In this episode of Coaching Soccer Weekly, host Tom Mura speaks with coach Mario Zuniga about a range of topics, including the difference between youth soccer in the U.S. and Spain.
I recommend listening to it. Here are some of differences that I can remember…
According to Mario, youth soccer in Spain is much simpler. Mario said it took him two years to learn about all the different organizations and associations in the U.S. and how to navigate them.
In Spain, everything is under one FIFA umbrella and all teams, at all age levels, are connected through the pyramid. You could be a small club in Barcelona and if your U16 team is good enough, it will play Barcelona’s U16 team. There isn’t a separate league or association for them.
Mura characterized this as “more centralized” than the U.S. I think a better term is more competitively connected.
I don’t get a sense that the umbrella Mario refers to makes heavy handed, politically-based decisions like a centralized authority (though maybe they do) so much as it acts like a central bank ensuring the currency used by its citizens has credibility. But, in this case its citizens are clubs and players and the currency is on-the-field results.
Maybe those in-charge of such a system are open to the idea that they don’t have all the answers to what is a good team and what is a good player and the absolute best test, by a long shot, for getting those answers is opening up the competition, rather than carving it off. You just never know what coach, club or player is going to break through, so they maintain a system that lets them.
It’s a lot cheaper for kids to join a club. But, it’s not a big money maker for coaches, which is one reason Mario came to the U.S., where he could make more money coaching.
A follow-up question I wish Tom had asked, what motivates so many coaches to do it, then? Is it purely love for the game? Are there other incentives, like hoping to move up the ladder to more responsibility?
Mario says that there isn’t a person playing soccer in Spain who hasn’t played futsal. For him, futsal was interchangeable with pickup soccer.
I may have over interpreted, but it sounds like futsal is a key developer of skill through pickup games at young ages, but clubs also start kids in futsal before they make it onto a soccer team to develop their skills.
Mario mentioned a couple times, “I just played futsal with my friends,” but we don’t really call it futsal. It’s football. It’s about the same. We just can’t always get 22. There are some differences, but those differences help you get better. Learning the control the ball on a different surface is good.
Part of that reminds me of something I told a parent once. Her son was practicing on their driveway. She was worried he’d get used to that and wouldn’t be any good in grass. I pointed out that any practice is good and multiple surfaces is good. We play basketball on several different types of surfaces, too. The ball bounces a little different, our shoes grip a little different, but we learn to adjust and that’s good.
The season and pace
Mario said the season runs from September through May and kids have one game each weekend. The weather helps, as they play outside the whole year in most parts of Spain.
I have a hunch that that more consistent and steady pace leads better learning and less burnout and maybe even more desire for kids to play pickup on their own.