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.
The SCYS Coaching Education Staff have just wrapped up another round of coaching education courses across the state. Beside the blistering heat, 115 degree heat index and the lightning delays it's been a wonderful summer of courses. A total of 126 coaches have taken and passed the E and D courses this summer and we still have a wave of coaches to go through various Youth Module courses across the state in the next month. Great numbers for a state our size!
The focus of the E and the D courses are to introduce coaches to the methodoly of coaching, teach them the basic techniques players need to be successful. A brief flirtation with basic tactics and the importance of Long Term Player Development. Notice that we didn't mention winning in the above discription. This may upset some and many that take these courses come in with an attitude of "I just want to see a bunch of drills that is going to help me win with my U10 boys team." Well last time we checked SCYS, USYS and FIFA were not sponsoring any type of U10 championship. So we put winning on the back burner during these courses and teach coaches the importance of developing players for the future. Talk about a topic for discussion. Development over winning!
We are going to focus on competition and coaching and teaching players how to compete. Coaches this is for you and for those parents that read this take note and pass the word on.
There are two ways to coach competition to our players. Coaching Competition as a Threat and or Coaching Competition as a Challenge. For fun let's see which one you identify with or you identify your players coach with.
Coaching Competition as a Threat Coaching Competition as a Challenge
Emphasize Winning Emphasize Effort & Fun
Think Short Term Think Long Term
Lack Emotional Control Deal Well with Setbacks
Link Self-Esteem to winning Link Self-Esteem to committment & Development
Young Players Respond Young Players Respond
Lose Motivation Become more Motivated
Lose Confidence and Self-Belief Gain new levels of Confidence and Self-Belief
Collapse under Pressure Cope with Pressure
Blame others for Setbacks Take and Accept Responsibility
Which coach are you? Which coach do you want to be? Who do you want your players to play for? Do we want to win now and be rewarded now only to see our players drop out because the proper foundation hasn't been laid when they get older?
Happy Summer to all of our SCYS Members. With the successful completion of the USYS Region 3 Tournament hosted at CESA and with the USYS National Championships beginning in a few days at Discoveries SC in Rock Hill our state is being overrun by college coaches recruiting players for their various programs. A perfect time if any to discuss the realities of the college soccer scholarship.
The importance of Technical Development and more importantly FUN can not be stressed enough at the youngest ages and even at the older age groups. Fun is pivotal. If a sport or activity is not fun young people will not participate. Technical and skill development is a major part in a player having fun. Ask most players and they will tell you that getting better is more important than winning. As a players skill level and comfort level increases they will seak out greater challenges. It's the coaches job and yes even you parents can help to facilitate this by encouraging development over winning. Encourage your players and your children to spend at least 2 minutes a day, 2 MINUTES, 120 SECONDS a day with a soccer ball at their feet when they are away from practice. Don't coach them, encourage them and if you're feeling up to it actually play and have fun with them. You just might learn something!
We all have visions of our children receiving full scholarships to play soccer or any sport in college and with the cost of higher education these days it's a great vision. But before we frame that picture of your little kicker signing the Athletic Grant in Aide on National Signing Day let's look at some facts.
College Soccer Teams and Affiliation
Aaffiliation Men Women
NCAA Division 1 198 310
NCAA Division 2 179 225
NCAA Division 3 400 425
NAIA 217 223
There are approximately 61, 000 players playing college soccer. This does not include athletes participating in soccer programs at Junior Colleges or National Christian College Athletic Association programs. Each year coaches need to replace graduating seniors and players that do not return for a host of reasons. On average college coaches will need to replace between 5 and 6 players per year on their rosters. This equals out to approximately 15, 000 players that are being identified and recruited to play college soccer per year. How does this affect your child and what about scholarships?
Most schools offer some sort of athletic scholarship to help entice the student-athlete to their institution. Let's look at the breakdown of total number of scholarships that is permitted per division and affiliation.
Affiliation Men Women
NCAA Division 1 9.9 14
NCAA Division 2 9 9.9
NCAA Division 3 0 0
NAIA 12 12
A few things to keep in mind here when looking at the above numbers. This number represents the total number of scholarships schools are allowed to have. Most schools are not maxed out at the above numbers. There are various reasons for this. Budgets, fund raising dollars, athletic conference rules, lack of funds and the list goes on and on. The above number varies greatly from school to school and not every school will offer the full allotment.
