Don Garber on solidarity payments and training comp in soccer

From this State of the MLS address:

“We are not as a country participants in solidarity and training compensation. I think that probably has to change. We have to find a way where if that’s going to happen, how do we at least get compensated for it? I don’t know how we can justify making the kind of investments we’ve been making.”

“I will say our view of this whole area is very different than it was two, three, four or five years ago. I think the product that we’re developing has become some of our most important assets. We need to start figuring out ways to protect it or find ways to get compensated when we can’t sign them.”

That would be great. I think it would be pretty easy to start participating.

But, it wouldn’t surprise me if he’d like the MLS to receive those payments, but not have pay non-MLS clubs in the U.S. That’s probably the current hangup.

He also said:

“We need to become more of a selling league,” he said Friday. “As a person who has been selling this league for nearly 20 years, I’ve always believed you needed to have the players that resonated in your market to be those that could be aspirations for young kids peeking through the fence when they see them training. And we all need to get used to the fact that in the world of global soccer, players get sold.”

That sounds remarkably similar to what Darren Eales, of Atlanta United FC, said over a year ago to the Men in Blazers (emphasis added)

One of the issues it [MLS] has had is its been almost like a little island of its own. It’s almost isolated itself from the rest of the world football.

The point I made to Arthur [Atlanta United FC’s owner], the first time I met him was that every club is a selling club… You got to get used to that. You shouldn’t be frightened of it. This is how it works.

So my vision is that we could take players that were younger, invest in a transfer fee, rather than dead wages on player that was going to be retiring at the end of their contract and use that as a way to bring better talent in.

My view is, if MLS establishes that, you then are going to be able to attract better players, because more players are going to want to come, if they feel it can be a stepping stone.

It’s a virtuous circle. Yes, you’re going to have to be prepared to lose some players. But you’re going to bring better players in and be able to take the transfer fees and reinvest them.

It was easier for me to have that view because I came from outside of it [MLS].

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Example of simple brilliance in soccer coaching

I highly recommend that soccer coaches listen to this short 3Four3 podcast for a good example of how to coach an important, and mostly overlooked, skill in soccer: receiving across the body.

As a side note, I’ve used the 3Four3’s versions of the 4v0 and 4v1’s in my practices because they work on more fundamental game concepts than the standard versions.

Here’s just one example:

A standard 4v1 has four kids stand on the corner cones of a square and pass to keep the ball away from the defender in the middle. This trains players to stand like statues in games waiting for the ball to come to them.

In 3Four3’s 4v1, players stand between cones, on the side of the square (instead of on the corner), and move side to side between the cones, to check toward the person with the ball to give a supporting passing angle.

This provides training on three game skills in addition to passing and receiving across the body — moving to support passes, anticipating the next pass and communicating.

All these things improve the team’s speed of play.

My additional 4v0 and 4v1 recommendations

The 4v0 is for when kids aren’t technically ready to receive and pass under pressure of a defender. This is needed when they cannot complete 10 passes consistently, using proper technique, in the 4v1.

Without a defender, however, intensity and focus drop quickly.

One way I’ve found to keep the intensity and focus up in the 4v0 is to have the player with the ball pass to the first person who called for it.

This creates a competition between the two passing options, to see who can call for it first, and they quickly learn the sooner they call for it the better — even before the ball gets to the receiver.

So, this automatically teaches anticipation and communication. It also helps the passer start evaluating options before receiving the ball, instead of waiting to decide after getting it.

Giving the player with the ball a simple decision to make helps things, too. Without that, he or she too often overthinks their next pass, which slows ball movement, and reduces intensity.

By overthinking, I mean that they consider way too much. I can see the wheels turning when they’re deciding who to pass to. It can range from ‘what fancy trick am I going to do to show off’, ‘who’s my best friend right now’ or ‘she dissed me in the last drill, so I’m not passing the ball to her.’

Giving them the simple decision framework cuts out this nonsense.

Another way to motivate players is to let the players who are ready for the 4v1 play that and keep the players who are not ready in the 4v0. Let them know that they earn their way into the 4v1 by demonstrating they have the basics of the 4v0 down pat.

