Note to parents: coaching over levels

I ran three meetings back to back last night. They were for various groups but all were about our Evaluation process for forming teams at U11 to U14. The first was for current U10 Age Group Coordinators and coaches. They are the ones heading into tiered soccer for the first time. They will also be the front line for questions from parents and players so it was important they got clear information. The middle meeting was for U11 to U13 Age Group Coordinators and coaches. For the most part, they have already been through our process, have bought in and it was just a matter of bringing them up to speed on some relatively minor changes we’ve made this year.

The last meeting was with the parents of U10 players. This was the group that I had to be address most carefully. I’d already had several emails, discussions and phone calls from people in this age group letting me know about rumours circulating “through the grape vine.” Misinformation is common each year as we approach team formation time so I really wanted to get a clear message across.

Of the 60 or so parents there I’d guess from the questions asked and my knowledge of the people there that 80% were there to find out more about the highest level of play, U11 Gold.

So I started with this gem. “The level you plan next year does not matter. It really does not matter. What’s more we really do not care how many games your teams win.” My immediate survey of reactions around the room ran the gamut from amused to bemused to dismayed verging on gravely disappointed.

Most of these parents were quite happy to put the U6 to U10 House league years behind them and embrace a more competitive, more involved soccer experience at U11. I fully understand that House league can be a frustrating experience for some but this hypnotic effect that particular levels of play have on parents continues to baffle me. If parents invested as much time and energy in learning about what makes a good coach rather than positioning their kids for levels of play they would be doing a better service for their kids.

It’s about coaching.

It’s about parents being demanding that coaching continues to get better and that clubs commit to coach development so that more players end up getting, at the very least, decent coaching whether they are playing at the lowest or the highest level. As I’ve said before the next wave of professionalization is going to be private coach development. There are so many kids playing and so few knowledgeable coaches capable of working effectively with younger players that someone is going to step into that market to help the motivated parent coach become a much more complete coach.

Until that happens though, parents need to do their homework and that has to extend beyond asking their kids who they think is a good coach. I don’t know of many areas in life where a parent’s views and opinions are shaped, sometimes exclusively, by what their 10 year old tells them. My ten year old doesn’t tell me what car I should buy (though he may try) or who I should vote for but somehow they have become important arbiters when it comes to the quality of soccer coaches. It is up to parents, if they want to make a personal investment in the quality of the experience of their child’s soccer years to learn what makes someone a good coach. Just because a coach gives out candy to the players after practice does not make them a good coach. Just because they have a European accent does not make them a good coach. Even having a high level of certification is not a guarantee of coaching nous. And most definitely, someone who points to a record of many more wins than losses is not necessarily what you want.

Going back to the meeting last night, I thought about qualifying my statement about winning not mattering by saying, as I’ve said here and on Twitter, that I do think teaching kids how to win and how to manage games to increase the chances of wining is important but that it should really only come in to play around U15/16 but I didn’t.

The message has to start changing from “the best level of play is the highest one you can possibly attain regardless of other factors and good coaches can be measured by wins” to “if your kid enjoys soccer find a development environment that facilitates their continued progress and that means focusing on quality coaching over levels”.

There are three critical assumptions in what I’m saying that I admit could be a stretch:

  1. There’s loads of good coaches out there for parents to find
  2. The best coaches are working in environments that are appealing to motivated players
  3. The ‘best’ coaches are also the ‘most suited’ to working with younger players.

Let’s address these.

Here in Canada, no, there are not nearly enough good coaches to work with the high participation rate we have in the game. It’s a serious, long term problem.

We do generally, and increasingly, have some of the better coaches working in good developmental environments. Pretenders are increasingly found out and pushed aside as good, young coaches take their place and get established. Competition among coaches for good team environments to run well paid gigs is good. It’s getting close to the stage where I can say that overmatched, or simply poor, coaches in higher level environments are becoming an anomaly but not entirely. There is still a need for parents to focus on who their coach is going to be in a particular environment and sometimes make tough decisions about where to play based on what is offered in terms of coaching and support provided to coaches by clubs.

Lastly, defining the ‘best’ coaches is highly subjective and the qualities that make someone a great coach at one age/level does not necessarily make them a great coach at another age/level. Parents need to know that the qualities they should desire in a coach at U11 gold are very different from what they should be looking for in a U16 BCPL coach.

Clubs are increasingly committed to the development principles laid out in the LTPD model established by the CSA. That dedication to developing quality players over collecting league titles and trophies at U11 to U14 needs to be supported by parents and the best way they can support that is to ask questions about coaching, learn what a good coach looks like at the various ages and levels and make decisions based on what coaching is available rather than just looking at the labels attached to levels of play. It will force clubs to help develop better coaches and force coaches themselves to be better at what they do. Plus once coaches know that parents truly support development over results at these ages they will embrace teaching first touch, passing and support over short term tactics designed to score goals that will work well at U11 and fail miserably at U14.


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47 Responses to Note to parents: coaching over levels

  1. TM says:

    All very valid points but the more I get exposed to this situation the more I realize that trying to convince parents that “wiining now does not matter” is a lost battle.

    And you know what, why wouldn’t it be so?
    Talking from my experience (only boys teams) most parents don’t have any expectation that their kids will play at the college or professional level as adults. So, why would they care if their kids maximize their potential in the sport? If what they will be doing later on is at the most playing beer league games should they care if little Johnny plays marginally better 20 yrs from now?
    Now, what does winning now gets you? Frigging bragging rights to other parents! Hey bud, my kid’s team killed you this week, eh?

