After another busy weekend on the soccer field, I am convinced we’re making soccer too complicated.
I was involved in two 5on5 games on Saturday morning. Then I was a “clinician” at an AYSO Intermediary Coaches Course where I was teaching passing. Then on Sunday morning two 7on7 games followed by a U6 clinic alongside our family fun day.
So all in all I was on the field with absolute beginners (young and “old”) right through to former pro soccer players. Quite a cross section!
And it kept striking me that somehow we are making soccer too complicated.
How did we learn to play by just showing up on a somewhat flat surface with a ball and a willingness to play until our legs wanted to fall off?
The answer is easy, we learned by playing the game itself. No one taught us where to run, what to do with the ball etc. We just figured it out, trial and error.
So why do we nowadays insist on immaculate fields, uniforms, $200 cleats, each player with a ball, steps, ladders, speed sticks, cones, bibs, goals…the list goes on. Add to this a bunch of yelling family members, coaches bellowing instructions left and right….no wonder the kids on the field look stressed out!
Not only am I convinced that we are making soccer too complicated, but I am absolutely of the mind that we are also not making it fun.
I guarantee that if my dad or any of our parents had come down to St Francis school field and started telling us what to do, we’d have quit playing.
Imagine standing over you kid while they are playing a computer game and yelling instructions at them, telling them what to do next. Imagine putting your kid on the couch next to a complete stranger and then yelling at them so that they can win whatever game they are playing on their iPad…
If I had my way, I would build a soccer facility that was kind of a sanctuary. Players of all ages, sizes and abilities would be able to just show up and we’d let them play pick up games. No coaches, no referees, no parents, no score. Just play, play and play. How amazing would that be?
Well, how can we bring this about?
First thing I would suggest is that at the beginning or at the end of each practice, let the players play whatever form of soccer they want to play. Keep the heck out of the way, just make sure they’re safe and that’s it.
One of the clubs I work for provides a 1 hour session on Thursdays when they players show up and do whatever they want on the field. Usually ends up with World Cup, teams or “lone wolves” playing against each other into one goal. Beautiful.
Then, before Tuesday’s practice, 5:00-5:45pm is free play. Practice then starts at 5:45pm and runs to 7:00pm.
Finally on Sundays it is “Family Fun Day” in which the players, their friends and family descend on the pitch and I make up usually three teams and they play each other round robin in 5 minute games. I take all the under 6s over to another part of the field and they are our “Little Vikings.” My job with them is to keep them busy with a soccer ball, help them get used to a ball at their feet…and to keep them away from mom and dad and older siblings so that they can have fun playing soccer too.
So coach, please take a breath and remember that the game is the best teacher. There’s really no need for complex drills. No need for gadgets and gizmos. No need for parent “advice” from the sidelines. Just get the players together, throw a ball in amongst them and let them figure it out.
Please do everything you can to avoid making soccer too complicated.
Seemed to have worked for at least a 100 years or so, right?