I don’t know. Do you?
If so, please share.
I discussed this recently with another coach.
He told me something that I used to believe strongly, too: part of the club and coach’s responsibility is to develop interest in the sport.
I still believe that. But, my experience tells me that club and coach is a tiny part of that process for most kids.
Early on I thought sparking an interest would be easy. There were times I thought I was onto something, but the raised interest seemed to revert to the mean of barely interested after a short time.
Too often, unexpectedly, I found that teaching kids the fundamentals was counterproductive to sparking an interest. I discovered some kids loved the unstructured chasing of the ball and the game lost its magic for them as they learned there was some method to the madness and they were expected to learn it if they wanted to continue to play.
I also noticed that kids from soccer households seemed to like soccer more than those that didn’t. Pulisic and Sargent are great examples. It’s obvious that both were much more strongly influenced by coming from households where both parents had played at relatively high-levels than by their club experiences. Has either even mentioned an influential youth coach?
Few kids, maybe 10%, not from a soccer family developed a true interest in the sport. Some liked the activity, but not enough to do anything on their own. Others simply didn’t like it and quit as soon as their parents let them.
That’s why I like Tom Byer’s book, Soccer Starts at Home. He’s onto something that we overlook about all sports: a good deal of interest level and skill acquisition occurs starting at age 1 or 2 and is a product of the environment and activities that engage the young kids in their home.
We believe kids ‘get coordinated’ between ages 7 and 10 and can suddenly throw baseballs with pinpoint accuracy, for example. But what really happens is that many kids have been playing catch with all sorts of things since they could walk and we overlook how instrumental those 6-7 years of unstructured development were.
Go some place where kids don’t grow up playing catch and watch an otherwise coordinated and athletic adult try to throw a baseball for the first time and they look as coordinated and accurate doing that as a typical American 5-year-old.
If the goal is to grow soccer and improve the men’s players at the top level in the U.S, I think there’s a 10x better chance starting with the route Tom has identified rather than what we currently have.
The system we currently have rewards participation, rather than progress, and keeps kids doing the activity of soccer (rather than developing as soccer players) long past what their interest and ability level would warrant in other sports.
How many 14-year-old competitive basketball players are there who never played pickup basketball or shot on their driveway or park hoop for hours on end? Probably not many, unless they are tall and can block shots.
How many 14-year-old competitive soccer players do we have who have never played pickup soccer or shot on a backyard or park goal for hours on end? Too many. Maybe most.