The Value of Expecting More

Want more out of your players? The following article suggests coaches who expect more from players can generate better performance, even at the younger ages. As Dr. Martin, editor of the NSCAA Soccer Journal, travels to Bayern Munich, what he sees at a U10 practice opens his mind to the value that "Greater Expectations" can have for U.S. youth players. Yes, U10s can do much more than possess the ball! Read on:

I visited Bayern Munich for a week in March. At the beginning of the week, Bayern assistant Nick Theslof told me the best team in the club was the U10 team. So, I went to a training session … then another … then another … then, I attended a game on Saturday. I was absolutely stunned. The team was, without question, a very good team.

The training sessions were conducted at a high level and intensity. Each activity forced the players to "play the game." The players passed, played the wall pass, played in the third man, played one- and two-touch, attacked the goal with combination play and worked hard on defense. They were fun to watch!

Surely this was a group of youngsters who were scouted throughout Germany and brought to Bayern as part of the Academy program. When asked, however, the coach assured me these were members of the club from the local area, and not really special players. So how did these kids become so good at such a young age?

Gianluca Vialli, in his book, The Italian Job, asks a similar question in the early chapters. He says, when young children start kicking a soccer ball, they do so exactly the same way all over the world. You cannot tell one nationality from another at the starting point.

But what happens in the next 10 years? Why are some cultures and their U10s far in front of other cultures in terms of soccer maturation and level of play? Why were these U10s at Bayern so far ahead of U10s in the United States? There may be a couple of reasons.

First, the Bayern U10' have a tremendous group of role models. At Bayern, the U10s train on the field adjacent to the first team. They see Phillip Lamm, Frank Ribery and Luca Toni train everyday. They carry those images to their training sessions and try to imitate their heroes.

At one time, not long ago, that was a problem in this country. No one saw soccer (as they did basketball and baseball) and no one had role models. Today, we should not have that problem today. In the U.S., we have role models for our players. There is more soccer available at all levels for our young players to watch and imitate. That includes players both in the U.S., and from international teams. So, I ask again, why doesn't that kind of advanced play happen in the United States?

Allow me to suggest a possible answer — our expectations of our U10s are not as high as they are in Germany or other soccer-playing countries! A perusal of soccer curriculums on the Internet may support this statement. The most common characteristics of U10s include selfishness, independence, short (but improving) attention spans, etc. These characteristics lend themselves to dribbling, receiving the ball with your feet and maybe shooting with both feet. The focus is still on the individual, and combining with teammates and passing are not a priority.

This is wrong. We must increase our expectations of young soccer players. After watching the Bayern U10s, it is clear that we can get more out of our young players. Indeed, we MUST get more out of our young players.

Research in many areas suggests that high expectations are important for success. Academic expectations have been studied many times. Low expectations reap low achievement; high expectations reap high achievement.

Many coaches today feel that U10s are not ready for passing, combining and one-touch play. They want youth coaches to be patient and wait until the young players are ready. Why? Passing is an integral part of the game and should be taught and demonstrated early. This is not an indictment of any youth coach and his/her coaching, rather a concern that should be addressed by our soccer culture.

We tell ourselves that U10s are not ready for advanced soccer technique. Our expectations for these young players are too low. If, as a soccer nation, we get behind the other international players at age 10, it stands to reason that we will always remain behind these players. While U10s in Munich move forward and incorporate tactics into their play, the U10s in the U.S. are still dribbling or passing in lines.

Part of this is due to our inferiority complex as a soccer culture. We are so concerned with our supposed lack of foot-eye coordination that we overdo the early steps in the training process (i.e., dribbling, juggling, etc. ). It is time to move on from that mindset and push our young players.

When I say "push," and suggest higher expectations, I am not referring to winning. In fact, winning has nothing to do with these expectations; I am referring to playing, competing and expecting more from our young players on the field.

Youth coaches spend a great deal of time teaching the basic fundamentals of soccer because we feel our children need a longer introduction to "foot skills." In our American culture, "foot skills" do not come naturally as they might in Germany or Spain.

But, they do! Remember the scenario raised earlier by Gianluca Vialli? Children in all countries kick the ball the same way when they start. Then what happens?

In many countries, those same young children begin to learn how to play. In the U.S., however, we start to teach the children how to kick and dribble. I believe they already know how to perform these skills. Let's get the children playing the game and using and refining their skills. Children will refine these skills as they play, because they will learn what is necessary to be successful.

Remember when children learned by playing soccer in the streets? When children play in the streets, there are no lines, there is no standing around and all the children are playing, whether it is even or uneven numbers on each team. Coaching schools urge us to replicate street soccer in training.

So, we should push our younger players. We should expect more from them. We should challenge the young players in training and devise ways and means to incorporate a number of skills into each training activity.

Let me end by saying that the Bayern Munich U10 training session included games that focused on the wall pass, two-touch passing, the overlap, changing positions and one-touch shooting. Activities of this type replicate what happens in the game.

Our young players can do this.

Our young players should do this … and more!"

Coach Karl says: At our CYSA Coaching School courses, we will teach you how our flexible "9-Step Practice Routine" allows you to address all these issues … and more! For a course near you, visit www.cysanorth.org