Focus on Winning
Many of our current U.S. systems are set up on the "here and now." We watch results, look at standings, and recruit guest players for tournaments to improve standings for the team and the club. This is done as young as the U10 level in some areas. In true development academies most players are allowed to participate in one match per week. The rest of the time is spent on developing the player's growth, overall athletic ability and technique. Very rarely, if ever, will you see any tournament play.
If you've ever been to a U13 match and watched the coach and parents screaming on the sidelines, you'll understand what I mean. Winning is often given top priority in our systems. Players are not seen as a "final product" traveling down a path of development, but instead what they can contribute now, to my team. A sad statement when you are talking about 9-12 year olds.
If I'm watching a soccer match and someone asks me the score, I can never tell them. I really couldn't care less about the results, but instead focus on each player's "bag of tools." Many coaches try and develop player's strong points and strengths; I want to work on their weaknesses.
Strengths vs. Weaknesses
Years ago I quit traditional coaching and decided to only focus on technical development, studies and training. It has been a blessing. I have worked with all levels of players; from 8-year olds to Division I college players to professional players from all over the world. The one thing I see in common is that they ALL have their weaknesses.
I believe this is emphasized by our own system and coaches to some degree. There are many well-respected camps that promote "positional camps" for players as young as 10. Not a good thing for creating the overall player. Players between the ages of 8 and 14 should not be locked in to positional play. They need constant exposure to all aspects and positions.
The top players in the world are well-rounded even though they have their strengths. Instead of working on their strengths they have focused on their weaknesses, or at least have had well-rounded training and exposure. This should be the goal of everyone that is involved in youth player development. Making sure they have a "full bag of tools."
One of my favorite things to do is to work with a top-level team and cause panic, or provoke thought. I will let the coach know that the first thing I want to do is to see the team scrimmage for a while. I let the coach and players set themselves up.
Right before the whistle blows I stop the match. I take to the field and cause panic. I put the top strikers in goal. I move the left backs to right forwards. I put players in positions they haven't played for years. They all look at me like I'm crazy, and when the game starts it's pretty ugly. The midfielder that normally sends beautiful balls over the top is mis-hitting every pass with their weak foot. The new "defender" is getting beaten every time. You get the drift. They are trying to use tools that are NOT in their bag. I let them know that very quickly that if they want to be GREAT players, there is a lot of work to be done. It is fine to have a strong right foot, but every once in a while they need to have the left available as well.