EVOLVE YOUR GAME
The typical youth player that plays at a "high level" has the latest cleats, unique hairstyles, and if extreme, have an intense parent. They don't know the history of the game and of course know players like Alex Morgan, Ronaldo and maybe Messi. Those wannabe highlight players are products of the consumer environment that is making it hard for US youth players to succeed, but I believe there is a deeper rooted issue with why we struggle to develop players that excel at the highest level. Besides greed, we believe it lies in the definition many have in the word “skill”.
Skill means “decision making,” what decisions are you making during game scenarios that are leading to success. Recognizing the situation and having the “ability” to beat a player 1v1 in the right situation is a characteristic of a skillful player. The vision to see an open winger and the ability to drive a forty yard pass from the back to an open winger is skill. Having the ability to play the first time and not give the ball away in tight areas, but also having the recognition and composure to take multiple touches when given space and time is skill. Movement on and off the ball is skill!
Watching Thiago Alcantara recently during a Champions League match completely changed my opinion about the Spaniard, I never noticed how much influence he has on the match and how much skill he has when he is “on and off” the ball. He is constantly orchestrating the play even without the ball, suggesting what passes should be made to teammates with his movements, ensuring the ball is moved quickly and away from pressure. He plays first time when he needs to with precision technique. His ability to splitting the opposing midfielders at every opportunity to advance the ball to the attacking third was what drove Bayern Munich forward. He is one of the most skillful players in the modern era. Can Thiago Alcantara do a double step over? Of course he can. Did he do a ton of double step overs in the match? No, because the he handled evaluated the situation and made a better decision. Thiago Alcantara possesses the brain to be a successful midfielder at the highest level, similar to Xaxi for Barcelona or Modric for Real Madrid. Thiago now plays at Liverpool by the way. All of these are examples of players who possess skill, they are superior decision makers, not the athletic highlights reel or commercial stars that are flaunted to the young players.
US soccer has favored "athletes" over brains for a majority of the past decades especially at young ages, where quick wins were favored over long-term development of the players. I think there are great coaches but not many environments around US youth soccer that develop these types of football players at a young age. Hence why the current best USMNT and USWNT go overseas to play at a young age. The days of the early developer being looked on as the next superstar seem to never end with all the "car salesman" on the US fields. Hopefully, you'll find an environment that values players who enjoy to use their technique, orchestrate a play, not lose possession rather than the “goalscorer”. No college or pro coach will ask you how many goals you scored at U13. Of course goals are needed in the match but think about this, would Messi of succeeded in the US due to his size? Don't lie to yourself and if you do not know who Messi is, why are you still reading this?!
Anyway, players will learn real skills when they execute their technique in a realistic match scenario during training. Then they will be able to break down how to what, where, why, etc., during the match consistently. That is skill! The more players can play in these game scenarios the more they will develop an understanding of the correct decision, technique and get experience in various situations that come about in a real match. Thus why every training session should start with technical skills and end in some form of the actual match. Also real ballers of the game should want to watch as many higher level matches as they can to learn what high level skill really is.
To truly develop skill, players must fall in love with the process and the results will come.
WE ARE THE PROCESS