 5-10% minimum into non-retirement accounts.

First, build up an emergency “rainy day” fund to cover unexpected expenses like car repairs and to cover your expenses should you lose your income for a bit. A minimum of 6 months of expenses is a good start.

Once you have that covered, direct that money to investments and saving up for bigger ticket items, like car purchases or home improvements, so you don’t have to pay interest on loans.

Keep your discretionary spending to about 30% of your income.

Don’t spend more than 30% of your income on housing.

Don’t spend more than 15% of your income on cars.

MLS D3: Is it a step toward pro/rel

Asked on Twitter: Is this a step toward pro/rel?

Answer: No. It’s about the 10th step US Soccer has taken away from it.

MLS D3 is the MLS attempt to further corner the market on American talent, so the MLS owners can monopolize the revenue streams that the NFL knuckleheads just recently discovered: selling player contracts of up-and-coming talent to clubs abroad and receiving solidarity payments and training compensation as those players continue to be traded.

MLS owners saw a few scraps escape them, as a crop of young Americans have gone to play for foreign clubs, without a dime going to the MLS, because they weren’t under contract.

It’s also evidence that the same knuckleheads see the soccer market in the U.S. as a zero sum game that they want to corner (and don’t realize they are restraining), rather than a positive sum game that could grow with the right incentives.

I would rather own a small piece of an exponentially growing pie, than all of a small pie that I keep to myself.