Finding a team for your child is a difficult decision for any family to make. The youth soccer world is a tricky maze and one that you need to think long and hard about and one that you just can’t jump into. A lot of factors come into play when considering a team or club that your child should play on. So how do you know what team is right for your child?
The main questions you need to ask yourself are: Who is the coach? What is his philosophy? What is his background? Has he developed players? Will my child be valued and actually be playing? Will my child learn soccer skills and life skills?
Many parents just sign their kids up and don’t do enough research on the coach. I often hear parents talk about how great a coach is. But is the coach great because he actually produces players and builds a team, or is the coach great because he is a master recruiter? A great coach to me is one that molds what he has, not a coach that looks around the league and poaches or recruits until his team wins. A great coach is one that takes his time to develop the essential skills that a youth player must possess; skills needed to play effectively and skills needed in life.
Having worked in youth soccer for over 15 years and having dealt with thousands of parents over the years, it’s been hard to watch so many talented players not reach their full potential due to poor parental decisions. So many times I have seen players move from Team A to Team B because Team B has a better team. But does playing on a better team make you better?
Years ago I had a couple come up to me for advice for their son Harry. Harry was playing on a state ranked team that was loaded with top players that were recruited ruthlessly by its coach and club. Harry was a solid little player loaded with skill and exceptional game sense with the potential to go on and play at a decent level. However, he was smaller than most at the U/13 level and over time on his star studded team he struggled to crack the starting eleven. He struggled physically because he had not gone through his growth spurt and the coach wanted immediate wins. Harry was down in confidence and felt he had no chance of playing; he only played when the team was winning by a large margin. Clearly Harry was not happy and mentally he was being scarred. He didn’t feel important and was beginning to hate the game. Coach didn’t understand that in time all players grow and it’s the skilled players that carry the key to future success, not the less skilled big athletes that are faster and stronger at the younger ages.
When Mom and Dad approached me and asked for my opinion, I advised them that Harry needed to find a lower level team that he could actually play on and feel good to be a part of; a team that would depend on Harry and rely on his exceptional ball handling skills and game sense; a team where Harry could feel like he played a big part. For the sake of his mental health, Harry was too young (13 years old) to not feel special or to feel unwanted by a coach and to be hurt by the game he loved.
When I gave this advice to the parents, their response was “But this team is ranked 2nd in the state and coach John is meant to be one of the best.” The parents were truly clueless as to why we play the sport. They were like many other parents caught up in the wins rather than the benefits of team sport. They were more concerned about having their child on a team that was ranked rather than a team that developed their child’s soccer and life skills. Harry was part of a team that had a coach who relied on recruiting for success and didn’t focus on actual development of its players.
I was able to convince them to take Harry off the well recruited star studded team and place him on a lower level team where the coach viewed “development first and winning second” and where Harry would be appreciated; a team where he could express his skills without the fear of making a mistake.
A few short weeks after moving to his new team, things changed for Harry and his family. News started to roll in that “Harry is playing every minute of every game. Harry loves his teammates and they love him too. Harry feels special on this team.” This was news that was warming to hear because it conveyed that their child felt good about himself.
Years later, Harry had developed into a solid player. He had the opportunity to hone all his skills, learn the game, and be physically able to last entire games. But most importantly, mentally he had the confidence needed to be successful at anything he did. He felt good about himself.
His experience with the lower level team was priceless. His coach worked on skill, tactics, and physical conditioning. He had to, for his players needed all the help they could get to work their way up the standings. Harry was part of a team where the coach made the players and not where the players were making the coach, as it was with his previous team.
Harry later had his growth spurt. His body and mind was on par with all the rest of the players at the U16 age group. It was now a level playing field and Harry’s skill, game sense and confidence helped him get selected for ODP ahead of the teammates he had left behind on his previous team. Those teammates still relied on athleticism and natural ability, but Harry had developed his ball handling skills and perseverance skills. His former teammates had it easy as they won due to the recruitment skills of their coach and never had to hone their skills and become fully fit. They always had the talent to win most games. But eventually, everyone became just as fast and just as strong, and those old teammates never developed crisp skills and tactical awareness. They did not know how to handle losing situations because they were always at the top and never learned how to climb the ladder of success. Harry, on the other hand, went down to the bottom and worked his way up. He hit obstacles and learned to conquer them. He learned how to be a champion in soccer and in life.
As I stated, a lot of factors come into play when selecting a team for your child, especially the coach, his philosophy and where and how your child fits into his philosophy. Does the coach actually have a philosophy, and how will your child fit in tactically? What is the playing time policy? Will the team depend on your child thus making your child feel special? Will your child be a leader?
Look for a coach whose main objective is development. Look for a coach that spends time on skill development; a coach that sacrifices wins at the young ages to teach skill and tactics, and plays players in multiple positions; a coach that builds physical endurance and strength; a coach that mentally instills confidence so that players believe in themselves. Don’t fall for the coach that has made his name through recruiting. The recruitment skills of a coach don’t prepare you for college of for life.