11 players play on a field during a game. As you can see even at the total number of scholarships an NCAA Division 1 men's program only has 9.9 possible scholarships to offer. Most men's and women's programs carry anywhere between 25 and 30 players. This means that coaches have to decided how to break up their scholarship dollars amongst their players. When looking into college soccer programs for your players be sure to find out how many scholarships the program has to offer and have a realistic understanding of your players value to the program. As a men's assistant for a NCAA Division 2 program in Florida for 5 years the average scholarship amount we gave out was $3000 per year. That's right scholarships are only granted one year at a time. So a $3000 scholarship to go to a school that costs $33,000 per year isn't a massive price break.
So what does all of this mean? Well it means that we need to be sure to explore all avenues of scholarships for our children. South Carolina offers a variety of scholarships for Academic Achievement such as the Hope, Life and Palmetto Scholarships. Most schools will combined or bundle athletic grant in aide with academic grant in aide and truth be known your student athlete will most likely receive more academic money than athletic money from colleges.
The NCAA calls them student-athletes for a reason. They truly are students first and athletes second and are awarded finaincal grant in aide as such. So before we think about spending hundreds and thousands of dollars on individual trainers, lessons, camps, teams and tournaments be sure that our sons and daughters understand that academic success although not as glamorous pays more than on field success.
With the final 4 teams in the SCYSA Bob Brantley Publix Challenge Cup being decided a few weeks ago and with the ink drying of the names of the recently crowned South Carolina High School State Champions in soccer in our local and state wide newspapers I think it's a good time to discuss the importance of club and high school soccer in South Carolina.
I always hear comments like "high school soccer isn't as good as club soccer," or "why can't we have club soccer year round?" Well for those that want club soccer year round it's available to you through US Soccer's Development Academy. The Development Academy is moving towards a 10 month schedule in which the players involved in that program will not be allowed to play high school soccer. Make no mistake about it, if you're good enough to play at this level and this is the soccer avenue you want to travel on than by all means go for it. Pour your heart and soul into it and make the most of it. You will be receiving some excellent coaching and training so be sure to take advantage of it. This level is for a select few in our state. What these players will gain in traveling and competing against some of the top teams and players across the country they will lose in school, community and possibly state wide recognition that only high school soccer can bring. The Development Academy is great and if given the opportunity I highly recommend watching some of the matches.
Lets get into the meat of the issue here which is club soccer and high school soccer. Let's take a look at what club soccer has to offer our players. Now please remember that we are speaking/writing in general terms here and as always there will be exceptions and factors to take into account. Club soccer offers more time to develop players starting at a very young age, U6 all the way through U18. Club soccer offers better players, many times teams are comprised of players from across the state that come together on one team. Better competition within a team as well as teams of like or similar ability. A higher level of training, nationally licensed coaches and better facilities. Club soccer also offers the ability to travel outside of the state on a consistent basis to play outside competition in regional and national events.
High School soccer allows players to represent their local communities, the student body, faculty and alumni of their school. A camaraderie develops between players that go to class together, sit in the cafeteria together and travel to away games together that is hard to replicate in the club environment. High school soccer offers big games that are played under the lights against local rivals for bragging rights that are watched by big crowds. High school student athletes must maintain certain academic standards to remain eligible to play during the season. The media coverage for high school athletics in local and statewide newspaper, tv and publications is something that is unique to the high school athlete. What of the accolades? All Conference, All Region, All State, Player of the Year. Again something unique to high school sports.
Do negatives exist in both. Of course! I have seen great coaches and bad coaches at both levels. I've seen some amazing games and some awful games at both. I've been to some 1st class facilities for both and some facilities that a cow wouldn't graze on. I've heard about the financial burdens of club soccer and the depleted budgets of high school soccer. I've seen blowouts, shootouts, yellow cards, red cards and last minute heroics at both. I've seen players of all levels and abilities being recruited at both (a topic for another time) and I've seen tears of sorrow and celebrations of triumph at both and I have found memories of playing both.
Club and high school soccer offer the opportunity for our players to experience different levels of play, different atmospheres, environments and pressures. Most importantly both offer an invaluable opportunity for our sons and daughters to grow and mature as young adults and become lifelong supporters that give back to our game and our communities.
Until next time. Play Hard. Play Smart and have fun!