    Once one realizes that youth soccer is a cheap spectator sport, with the added benefit that you can berate the “stars” all you want because they live in your household, it sort of makes sense.

    • Gregor says:

      I’d say there’s still a measurable percentage of players and parents who see either university, professional or national team futures. Obviously some will attain those levels but I don’t think many parents know what the odds of each of those scenarios are.

      I do also think that we’re getting to a more evolved stage where fewer parents are living vicariously through the kids soccer ‘careers’ but, yes, it does still exist.

      • Bonnie Fairbairn says:

        I like reading your blog, keeps me informed as a soccer parent. Can you tell me why there is no U17 Metro team. I have a late birthday child who does not want to play u18. She is still 15 and won’t be 16 until the end of the year.

  2. Soccernerd00 says:


    Very impressed by your blog and your approach! Having said that, things have just simply gone too far. I feel compelled to comment.

    First, the point of the game is to move the object (the ball) through an opponents space and place it in the opponents goal, all while attempting to stop the other team from doing it. Doing it more often than your opponent is the point! Winning is the primary objective of the idea of any invasion team sport! It is the point of the construct.

    Of course, different participants play the sport for a variety of reasons. In my view, the obvious ones are as follows:
    – To belong to something
    – To Compete
    – To get exercise
    – Because it is relatively cheaper than other sports
    – Because their friends are playing and it is relatively easy to access the opportunity

    A long way down the list of reasons for beginning to play a sport is “my personal SKILL development in the sport.”

    I am baffled by how a small group of “professional coaches/player developers” have won a political battle to create the conversation that it is all about player skill development. I am certain that the vast majority of players or parents would not place “skill development” as the primary objective of participation in the sport- ironically, unless they have dreams of little johnny hitting the “bigs” one day.

    In fact, I would say that deep down the majority of families involved in soccer are more likely to have the primary objective be an opportunity to participate, to contribute, and to be in a healthy/safe/active environment with other youth of similar interest. Coaching resources might be better spent in supporting players who want an opportunity to enjoy the sport and contribute to “success” (Yes, winning is success). I make up that when you go out to coach the house teams, they value fun, organisation, professionalism of the coach, activity level, and games play, much more than they do skill development.

    Again, in my view, the issue with valuing results is not one that is in opposition with development, but in treating players/participants with respect and providing them all with an opportunity for being valued.

    Yes, it is more fun to be better at what you do. But it is also much more fun to win. I would wager that satisfaction rates by players who play for teams that pass the ball endlessly only to lose would be significantly lower than players who play for teams who pass the ball less and WIN, while being provided an opportunity to contribute and being treated with respect.

    We will not be producing significant numbers of players who will earn a living in this game. We may be better off teaching players to attempt to meet the objective of the sport- move the object through opponents space and scoring more than them, while having a lot of fun doing so. You, and others may argue that passing the ball endlessly is the way to do that, and you may be right. However, I have yet to see evidence in local youth soccer that this type of development leads to more success- that is satisfaction of the players and the results created by this approach.

    In that model, “losing today to win tomorrow,” I am not sure the winning ever comes, and who is it more fun for? What are we developing these skills for?

    What may be accomplished is some creating an environment for players who are marginally more comfortable on the ball and who may have somewhat more mastery of the ball. I wonder if that means more fun for more players, or just for the few at the top of the local pyramid. And I doubt that it means more international level footballers.

    Maybe there are other approaches that could create players who actually make decisions based on success on the field today, still allowing them to develop a set of skills (including the critical decision making process, treats players with respect/provides them all with opportunity, and allows players and the team to pursue WINNING as a worthy objective?

    • NW says:

      I agree that development and trying to win are not mutually exclusive and your points on why kids participate are probably accurate but you are missing the point on development and coaching to win.
      The idea of coaching for development means that all kids are being encouraged to participate and learn the game so that they develop enough skill and understanding to want to keep on playing at whatever level suits them when they are older.
      The idea of playing to win at a young age often means 1 or 2 kids get all the touches on the ball as they dribble through the team ( or kick and run to each other ) and score The others have minimal participation and hence limited development and often drop out before adulthood. Unfortunately the 1 or 2 that had all the touches also often don’t develop the other necessary skills to continue their dominance and start to drop off as they get older. They then become frustrated and may also stop playing. a lose – lose situation.
      The premise on development is the more touches and involvement the more likely to develop and continue to play (level irrelevant ). win – win long run

      • Soccernerd00 says:

        Thanks for your comments. We actually agree. These two ideals are not exclusive of each other. And no, I am not missing “the point-” at least not the one you are addressing. In fact, the point is that learning to teach players the skills AND the knowledge to attempt to win is being left off the agenda. It is the definition of “Development” that I am challenging.

        Your comment re the 1 or 2 players that had all the touches is accurate and can be solved or addressed in all kinds of ways, most of which have nothing to do with either skill development or coaching to win. Of course, coaches abuse tactics and make choices that effect development by encouraging behaviours that are designed to win now. However, it is specific choices that need to be addressed rather than the overall idea that trying to win is not important.

        I maintain that it must include learning to pay attention to what creates success today and adapting that definition as the players move through stages of development.

