When the team of 10-year-old suburban soccer kids that I coached played against teams from Latino neighborhoods in my city, it was clear that their players had better ball mastery and game knowledge than our kids.
I wondered what I was doing wrong, but I wasn’t sure how I could cram all that information into practice.
Soon after, I drove past an all-ages pickup soccer game at a high school field and recognized some of the kids from the teams we played against.
There was my answer. As Tom Byer says, culture matters.
It dawned on me that 90% of what they knew about soccer they learned informally, at pickup games like that, practicing on their own and following their heroes.
This is what I call the informal/formal knowledge ratio: the percent of the skill and knowledge of a sport learned from informal vs. formal play.
For the suburban soccer kids I coached, 95% of what they knew came from the organized setting.
Seems obvious. For our beloved sports, 90% of skills and knowledge comes from informal play — catch and driveway basketball, for example.
The organized parts of those sports are more focused on taking the raw skills and knowledge developed in unorganized settings and refining that last 10% to contribute to team performance.
Organized soccer in the U.S. tries to do the impossible task of making up for the lack of informal play and it simply can’t do it very well.
It’s like the difference between learning a foreign language in class and going to live in a place where the language is spoken.