Developmental hindrance or enhancement?

USSF “A” Licensed Coach Sheldon Cipriani

Let me begin by saying that this is my humble opinion based on my twenty year observation of high school soccer. I am a Director of Coaching for a club and I have a significant number of male and female players that participate with their varsity soccer teams. I look at as many games as possible, because I want to support my players and I enjoy looking at them play. The problem I have is with the decline in fitness, sharpness, and rhythm of my players when they return to club soccer. Some players have taken two steps back and the rest have stagnated at best.

I asked my players what it was about high school that they enjoyed so much. The answers were disturbing. Some players said that it was easy, it was fun because they could dribble players with ease, they had more time and space to play and they played more games. I know you are saying what else do I expect from young players? I asked these same players why do you play club? The responses were much different. They said that they wanted to improve individually, they wanted a better understanding of the game, they wanted to gain an appreciation of what it took to play at the next level, they wanted the challenge of playing with and against better players, and they wanted to be prepared to play in college.

With this in mind, it is a mystery to me why some players participate in high school soccer. I say some players, because not all of them have the ability or ambition to play past this level. For these players this is great. The club environment helps these kids prepare for high school. My sincere concern is for the kids that are extremely talented college prospects. Let me explain why.

The players of this caliber usually play in positions that best suits the needs of the team, in terms of results. This does not always coincide with the developmental needs of these players. I will give you an example. There is a young lady that played at my club until she was U15. She moved to another club in a much larger city to improve her chances of being seen at bigger tournaments with a better team. She is very talented athlete and has committed to a top 20 NCAA Women’s program as an attacking fullback. At high school she plays as a target forward. The ball is launched to her and she runs on to it. I fail to comprehend how this helps her in the long term.

Then there is the poor quality of coaching. Some high school teams are lucky enough to have a credentialed coach working with them, but most have a warm body with very little understanding of the game. The senior players run practices, there is no discipline, there is no organization, the sessions lack content and most of the time is spent scrimmaging. When looking at the games, passing sequences are a rarity. The teams lack chemistry, there is no methodology to the play, and there seems to an absence of the basic principles of soccer. The more talented attacking players are allowed to ignore defensive responsibilities, and they play only when their team is in possession.

The playing surfaces are also usually below standard. Most games are played on American Football fields that are shorter and narrower than a regulation soccer pitch. The teams play without width most of the time and rely on longer, direct passing. Very little takes place in midfield. It resembles a 100 yard tennis match.

Let me end by saying that I have seen some very good high school teams, but only about as often as I have seen a shooting star. The teams that actually look like a they are playing soccer are comprised of players that play at the club level under very good coaches, or have a very good high school coach that continues what the club coaches have started. Some argue that the kids are playing and having fun and this does not hurt them. This may be true at the superficial level, but I have seen year after year the negative affects of kids having fun without direction. More coaching insights