        And I believe this is a mistake of the largest magnitude to make this about only technique development. This argument is absolute garbage in my view. A player must make choices about which techniques to apply and when, and to do so all in the context of the game. To simply apply technique in order to “get more touches” means players must later unlearn their decision making process. In fact, I believe this makes them less successful and ultimately is less fun- actually keeping players out of the game rather than assisting in guiding them to the place that will allow them to stay in the game for longer. Coaches who teach players to make counter intuitive (to the objectives of the game) like passing the ball into pressure and danger, just to count passes, are doing the players development a grave disservice. It is the decision to apply learned technique that must be trained.

        For example, when a player/team passes the ball into trouble and gives the ball away in dangerous areas (ie where they are outnumbered and close to goal), repeatedly, and the team loses 5-0 to a team that pressures successfully, gets the ball forward, and scores goals; and the coach says this is good stuff team, keep passing the ball and we will one day learn to win once we have developed skills, the message he is sending the players is WRONG. Passing the ball well can be learned and achieved even more successfully if they are shown how, when, and where to pass the ball, not just to pass the ball. And this can achieve success (winning) too.

        I with believe that the best players are not technicians, but players with good technique and understanding who’s decision making process allows them to apply the techniques they have developed.

        Deal with the issues of coaches who are asking players to do things that effect development (like kicking people, running over GK’s, showing a lack of respect for opponents/officials/team-mates, discouraging risk taking in the appropriate places on the park, sitting out weaker players in 8 a side soccer, not providing players with enough touches on the ball in training, not asking players to make decisions that effect the teams success in moving the ball through space or advancing the teams attacking players through possession, etc.).

        Don’t throw out the idea that the game is a competition and the point is to outthink, out-move, and outplay an opponent to attack dangerous space or deny dangerous space in order to score more often than the opponent. It is the point of the game!

        Passing the ball and winning are not exclusive of each other. Winning and development are not either. But teaching players to make decisions that will create a losing environment does not have anything to do with the overall development of the player. Passing the ball while disregarding decision making may create more touches on the ball (I don’t believe it does), but it certainly will not create better soccer players- it negatively effects player development!

      • Gregor says:

        80% technique up to U10, then a wider mix of tactical play and shape from U11 to U13 gives, for me, a framework to start introducing results-based play.

        “A player must make choices about which techniques to apply and when, and to do so all in the context of the game.”
        How do you expect them to do this at a young age unless they have spent the time learning technique. I know how long it takes for the average player to learn basic technical skills and I know that very few of them train more than twice a week with most training once per week. If you are not spending almost all of that time up to U10 teaching technique, rather than ways to win games, they are simply not going to have the technical base necessary to layer tactical play on top of when they hit divisional soccer at U11.

        Your passing the ball in the defensive third example is exactly the sort of thinking that is holding development back.By spending the time teaching players have simple passing and moving can break through high pressure at younger ages you now have so much more field to work with when you break through and have numbers to attack with. WHO CARES IF YOU LOSE SOME U9 GAMES 5-0 GETTING TO THE STAGE WHERE THEY LEARN THIS. It is so fundamentally important to learn to play through pressure that we should be grateful for these opportunities at younger ages to play through poorly organized pressure. So they concede goals while on that learning curve. We have to get past caring about that. And that’s what the gist of my post was about: parents have to see that development is long term and value the coach who commits to it over short term success at U9. There is no World Cup at U9. At U9 there is no inappropriate place to take a risk during a game. They will learn themselves which risks are worth taking and which are not. Give them the room to learn that while supporting constructive play.

      • Gregor says:

        Winning becomes important at some point. People differ over when this becomes important and when it becomes paramount. Until we are on the cusp of saying a player has all the basic tools to play the game effectively and flexibly, winning is irrelevant. There is enough natural competitive drive in kids to make them push to score goals inherently without adults making it part of the curriculum.

        It wasn’t a political battle to move away from results to a more player development focus. It was a common sense argument that was made clear to people by the success of Barcelona. The people pushing for effective player development pathways that downplay results are, from my experience, people who have played the game at very high levels in this country and see this as a foundation to allow elite player development to ulitmately flourish. Downplaying results encourages players to take risks without fear of repercussion. Players who ‘develop’ in a highly conservative, results based environment never learn to fear situations rather than deal with them.

        You think parents want to win games but when they see what quality soccer can look like and see their kids contributing far more to a game when their team has the ball two thirds of the time, they buy in. I know this first hand. The results become clearly secondary at U11/12 as parents are for the most part smart to see their kids grow in skill, confidence and ability to influence games.

      • Gregor says:


        (I can’t even get comments in the right place on my own blog…”bingo” is supposed to be under NW’s first comment)

  3. NW says:

    I agree with your comments and it is obvious we are both picking the extremes to make our point as are the professional coaches.
    The problem as I see it, as a parent coach for the last 13 years, is there are more coaches that care about winning exclusively than correct decision making at a young age( ie the kick and run game with the strong aggressive centre forward as opposed to the pass into space game which opens up the field) .
    This may be the correct ” decision ” to advance the ball and win at the younger age but not as likely when older.
    My argument is that coaching needs to let kids understand this strategy but to avoid it at younger ages so that kids can gain a better awareness of the field and where to pass. Thus winning is not as important as development

  4. Colin Elmes says:

    Interesting lens you look through Soccernerdo. I have these types of conversations with a soccer colleague of mine that I have significant respect for. Hmmmm… I wonder…

    Anyways- would love to include you in some of our soccer circle debates. Feel free to take this off line. You obviously have a strong background in the sport.

