American Soccer Challenges
American coaches are educated, creative, passionate, and caring. We believe that we are on a path to successful youth development in our own country. But there are challenges – Dr. Ron Quinn on What needs to Change in American Youth Soccer.
Dr. Ron Quinn is a member of the United States Youth Soccer (USYS) National Staff he was one of the primary authors of the USYS National Youth License and the State Youth Modules. For his work over the past 30 years in coaching education, Quinn was awarded the 2006 National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA), Youth Long-Term Achievement Award and in 2007 received the US Youth Soccer Dr. Thomas Fleck Excellence in Youth Coaching Education Award. Quinn is the coordinator of Xavier’s online graduate program in Coaching Education and Athlete Development.
Soccer has been played in America for 100 years, but only recently have we begun to study the game, investigate player development and educate our youth soccer coaches. America faces struggles and challenges on our road to accomplishing our goal to achieve the highest level of play with the best American soccer players, and how we go about reaching this goal is often debated.
Recently, SoccerToday published an interview with Paul Breitner On What Needs To Change In American Youth Soccer. It was wonderful to learn what Breitner thought as he has been involved with the game at the highest level for a very long time, giving him the wisdom of perspective. I support much of what he expressed on American soccer. Breitner talks about how American soccer players are developed and trained collectively therefor these youths have similar tendencies and moves — this is right on target.
When young players get a steady diet of technical training that is learned in static environments where the move becomes more important that the objective (such as to get behind the defender), the result is creativity declines and autonomy doesn’t happen. Creativity is important for soccer players of all ages, creativity is the essence that makes the game exciting at all levels.
We teach our youth soccer players that outcomes are more important than the process.
American youth players then lose the ability to enjoy learning for its own sake; something that was recently discussed in a Huffington Post article on the millennial generation. (The Three Most Important Questions You Can Ask Your Teenager.) Everything becomes about the end game. The joy never happens as the focus is always on the next step and never the present.
I particularly liked Breitner’s thoughts on the freedoms that a player should have to create the game for themselves. This philosophy of development is very much in line with the “Game in the Child” (Quinn, 1988; Fleck, Quinn, Carr, Buren, Stringfield, 2008) in the National Youth License (NYL). While I’m not totally in favor of players being responsible for one position, player development needs to allow players to be creative. American youths should have the freedom to explore the field, early in their “career” so that they can discover an area of the field that best suits their personality. As Americans, we do approach coaching soccer like football, basketball-baseball. These are great sports, but highly coach-centered and are games of execution, while soccer is different – it is a player-centered, conceptual sport based on a series of principles of time, space, force, and flow.
Sadly, we place players in soccer positions based on physical qualities; the fast child up top, the bigger child in the back or in goal. Or we tell the right back not to cross the midfield line, and then we wonder later why they don’t attack.
Too often American soccer players seem to fight the game. Our players are unable or lack the opportunity to internalize the game and view it through their own eyes. Do we really do enough for our players to understand and experience the aesthetic qualities of soccer? I think we can do more. I believe the American soccer player is an athlete. Athletes, by definition, have a broad range of movement competence. As an aside, I recall, back in the day, when we had the Super Star competitions, soccer players such as Kyle Rote, Jr, and Bob Rigby out performed their counterparts, (that’s probably why they discontinued it).
Because of the simplicity and complexity of the game, soccer players have to process a great deal of information, and constantly make decisions in an ever changing environment, something athletes in other sports don’t do without a time out. This requires great concentration, focus, perception, patience, and anticipation to name a few; critical traits for life success. The challenge is that our youth training creates fixed rather than growth mindsets (Dweck, 2008). You can’t learn to be creative if you’re afraid to make a mistake. Young players feel that, once they are selected for a team — even at an early age of seven or eight years old, the fear of being cut from a team or not getting playing time stops them from taking risks out of fear. Creative people need and have a strong sense of connection to their environment that provides the comfort, courage, and compassion to attempt to manipulate it. Do we — in America — currently let this happen so a real soccer personality can emerge?
Breitner’s final comment of what he would change in American youth soccer is where we part ways. Not that we can’t learn from coaches of other countries, but if we only need to partner with European coaches, we would have already won the World Cup a couple of times. Many coaches have come here and contributed greatly to become part of the American culture, but simply partnering is not the answer.
As someone who has seen the development of the game first hand, and yes, we have been saying we are 10 years away for the last five decades (Americans are optimistic), we have only recently, in the last two or three decades begun to make the changes needed to develop home grown players who can be as successful as Ronaldo or Messi. I believe, along with many people at US Youth Soccer, that we are on a path successful youth development through the NYL. If I were to wave my magic wand, I would change two things; first would be a societal move to reimagine organized youth sports, prioritizing health and inclusion, while recognizing the benefits of unstructured play – this is the work that Tom Farrey and the Aspen Institute are currently unveiling through a national initiative. The second then, would be to require all youth coaches to take the National Youth License course (NYL). Our highly effective NYL coaching education program will produce the right coaches which allow players to become who they should be. I can appreciate Mr. Breitner’s views of the artistry of the game. America may need more art on the field but the way we develop it shall be our own,unique way.
I would like to close with an unsolicited comment from someone who recently attended the National Youth License course.
“Most of the licensing courses I attended focused on one, usually inflexible, methodology. There was no particular emphasis on blocked versus random or constant versus variable conditions in training. These courses actually demonstrated all the different practice conditions, but demanded that coaches follow rigid protocols developed by one or another coaching organization. They completely and utterly ignored coaches who are independent, creative thinkers and they disregarded the fact that there is a wide variety of coaching methods available to teach a wide variety of players we have out there. The level I practice my trade as a physician require independent, creative thinking and an approach that is based on scientific evidence and not on protocols and doctrines. The level I would like to coach demands the same approach. The only licensing course that inspired me to use my brain was the National Youth License Course, where we learned principles, we had to think and we had to be creative. We were educated, not trained. This is what I missed from all the other courses, being educated instead of trained. I want to educate my players, not just train them.” Jozsef Fabian, MD.
To conclude, I wouldn’t call this magic, just the facts.
Dweck, C. (2008). Mindset: The new psychology of success, how we can learn to fulfill
our potential. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.
Fleck, T., Quinn, R., Carr, D., Buren, W., and Stringfield, V. (2008). The official US
Youth Soccer Coaching Manual. Frisco, TX: US Youth Soccer.
Mulligan, M. (1/20/2015). The three most important questions you should ask your
Quinn, R. (1988). The child in the game . . . or the game in the child? Network:
Official publication of the United States Youth Soccer Association, Fall.