I had a number of conversations recently on the subject of why leading soccer countries in Europe and South America are so much ahead of USA in developing players. I'm trying to understand this myself and here are some of my thoughts on this.
In most games, I saw last month in USA (U9-U19, U23, college, MLS) intensity and speed of play were very low. It usually starts from the level of pressure, goes to tactical knowledge/awareness, and results in too many touches on the ball and slow speed of play. Almost all players in the USA have to make 4-6 touches on the ball before they can execute the decision. At a pro-level, especially comparing European Champions League and MLS, it is very obvious, but in fact, the same happens at young ages too - the intensity of the games is very low if we compare with games let's say in Barcelona. And I'm not talking about famous FC Barcelona - there are a lot of youth clubs in Barcelona that nobody really knows (Damm, Cornella, San Andreu, Hospitalet etc.) which play at a much faster pace than any team I saw in Colorado. I know most people think I exaggerate - the only way to check it is to go and see. I went multiple times and a lot of players in Colorado went as well and can confirm.So why is there such a big difference already by age of 10?
I always say that if we make a team of 2 years old kids and play against same age Barcelona team - we will not see much difference. In fact, since we have a way bigger population we will probably select better athletes and at 2 years old it is pretty much all that matters.
So why then at 10 years old the difference in the level of soccer is already big? To me, the main answer is coaching.
I know many players who went to train in European clubs (again, the vast majority of these clubs are unknown to the general public) and almost all of them said - we wish we had this kind of training back home. So what is so different? Here I can speak only about Spain and specifically about Barcelona, but I'm sure the same is the case in France, Germany, England, Italy:
- intensity of training is much higher.
That means all players and coaches take it very seriously and if you don't give 100% your own teammates will give you a very hard time at the practice. It is in blood - they come to fight for every ball in any kind of drill and they expect that from everyone on their team, whether they play a real 11v11 game or 2v2 +1 neutral.
- doesn't matter how talented the player is all players work extremely hard in defense and to pressure the opponent
. I saw so many players here who basically work in defense when they want to, especially those players who are technically more advanced - they like to play with the ball, and defending requires a lot of work without the ball. When, Spanish coaches came to Colorado last summer, after the first day of camp they said that almost nobody defends here.
- Why defending is so important in player development?
If at training I participate in a drill, and the opponent group of players doesn't put enough pressure on me - I learn to play under low pressure and can afford to play slow, hold the ball too long, make too many touches on the ball and develop other bad habits. If the pressure is high I know that if I hold the ball one second long I'll be "eaten" by several defenders so I learn to play fast, scan the field, see all options quickly. You play the way you train.
- coaching is way more intense
and players constantly get instructed and very often in a very hard manner. The best growth happens when the player is out of his/her comfort zone, so the intensity and demand for perfection constantly must be there.
- tactically kids in Barcelona at age 10 know more than top-level players in the USA at age 16.
And I'm not talking about theoretical knowledge but about concepts that are executed on the field. For example, my partner is 15 yards away from me and he has the ball. The defender who guards me is 1 yard away from me to my right hand. Should my partner pass me the ball? Most players in the USA will not pass that ball as I'm covered by the defender, while in Barcelona 1 yard is a lot of space if the pass is at proper pace AND TO MY LEFT FOOT (further from the defender). How many coaches understand that and actually teach it? And if we don't teach it how we can teach the team to play through the middle of the field where all players have very little space?
- during the games coaches constantly teach players.
I think in Barcelona I never saw a coach who was silent on the sideline, normally coaches don't shut up during the game. Last month I watched a lot of youth games in Colorado and I saw two coaches who actually coached during the game. I really don't understand why most coaches don't use this perfect coaching opportunity to make players better. They see mistakes and they almost never correct them! To me, this actually hurts the development of the player as he/she might really don't understand the mistake. To me, before U15 the score shouldn't really matter for a coach but the corrections should happen every 10 seconds.
Of course, there are other reasons as well. For example, how many players are actually watching soccer on TV and actively following some teams? But as coaches, it is hard for us to influence these areas while we are definitely responsible for everything that happens on the pitch at training and games. I know I'm very hard and negative but what I would really encourage all coaches to do is to find time and money and go to Europe to observe the training for a week or so - I'm sure it will change your perspective a bit and you will realize how far behind we actually are. The same is absolutely true for players - before dreaming to play in well known European club compare yourself with players from a small club in Barcelona - it will open your eyes and make your work much more.
Once, someone asked me why I don't go to coach to Europe, my answer was very simple: with my knowledge of the game I probably might get U6 team in Barcelona but there is no way I will get anything higher as there are so many coaches there that are way better than me. And I'm not talking about licenses (I have USSF A and UEFA B licenses) but about real knowledge and ability to apply it on the field. It is just a different world and I hope more and more coaches and players can get a taste of it and bring it back to USA.
At SIQ training we are trying to create the environment of striving for excellence and SIQ coaches MUST constantly coach players and push them out of comfort zone as we believe it is necessary for proper development. We now pay special attention to make sure players provide maximum pressure to ensure that players with the ball have limited space and time to make decisions.
Moreover, in order to give our players experience of European training, we invite coaches from Spain (specifically from Barcelona) to run week-long SIQ camp with Spanish coaches
. We have been told multiple time that none of the camps can be compared to these camps on their intensity and amount of information learned by players.