  5. djlarkins says:

    Well then. Soccernerdo takes a bit on the chin but I must admit, I had a ton of sympathy to his point about professionals and winning the political battle. There does seem to a ground swell of change based on things now thrown about as basic truths – oddly most based on some idea that a significant number of the thousands of youth in Canada playing soccer can indeed someday play for the national team or make a good living (sufficient to choose semi-pro soccer over post secondary education) playing soccer. At least the conversation and tangible changes from the top seems dominated with this premise. Change is good – so are well thought out challenges to what is presented as the self-evident truth. Well done Soccernerdo, well done Gregor for the timely post.

    Emphasis on technical elements and an emphasis on development over winning is a good and necessary change at the grassroots youth (U6-U10) level since it makes the mostly inexperienced volunteer army of coaches accountable, sooner or later, to something. I think almost any sporty dad can manage a team to a win or two: put the big fast players down the spine, never take them off the field, give the little quiet ones limited time and touches, clear any ball in front of your own net away (in any direction save for your own goal) and blast the ball at or toward the opposing teams end. Simple and usually very effective. I think the movement towards technical elements is contributing to what I sense is a greater demand for community coaching certifications as those taking their roles and responsibilities seriously, which tends to be a contagious) start to seek out knowledge of things they may not, at the start, have possessed. This is a good change, a very good change. On a more personal level, I also think the removal of the emphasis on winning does one beautiful thing … no longer will I need to look into the eyes of a seven year old and see fear and shame because the young lad did nothing more than try a step-over and fall, only to have the ball sent towards his goal … and no longer will I need to see some coach yell or throw his arm’s in the air (no doubt sending a clear message to that boy’s parents) to ensure that all around get the message – do not, ever, try anything that you were not born capable of doing or that involves any risk of failure. Great way to start your youth.

    However as you perhaps start to dabble in some of the tactical principles of the game (U11 too early, perhaps) through to about U14-U15 you suddenly run into a problem. You want to teach a tactical principle but no one (or not enough) has the technical skill to actually execute it. But we do a disservice to players if we continue focused, entirely, on technique as if the other parts of the game are for La Masia to teach when they are seventeen – and this is perhaps the point that Soccernerdo was alluding to – as coaches we are in fact teachers. Where at the early years we were supposed to teach dribbling, turning, first touch and striking, in these middle years (at least my approach) is that we need to start teaching decisions and tactical options. It is a good thing when a player or better yet a whole team can look around and see an advantage develop and take it – whether through a set play, long ball or counter attack – but otherwise have the patience and ability to maintain possession until that advantage develops. That is smart and frankly good soccer and at some point we need to teach that as well. However without the grounding in technique very few will find any success or comfort with the execution of tactical play and kids who do not have significant grounding in technique tend in my view to revert to the lowest common denominator and, being kids, the ones with the least risk and at times the least effort – generally ugly soccer.

    After U15 – unless the player is in Whitecaps Residency – frankly let them win and train, condition and apply tactics to facilitate it. Division structures and competitions should be built around it and coaches and administrators should make the tough decisions to ensure teams are properly placed to be competitive and successful. If we do right by the first two phases I do not think we are going to see wholesale reversion back to the kick and chase game (or whatever) and – goodness – who here remembers their training sessions when they were sixteen but has no fond memories of that title or cup won or lost – whatever the level. It is a game after all.

  6. Soccernerd00 says:

    Gregor- Me thinks you take my comments and run too far with them- making assumptions. I actually agree with you and your distribution in training, in principle- although I would adapt the statement to say “80% of the training time devoted to skill development” which should be all of the time other than games play (even the warm up time), in my view.

    You assume, I make up, that by my comments, I don’t believe the players should be asked to or taught to play through the pressure- this is an incorrect assumption. Most of the proponents of this approach (passing for possession even at the worst times), forces teams to lose- intentionally. Makes no sense in any way and has not proven anything with regards to developing a Canadian player who can play at the highest level. In practice, this approach actually impose a coaching will on players (ironically, is a coach centered approach), telling them the RIGHT decision is to pass the ball more, and short, and in doing so force the decision out of the players hands- creating players who do what they told and do not think for themselves. And in doing so, they actually have the players play into pressure without being able to make the better decision to play out of pressure.

    If a 9 year old can be shown to pass the ball to a team-mate. They can then watch the result of their choice and see if it is positive or negative. If they see their pass led to pssession and advancing the ball, they are rewarded with a feeling of wanting to pass the ball more and more precisely. If they see the result is their team-mate getting tackled and giving the ball away and their team losing, and the coach says “good work Johnny, it will get better next year”, the end result is confusion. How will it get better? Why will it get better? If Johnny makes the same pass next yer, the same result will occur.

    That same 9 year old, while passing for possession, can be taught to “feel” danger and to make a choice to pass the ball to a team-mate in more space or under less pressure rather than pass just to pass. These are not tactics, they are football decisions that even 6 year olds make.

