In the wake of the Larry Nassar trial and subsequent conviction, I've spent some time thinking on the power dynamic between coaches and players, often-times children. In fact, every time I've thought about the heinous abuses committed by Nassar and many others, my thoughts keep returning to the college recruitment process.
Every day on social media, if you browse long enough, you'll see a post similar to any of the three tweets to the left. In fact, any given day will feature a number of posts, tweets, and comments from coaches on how players must act if they want that elusive scholarship, or even a spot on that team's roster.
I'm tired of it. It's time for coaches to have the conversation that actually needs to happen. It's time for players, most often young boys or girls, to begin to realize that the power dynamic isn't skewed in the way coaches make it seem.
When people speak in extremes, it almost offers a sense of comfort. It is easy to be told that something is right or something is wrong. It's easy to process this mentally, it's easy to accept this and to project this. Right or wrong. Black or White. Two options, as simple as flipping a coin.
In the world of youth development, the battle for ideological supremacy reigns supreme in which both extremes argue back and forth, and yet we fail to see that nuance is dying a slow, and unfortunately painful, death. Nuance may be the most important word for the 21st century, especially in a time where social media is becoming rampant in its destruction of contextual discussions, replacing it with 140 characters of smug confidence in being absolutely right. We are in an age where a long-form discussion on a topic is boring, because who wants to read that article when that celebrity I follow on twitter can just call it "Stupid" and save me the read.
Recently, I have seen a debate about the battle between opposed technical development versus unopposed technical development, and it's one in which the soccer world has decided to forget the grey, and focus on the black and white. Remember that in almost all things, the truth is somewhere in the middle, and those that speak in absolutes present a great red flag for you to spot and run away from. The irony in this, of course, is that I've just presented an absolute in saying that the truth is somewhere in the middle. Never say never, eh?
Proponents of only opposed technical development argue that unopposed practice doesn't present any similarities to the game, and therefore there is no skill acquisition that can transfer to a game. It's "useless" or "ineffective" or even, if you're feeling daring, "a disservice to your players."
"Millenials." "Participation Trophies." "The 'ME' Generation"
These have become buzzwords that elicit angry responses from anyone above the age of thirty. "If only those kids knew how to work hard and didn't expect a trophy for waking up in the morning" or something like that. In fact, evoking an angry reaction towards participation trophies is the easy way to now go viral, lambasting the current generation of youth for "not being prepared for life." A few weeks ago, the Louisville Head Women's Basketball Coach, Jeff Walz, went in on the participation trophy generation and boy did people go crazy for it. Walz was a "savior," and he was "telling these kids how life really is."
Unfortunately for all involved, they couldn't be further from the reality of the matter.
(Check out our podcast where we continue the discussion of this topic by clicking here!)
With the modern game constantly evolving, being brought to new levels by managers such as Guardiola or Bielsa, there remains a prevalent myth that seems as strong as ever. There remains to this day the idea that in order to manage at a high level, you have to have played at a high level, and it is still the biggest myth in modern coaching.
The argument is presented that someone with no professional playing experience can't “truly understand” the game at the highest levels. How can someone who hasn’t played in the Champions League, or the World Cup truly know the intricacies of the dressing-room dynamics? How can a non-pro truly empathize with players who are playing for their country? Can the non-pro understand the nuances of the game? The subtleties of the tactics they are attempting to bring to their team? All good questions, until you realize they are backed by little to no foundation.
Context. It may be my favorite word, but even then it would require more context! I had a wonderful conversation not too long ago with Sefu Bernard, who is a professional and youth basketball coach as well as coach educator. Some of our discussion centered around this topic, and in fact Sefu has written a great article about some of what we discussed which you can check out here!
I often hear youth clubs proudly proclaim that they place their best coaches at the youngest ages. Man, talk about something that sounds really progressive and forward thinking. Surely, these are the people that get the development process! Or do they?
Over the last few years, articles, talks, and presentations on multi-sport development have skyrocketed. In fact, as more and more people have come out to criticize the “dangers” of single-sport participation as an extreme on the development spectrum, multi-sport development has become the panacea that everyone has looked for! It’s easy to find articles that talk about the hidden dangers if your child only plays one sport growing up, but for some reason articles questioning multi-sport development seem to be much harder to find.
Do you know what World Class really is?
We have become accustomed to describing things as "outstanding," "world class," or even "the greatest." In fact, the terms come most often when discussing players or teams. This 15 year old is world class, that U10 team is outstanding.
This morning, I watched a video that claimed "soccer players need several hundred to a few thousand touches each WEEK to be OUTSTANDING." Read it again, let it sink it. It couldn't be further from the truth. I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise that this was part of a marketing video that promoted a product for moms and dads to buy their aspiring young players.
There has been positive and negative uproar over the past couple of days regarding the new initiatives recommended by US Soccer. If you somehow missed it, they are as follows: