Home > Uncategorized > The World Cup…or… Why we suck at Soccer

The World Cup…or… Why we suck at Soccer

World Cup: I never thought I would say this; has been worth watching. (No I’m not some type of soccer whore suddenly and yes I only watch when the U.S. plays). All I’m saying is that last second Landon Donovan stuff was pretty boss, it doesnt matter if you enjoy soccer or not.       


Landon, excited.


 It was just like a story book. Landon scored then blew a kiss to his wife/ ex-wife/ facebook status: “It’s complicated” gal pal Bianca Kajlich, how cute is that…              

 Just so you know……..          

That's Bianca


 any way it’s been interesting to say the least. What’s really awesome is, with a population of 300+ million, and being the richest country on the face of the planet, we just barely got into the round of 16 and then……. lost to Ghana….. A country with a population of 21.8 milion. With our resources the USA should easily be a soccer powerhouse and probably not losing to the likes of Ghana. It’s not like enough kids don’t play the game:             

“In soccer, which remains one of the country’s most popular youth sports, numbers have risen from about 15 million in 1987 to more than 17.5 million in 2002, the latest date for which numbers are available, according to U.S. Soccer.”             

17.5 million kids, yet we’re just starting to become competitive at it internationally? That doesn’t make sense, think about it. We only need to develop 23 world class players (to fill out a FIFA roster) out of a country of 300 million, 17.5 million of which play the game. Thats literally 1 world class player for every 795,454.54 kids who take the game up or 1 per every 13,636,363 citizens. Thats right ONE world class player for every 13.5 MILLION….and we struggle. In comparison Ghana produces 1 world class player per roughly every 1 million citizens. Think about it Ghana….GHANA is 13x’s better at producing soccer players than the US…..             

 13 TIMES better……that’s a lot of times.             

Maybe it’s because of the way we develop athletes…….the survivor system…..nothing to do with development and everything to do with survival…             

Science....it is not..


Instead of developing athleticism and game skills in our youth while allowing them to develop and mature, then teaching and slowly incorporating the strategic and tactical skills as they become competitive and technically proficient, we throw our kids out there have them play 100+ games a year if they are any good (because obviously they have to play on a club team, a rec team, and maybe 1-2 tournament teams) and then at the age of 13-14, when they really could begin to appreciate and understand competition, they get tired/ burnout/ injured and give the game up.             

I bet Ghana doesn’t do this and they are 13 TIMES better at producing players…..Seriously, how many tournaments do you think a 13 year ould Ghanaian is playing in?……I’m guessing the one every night when they meet up in the alley and pick sides is about it. Here is a great article about this problem (which exists in almost ALL US sports): Stop The Tournaments- Jay Martin Ph.D              

DR. Martin, head coach at Ohio Wesleyan University advocates, like myself, TRAINING to play not playing to train,              

 “The most important aspect of learning the game happens in well-founded training programs. The habits necessary to become a complete player are developed in training………Maybe in America we are uncomfortable with training. It is still a fact that some of our youth soccer coaches still do not have the background in the game as a player to feel confident in the design and execution of a training session. The obvious solution is play games. So, we play games and don’t train.”              

Dr. Martin is absolutely correct, “we are uncomfortable with training”. Everyone thinks more is better, that games build fitness, but this simply isn’t so as Dr. Martin points out:              

Fitness is a part of the game. Ah, so you think there is a fitness component when playing in a tournament? No, there isn’t. There is an energy conservation component, not fitness. American youth players stop running when they are uncomfortable. Since they’re playing so many games in a short weekend, they just don’t run at all………….Tournaments allow players and teams with slow pace or no pace to succeed. Teams play three games in a 24-hour period and, if they are lucky, play two more and win a trophy. Assuming we accept the fact that minimum recovery takes 24 hours, it is physically impossible to play that many games in a short time. In a recent tournament in Central Ohio, for example, a U-18 team played at 4:45 p.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday night and at 7:30 a.m. Sunday morning. What can a coach expect to get from the players in these games? Nothing. It’s not possible to play soccer in these situations. These tournaments breed Underwater Soccer. Nice and slow, no change of pace, no defending”             

See this is weird because we have lots of international examples of Doing the exact opposite and getting a better result.  Like the Dutch soccer academy Ajax, Michale Sokolove profiled Ajax for the Times last month here (warning: it’s long, but very informative). The take home point came from one of the Ajax coaches, Ronald de Jong;         

I am never looking for a result — for example, which boy is scoring the most goals or even who is running the fastest. That may be because of their size and stage of development. I want to notice how a boy runs. Is he on his forefeet, running lightly? Does he have creativity with the ball? Does he seem that he is really loving the game? I think these things are good at predicting how he’ll be when he is older.”         

I don’t think you would ever…..EVER hear an American coach say that he’s more concerned about things other than the goals scored.         

Some other points from the article:         

  • Through age 12, they train only three times a week and play one game on the weekend.”
  • By age 15, the boys are practicing five times a week. In all age groups, training largely consists of small-sided games and drills in which players line up in various configurations, move quickly and kick the ball very hard to each other at close range. In many practice settings in the U.S., this kind of activity would be a warm-up, just to get loose, with the coach paying scant attention and maybe talking on a cellphone or chatting with parents
  • How the U.S. develops its most promising young players is not just different from what the Netherlands and most elite soccer nations do — on fundamental levels, it is diametrically opposed.
  • Americans like to put together teams, even at the Pee Wee level, that are meant to win. The best soccer-playing nations build individual players, ones with superior technical skills who later come together on teams the U.S. struggles to beat. In a way, it is a reversal of type.  Americans underdevelop the individual, although most of the volunteers who coach at the youngest level would not be cognizant of that.”
  • Americans place a higher value on competition than on practice, so the balance between games and practice in the U.S. is skewed when compared with the rest of the world. It’s not unusual for a teenager in the U.S. to play 100 or more games in a season, for two or three different teams, leaving little time for training and little energy for it in the infrequent moments it occurs. A result is that the development of our best players is stunted. They tend to be fast and passionate but underskilled and lacking in savvy compared with players elsewhere. “As soon as a kid here starts playing, he’s got referees on the field and parents watching in lawn chairs,” John Hackworth, the former coach of the U.S. under-17 national team and now the youth-development coordinator for the Philadelphia franchise in Major League Soccer, told me. “As he gets older, the game count just keeps increasing. It’s counterproductive to learning and the No. 1 worst thing we do.

Soooo, if everyone is doing this whole “athlete development” thing completely opposite from how we are, and kicking our ass in the process…we may want to rethink how we do things.         

We need to rely less on chance, luck, gadgets and gimmicks and more on science and training…development not survival…. Case in point. Think about how many coaches and parents have their kids go to “speed” camps to get faster. These money pits are nothing more than a good way to get ripped off and learn some new parlor tricks. They have little to do with actual speed development.       

Our way:       

Gimmicks and gadgets......B.S. galore


 Their way:       

“Ruben Jongkind, a consultant who mainly works with Dutch track athletes, was altering the posture and gait of a 15-year-old recently acquired from another Dutch club. Jongkind told me that while the boy was actually quite fast, he did not have enough range of motion in his vertical plane. “He was running like a duck, shuffling,” Jongkind said. “That takes more energy, which is why we have to change his motor patterns, so he can be as fast at the end of a game as the beginning…………Jongkind had been working with this player for several weeks and said he had progressed to “consciously able but not subconsciously able” to run with the desired form, meaning that in the heat of competition, he reverted to his old form. I pointed out that a fast but flawed runner in the United States would likely be left alone. “Everything can be trained,” Jongkind said. “You should always try to make an improvement if it’s possible.”         

That, my friends, is sport science…and while it may not be exactly why we lost to Ghana this time, the numbers, methods and outcomes over the course of decades and international competitions can’t be ignored…        

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