soccer

Single-Digit Soccer: Why elite coaches should care about being inclusive

Should coaches of really good players from U9 to U19 pay attention to Single-Digit Soccer?

Until time freezes and no one ages, yes. U10s have a funny way of growing up to be U16s.

And while Single-Digit Soccer casts a wide net over everything — rec soccer, semi-serious travel soccer, TOPSoccer and extreme travel soccer — there’s plenty to hold the elite coach’s interest.

One major issue for these coaches: soccer’s dropout rate.

Here’s Kevin Payne, who has dealt with elite players as an MLS executive and continues to do so in his role as U.S. Club Soccer CEO, sums it up:

At the ages of 10, 11, 12, kids’ developmental age can vary as much as plus or minus four years from their chronological age. So you could have a 12-year-old kid and they might be developmentally closer to a 16-year-old, or they might be developmentally – especially physically – closer to an 8-year-old. So when the sport is losing 70 percent of its participants by the age of 12, there’s no way that anybody can tell you they’re not worried about that because that 70 percent is a cohort with no chance of becoming elite players.

The fact is, within that 70 percent there undoubtedly are players who could’ve become elite players. They just never got the chance, because they were subjected to such an intense and unpleasant experience, largely shaped by a very outcome-driven culture that they just said, ‘this isn’t fun any more, so I’m leaving.’

Those kids and the people around them never got the chance to figure out whether maybe they could be a serious player. It’s way, way too early to be expecting young players to exhibit the qualities necessary … We think it’s an absolutely critical element of player development in the U.S. to keep a much higher percentage of our soccer population involved in the game longer.

So if you’re focusing on the top 1 percent at U9, you’re not just missing out. You’re cutting down our country’s future player pool.

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