Single-Digit Soccer: Go your own way

Yeah, they might be friendly, but do you want to risk it?

A new season has started, and we’re noticing that we’re not on the same page.

And those are the adults. The kids? Yeah, they’re all over the place.

I’ve started coaching U9, where we have enough players on the field to talk about actual “formations.” This is a new concept for those who have been playing 5v5 ball in which the overriding tactical comment is, “Oh, please, in the name of all that’s holy, would you SPREAD OUT?!”

So I used the illustration here to show how playing in a formation doesn’t mean that our defenders should be 40 yards behind our midfielders (our field is 50, maybe a little more). A pro coach would point to all the tactical reasons to play closer to midfield. In my case, I’m telling them a flying saucer will land if they leave too much space.

That’s how I’m getting the kids on the same page. The adults? Not my place to do so, and probably impossible.

Two things that have come up this month to show that all the U.S. Soccer curricula and local club guidelines in the world aren’t getting all the coaches to get with the program.

1. Practice? It’s quite clear in our local club that the single-digit House teams are supposed to practice once a week. You can’t get a practice-field slot for more than one session a week.

One of our U7 teams, though, has come up with a second (optional) practice during the week somehow. Not sure where it is.

Now here’s the funny part. Our club offers a “crossover” program in which U7 players can work with professional coaches once a week and play a couple of extra games, like a mini-travel team. There’s also a cheaper skills-training session with pro coaches once a week. So players can actually get a second practice — even a third, if they do both sessions — with professional coaches each week. (Granted, those sessions aren’t free.)

I’m not sure whether I should object to this team practicing twice a week. We in the USA fret that our kids don’t go out and play more soccer on their own, so if they want to play somewhere with their teammates without a formal pro-coaching session, that should be OK, right?

Maybe I’m just scratching my head and wondering why certain coaches always get players and families who are so serious about the game, while I’ve spent a lot of my past seasons cat-herding and pleading with parents to get to games on time. I’ve seen parents on several teams in our club who were quite clearly looking at soccer practice as an hour of day care. (This is not directed at my current teams, who are awesome!)

And maybe I’m a little worried that my young team with solid enthusiasm and talent has opened against a U7 team that looked like a teenage Brazilian futsal team, and then we have to play this twice-a-week team pretty soon.

The only solution I see here is some sort of draconian talent-dispersion tool, like the Little League I knew growing up that held a player draft to make the teams equal. Surely that solution is worse than the problem.

The second issue might spur more conversation …

2. Speed! I saw a U8 team practicing with remarkable speed and precision. Turned out I knew a couple of the players and coaches involved, so I had a chance to chat.

From these enthusiastic folks, I learned that they’ve had a lot of success — including a summer tournament win (reminder: rising U8, where we don’t keep scores in the leagues). And the secret?

They do a lot of speed workouts. They may not be the most skilled team, but they can beat people because they’re used to going fast.

If you’ve bought into the notion that player development is more important than winning, as every youth organization wants us to believe, your head is spinning. If you’re worried that U.S. youth coaches prize athleticism over skills, your head is spinning faster.

So here’s your challenge: How do you convince this team they’re doing the wrong thing? The kids are having fun. The coaches are having fun. They’re getting good exercise.

How do you convince them that some general long-term goal is more important than what they’re doing right now? Or should you?

MLS academy vs. school: So far, school still winning

Do you know me? I’m an exception!

Soccer America raises a few questions about the MLS homegrown program, noting that a lot of players aren’t playing or have already washed out of the league.

One irony — a nice exception to the rule this year has been Jose Villarreal, who plays for the Los Angeles Galaxy. His coach, Bruce Arena, is the one who likened the current system to a “black hole” in a Washington Post interview.

One solution seems relatively simple — MLS should probably enter its reserve teams in the USL or NASL to get those players more meaningful games. Not that anything is simple in the turf wars of U.S. soccer.

The other solution: Let players try pro soccer, and if it’s not working out by age 20, let them go back to college. That just requires the NCAA to be reasonable.

(I almost said that with a straight face.)

Related in Soccer America: An interview with NSCAA CEO Joe Cummings, who seems as irritated as anyone else about the Development Academy banning its players from high school games.