A swirling autumn wind ripped across the aluminum bleachers as I took a seat to watch a local high school soccer game. I generally don’t enjoy watching high school soccer because of the slovenly way the game is played at this level. I knew what I would see would be rough version of soccer fluctuating between chaos and kickball.
The warm-up for both teams involved some stagnate version of a shooting line and a possession-based game where players spent more time chasing the ball kicked out of bounds or colliding with one another than playing actual soccer. A bastardized variation of the rondo was quickly abandoned when the players argued and refused to go in the middle to play defense. Coaches littered the field with more cones and training bibs than I’ve ever seen. I sat away from parents and other coaches because they distract me with their cackling. The first 40 minutes of kick-and-run chaos tempted me to leave and think about how I’d never get that time back.
At times like these I have to remind myself to turn off my cell phone so I can just enjoy being “off the grid”. As a writer, I usually have a small notebook on hand. As I watched the game I overheard a group of parents discussing how they expected college scholarships for their child and eventually “the offers would flood in”. Being a former Division I soccer player, I’ve been through this whole process. Based on what I saw on the field, this “flood” of offers wouldn’t be for soccer.
I enjoy watching the game in its rudimentary and harum-scarum form. As a soccer consuming public, people watch far too much professional soccer then cascade expectation down upon the youth game. One can learn quite a bit from watching local games objectively. As I continued to write down notes for a book I’m currently finishing, the parents edged closer to me.
“I think he’s a scout!” I overheard as I jotted down ideas I’d like to write about in the coming week. Laughing to myself, I noticed the parents slyly begin describing who their child was with phrases like, “Jason loves wearing the number eight.” The crazy talk continued as I heard a parent say, “Jake should be used as a False Nine, that’s where his club team plays him.” Finally, the distortion of reality reached its crescendo when the parents got in an argument about what players, teams, coaches, and colleges were the “best”.
So, what is considered the best?
People are too concerned with being “the best”. Being “the best” is a myth. More likely than not, that level of ability is unattainable. When a person can begin to think of the best from a small to larger scale, the myth just might become reality. Players should concern themselves with being the best version of themselves–whatever that means to them. I’ve heard so many players claim they want to be the best player in the club, town, city, state, country, world, universe, multiverse, etc. without mastering the basics. Ambitious, yet misguided.
Players: The best in the sense of being the best player in the world is probably a goal you won’t reach. So, be the best version of yourself. Get yourself on a team where you are the worst player in terms of talent. Dominating as a big fish in a small pond won’t help you. Learn dribble patterns. If you can control the ball, you can control the game. Tricks don’t get you very far. Master the basics.
Consistency + Innovation = Progress
Excuses are unacceptable. Anyone can offer up a million reasons why it didn’t work out for them. The world isn’t interested in your sob story. Real improvement is a no frills, no excuses, no apathy zone. In true soccer development, you are either in or you are out. Part of what holds a player back is the facade that they have done enough. You can never do enough.
You can want something and maybe by the time Halley’s Comet returns to our solar system that will happen. Enjoy waiting until 2061. Go out and make whatever it is you want happen. Failure to act on something is pure lip service. Talk is cheap.
Learn how to dribble the ball. Go to a parking lot and use cracks in the pavement, the parking lines, pieces of debris, anything as obstacles. Change directions, cut, chop, roll the ball, try new things. And do this without being told. It’s not glamorous, but it’s real training. Learning how to really dribble means doing so the way the best players in the world learn–on the streets and courts. Do you really think Cristiano Ronaldo learned this with a set of cones or in a stagnate warm-up? Nope. This is what high-level players aspire to carry over from training to competitive play.
Coaches: Cut the complicated activities out of a training session if players aren’t at the requisite skill level. Patterns of play, intricate drills, fancy drills don’t mean a thing with players who can’t play. Strip away the complexity and let the players play. Throw in some combative variations of drills. Encourage competition and eradicate apathy. Observe when you must. Allow for free play and take note of who steps up and who bottles it.
Parents: You are the catalyst to a player’s future. You cannot want it for them. Their rigidity might stem from some of the things you allow. If you have younger kids, go out and play in the backyard with them. Watch a game with them. If you find them live-tweeting or texting during the game instead of watching, you’ve got a problem on your hands and so does the player. Pay attention to their ability to focus without being distracted for 90 minutes. Plus, it’ll help you learn the game if you watch it with them.