When they see some of their friends make it into the 4v1, they’ll want to be there, too. So, they will work harder in practice and at home to get better.

“Just one thing”

In a scene in the movie, Central Intelligence, Kevin Hart’s character is reconnecting with a high school classmate, “Fat Robby,” played by Dwayne Johnson.

Hart asks how he got in such great shape. Robby responds:

I didn’t do much really. All right.

I just did one thing.

I worked out 6 hours a day, every day, for the last 20 years. Anybody could do it, right?

That reminded of something I see in the telling of a lot of success, and failure, stories.

People try to boil it down to just one thing.

But, the real story is more like what Johnson says after that. It really wasn’t just one thing.

Hart’s face is the typical response you get when you try to explain it’s really more than just one thing.

Walmart’s success is a good example.

The first thing people think about Walmart is low prices.

Many people think that’s the ‘just one thing’ for Walmart.

They missed that Walmart invested heavily in its supply chain management, long before other retailers. They did this to help save costs and keep prices low, but it also had an unexpected benefit. It meant that stores were stocked and shoppers more often found what they wanted.

Even the second generation Walmart management lost sight of this, and other, important value dimensions as they focused on the ‘just one thing’ of low price in the 90s and 00s.

They kept costs low by doing things like servicing shelves less and cutting cashier labor to the bone.

This led to messy, disorganized stores and long lines at the checkout.

Walmart may have what you want on the shelf, but they made it less appealing and less convenient to get it.

For a lot of customers, cleaner, more organized stores with shorter checkout lines became more appealing, even if the prices weren’t rock bottom.

Losing customers to competition made Walmart management realize they had neglected the importance of these other value dimensions. So, they put more effort into keeping stores clean and organized and making it easier to check out.

Business improved.

It’s good to remember that success and failures usually come down to more than just one thing.

Many times those other contributors are not obvious.

“Rethinking Economics”

I enjoyed this EconTalk podcast with guest Maeve Cohen, about rethinking economics.

I also think there is much room to improve economics education.

Maybe there could a little less emphasis on how to calculate GDP and more discussion on the implications of a ‘incentives matter,’ for example.

Improve the bottom to improve the top

In his book, Soccer Starts at Home, Tom Byer challenges conventional wisdom/intuition about sports development.

His biggest challenge is to the belief that soccer skills are too advanced for young children to work on. Conventional wisdom holds that these skills come later, after age 8.

Tom thinks (and has shown with his own kids and pointing out kids from soccer cultures) they can and do start to develop as early as the child can walk, with the right activities.

I’ve seen soccer folks agree with Byer on that point, but disagree with him on another key point he makes:

To improve the top level of talent we have to improve the bottom level.

They believe the U.S. has plenty of top talent, so they think the key to moving forward is a matter of devoting more resources to that top tier to make them even better.

It’s easy to make this mistake. The top-talent seems to be there. They are really good.

But, still something seems to be missing in that top talent compared to talent from richer soccer playing cultures.

What’s missing? Tom Byer gives us the answer to that one, too. This is from his book:

“The best way to make the ‘elite’ player better is by raising the level of the lower-level players. They in turn will push the elite players to become better. Imagine you have a team of 20 8-year-old players. Three of the 20 are very skillful and the other 17 are not. Those three good players know they will most likely play every minute of every game and in their preferred position, even if they goof off or miss practice. So there is often a complacency with the best players who invariably are not pushed into making themselves better. But imagine if all 20 of those players have a similar technical ability. The competition then becomes much more fierce; they will fight to retain their position on the team and work harder to become better players.”

I’ve written about this before here, about an agent who places American players into European clubs. He says a key difference he sees between U.S. and European youth soccer players is the sense of where they are headed.

He said the American youth are happy to be best on their current team and there isn’t a competitive atmosphere to inspire improvement. The comes through as relative laziness in practice and games.

The European youth are working toward making their club’s first team someday and there’s a much more spirited competitive atmosphere to demonstrate they are heading that way. They’re competing for spots against other players who are just as good as they are, which motivates them to work harder on their own, in practice and games.