    My point is encourage the right decisions, and do not punish the wrong ones. No arms waving or moaning at a player for giving the ball away (I still can’t help it sometimes:-)). Show the player a way out of pressure, both in terms of supporting decisions and in terms of passing choices. And watch the results come…

    Technique and decision making has forever and will forever be linked to one another. There is an age old argument about which comes first, the decision to control the ball or the technique of controlling the ball. I believe first, a players chooses a surface to control with, then executes the technique (but there are arguments against that). Same thing with passing the ball- it does not happen without a decision. The point is, all players make them- at any age! If they make them, we can reward them with praise for making a decision, rather than for simply passing the ball.

    What has happened is the politically correct possession crowd (now they are politically correct as the pendulum has swung that way) is actually forcing some decisions to pass into trouble rather than passing or running away, around, through, or over trouble as the situation dictates. In a truly player centred approach (doesn’t and shouldn’t exist in our culture at u6-u11 in my view), players would be allowed to explore the possible solutions and coaches would guide them through those solutions. Those would all include critical evaluation of the spaces around them (split second decisions). We coaches could then encourage choices that worked and explain why they worked. At the same time, we could help with practice to develop the various techniques you rightly describe as being needed to later layer on tactics.

    Colin- Not sure if I am the person you think I am, but we have had these discussions, no doubt. I am always ready to share in discussion with you off line. Of course, you were are part of helping me to form my views on all this.

    DJLarkins- you are on to a part of my argument for sure. There are lots of 6-10 year olds that would rather quit the sport than train technique for 80 percent of a practice. And the point of the sport is to enjoy being a part of a healthy activity you choose to participate in. No doubt, that a part of my argument is that my philosophy of development (and the PC Possession crowds) does not match the objectives of a vast number of participants. We do the best we can, and we must do better for enjoyment and what I believe is development.

    Fun discussion. Glad I chirped in (for now)

    • Brendan Quarry says:

      RE: “That same 9 year old, while passing for possession, can be taught to “feel” danger and to make a choice to pass the ball to a team-mate in more space or under less pressure rather than pass just to pass.” I guess it comes down to what is considered “danger.” Many coaches and parents think that any passing in the defensive third is “danger.” Plus, what may be considered “danger” when technique is under-developed, will not be considered so when technique and decision-making has been advanced. But there’s no question that technique and decision-making go hand-in-hand. One cannot effectively exist without the other

    • Gregor says:

      Maybe or maybe I’m focusing on what seemed to be your initial stance that winning, or teaching kids to win, at younger ages is important.I think it gets in the way of both making players comfortable on the ball and clouds decision making rather than making it more clear. As DJL says, winning games at younger ages is not rocket science. If that’s the goal, stick your stronger players in critical positions, keep them on and then when other teams rotate players through they will dominate weaker opponents and score with ease if they are allowed to play to their physical strengths and boot balls past slower, more docile opponents.

    • Colin Elmes says:

      Hello Gregor, Brendan, Jeff(DJ Larkins) and …..

      I can count on one finger the person who has the soccer intellect to create an argument such as this and then defend it.

  7. Soccernerd00 says:

    Actually, a really good point… It can be defined in all kinds of ways. And I think players can learn to feel it. But I use the term loosely, without defining it to areas of the field particularly, but yes, it is a factor.

    Even young players can feel “uh oh” when they turn the ball over and there are massive spaces for the other team to attack- so teach them to take care of the ball in certain areas of the park by making choices that lead to success- that means not giving the ball away in areas that the other team can hurt you from. The same thing could be said of trying to move and pass the ball into spaces that make the other team go “uh oh.”

    My initial point was that we have taking the idea that we are trying to create “uh oh” moments for the other team, and not for ourselves with our choices; and that this decision making process leads to player development AND the pursuit of a result. This is somehow lost for some for fear that the result will be the only goal- and of course, it isn’t at the ages we are discussing

    • Brendan Quarry says:

      I also have difficulty with this notion that somehow the pendulum has swung too much the other way. That may be true on purely an academic level but certainly not in terms of application. Go visit any soccer pitch in this country and you’re not going to see youth players mindlessly over passing the ball. Quite the opposite. As I’ve said before, let’s not declare the pendulum to have swung too much the other way before it actually swings.

  8. Soccernerd00 says:

    To Gregor’s initial point: it is a coach who “develops” this kind of player that I would want my child playing for. And the teams results should not be the factor- there performances should be. I would just measure those performances with a different matrix. And I would not sneer at teams who have found successful results as a result of this development process.


  9. Brendan Quarry says:

    Gregor’s comment: “Until we are on the cusp of saying a player has all the basic tools to play the game effectively and flexibly, winning is irrelevant” is very true. This is why we should not get hung up on assigning development phases to specific ages. Saying that a 15 year old should learn how to win makes the assumption that every 15 year old has the tools to play effectively.

    And I do not agree with a previous comment that we should stop concerning ourselves about development after the Whitecaps take the best players at U15. That feeds into this mythology that there’s nothing left to achieve if you don’t get selected to that environment. Many players are hopeful of playing varsity soccer and they need to continue to develop after age 15 in order to do so. There are also other players who want to continue to develop simply because the game becomes more enjoyable as their skills advance.

  10. djlarkins says:

    Oh Brendan, Dear me. I suspect most coaches no more shut off the technical development tap coaching 15 year old kids, or whatever, than those that could say with a honest face that they never, never reference a tactical element or the winning of a game to at a 6 year old’s practice. It is evolution, emphasis, nuances and progression – likely part necessary to keep things interesting and part natural to adapt to change maturity and independence.

