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But Messi Did It!


Last time we discussed parent behavior from the sideline. Many times these are also the parents that think they produced the next Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Mia Hamm or Alex Morgan. Parents living their lives vicariously through their child hoping, no……. expecting a D1 scholarship and millions of dollars on contracts at Manchester City or Liverpool and with Nike.


Let’s stop the craziness and reflect on how children learn, what their needs are and what reasonable expectations are for their little Messi’s and Morgan’s. Children are not adults in a paper bag. Children are different than adults, have different learning and developmental needs, so why treat them like adults and expect the same results as adults?


Does a parent expect their child to read and understand Shakespeare in kindergarten? Does a parent expect their little one to solve mathematical equations? Of course they do not. So why do they expect their child to play like the top professional players we see on TV?


Approach youth soccer through the eyes of a psychologist, keeping in mind the psycho-social development level of a child. Generally speaking a 6 year old is extremely ego-centric. Sharing is not part of their world let alone vocabulary. Does it then make sense to teach them when to pass a ball? Think about it, they want the ball and the adult wants him/her to pass the ball…… How confusing and conflicting in their heads. Does the 12 year old have the same strength as an 18 year old? Can this 12 year old kick a goal kick as far an 18 year old? Most likely not.


In soccer there are 4 components of the game that are being developed: Technical, Tactical, Physical and Psycho-Social. Each age group from U6 through U19 has their own characteristics and each child develops at his/her own pace. For example, a 10 year old might physically be ahead of his/her peers, but psycho-socially be a 7 year old child. A technically gifted player at the age of 9, who is small in stature, will most likely be cut from a competitive team. Who knows what will happen with his/her physical development during the growth spurt (i.e. puberty). This is the difference between talent selecting and talent identification. It is easy to select the best athlete from a 10 year old team, it is very hard to identify the most talented player from that team.


If you as a coach and or parent have a good understanding of the learning and developmental needs of a particular age group, the success of true soccer development will outlast the disappointments. Having a good understanding of these needs makes it easier to understand that there are age appropriate and not age appropriate activities.


An 18 year old player really does not want to play sharks and minnows anymore. A 9 year old should not be exposed to difficult tactical activities. Finding the right activity for an age group that promotes decision making while having fun and activate learning is key. Players will stay involved in the activity, are learning through self-discovery and deliberate play.


Soviet psychologist and social constructivist Lev Vigotsky’s (1943) zone of proximal development (ZPD) explains developmental steps perfectly. The ZPD describes the sweet spot where instruction is most beneficial for each student – just beyond his or her current level of independent capability. You can think of the ZPD as the difference between what a child can do independently and what he or she is capable of doing with targeted assistance (scaffolding). Another psychologist Jean Piaget. Piaget's (1936) theory of cognitive development explains how a child constructs a mental model of the world. He disagreed with the idea that intelligence was a fixed trait, and regarded cognitive development as a process which occurs due to biological maturation and interaction with the environment.


US Soccer created a US Soccer Framework and US Soccer Roadmap for the youth soccer player. It explains what the learning needs and developmental needs are of a young child and how a soccer coach should adapt his/her training sessions accordingly. Parents should read these documents so they can set reasonable expectations and understand the learning of their child.


Next time we will discuss why so many children leave sports behind at the age of 13.


Quote of the Month:

Your child’s success or lack of success in sports does not indicate what kind of parent you are.

But having an athlete that is coachable, respectful, a great teammate, mentally tough, resilient and tries their best is a direct reflection of your parenting.


Auke Wiersma

Director of Professional Development

Total Soccer Development

US Soccer/ NJYS Coaching Instructor

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Copyright by Total Soccer Development 2018
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