I’ll vouch for what he sees on the American side of things. I’ve seen it first hand and from interactions with other coaches, it’s common.

So, what does this mean?

Take Byer’s advice. We currently introduce kids to soccer through organized activities and expect clubs to teach them the skills they need to succeed.

He thinks that’s backwards. The kids should have those skills first, before joining organized soccer.

I think this is more like how we know other sports work. Kids typically know how to throw, catch and hit before joining a competitive baseball team.

“What is (or isn’t) authentic soccer culture?”

On Twitter, Alexi Lalas asked what is (or isn’t) authentic soccer culture?

 

Here are a few things I can think of…

Authentic:

  • A high portion of the knowledge and skill of the game is handed down to younger generations informally through family and friends in unorganized, backyard, street and park play.
  • Kids play a bunch of soccer and offshoot (e.g. monkey-in-the middle) without adult direction from the time they start to walk.
  • Street cred is earned with ball mastery.
  • By age 8-10, kids have picked up the sport’s base skills and tactics through the above without really knowing it. The game just seems natural to them and they can’t remember a time when they didn’t have these skills or knowledge.
  • Clubs provide playing opportunities from age 5 to 50 or 60.
  • Supporter groups in small to medium clubs, are people who play in the club at some age. They might play in the club’s U8 league or on the adult over 40 league.
  • Young kids in the club are coached by the teenagers on the first and second teams. These kids want to watch their coaches play on the weekend and work toward being like them.
  • Support and interest in the pro sport would be similar to what we have in football, basketball and baseball — in ticket sales and TV contracts.
  • 1st division teams are independent clubs that earned their way in, and stay in, with their results on the field.

Inauthentic:

  • Most of the game knowledge and skills are taught formally in organized play by pro or  licensed coaches (and it is believed that’s the only way to do it) or by parent volunteers who have zero guidance.
  • Ball mastery isn’t on the radar as something to strive for (or is believed it just happens with age and coordination).
  • Kids do not follow or discover the sport outside of organized play.
  • Young players don’t try to emulate anyone. They are fine with being the ‘best on their team’ at something (defense, midfield, goalie) and have no real sense of what they should be working toward.
  • The 1st division teams buy their way in and collude with the other teams, via the league, on the belief that close games against mediocre teams (what they call competitive) attract more eyeballs than allowing each team to fight it out.

In his podcast, he points out that authentic soccer culture is the violence and intensity simmering in soccer-crazed countries.

I think that’s just a signal of it. It’s not it.

If you put the elements of authentic culture above into perspective, one outcome may be more violence since folks are even more connected to their clubs than they currently are.

But, beneath that, lies a deep and widespread love for the game that we simply don’t have, yet.

Interesting

What You Should Do (via Marginal Revolution).

The first link on his list is to Y Combinator’s Request for Startups.

#9 on its list is Education. It reads:

Human brain power is vastly underutilized on this planet because most people lack access to a good education. Strong education systems lead to greater social mobility, better workers, better citizens, and more and better startups. A small increase in the learning output of education systems across the globe would have an enormous impact on human productivity and economic growth.

We are interested in new school models that can develop critical thinking, creativity, citizenship, and job skills at massive scale. We’re looking for ideas that combine technology and person-to-person interactions to deliver highly individualized educational experiences.

We also know that 90% of the human brain develops before age 5 and achievement gaps open up well before kindergarten. We’re interested in ventures that dramatically improve outcomes for children from birth to age five, that reduce inequality, and that have the potential to enhance the future quality of life for those children and their families. Scalable solutions in these areas should now be doable thanks to advances in brain science and technologies such as smart home devices, wearables, and mobile.

Maybe. I like simple things. But, that seems too simple.

Those gaps that open before age five, may just be the first signals of  families that value education differently, rather than some deprivation of resources.

Consider soccer. Some parents/families are into it. Some aren’t.

By age 5, there will be noticeable soccer-playing gaps between the kids from families who are into it and those who are not.

The scalable solution there is soccer culture. Nothing else will live up to that on a sustainable basis.

Likewise, to improve educational outcomes, the scalable solution is a culture that values education.

Oh yeah, and competition. The education system needs more of it.