Salman Khan and Soccer

I like this quote on education from Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy:

The traditional model [of education] penalizes you for experimentation and failure, but does not expect mastery [e.g. time to move onto next subject even if you only mastered 90% of the last one].

We encourage you to experiment.  We encourage you to fail.  But we do expect mastery.

I think this applies to how we’ve structured youth soccer in the U.S., too.

Being overly focused on results at young ages penalizes experimentation and failure. So, we get kids who have won lots of games, but never acquired the competencies to play 11v11.

Soccer then graduates these kids to 11v11 based on their age, rather than their mastery of things needed to be competent in 11v11.

This results in a lot of kids making it to the 11v11 game lacking the basic mastery needed for the game.

Many never catch up or even realize they are behind.

In 11v11, they do not get enough time on the ball to make progress. I’ve seen kids who had been making good progress move to 11v11 and stagnate.

The few hundred touches they get on the ball in team training each week and the 50 they get in their weekly game is about 1% of what they need to get better.

What’s worse, they are placed into brackets of similarly incompetent players, so it’s never obvious that they lack these competencies.

What are these basics?

Receiving, shielding, dribbling and passing the ball with 60-70% or more effectiveness (i.e. keep the ball with your team at least 60% of the time it comes to you). I see too many kids in 11v11 who are 20% or less effective on these and everybody seems okay with this.

Stopping an attacker from making progress to your goal with the ball. This should be in the 80s or 90s, but too often I see players less than 50% on this and that seems acceptable.

I’d also expect players to have some basic communication down pat before playing 11v11, like calling for a pass (drop, square, through) and help teammates make decisions (time/on turn, carry, leave).

When I see players playing 11v11 incapable of these things, I think of Khan’s quote. Somewhere along the way we have said mastery is not an expectation. That needs to change.


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