    I get hammered over the head about the difference each Thursday when I walk from a U12 Gold practice with kids looking to a hopeful future in BCHPL and Metro with the support of their parents to my U17 Silver practice where I count success on their continued interest in the game and some footy culture into adulthood. Having a full roster of U12 Gold boys show up likely requires little investment from me – although answering to Gregor keeps me in line – these kids have so many motivations and influences causing them to show-up that I can be an educator and facilitator. The U17 kids are entirely different and while some (a few) still seek to improve technically their reasons are more personal to them. The group motivation is clearly the competition and desire for success against their peers – if the team did not enjoy a bit of that I am sure I would see a lot more turnover each season. I suspect you see it at TSS in terms of your numbers in programs up to U12 and those up to U18 and that those sixteen year old boys who still attend TSS do so with different and rather common expectations than would be the case for the vast number of sixteen year old boys who participate each week in youth soccer generally – come on, admit it.

    There are no absolutes in any thing and good coaches balance and allocate emphasis with some sort of judgement as kids progress. However I see the debate over de-emphasizing winning and seeking to improve technical development at younger ages has been in many respects a hard sell but one that broadly should be capable of some principled defense (at least it is worth a try if we can measure, some day, whether it was the right thing to do). That approach diminishes with age and level (albeit debatable which combination and threshold of the two) – likely for some very practical and not so much principled reasons.

    • Gregor says:

      Agree. I see it with my son’s U11 gold team and my daughter’s U18 gold team. I had to explain to my daughter’s team who Zlatan was! The boys come to practice having already seen the bicycle kick and start practicing it as soon as they get on the field. Boy/girl thing? U11/U18 thing? Bit of both but the role of the coach changes dramatically by both age and level as DJL says.

  11. Soccernerd00 says:

    On Winning and development, I think this comes closer to my feelings on the subject than how Gregor has chosen to characterize it:

    Hope you don’t mind me re-posting Gregor (not sure what the rules of posting online are). It at least touches on one of the the issues I am considering when feeling compelled to jump into the fray.

    The people that Colin said hello to are some of the most prominent leaders in the local game (in my view), and it is you people who have been shaping the discussion. I respect you all for your amazing contribution (although, I am not sure I have met Jeff- DJ Larkin). In fact, I would suggest that you all have done an amazing job of framing the discussion. There are just some things (like making creating the objective of overcoming an opponent a bad thing rather than a necessary part of the game/the development of any player) that I have come to rail against, as I think the direction “we” are taking is incomplete and has contributed to Colin’s point of the representation from BC on National teams declining.

    Two more cents (or maybe only .05 worth)

    • Gregor says:

      Happy to have Victor’s article referenced here. I don’t know him but I’ve started following him on Twitter and see someone who fits well with the discussions here.

  12. Colin Elmes says:

    I think we are at a -8. “We cant compete technically with our friends from other CONCACAF nations when it comes to International competitive play” This is a statement that could have been made in each W CUP qualifying stage since the inception of the game at this level for our country(yes including the 1986 W Cup!). I believe we need to actually “over do” our focus on fixing this ( +8) before we can get it back to a place where I think much of your argument is pointing(0). Coaches in the community just cannot help themselves to default when the ref blows his whistle and the ball starts rolling( back to my desire to do a documentary on touchline behaviour of coaches and parents). I dont necessarily disagree with some of your points Soccernerdo but fixing our ability to touch the ball like our neighbouring nations is going to take some shift in how we prepare for this level.

    Lots to do……

    • Gregor says:

      Colin and I talked about this yesterday. I think trying to go from -8 to +8 very quickly would be like pouring warm water on an ice cube. Instead of changing the ice cub to drinkable water, it cracks and breaks. I’d rather see a commitment to gradual but consistent change that gets us to the point we want to be at in 5-7 years. Most revolutions see new regimes in place that are ill-equipped to lead as they haven’t had a chance to learn how power and governance works.

      There you go. Two metaphors. Both a bit iffy 😉

  13. Colin Elmes says:

    So WCUP 2030 qualification? Thats a lot of ice cubes.

  14. Brendan Quarry says:

    I believe there’s a big misconception of what’s meant by de-emphasizing winning. It certainly doesn’t mean de-emphasizing “competing” and trying to overcome an opponent. There’s nothing inherently wrong with trying to win. On the contrary, learning to compete and trying to overcome an opponent is the basis of any sport. What’s wrong, in my view, is employing tactics to win that are counter-productive to development. That’s the crux of it. For example, not allowing your players to play out of the back for fear of making mistakes and getting scored on. Or smashing the ball endlessly into the opponents end, waiting for them to make a mistake. These are the things that poison development.

    Also, I believe it’s a gross mischaracterization to say that coaches are purposely asking players to make bad decisions that will result in a loss. Development is a process. Mistakes and bad decisions will be made. To assume that the coach is asking his/her players to make those bad decisions in the name of “development” is ridiculous. What’s really happening is the coach is accepting those bad decisions and technical errors as a natural course of learning. It’s too easy to say “this is too hard, lads, let’s just get rid of the damn ball.”

