Want the U.S. to excel in soccer? Then youth should be playing 5-a-side until they earn their way onto the big field

Here’s a good account of the soccer culture in Brazil from Mike Singleton and a key part of his commentary about the Brazilian soccer culture and how futsal is integrated into it:

2) Futsal demands great technical skills and forces high speed of play (both thought and execution) upon players. In addition, players have to learn the basic principles of the game to play futsal and play both offense and defense … our players seem to sometimes take breaks in transition from one to the other in either direction.

3) The goals set up on multiple beaches and stands to watch beach soccer games show how pervasive a love this country has for soccer.

4) The goals set up in every small park in every neighborhood shows the pervasive love of soccer … these parks rage from sand to grass to turf to concrete.

I agree. I also think there’s more to it.

In the U.S., youth advance to the next field size and number of players on the field by age. For example, when a child turns 8, they progress from 4v4 small field soccer to 7v7 soccer on a bigger field.

This age advancement takes place before most kids have mastered the level they are on.

I have a simple recommendation to fix this: Advance kids by competency, instead of age.

A child should play 5-a-side until he or she has the skills to move on.

Soccer basics are 1st touch, dribbling, passing, tackling, winning 50/50s, defending and shooting.

If kids move up to more players on the field before they are proficient on these basics, their progress will slow down, by default, because they will get fewer touches on the ball.

I see the results in my local soccer league.

Each age bracket has 8-10 divisions of ‘premier’ teams and 2-3 divisions of ‘rec’.

Only the top 2-3 ‘premier’ divisions have players who are proficient on most of the basics (often, just barely).

The rest are filled with players who aren’t competent in most or all basic skills. Playing full field soccer doesn’t give them near enough touches on the ball they need to improve and many of them quit after a few seasons because they don’t improve.

I believe they’d improve quicker and maybe would stay more interested if they played 5-a-side soccer until their skills were ready for the larger field, instead of pushing them onto the larger field before they are ready.

Click here to see my More thoughts on 5-a-side post.



Business Rule No. 1


Folks snicker when I say this because it seems obvious.

But, for those unlucky enough to hang out with me for awhile, they come to appreciate that it’s not as obvious as it sounds.

One reason is that it’s not often clear what customers really want. Customers, themselves, do not know.

What’s worse is that they do not know that they do not know.

If you ask them what they want, they won’t say, “I don’t know.” They will tell you something. They often can’t articulate the many dimensions they’ve come to value or not value certain products.

Giving customers what they want can cost too much

Food Network personality and Chef Alex Guarnaschelli was a recent guest on the EconTalk podcast. In it, she explained a rule for her restaurant’s kitchen:

It closes when the last person who would like to eat here finishes ordering. You know? That’s when my kitchen closes.

That’s a great example of giving customers what they want.

Most restaurants have a set closing time and for good reason. It would cost too much to keep the kitchen open as long as Alex. A set closing time might cost some late night sales, but over time saves more in keeping the restaurant staffed longer and may be easier to keep workers who know when they will be able to go home.

As economist Thomas Sowell says, “There are no solutions. Only trade-offs.”

Giving customers what they want can cost too much, so business managers make decisions that might disappoint some customers and try to balance the right trade-offs to satisfy enough customers to stay in business.

Companies often give you what they want to give you, instead of what you want

This is my personal favorite, because I’ve seen so many managers over the years who thought they were ‘customer-focused’ fall into this trap.

Sometimes this works. Steve Jobs might be a good example of coming up with things that he wanted and it just so happened the folks who cherish Apple products agreed. He was a good representative of the tastes of Apple faithful.

But, I’ve also seen this backfire miserably, when executives of companies that served us common folk tried reshaping the company’s products into something they (affluent business executives) wanted. The problem was, unlike Jobs, they did not well represent the company’s customers.

Their initiatives would attract some people like them. Success would be claimed!

But, it normally cost them more than enough existing customers to make the net impact dreadful to the company’s top-line.

Many more reasons 

These a just a few main reasons companies don’t give customers what they want. There are many more — many are very subtle.

Business Rule No. 1 isn’t as obvious as it seems. Keep that in mind the next time you are not satisfied as a customer or your company is struggling to determine why it’s losing ground to competition.

“Some Say…” II

Lately, the media has reminded me this blog post of mine from 2013.

When reporting stories, especially politically-charged ones, they often present an opposing viewpoint under the guise, “but some say…”

Journalists use this trick to present their own viewpoints without appearing biased.

Lots of people say lots of things, especially on Twitter. It’s easy for journalists to find folks on it who have expressed opinions they agree with. They can weave that into the story to get their viewpoint into it and still claim to be unbiased…”but some say that isn’t right!

How often do they let us know who those people are?

Since lots of people say lots of things, why did the journalist pick that viewpoint to add to the story over dozens of others?

Just how many is ‘some’?

Keep that in mind the next time you hear a reporter say, “Some say…”

Space and time in soccer

Here’s an interesting soccer podcast from 3four3.com with Raymond Verheijen.

Here’s a good tidbit from Raymond (about 50 minutes in):

The difference between levels of the game is the speed of the game. At a higher level, you have less space and less time to make football actions. As a result, at a higher level you need a higher speed of actions.

So, football is a ‘speed of actions’ sport, in other words, it’s an intensity sport.

What you are developing as a nation is slow football players, that is, one tempo football players. That is also what you can see in your national team…they are big…strong…fast, but the are one tempo football players.

What you need are players who are able to deal with less and less space and time.

As long as you don’t solve this fundamental problem in youth football, you will not develop as a nation…

In the US, the game of soccer is typically played with a high space to player ratio. Either in this podcast or another one (I’m trying to find it), it was said that when kids move to the full 11v11 field at age 12, that’d be like adults playing on a field that is 200 yards by 150 yards. Too soon!

The players who rise to the top in the U.S. tend to be players who can run into that space quicker so they have more time on the ball.

Yet, what we need, is the opposite, players who can make quick decisions with less space and time.

How do you get that?

Stop playing shrunken versions of field soccer with high space to player ratios and introduce more small-ptich futsal and street soccer in to the mix that have low space to player ratios.

That’s exactly what happens in countries that top the list of the FIFA world rankings.