By: Jon Townsend


If there is one piece of advice for anyone overseeing, encouraging, or involved in the development of young players it is this: haste makes waste.

One should not assume that “the route to the top” is possible by anything other than taking the stairs,  not the elevator. Success is culled from struggle. Step-by-step, hour after hour, not for days, not weeks, not months, but for years. So often, those who should exercise the power of experience (in terms of age) do not exercise patience with regards to player development; instead hinging progress on results rather than performance. Granted, the two are connected; however, I’ve seen many a great player suffer at the hands of being on a bad team or involved with a bad coach or club.

Here’s the problem…I find people aren’t interested in advice. They are, however, addicted to asking questions whose answers they have no interest or intention of finding or applying. Young players are plagued by this due to their youth and lack of experience. But coaches and parents are masters in hearing over listening.

Look, I’ll be as honest as I can regarding the delivery of this message, the questions you seek are not merely as important as the answers you will receive or find and your ability to apply them.

When I tell a player to perform thousands of functional touches on the ball each day, I don’t tell them because I think they’re bored and need a new hobby. Nor do I think they yearn to become a freestyle footballer. I tell them because their technical game lacks refinement and it is their responsibility to remedy this aspect.

What that also means is when I tell that player’s parent or coach a solution, it’s not to hear my own words to validate myself or convince others I’m right. It’s because I want to see players evolve and for this to happen, people need to listen.

Listening is a skill. Receiving messages, sifting through the delivery, processing the information, all of this is not easy. The next step is even more critical — application. People generally fail at this application step over and over in many aspects of life. This is how we accumulate experience and learn. However, soliciting information that someone else is more than happy to give in return and repeatedly failing to follow through or heed the message is an insulting exercise in the inane and the utterly insane.

Here’s a quick story:

I once trained with a running group before my first ultra-marathon. The group consisted of experienced runners, bold athletes, trained triathletes, former collegiate athletes, and couch-to-5/10K veterans looking to extend their race distance significantly. The leader of the group had experience running Boston before it was trendy…in a pair of Onitsuka Tigers and cotton socks…hungover. There was no race distance he had not covered. Quite simply, he was a freakish machine of sinewy running perfection. He didn’t look like a runner — instead he looked more like a triathlete who ran every day but never considered it training unless his mind was right.

Every training run we’d split up in groups based on race distance (some trained for marathons, others trained for 50Km or 50-milers, etc) and ability/fitness level. Each subgroup had varying end-points and distance markers to help customize the training for us. Every single session one individual who was a bit heavyset asked him a question: How do I improve my speed? How do I get fitter? Why do my joints hurt? Is my technique OK?

Every time without fail, someone with more ability or experience gave him answers. And every week this guy would have yet more seemingly random questions. This continued until he asked me a question. As a guy learning and testing what my endurance and mental toughness limits were, I felt that I was in no position to give him answers to the questions he asked me. So, 17 miles into a long run, he asked me: what kind of music do you listen to so that you can hit your splits?”

“What?” I asked in disbelief.

“Your music…what kind do you listen to?” He asked again.

“I don’t have earphones in and I don’t have music on. I hit my splits based on the clock, not music,” I responded.

“OK, but if you did have music what would it be? Rock or techno or something…”

I realized then and there this guy was scared of not knowing. He was a great runner when he allowed himself to just run….and, maybe learn and when he allowed himself the time to exist in his own head without the need of reassurance. Maybe he liked the small talk…and anyone who’s running insane races tends to talk to deflect fatigue or distance themselves from the mental and physical anguish.

Some people like to hear their own voices.

I pushed the pace to the point he could not waste his breath asking questions. He fell back and I could hear him struggling, his breathing out of synch with his cadence, and I could sense his form wavering.

At the end of the run he looked at me and said, “What the fuck was that for?”

I stared at him and said, “Thank you for pushing me through those last few miles.” I patted him on the back and handed him a water bottle and began my cool-down. The leader of the group walked up to us and said, “Why did you try to run Jon’s pace? You aren’t training for his race; you’re training for your own.”

That’s when I heard him at it again.

“What would you say…” by this time I walked away knowing his questions was merely a deflection.

People have questions and I’ve found that for many, answers and reassurance is what they seek. But, the more I reflect on this, the more I find that many ask questions and yet fear the answers. They have little interest in being told something that doesn’t align with their desires.

We have too much of a good thing.

When I was a young player, had to ask the coach the questions in-person or on the phone. Cold call. My parents could not and would not ask questions on my behalf. The generation before me had even less to work with; yet today, the helicopter parents and accumulators of knowledge are fighting battles, seeking answers, and acquiring knowledge they are not applying or relaying to those they say they intend to help.

“How can my kid get to Europe to play?”

The better question always lies in the answer regarding an inquiry like this: “Is he/she the best player in the area?”

“Well, *insert reasoning and verbal vomit on why their kid isn’t doing X*”

I have been tempted to say: “Get on a plane to Europe, pack a ball, done.”

I’m not joking when I say it’s OK to harbor ambitions and dreams for your players, yourself, or others. It’s more than OK to seek answers to questions, but you must learn to listen, to process the information, to cull meaning from it all, and to apply it.

Haste makes waste: rushing a player or yourself through something is an exercise of regression. Dominate the local player pool, then aim just a bit further to the next level, and then the next, and so on and so forth…

A sobering truth is Europe is last place a player of average work ethnic, technical ability, low mental endurance, and helicopter parents/coaches should go. They have hundreds of kids in waiting that are not only better, but more suitable options for their academies. Take care of business at home first and you will find the journey much more worthwhile.

Returning back to where we started…

“10,000 touches a day on the ball seems like a lot…I don’t think I can do it. What do you think?”

“It is a lot. And you’re right, you probably can’t do it because you won’t do it. But I’ve also posted numerous segments, WODs, videos, on this…that’s what I think.”

The answers are there and they are painfully simple.

Train, be tough, be creative, only seek advice you intend to follow, develop the skill-set and mindset to succeed without falling prey to your own ego, don’t be an enabler, and remember that asking questions is OK, but asking questions is merely part of the process. Don’t pat yourself on the back from reaching out…apply what you’ve learned and let others pat you on the back instead.

Thank me later.

Published by Jon Townsend

Jon is a long-serving writer for These Football Times and the Original Coach and is the author of the upcoming book "It's Just a Ball: Exploring the Complexities of a Simple Game". Jon is a supporter of Liverpool Football Club and AFC Ajax. Based in the U.S., Jon is involved in promoting grassroots football and specializes in player development writing and coaching. He is the co-founder of Year Zero Soccer, a non-profit grassroots football organization that is partnered with TFT. His work has been featured on the Guardian Sport Network, Inside Soccer, NSCAA Soccer Journal, White Lines Magazine, and Spartan Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @jon_townsend3

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