Recently, Tom came out with a book titled "Soccer Starts At Home." I recommend every soccer player, parent, and coach read this book. For those that won't, I will highlight the important parts. A lot of the philosophy that comes through PlayMaker Training sessions, has been a result of following Tom Byer over the last five years.
Without technically competent players, it doesn't matter what system, tactics or formation you play - the results will always be dependent upon the individual qualities and characteristics of the players. Results at team level will rely to a great degree on the technical competence of the players. So, for long-term success, either at an individual level or at the national team level, it's clear that results will depend on developing technically competent players.
- I lost interest in tactics a long time ago. My underlying philosophy is that you cannot introduce advanced tactics, until you have players with advanced technique.
The best way to make the 'elite' player better is by raising the level of the lower-level players. They in turn will push the elite players to become better. Imagine you have a team of 20 8-year-old players. Three of the 20 are very skillful and the other 17 are not. Those three good players know they will most likely play every minute of every game and in their preferred position, even if they goof off or miss practice. So there is often a complacency with the best players who invariably are not pushed into making themselves better. But imagine if all 20 of those players have a similar technical ability. The competition then becomes much more fierce; they will fight to retain their position on the team and work hard to become better players.
- This is a tough one to comprehend but it is true. It's hard to find coaches that have the ability to raise the level of each player on a team. To raise the bottom of the team while pushing the top players takes experience. It takes a coach that when it comes to performance, its not what they teach, its what they tolerate. Every player cannot be held to the same standard, the bottom player cannot be expected to do what the top player can do, but as long as they are held accountable for what they should be able to do, every player will grow. For example, play a 4v4 three-touch-game, while pushing the top players to play 1 or 2 touch.
Imagine if a class of kids were sent home after school each day and only half of them were required to do homework. It's obvious that the kids who don't do the homework will fall further and further behind the other kids. If they're not studying away from the classroom, they won't be able to improve themselves and match or outstrip the other kids. It's the same with piano practice and it's the same with soccer. The kids need that practice away from the structured lessons to improve their technical skills.
- At the end of the day, the best players develop themselves. Players need over 1,000 MEANINGFUL touches each practice to improve technically. Go to your kids next practice, and see if they come even close to 1,000 meaningful touches. That last line of this quote is why the players that regularly attend PlayMaker Training sessions, are passing the rest of their teammates.
I watch kids' teams play soccer and despair sometimes. 'How can they be so bad?' I ask myself. Most kids can't even move the ball from one foot to the other.
What's the problem?
The problem is people don't know what the problem is.
Federations are prescribing the wrong medicine for the wrong symptoms. Federations see inferior performances from their teams and then come up with solutions they can't implement because their players aren't skilled enough to execute them. They apply science, psychology, advanced training, more training, residential training, training that is totally irrelevant and bad training to the wrong people at the wrong time. South American and African kids rarely get this training, but still manage to acquire superior skills. Don't give players the wrong training and they will have a chance. Give them the wrong training and their chances diminish. And, as is the nature of soccer, they'll soon be discarded and left on the scrap heap. Give them the right training and the sky's the limit.
- Never have words been truer to describe the United States Soccer Federation.
In the United States, you've got 23 million children under the age of 6 out of a population of nearly 320 million people (compared to 64 million in the United Kingdom and 23 million in Australia), and they have far more kids registered to play in an organized environment. But they don't produce technically sound players. There are some really good players, such as Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, but like England they don't produce great technicians. Typically in the U.S., they try and throw science and money at the problem. Nothing is happening for the youngest kids, the 2-to-7 year olds. But look at kids in Africa and South America. They're not rich and they don't have huge organized soccer academies: they're poor and they learn on the 'street.' And they're better. Much, much better... The simple truth is these countries do not have the players with decent technical skills to take on the world's best. Latin countries do and it's not because they have better coaches; it's because the culture allows kids to develop their skills.
- Culture. That is the key word. And that is the sole purpose of this entire book. Soccer Starts At Home. Soccer starts with culture. The top 50 players of all time were introduced to the game at the average age of 2 years old. The average age a kid starts playing in the United States is currently 7 years old. Immediately, we are starting 5 years behind. The best players I have ever coached had parents who played. If they didn't have parents who played, they were almost certainly to be a younger sibling to someone who played. That is not a coincidence.
I believe, and I don't think it would be controversial to say, that the development of technically gifted players is based on having a 'soccer culture.' What this means is that in countries with a soccer culture, young children are exposed- in some cases as soon as they can walk - to soccer and playing soccer with parents, relatives, and friends. The content of this 'soccer culture' will vary from place to place, but it will be a core part of the overall culture wherever it is.
- The biggest thing we lack currently in the United States is the lack of culture. We still have players on the national team where they are first generation soccer players within their families. Compare it to other countries, where their top players all had fathers who played professionally, and grandfathers who played. I don't believe the United States Men's National Team can realistically compete for a World Cup, until all of our players are third and fourth generation soccer players.
This book has been a great teaching tool for me and has opened my eyes to what needs to change in order for us to grow as a 'Soccer Culture.' It is safe to say that Buffalo does not have a soccer culture. Its great to have Buffalo FC, and the WNY Flash in our backyards, but that isn't what makes up a Soccer Culture. A soccer culture starts at the youth level. When players only have 3 or 4 clubs to choose from to play "competitive soccer" that isn't a strong soccer culture. When U11 teams have to play U14 teams to get a "competitive game" that isn't a strong soccer culture. Soccer in Buffalo is still in its infancy. My sole purpose of staying in Buffalo, is to help build its soccer culture.