Soccer is an Academic Endeavor, Not Merely a Sport

The more I coach, the more I learn…the more creative I get…the more innovative my coaching’s become…

Right now I am really in the trenches trying to figure out this youth development conundrum…and believe me, it isn’t easy…

I have a U9 girls team, a U8 boys team and an U8 girls team that I am training so when I say that I’m deep in the trenches of “grass roots” soccer, that is exactly what I mean…

This week’s lesson was a team tactical lesson…I would say that 75% of the time I am focused on individual tactical intentions of the players, but this week was that 25% that fell into the team tactical intention realm…

At bay here was to start to teach the kids how to attack and integrate as a unit…a very difficult process…the exercise is called “Propagation of Attack”…that just simply means the spreading of the attack…or moreover, teaching the kids how to attack and integrate as a unit…

This lesson came with two concepts I needed the kids to understand in order to be successful…the first at hand is spacing…kids need to understand that support at these ages is not done by going to the ball…they have to learn to open up away from the ball in support of their teammates…the second concept was the transition of the attack…when the ball moves side to side, back to front or even front to back, the kids have to learn how to move and adjust as a team in order that there is support from all angles…

Now, I know some of you are probably rolling your eyes and saying, “He does this with eight year olds?”…and the answer is a resounding YES!…

while everyone else has their kids dribbling around cones and standing in line shooting on a big goal, my kids are learning how to play the global game…

So why do I write this? Because this exercise really gives you a good idea of what kind of talent you have on your team…Players fall into one of three categories…

There are those that just get it…yes, even at 8..i have quite a few on both my girls and boys teams…they move in and out of space very well…they support away from the ball…they transition with the ball in support…these are the kids I just watch in amazement because I know that mentally they can play this on a higher level than most….

Then there are those that have to be pushed and prodded a bit to execute…their learning curve is a bit slower, but with further instruction they may or may not get it…this is the group that you could flip a coin on…I never count a kid out in this group…

Finally you have your third group…these are the ball watchers…they are lost in the exercise…the exercise moves at a pace they can’t comprehend…those are the players that you can almost be certain aren’t cut to play this game at a higher level…but again, I never count any player out because I have been wrong in the past…One of my best boys players now at U16 was a developmental player of mine at U12…I would have never imagined his growth over four years to be what it is today…

So what am I saying? I am saying that the intellectual side of this game is what separates the bad from the good from the great!…simply stated…people want to believe that Americans are lacking the technical ability to play on the world stage…that is hogwash…what we are lacking is the ability to comprehend the situations at hand…the ability to analyze the moment in the game and make a split decision…the ability to recognize space in a sea of confusion…etc…

It isn’t the technical that is failing us, it is the ability of us to decipher a situation quick enough so that our brain can tell our body what we need it to do…to the naked eye it looks like a lack of technique…but that is only so for those that break it down on the surface area…for those that can see beyond that, we can look at the player’s confused state on the ball and know for certain the outcome (fumbled technical proficiency) was a product of their inability to analyze, interpret and execute (intelligence and creativity)…

As coaches, if we can teach our players to think and really understand this game, everything else will just happen…We need to stop looking at soccer as a sport, and start looking at it as an educational endeavor because in the end, the brilliant minds are going to be the ones that prevail!

Coach Randle

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