Why can’t kids organize soccer pickup?

In a couple of recent 3Four3 podcasts, Pranjic and guests talked about the inability of American soccer kids to self-organize a pickup game.

I’ve experienced that myself.

They wrote it off as something to do with kids these days.

I don’t think so.

Why? Because, I’ve seen the same kids who couldn’t organize a soccer pickup, organize pickup baseball, football and basketball games.

Why could they organize pickup for these sports, but not for soccer?

I think one reason is because they have more experience playing these sports in informal settings with mixed ages and ability levels and have picked up on the subtle solves for getting the game going and keeping it going.

Most of their experience in soccer has been coach-led.

I think the other reason is that the kids haven’t yet developed the skills to make soccer more fun in anything other than an organized game of kicking the ball into space and running to it.

That game doesn’t translate to smaller areas and smaller numbers, like a 1v1, for example. I wrote more about that here.

Short answer: culture.

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“Safety Dance” optimum

For my tastes, this song is played exactly the right amount on radio stations. When I hear it, I don’t change the channel. But, I also never seek it out.

Good discussion about true competition on the 3Four3 podcast

Guest Ben Fast and host John Pranjic have a great discussion about the nature true competition that is lacking in soccer in the U.S. and the role of governance in this 3Four3 podcast.

It would make Austrian and George Mason University economists proud.

Yes. Free Play Soccer.

I enjoyed this 3Four3 podcast with Ted Kroeten.

He talks about what he has discovered with free play and soccer for kids, through his Joy of the People, that organizes free play with kids.

Here are some quotables from the pod:

“Play early, learn late.” Sums up that young kids learn more playing with each other than having coaches direct them.

In terms of learning the sport: “The best soccer is closest to home. Playing in your basement is better than your backyard. Play in your backyard is better than your local park. Play in your local park is better than your local club. Play your local club is better than a travel team.”

“I cannot teach better than free play can deliver at the young ages.”

“Some of the things we discovered from free play. Feedback is inappropriate. Feedback between kids on the field is totally appropriate. Feedback from coaches is not. Telling kids to work on things, their weaknesses, is not appropriate. Letting kids understand what they can and cannot do from each other is totally appropriate.

While listening to this last quote, I thought back to the times where I could have been quiet. What kept me from being quiet? Parents expected me to coach, not be quiet. There were games where I was quiet and it wouldn’t be long before I’d hear that I wasn’t coaching.

Ted has thought about free play deeply and sees the complexities of the learning, copying from each other, and subtle forms for feedback that simply can’t be replicated in team practice.

In one spot he mentioned how a kid might learn that if he doesn’t pass to a player, then that player may not put in as much effort on defense later.

Or, when he was left behind on his local hockey team when his buddies moved to a travel team and he selfishly taught the others how to play better hockey so he could have some challenging competition.

The host, John Pranjic, recalled a time at a similar free play experiment that 3Four3 ran where the kids couldn’t solve the simplest things like picking teams or setting out cones because they were so used to adults doing all that for them.

I’ve had similar experiences coaching soccer. I recall a time warming up before a game when we told the players to get into 4v1’s. In one group, every kid had a ball. In another group, nobody had a ball.

Neither group was making any headway to get to one ball.

All stood waiting for us to tell them what to do. The other coach said, “Guys, if we have to tell you how to get one ball per group, we’re in trouble. Solve the problem!”

It wasn’t that these kids couldn’t solve such problems. They just didn’t have the free play experience in soccer and we’re use to doing what adults told them.

Around the same time, I watched these same kids organize free play in baseball, basketball and football. They could pick balanced teams, set up the field or court, and make other equalizing adjustments that selfishly kept everyone playing longer without any adult intervention, all learned from free play in those sports.

“Coaches are overrated”

The following is from a recent 3Four3 podcast with guest Mike Woitalla of Soccer America.

Here Mike discusses an observation from working with kids in a Soccer Without Borders program, which helps children of immigrants to the U.S. participate in soccer (from about the 30th minute).

What I really enjoy about these Soccer Without Borders kids is that their skill level is incredible. They’re from all over the world. A lot of them are from refugee camps in Africa or Asia, a lot of them came from Central American countries.

And very few of them were ever coached and their skill level was just absolutely incredible, simply from playing, which kind of confirmed what my belief has always been, that coaches are overrated when it comes to the technical part of soccer. Brilliant soccer comes from kids playing and exploring on their own terms.

I agree.

This is Tom Byer’s point of what culture, and only culture, can do.

But, what we consider to be incredible technical skill is as normal for folks from soccer cultures as throwing and catching baseballs and shooting hoops is to us.

I made this point to a fellow coach and friend. He played HS basketball.

We were coaching a group of soccer players who did nothing with the ball on their own outside of practice, making progress on basics, like receiving the ball, very slow.

I said to him, “Basketball coaches have it much easier.”

He asked, “How so?”

I responded, “Did your basketball coach have to take up so much time in practice working on basics like this?”

He thought about it for a bit.

“No. I learned on the driveway with my brothers. I had the basics before I joined the team. The coach just ran our asses off to get us in game shape and taught us X’s and O’s. If we didn’t know how to play, we wouldn’t have made the team. He wasn’t there to develop our individual skills. That was on us.”

I could see the veil lift and he asked, “What are we doing?”

After that, he texted me photos of kids he saw playing soccer on their own near where he worked, in a part of town that brought soccer culture from other countries.

He saw several groups of kids playing daily and it was a constant reminder of why our players struggled to complete more than a handful of passes in a game.

Winning matters

This tweet from Gary Kleiban got me thinking about winning…

While most people in the thread after that focus on the importance of winning and how to balance player development with that, I was more interested in this part (emphasis added):

…if one wants to develop competitors (in game and in life).

Is a winning drive developed or innate?

I think it’s mostly innate.

Coaches build teams with a competitive drive primarily by selecting players that already have that drive already and then using that to their advantage.

This is the same in education with efforts to measure and reward teacher quality. Teachers that do best on these measures tend to fall into two categories:

  1. Those who game the system to get the students best-suited to help the teacher achieve the quality measure in their classrooms.
  2. Those who happen to get a classroom full of the best suited set of kids for the quality measure randomly.

Like #1, winning coaches become good at recruiting players with a competitive drive and desire to win. These players also tend to put in the most effort off the field to get better.

Not to say that good coaches won’t help these kids get even better. But, probably not as much of it has to do with the coach as we all think.

A-students tend to be A-students no matter who their teachers are. Same goes with B, C, D and F students.

I encourage coaches who think they can develop the winning mindset to take over their club’s lower level teams.

I generally see coaches who try to keep their reputation up, keep a safe distance from these teams. Or, if they do need to take over those teams they will bring seed the team with a few of their higher level players to help the results.

That being said, I think coaches can help players learn how to process wins and losses, while having winning as the objective.

More to come on that.

Why U.S. Soccer is hypocritical for de-sanctioning NASL’s Division II status

U.S. Soccer de-sanctioned NASL’s Division II status because the NASL wasn’t in compliance with U.S. Soccer’s Professional League Standards of minimum number of teams and minimum number of seats in the stadiums, among other things.

I wonder when FIFA will de-sanction U.S. Soccer since it doesn’t comply with FIFA standards of promotion/relegation, training compensation and solidarity payments, among other things?