    • Gregor says:

      Agree again. Accept that short term you are asking players to play through difficult situations that will likely result in some goals against so that, through repeated exposure, they grow in ability and confidence and add range to their game. At no point do they stop competing and striving to advance the ball ‘through the sticks’ at the other end. But they need to stop relying on entirely physical elements like speed and strength. We all know that fast, strong kids who can kick the ball twice as far as the average player in House league score the lion’s share of goals. Hopefully we all know that while it leads to them winning their U10 games, it stops working as they transition through 8 a side at u11/12 to 11 a side at U13.

      I just got back from one of those game with my U11 gold team. We were considerably smaller and slower than our opponents but already the outdated kick and chase game they employed fell short. Yes, they almost scored on a breakaway and yes they almost scored twice when our defenders tried to play through them but our compete level allowed us to recover each time and we ended up winning 2-0. I made the point to them after the game that their way of playing is now regularly allowing them not just to win games but to dictate how games are played and the pace they are played at. That’s what possession does. It doesn’t win you games, it allows you to have a greater say it what happens and deny that opportunity to your opponents.

      Our opponents coaches were gracious in the handshake and said it was a pleasure to watch us. I accept that the majority of parent volunteer coaches aren’t in a position to bring this approach to a group of U11 gold players. But that’s a huge part of the problem isn’t it?

      • Colin Elmes says:

        Thats how I feel when I play you 😉

      • Dan Brodie says:

        Well said. As a data guy in my professional life, what are three Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that you feel are worthy to track?

        Possession I would think is one. Number of successful passes would be two? Is there a defensive stat or perhaps balls won? I would think at U11 these are far more worthy to focus on and drive the right behavior as opposed to winning.

  15. TM says:

    Oh my, very lively discussion.

    One thing that caught my eye was soccernerdoo’s original comment that
    “how a small group of “professional coaches/player developers” have won a political battle to create the conversation that it is all about player skill development. I am certain that the vast majority of players or parents would not place “skill development” as the primary objective of participation in the sport- ironically, unless they have dreams of little johnny hitting the “bigs” one day.” It’s funny but he echoes something that I have frequently said and jokingly referred to in my original post.

    I know it won’t strike a chord with the professional coaches up here but I believe there is fundamental fallacy in the idea that players drop off the sport because their development was somewhat inadequate and that more coaching will lead to more kids choosing to keep playing as they become adults. I try to refrain from giving examples from abroad because realities are different but I have to say that way more people here in Canada experience organized soccer through their formative years than back in Brazil but adults are obviously more likely to go kick a ball around there than here. One not too hidden secret is that the vast majority of those Brazilians suck by any coach’s standards, but WE DON”T CARE. We play because we like it, because it is part of our national identity, period. The reality is that the vast majority of Brazilians are never “carded” through our FA, never had coaches, never played with refs, never played on a league and that does NOT take away one iota from our enjoyment of the game. A typical kid in Brazil will develop (or most likely not) kicking the ball in pick up games with friends at home or school and will keep doing so as an adult. Only a minuscule percentile will show up at tryouts for the professional team academies and, if picked – a very long shot, learn from coaches how to properly play the game. The problem for me is that there is here a unrealistically assumption that by focusing on what this last small segment requires, we address the needs of the vast number of people who only want recreation. Ask any kid (or adult) if he’d rather have practices or just play with no one telling him what to do and what you think his answer would be?

    I want as much as the next guy to see Canada do well in the international level but frankly I’m not convinced that it makes sense to force a view that raising the level of play of everybody is the way to go. Seems like a cookie-cutter approach to me and, talking here from the recreational viewpoint, frankly I had more fun when I could just go out every week and kick the ball around without bothering with finding a team and league to play in, practices, etc.

    • daffydyl says:

      “I want as much as the next guy to see Canada do well in the international level but frankly I’m not convinced that it makes sense to force a view that raising the level of play of everybody is the way to go.” Its my opinion that this is a cop-out adopted by many. Its the same adage that says “don’t bother trying so hard kid, you probably won’t succeed.” If we all TRULY want to see Canada improve then we need to look at countries with cultures closer to our own, not Brazil. How do Holland or Germany approach these issues? They are football-mad countries, so lets leave them out for a minute. How have Japan gone about transforming their national football level? Through academies and school footy perhaps? Academies that focused on technical development for all levels of players, to raise the standards across the board. We need to halt this acceptance of mediocrity and raise the bar higher. Heres a quote from Rinus Michels “to raise the level of the elite player then you must raise the level of the average player.” Create true competition pushing each level above by having players capable of playing the game. Displacement is the only way to raise the top of the iceberg.

      • TM says:

        And that’s why I try to leave the home country out of the picture,there’s always someone saying that you can’t compare…

        Anyhow, I used to play chess and really enjoyed the game although I was never more than a average club player. I used to know a kid that became a Grand Master who practiced 4 hs a day since he was 7. Brazil has tons of rec chess payers but very few pros. When last we had a guy competing with the likes of Bobby Fisher, it was a source of lots of civic pride.
        Following your rationale we should be putting all our 7yrs old thru endless hours of prctice and study to form a coupleore International level players….
        Sorry, rec was good enough for me, I had fun even though when I played that kid he beat me without even borhering to look at the board…

    • Gregor says:

      Do you not think that all those Brazilian players playing unstructured soccer, because they love it, are still raising the standard to some degree just by playing?

      Obviously there are huge demographic and cultural differences between Canada and Brazil when it comes to developing players. So much that I’m not sure there’s much we can draw from comparisons about youth soccer development.

