What happened to those winning U12 players?
by USSF “A” Licensed Coach Sheldon Cipriani

“They were such a good team when they were younger” is what you hear the disgruntled parents say when the games are not as easy at U15 and losses occur on a more regular basis . “What happened? We have the same players.” There are many reasons for the change. Some players lose interest and enthusiasm, parents decide to move players to another club, or some kids stop playing soccer. The problem with this is these reasons sometimes stem from a very common problem.

The team is picked at U10. There are a number of brave athletes on the team. Many games and tournaments are won. It has nothing to do with collective soccer ability at this point. The players are faster and stronger. They overpower opponents and their success is equated to development. Practices are geared towards position specific functions. Crossing and finishing can be seen as a part of practice everyday. Not much attention is payed to technical work.

Parents of other teams admire your organization and patterns of play, which is worked on diligently in training. The parents love the constant direction given by the coach. Who to pass the ball to, when to pass/shoot/cross, where to pass/shoot/cross. They think he is a great coach doing a great job, because they are winning.

I know you are thinking “what is wrong with this?” Well the unfortunate thing is, you do not see what is wrong with this until the kids are playing 11v11 at 14 years of age. The games now present scenarios that they have never been taught to cope with because their practices were devoid of game related activities that fostered imagination, creativity and game intelligence.

What worked against naive younger teams no longer yields the same results. The team responded to coach’s commands, as everything was centered around him/her. The fact that the game is player-centric had little relevance when these kids were being “taught to win.”

The athletic advantage has now diminished and the quality of soccer is now a significant factor in the game. Something the players have only addressed at a superficial level. The teams they beat when playing 6v6 or 8v8 are now more competitive because they have taught how to play the game. The opposite is true for the falling stars. They were taught to be competitive before they were taught how to play.

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