Another Youth Problem: Immediate Results Or Athleticism Over Skill
It is not a secret that in the US when it comes to expectations at any youth age level most coaches and parents require immediate results in the form of wins. And just to be fair this is not only the case in the world of soccer, but every other collective sport.
I do agree, it is important to win. It boosts confidence and creates hunger to do even better, to improve, to stay on top. But not at any cost, not when you do things the wrong way. And the wrong way is prioritizing athleticism to skill and the understanding of the game.
I am not sure if it is the model of structured programs pushing everyone down the wrong path, or incompetent coaches, or both, but the end result is young players trying to compensate for lack of skills and soccer IQ with physicality. And that's where we differ from the rest of the world big time. That is when we witness games where the "pretty stuff" is missing, there is no cohesion in either team, the play is choppy, injury prone. And the refereeing gets drawn down to accommodate this style of play by not penalizing outright dangerous play falsely attributing it to simply being more physical.
Have you ever asked yourself what makes players like Messi, Neymar, Dybala, Mertens, Insigne, ect. even our own Pulisic, none of them physically imposing so good? The answer is - besides their natural talent, their skills and understanding of the game. And the great ones are those with great dribbling skills (most of the time discouraged in US youth programs in favor of possession with passing), and of course something that can't be taught: vision which is the gift they got from god.
So there you go, the facts speak for themselves. And I am not the only one who sees them. Check out the two excerpts below:
"I think at the club level athleticism has been over-glorified. I think the problem comes when you use athletic children to your advantage. It's wrong. A lot of teams have these athletes that win games for them just by running by people. It's great for the team and the coach's job security, but it's not so great for the kid. The kid misses out on really emphasizing his technical base, and the priority is just making sure he gets in behind. He never learns any way to be creative to beat people. It's all physical.
If you're relying on sheer athleticism without coaching foot skills in other parts of the world, the game will find you out. It will punish you. We give credit to other global development systems, but in reality, they tend to regulate themselves once the right principles are in place." - Gerry McKeown, U.S. Club Soccer
A study by UQ School of Biological Sciences Professor Robbie Wilson using analytic techniques developed in evolutionary biology determined the impact of a player's skill, athletic ability, and balance on their success during a game. These are the findings:
- "Higher skill allows players to have a greater impact on the game."
- "Accurate passing and greater ball control are more important for success than high speed, strength and fitness."
- "It may be obvious to soccer fans and coaches that players like Lionel Messi and Neymar are the best due to their skill. However, 90% of research on soccer players is based on how to improve their speed, strength, and agility - not their skill."
- "Skill is complex and multidimensional - and we need to measure all aspects of it - with the next step to work out how to improve these aspects in developing players."
- "There are kids with an incredible amount of skill who aren't being selected for teams and training programs because they can't run as fast at nine, 10, or 11 years old. These kids need to be given a chance and the science of skill is on their side."
The 4 Fs
We have heard about the 5 Ws (who, what, where, when, why). Now, behold the simplest of all concepts - the 4 Fs describing what I call successful contemporary soccer.
The 4 Fs is a simple theoretically concept and it stands for Fluid Front, Formed Fallback. In practice, however, only a handful of teams in the world have done it and not all the time.
But what does this Fluid Front, Formed Fallback mean anyway? Well in line with the understanding that there is no bad defense but only better opposing offense the fluid front is supposed to present unexpected changes in the "landscape" of attacking players who eventually destabilize the defense and create holes in it to be exploited. This as noted before is easier said than done. Such type of play cannot be orchestrated or practiced. Accomplishing this requires quality players working on instinct with great mutual understanding. Players with confidence above coach or club. A good example from the current soccer world is FC Barcelona where the likes of Messi, Suarez and Neymar are so fluid at the top that it becomes almost impossible for any defense to keep up marking them.
Another example, for those who remember, was the Bulgarian National Team at the 1994 World Cup with unfortunately for them a single feat that took them all the way to the semifinals. Their fluid and unpredictable attack conquered defenses of giants like Argentina and Germany.
So what is the Formed Fallback? Well, while fluidity and unpredictability is what makes the offense successful, the defense needs structure. The team needs to fallback in a formation closing spaces and at the same time exerting pressure anywhere the ball is. This means the formation must adjust constantly and fast or else it will become what many would call "bad defense". Here a good example of a successful formed fallback without a doubt is the German National Team at the most recent World Cup. Very quick and organized defensively, it proved critical in their win of the tournament.
Agree or disagree, point out the weaknesses if you see any.