I’m reading Daniel Coyle’s book, The Talent Code: Greatness isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How.
In it, Coyle reinforces a key ingredient that I think is missing in soccer in the U.S.: cues that ignite an interest in the sport and guide long-term development toward mastery in youth, or as Coyle describes: “a paradise at the top of the mountain.”
Coyle illustrates the point with a few talent hotbeds. He writes about KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) schools and how KIPP teachers use making it to college to ignite interest in being good students and guide their long-term development, and how that starts in the first minutes a child is in the program:
If we had to classify the primal cues the KIPP students received in those first few minutes, they would fall into three categories.
- You belong to a group.
- Your group is together in a strange and dangerous new world.
- That new world is shaped like a mountain, with the paradise of college at the top.
These three signals might seem unique. But in fact they’re identical to the primal cues that any young Brazilian soccer players or Russian tennis players might receive, if you replaced the word college with the words being Ronaldinho/Kournikova.
I think there’s more than wanting to be like Ronaldinho, or now Neymar (the book was published in 2009) or Gabriel Jesus. Those top level successes serve as one level of inspiration.
But, young soccer players in Brazil have closer-to-home role models that they aspire to be like, as well: their older siblings and neighbors and the local club’s first team who are all pretty good.
They are more likely to interact with these role models than their counterparts in the U.S.
First, there’s more free play where kids of all ages play together and younger kids learn from older ones.
Contrast that to the U.S. where free play in soccer is almost nonexistent, so that first level of ignition from the older to younger kids doesn’t take place.
Second, in the soccer clubs, the older kids might serve as the younger kids’ coaches. The young kids get to know them and want to watch their first or second team games on the weekends, which further motivates them to want to play like their older heroes, so they, too, someday can make the club’s first team.
Since, school sports aren’t a thing in Brazil like they are in the U.S., these first teamers don’t disappear from the club for half the year to play with their school team, with strict rules to keep them from playing with their club during that time. So, they are there more often to build those relationships with the younger players.
And, this is important. If you’re an 8 year-old and your team is winning, it’s easy to think you are doing well and don’t have anything to work on. You no vision of what to work toward.
But, if you’re an 8 yo, and winning games, but still not playing like your team’s 16 yo assistant coach, then you feel like you have something to work toward because you know that is what it will take to make it to the first team some day. You have a vision of what to work toward.
Contrast this with the U.S. where club soccer kids are separated in age and skill levels, and rarely get to interact with older players. They’re coached by adults. So, these youth don’t get to know the club’s teenage players or the local high school’s players.
Because of this, it’s rare for the second level of ignition to take place, within the club, where younger players want to work toward being like players who are just a few years older than them.
In other words, soccer players in the U.S. rarely get a glimpse of the the right “mountain with paradise at the top,” when it comes to soccer.
So, they are more like the 8 yo’s winning games and not having a long-term vision of what they should be working toward. They think, “We’re winning. We must be doing something right.”