A new fall soccer season has started and the question amongst parents and coaches is, "How many games are we going to play and how many and what tournaments are we going to this season?" Many a parent and coach want to cram as many games into a twelve week season as possible. The rational behind this? Players learn and develop best by playing in games, so why not play as many games as possible when the opportunity presents itself?! As someone that truly believes in player development this question and rational drives me bonkers! It's true that games aid in player development and that competition provides unique problems that players must solve but in this case too much is not a good thing. The recreational and elite levels of play have done a good job at figuring this out but the middle level, that of Academy, Classic and Challenge are still using the more games the better approach.
Games are really for parents. Parents want their monies worth for the program they are in. They want to watch their players perform. They want bragging rights at work, in the neighborhood or in the local tennis leagues. They want to be entertained. They are more concerned about the wins and losses and how many tournament championships a team wins then they are about their player developing. Yet these are the same people that will be the first to complain that their player is not developing and that they want better results on the weekend. Well if they are truly concerend about their player developing why don't they actually watch what their player is learning at practice. They are there anyway, mind as well watch, ask questions and get a little educated about the game. If we use education as an example when is the last time a teacher gave a test whithout first covering the material? Can you imagine what the success rate wouldn't be? If this method were adopted in our education system parents would be up in arms! Now we understand that not all parents and coaches are like this but these parents and coaches tend to have the loudest voices and stick out from the rest.
The suggested and proper practice to game ratio is 3:1. That is 3 practice sessions for every one game played. In reality at the level we are discussing that ratio is often 1:3. Talk about getting your monies worth of entertainment. So let's look at the average 12 week season of a mid level team/player. If a team practices twice a week for 12 weeks that's a total of 24 practice sessions. A decent number of practices. Now let's look at games. Pre-season games is usually 2. League play can be between 8 to 12. Tournaments up to 3 with a minimum of 3 games per tournament with a possibility of 4 per tournament. State Cup competition can be anywhere between 1 to 4. On the low end we have 21 games in 12 weeks. On the high end we could possibly have 30 games in 12 weeks! A player playing in the English Premier League will play 38 league games in a 44 week schedule. These are professional athletes, grown men, many world class calidber players playing at the highest level and they are playing 38 games over the course of 9 months! We are asking our young developing players to play almost as many games in 12 weeks. Where's the time for rest? Where's the time for regeneration? Where's the time for development? Where's the time for, GASP, RELAXATION and allowing kids to be kids?
What of tournaments? Tournaments are great! Tournaments allow clubs to tap into a revenue stream to help with operating costs. Tournaments provide players opportunities to compete against teams from outside their leagues that they normally wouldn't play in locations that are usually far from home. Here's the problem. We are asking our players to play and compete in possible 4 games in 2 days! Often times these games and tournaments are played in extreme weather conditions on fields that are far from safe. Are we developing our players or abusing them? I can tell you from expereince that there's nothing left in their little tanks at the end of the weekend. So next time you are screaming, yelling, excuse me, enthusiastically encouraging your player or team to work harder, run faster or play better, stop and think for a moment what it would be like if you were out there. If you can't do that then please find something that you can relate that experience to and imagine how you would feel. Most of you are probably thinking, "I'm an adult, there's no way I could play 4 games in 2 days." Exactly! Yet we ask our players that are still developing phycisally, mentally, emotionally and socially to bear this burden on their little shoulders.
So how do we fix this? One idea for tournament play is to play 3 30 minute mini games per day. Yes I know this is contradictory as this would equal a total of 6 games in 2 days. In truth this equals one 90 minute game per day for a total of 2 games for a tournament. This would allow for each team to possibly play all of the teams in an age group. How do you determine a champion? Who cares! If we are truly trying to develop players at this level then let's give them the platform to do so. I am positive that those people that are in the know of tournament organization and tournament development could come up with some marvelous solutions. Moving forwad SCYSA is going to look at reworking the tournament structure of the Fall Festival and the Palmetto Academy Cup for 2013 and 2014.
In many ways the recreational level has got it right. 12 weeks, 24 practices, 12 games. The elite level has moved to 3 practices a week and two games a weekend, 1 on Saturday and 1 on Sunday. Maybe the middle level should take a page from both and refocus on actual player developmet instead the amount of games being played.