In addition to providing the thrill of victory and agony of defeat, competition gives us feedback. It benchmarks our play against others and exposes us to different ways to play.
One thing I see holding back top level of soccer in the U.S. is that kids in prime development years primarily compete on teams, which provides easily mistakable feedback on their individual performance.
When I started playing adult soccer, we had a superstar on our team. He won us a lot of games. It would have been easy to delude myself into thinking that I was pretty good, too, because, we were winning.
Our team wins gave me a mistakable signal on my individual performance.
I see a lot of kids in the same situation on their youth team. A couple rock stars carry the team and the other players lure themselves into complacency by mistaking the team’s results as a reflection of their own ability.
I’ve seen those players lose years of development by being shrouded from the truth of their own performance.
What’s missing in their development is competition where their individual performance is less mistakable.
I wrote about an approach to do this used in Belgium here. They focus less on team competition and more 1v1’s with little ones.
I think that’s on the right path, but still misses something.
Learning basketball in the U.S. also requires a lot of 1-on-1’s, but the bulk of those 1-on-1’s takes place outside of organized play.
Pickup play in driveways, parks, playgrounds, community center gym and churches teaches about 10x more basketball than team ball.
Your individual performance in these venues is close to unmistakable.
In case you do mistake your performance, like making excuses for losing (we all know people like that), your friends will keep you honest.
There’s nothing wrong with playing on soccer teams at young ages or keeping score.
The problem is that if that’s the only place you compete, it’s too easy to hide from your own performance for too long and not realize how far behind you are until it’s too late.
Absent pickup play, Belgium’s approach is better than the standard approach. That teaches 3-4x more soccer than the standard approach, which is not near the 10x pickup can teach.