What would I do different as a youth soccer coach now?

If I were to “coach” youth soccer with what I know today vs. what I knew when I was coaching, I would do things differently.

Rather than participating in organized leagues and tournaments, I would spend my time finding and organizing all-ages pickup games around town for the kids to participate in with kids from soccer cultures.

I think 2 hours a week of that would do 10x more good than the model of club training, games and tournaments within skill bands that is typical of youth soccer.

My “10x” estimate comes from playing against teams with kids from soccer cultures. Usually the score was, or could have been (if they didn’t let up), 10-1. Those kids were coaching and communicating with themselves on the the field.

The kids on those teams weren’t superstars. They were just competent in soccer’s skill and tactical basics by age 8 to 10 like American kids tend to be competent in baseball’s or basketball’s basics by the same age, for the same reasons — they have games and activities in their home lives that spur the development of those basics while having fun, so when they come to the team environment they have the basics to build on.

That doesn’t mean that they all become elite players. It means the same as when when 8U baseball teams play against kids with beginner skills equivalent to a 5U tee ball team, it will be a blowout. The 8U may look like superstars, but they aren’t. The just have more of the basics.

I remember watching tee ball games and thinking they should be scored by the number of outs a team can make at first base, because that is a rarer occurrence than scoring runs. The kids did not have the ability to consistently field the ball, decide where to throw, throw and make the catch at first base in the time it took the runner to get there. A typical game may have 2-3 outs at first and 25+ runs.

But, by age 8 or 10, most kids have played enough ‘catch’ with parents and friends in their yard, have to have improved their consistency on fielding, throwing and catching to 80 or 90% or better, and getting the out at first happens most of the time when it should.

The key problem with soccer in the U.S. is that most kids never get much in the way of something equivalent to ‘playing catch in the backyard.’ So, you wind up with older players that aren’t much better than where they were when they started, which I wrote about here.

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