A missing ingredient in US youth soccer

Here are two interesting podcasts from John Pranjic at 3four3.com:

  1. An interview with a former Dutch soccer player, Sacha, who is currently serving as a scout for the Mexican national team.
  2. An interview with an American coach, Kephern Fuller, who is building pathways for American soccer players in Europe, especially the Netherlands (or Holland).

I found the following tidbits interesting.

Growing up soccer in Holland (vs US)

Sacha describes what it’s like growing up as a soccer player in the Netherlands. It’s a stark contrast to the U.S.

It starts with neighborhood pickup games at the park where the older players bring you in to even out sides. That’s common for basketball, football and baseball in the U.S., but not soccer, which is mostly an adult-led activity for youngsters.

Then, you join a local, inexpensive club. He said every neighborhood has a club.

It’s cheap at about $250 per year for a 10-month season compared with $1,000-$3,000 per year for a youth soccer club in the U.S.

There, clubs have a club house, fields and junior and adult teams. Most clubs in the U.S. do not have a clubhouse, fields or adult teams.

At 15, he coached a younger team in the club. Compare this to the U.S., where coaches are either parent volunteers or former college/semi-pro players trying to make a living.

This inspired him to start a non-profit organization, Home Field Advantage, to teach high school soccer players how to lead and coach a soccer program for elementary students.

In the Netherlands, the youth teams in their clubs play on Saturdays and the adult teams play on Sundays. The youth players often attend the adult games. They know the adults because they practice near them and are coached by them.

I assume, that like much of Europe, in the Netherlands athletics and school isn’t wedded like in the U.S., so the club is the primary source of athletics.

This is the website for his club: Quick. With a little help from Google Translate, I’m able to deduce that they have youth, adult, veteran and masters teams. Sacha said they have 1,500 members and it costs about $250 per year to be a member.

Differences between European and American youth soccer players

In podcast #2, Pranjic asked Kephern about differences he sees between American and European players.

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.

Connecting the dots between the two podcasts

I think that both American and European youth soccer players strive to achieve within their bubbles.

But that bubble in Europe, created by the club, includes more exposure to higher levels of play for younger youth soccer players than in the U.S.

I’m guessing the lower senior team in Sacha’s club is equivalent to a high school in the US, with the differences being as Sacha describes — European youth are coached by members of that team and they watch their games. They want to work toward being as good as they are someday.

That may be a reason European soccer kids know where they’re going because at the top of their bubble is senior teams.

In the U.S., clubs and school sports fragments this experience. Eight-year-old’s in the U.S. aren’t coached by 15-year-old’s who play for the high school team and they aren’t interested in watching the high school games to be like them someday, because they don’t know them.

In the U.S., the players’ bubble is their individual team, or maybe the club’s top team at their age level, not a senior team.

So, high achievers are content with being ‘best on their team’ and not having a good role model to demonstrate what a complete player looks like.

Alex Morgan’s story is a good example. She was the star of her rec team team for years, but didn’t make the cut at her first competitive team tryout at age 13, because she hadn’t learned proper technique on basics, like passing.

She found a coach that worked with her technique (and she worked hard to develop it).

She did not see what good looks like until then.



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