America’s Lack of A Soccer Culture is Holding Us Back
International youth players live in a culture that’s constantly immersed by soccer and are absorbed, engaged and engrossed in soccer from the time they can talk. How can we introduce this level of soccer passion to our players in America?
Youth Soccer News: Noah Gins, CEO / Executive Director of Southern California’s Albion Soccer Club and NPSL’s ASC has just returned from the U.S. Soccer Academy Directors Course in Spain and wanted to share his experience with our readers.
SoccerToday Interview with Noah Gins
Diane Scavuzzo: You recently returned from Spain on a trip with U.S. Soccer Development Academy Directors’ course — what was it like?
Noah Gins: Remarkable. A trip like this is really eye-opening. It is amazing to go abroad and collaborate with other top coaches. The trip was very insightful and I gained a deeper understanding of the methodology, really the DNA of Spanish soccer, with respect to how their federation operates.
Diane Scavuzzo: What was most memorable?
Noah Gins: All the soccer discussions with incredible leaders in the country over meals Spanish Style.
The U.S. Soccer’s Academy Director’s course provides great opportunities to really divulge on how we are doing things in the US and measure our own ideas and our club’s philosophies and strengths.
Diane Scavuzzo: What was it like, working with the Royal Spanish Football Federation, the governing body of football in Spain?
Noah Gins: I was amazed at how open everyone was. Perhaps it was because we were visiting with U.S. Soccer, but they were so eager to share all their methodologies.
We were really able to understand their approach to building the national team and how they work within the structure of the Spanish clubs.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is the most significant difference between youth soccer in America and abroad?
Noah Gins: What is missing in America is the cultural piece of soccer. It is a missing ingredient in this country and the most significant difference — our youth players are not immersed in a similar soccer culture. You really feel it when you go abroad.
America youth soccer players don’t breathe it in a day-to-day culture.
When a coach, a player, or a parent who goes abroad, they really can understand the distinct differences.
This lack of being immersed in a soccer culture becomes compounded over the years and adds up quickly. By the age of nine, most kids in Spain have seen a lot more soccer than most of our 19 year-olds.
In Spain, kids are surrounded by soccer and the sport is built into them. It’s not just ‘show up to practice’ and then it’s on to something else. We cannot easily recreate the culture of the game — it’s in the blood, it’s in the minds of all the people, and all their kids.
In America, most youth players only breathe soccer when they’re on the field.
The players in Europe aren’t being taught more than we teach our elite players, they are just living their life immersed in the game.
If we picked up the Albion Soccer Club and placed it in Spain, I believe the abilities of our players would be on par with the skills of the kids in Spain.
In Europe, there’s not an emphasis on winning— it’s purely on development; player development with an individual focus. It would greatly benefit parents to truly understand this culture and be a part of this approach.
The U.S. Soccer Development Academy has literally initiated the principle and philosophies that exist in the top youth academies around the world and truly replicates these international professional academies.
Diane Scavuzzo: Is this immersion into a real soccer culture more crucial now that we’re trying to take the game to a higher level with better player development?
Noah Gins: Yes. At the highest level of the youth game in America, there is a piece missing that none of us can control. The more we can immerse ourselves and our elite players in the international soccer culture, the better our soccer environment will become.
The Soccer IQ in our country is severely lacking. In America, our lack of soccer culture leaves a void.
We have developed better technical players, but the tactical — the decision making and the game understanding comes from kids watching the game, breathing the game, playing the game, having parents that have played the game and allows players to have the game in and around them all the time.
Diane Scavuzzo: Is this the ‘missing link’?
Noah Gins: Yes. It’s not the coaching abilities — there are brilliant coaches in this country who understand the needs of youth players and have programs designed to accelerate player development. When you review what the top youth programs around the world are doing to develop their players, you realize we are doing many of the same things in America.
What is missing is the education on soccer and understanding how to play the game.
Diane Scavuzzo: Are the kids in abroad just more focused?
Noah Gins: The kids are playing for a different reason.
In America, parents have kids play sports to keep them busy and active. Parents want their kids on in a team sport for character building and in the hopes of earning a college scholarship.
In Europe, they’re playing to be a pro with no external pull or demands, these players are very much on one path.
Diane Scavuzzo: But, if you asked many of your youth soccer players …
Noah Gins: Yes, they would all say they want to be pros — we have kids that have the passion but to make it as a pro is very hard and they must be committed and do things that 99% of players won’t do.
The likelihood of making it to the professional level is very low because of all adversity and challenges. You have to love soccer and be willing to fight through everything that’s thrown at you, otherwise, you’ll stop before you ever get close.
Being this driven to succeed in soccer comes naturally overseas — more so than in our country, where kids have so many options.
Diane Scavuzzo: So this lack of concentration of soccer lessens our American players’ understanding of the game …how are we going to make up?
Noah Gins: Traveling internationally is critical. We must expose our players at a young age to what soccer is like internationally — they have to feel what it is like and draw comparisons. If they’re aware of this, they can try to lift that light and try to create it.
My world changed when I was 15-years-old and went to Germany with the US National Team.
It is important to get out of your bubble and see what the game is like overseas. REALLY FEEL IT – Then you will never lose the feeling.
Diane Scavuzzo: Then you’ll know what you’re missing?
Noah Gins: Yes. And, a good player can’t wait for someone else to create that environment for them.
They have to want it and create that environment for themselves and that’s where I think we have to expose players to the international game.
I traveled to Brazil for almost 15 years as well as London, Spain, Portugal and improved my own understanding of the game. I have gained incredible insight from these experiences. This has shaped my own ideology and methodology to coaching youth soccer, an approach that centers around our American players but incorporates the understanding and resources of an international perspective.
We have to get our talented youth players abroad.
More programs are needed to implement opportunities for our youth players to see soccer on an international level.
Diane Scavuzzo: How would you compare the style of soccer between America and Spain?
Noah Gins: In Spain, their soccer federation declares who they are, and they’re crystal clear. ‘This is who we are. This is our identity.’
They’re all playing a certain way, their commitment is to be great passers and great possession-oriented players. They truly love to own the ball and it shows in every way.
Diane Scavuzzo: How do describe our American style?
Noah Gins: In America, I don’t know that we really even have a soccer identity as a nation.
We’re hardworking but we haven’t demonstrated dominance in one specific area other than athleticism and great character.
I think we are showing to be more sophisticated in our attack although ball retention is something that really shows up weak when we are faced with top opponents. In Spain, they develop players of midfield quality in all their players. As a country, they take pride inside of their commitment to have the quality on the ball and the composure in all positions.