  16. Gregor and co. as a parent who buys in to the above model, what can I do to find development models that are aligned with these goals? I can (and do) vote with my dollars and time for technical training through TSS, etc. But on the club level, it feels like the luck of the draw because our obsession with season-long teams eliminates any parental choice of coaches.

    Some volunteer coaches are great at encouraging technical play despite results, others not so much. I know we’re all trying our best (i.e. I know how flawed my son’s coaching has been at times because I was his coach :D), but what real option does a parent have in the current minis setup?

    We put so much effort into forming teams with snack schedules and assume our kids are learning valuable life lessons, but my sense is that these cultural norms are simply bogus. Our kids would learn more and enjoy the game better if we simply did away with formal teams with head coaches at the younger ages completely. Yet every club seems to be setup the same way, be it house or rep. For good or bad you don’t get to pick your club team coaches. As a result, parents concerned about technical foundation have no realistic options besides private training to ensure their kids’ enjoyment of the game is not drowned out by dump and chase cherry-picking.

    • Gregor says:

      Our spring development program will offer training and games with professional games and the games on Saturdays will be free-form. No set teams. It’s a start but again the issue is that this country still does not have enough of a soccer culture that would provide enough quality coaches. Someone, probably Colin, pointed out that Spain has 100 000 coaches licensed to the equivalent of our B National. As I said, it’s about coaching. We just don’t have enough for the volume of players interested in the game.

  17. TM says:

    BTW, sorry for all the typos, this android phone sucks big time.

  18. tooncasual says:

    Getting back to the original post by Gregor, It does seem to me that when your kid is at the u10 to u13 age level you need to be very lucky. There needs to be a parent at your kids age level who happens to be a very good coach and you get on their team. As coaches go through their coaching levels the emphasis is on working with “high level” players so our professional coaches are working with the cream of the crop while the cream that may rise later has to make do with coaching of a lower quality. I think a lot of parents get nervous that their kid doesn’t get on the Gold team or select team not so much because they really think little Johnny is the next superstar, but that they think little Johnny won’t get the right coaching if he is on a silver or bronze team. So hopefully there is oversight of the coaches and a hymn sheet so they are singing the same song. Too many coaches get the bag of balls and the cones and the team list and are left to do whatever they see fit. It would be nice to see more clubs use their resources to make sure those volunteer parents are putting the emphasis on the right things and have an environment where kids are competing in a way that doesn’t hinder their development or the enjoyment of the game.

  19. Joel Hunt says:

    “I think a lot of parents get nervous that their kid doesn’t get on the Gold team or select team not so much because they really think little Johnny is the next superstar, but that they think little Johnny won’t get the right coaching if he is on a silver or bronze team.”

    good comment tooncasual.

    Whether necessarily warranted or not…accurate I think.

  20. Franz Cruyff says:

    Well it sure is wonderful to read all this cerebral soccer talk.

    First of all I am just a parent who has done some volunteer coaching and played the game at a high school level and continue to play pick up with a bunch of fat bellied middle aged coots.

    So now you know from which rock I crawled out from under.

    All the elements you brought up are certainly key but the affect any of these scenarios can have on a child’s psyche is also very important.

    Kids love to win and parents love to win. Kids are much happier going to practice or games when they have been winning—that’s reality.

    What ten or eleven year old understands personal development–none.

    But they understand if they are on the winning or losing end of a game.

    Winning is not the be all and end all in the game but I think a good string of wins or at least the majority helps a child define that season as successful.

    My son’s team has been tiered to the lowest level of Gold. They have approx three wins all year.

    The coach believes in personal progression a la BCYSA.

    Three scenarios:

    Would he have progressed if his coach was very poor and they had a majority of wins…

    Would he have if his coach was great and he had a majority of losses…

    Poor coach..majority of losses…

    As parents and coaches the answer can depend but in the child’s mind winning means success.

    Where does that come from? Certainly not from me. Maybe from Spain winning the World Cup or Man City winning last years premiership or Bruins winning the Stanley two years ago. Or maybe.. John Jones winning the UFC title two months ago. Or…. the Greeks against the Romans. It does mot matter. Winning is part of human culture globally. It is here and always will be here.

    Why take the focus off the concept of winning…embrace it and work with it.

    I have heard the argument that losing builds character enough times this year….BTW the answer…it builds nothing but harmful evil things.

  21. David miller says:

    I actually think this is very simple. In Canada, perhaps because of the way hockey players are developed, we value playing games at very young ages over practice and learning. It is simply wrong, regardless of where a boy or girl will end up in their athletic career. It is much more fun to be really skilled at something, and that requires much more practice time than game time, house league, rep or otherwise. As a boy in England, we had four practices and one game a week in soccer and cricket. We loved it. And it was in school, so parents were not there watching and bringing their own biases to their sons sports. I played University soccer and rugby and have no doubt that my solid grounding in fundamentals helped my enjoyment of my athletic career. I have coached both sports as well. Rugby has it right with mini rugby. Perhaps if we banned parents from games and let our children enjoy learning these sports and playing them without us there we’d discover that they take joy from doing it properly, from learning the right skills. (in my view, we have it wrong in hockey too. If you ever watch kids learn to skateboard or ski you know that they take joy in learning how to do things well and right)

  22. Pingback: It IS all about skill development | Jason deVos

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