Read Part 1 here.
It took a village – an international one – to develop our U.S. soccer player.
Our family traveled all over the Mid-Atlantic United States and figuratively speaking - all over the world – in search of “good soccer” for our son.
American Soccer, your curriculum, whatever and wherever it is, failed my son.
My Proof: “The Egg Drill”
It was the lack of one skill that made us realize our son’s soccer development had been – in some respects - woefully inadequate. Our 11-year old son – almost four years in the American youth soccer system - couldn’t absorb a soccer ball. If you didn’t gasp after reading that last sentence, you should. As parents of a young soccer player, we had no idea that absorbing a soccer ball was so important. I imagine that many parents don’t know that it’s important and my son was living proof that many U.S. coaches and trainers don’t know it’s important either, so I’ll take a moment to explain.
Soccer “nutty” parents, this is for you. If you – like me – have enjoyed curling up on the couch with your kids watching Fox Soccer and Gol TV on a Saturday morning, you know that absorbing – or receiving - a soccer ball is the most basic tenet of the beautiful game. I only learned how important it was when after four years and countless training sessions, ‘elite’ camps, ODP and player development programs my son was finally told – by a former Greek National Team player now youth coach - that he could never play this game unless he could properly absorb a soccer ball.
According to him, it is a virus that plagues the feet of practically every American kid in the American youth soccer community. At our first meeting, when he was trialing our son for his team, he pointed to a youth team training at the same park to prove it to us. My husband and I watched practically every pass ‘bounce’ off the receiving player’s foot. Passes bounced out of bounds, into their faces, back into the feet of another player. We’d never noticed it before. Seriously, next time you’re at practice or a game – watch for it. It’s an epidemic!
Absorbing a soccer ball with both feet consistently isn’t easy, it requires years of practice, and mastering it requires the most un-fun drill known to soccer mankind which is probably why we American’s are so terrible at it. We only do the fun things at our youth practices like soccer tennis and World Cup scrimmages and shooting drills. Well, this loud, imposing coach did none of those things at his practices and his players loved him and were wildly successful, go figure. He taught Zack how to practice absorbing a ball via this painfully repetitive drill we lovingly coined “The Egg Drill”. “The Egg Drill” – a drill apparently mastered by all Greek boys at birth or so we were told - requires you to bounce a ball off a wall, with the inside of each foot, 100 times, three times a day until your foot stops the soccer ball so gently it’s as if your foot was catching – and not breaking - an egg. The kicker here was that this coach told our son that he wouldn’t put him on the field until he perfected this skill. For the first time, a coach dared to ignore our son’s superior athletic ability, his goals scored, tournament wins, and ODP National Pool pedigree. This coach didn’t give a rat’s tuckus about any of that, he simply assessed our son’s skills and told him take his ball, go home and ‘do this’ to get better. We learned two things from that day. First, our so called soccer phenom had not even mastered the simplest of soccer skills. Second, we learned that one boringly repetitive drill provided our son with his first truly useful skill in four years of playing. That drill and his equally repetitive and boring “Little Touches Drill” are drills our 17 year old son still practices today. This experience, for us, was just the beginning of OUR new way of thinking. These coaches we sought out weren’t running the ODP cattle calls, the big College camps, the Academy’s or the super clubs. Maybe part of the problem is that these coaches are out there ‘doing their own thing’. I agree, we do need standardization to ensure consistent development of our youth players, but we found that more often than not, these ‘renegades’ were doing the ‘right things’ and the proof was on the practice and game fields. I would hope U.S. Soccer would reach out to many of these small club coaches and bring them to the table. As a parent, I’d like their opinions and ideas on a player development curriculum for our children to be considered.