I worked a college identification camp last week coaching 15, 16 and 17 year olds over the course of 3 days for 20-30 Division I, II, III coaches from institutions from the surrounding areas.
Would you agree that what the United States youth system does a good job of producing in our players are two things:
At the top end of the game, areas where we tend to fall short historically are:
- Technical ability
- Tactical awareness/Saavy
While both skill and intellect are improving on most levels, you might agree that youth player athleticism and willingness to compete are rarely ever in question.
The camp started with a series 6v2 keep-away games in a 12×12 yd area. What I found shocking was the lack of enthusiasm, energy and excitement from the players knowing they had college coach’s eyes on them from the first touch of the ball.
What was even more shocking was how playing “5v2” (6v2 in this case) seemed to be a foreign game to a majority of these players. Not one of the 9 groups of players was counting their passes. Most groups were playing 2 and 3 touch. Stringing 7 or 8 passes together was a rare occurrence.
Where did these kids miss the common rules of 10 passes you stay in the middle, nutmegs you stay in the middle, splits you stay in the middle?
As we progressed to small sided games of 6v6, where was the excitement of scoring goals and winning games? It just seemed like there was no life in any of the players.
And it continued in the full sided games in the evening. I was coaching a group of players in a 50 minute, 11-a-side game. Our team was losing 0-2 at halftime. Our team conceded the first goal by getting caught too high up field. One big ball over the top to an athletically gifted forward put us behind. A GK error (dropped the ball in traffic) off a corner kick doubled our deficit.
At halftime, I questioned my group and their lack of emotion from falling behind by two goals. “Do you guys care at all?” “Is anyone disappointed to be losing this game?” “Do any of you have the guts to try to get this game back?” “Or should we continue going down the same road we have been traveling – showing absolutely no care or desire?”
Here is my dilemma…if our youth system is set up to chase wins, medals, trophies and accolades – why doesn’t it show at this crucial time in a young player’s developmental process? Is it these particular players? Is it something we are neglecting them in the youth soccer developmental process?
I was afforded the opportunity to speak to this group of players at the closing of the camp. “I feel for a majority of you. You have had a great platform to be seen by college coaches and many of you have failed to capitalize on that opportunity. Your job was to stand out among the masses and make that coach take notice of you. Can you look yourself in the mirror and honestly say “YES” you did that? I would question if you answer yes. I’m sorry to be harsh….I just feel the need to be honest. If your number isn’t called from attending this event, understand a possible reason why. Grab a stronger hold of your next opportunity. Yes, these college coaches want to see technical ability, tactical awareness, a great save, an amazing goal, etc…all of those things are important.”
“But what every coach wants to see – above all else – is a player who HATES TO LOSE as much as he/she WANTS TO WIN.”