There’s been a lot of talk in the soccer world about teams, development and winning. Coach Wolff wrote a great article about Canada’s changing stance on winning, but what really caught my eye was a comment talking about the way that English soccer clubs develop their players. The legendary Dutch soccer club, Ajax, recently was featured in a New York times article, “How a Soccer Star is Made.” It talked at length about the investment that the club makes in these young kids (boys only of course) and the quality of the facilities and the program. But the sentence, “It is not what most would regard as a child-friendly environment, but it is one that sorts out the real prodigies — those capable of playing at an elite international level — from the merely gifted,” gives me pause. It seems like a brutal system for a child- is that really something that a 7 or 8 year old child would chose to do, or are we as parents pushing our kids and making them miss out on a “normal” childhood?
My girls play at a relatively high level for their age and our area, but I’m not counting on Olympic superstars or that they’ll play in High School or college. But, even at 8 and 11, we talk about how when you are on a team you have to make sacrifices for the good of the team. At their age, a big sacrifice is missing a sleepover birthday party before a tournament or making sure that they fuel their bodies in an appropriate way, but I believe this is the beginning of developing real life skills. I wrote about the issue of commitment earlier this month and it’s something that’s important for me to teach my girls. I think that you can have it all…but not all at the same time. Learning to trust and rely on your teammates, and sacrificing self for team, are characteristics that are valuable throughout life- not just in soccer.
Based on the English, Dutch and other European models, the new buzz word is “development” over “winning.” In the new SCDSL, Southern California Developmental Soccer League, the ability for kids to move between teams within the same club is available. Its intention is for a second team player who is doing well to have the opportunity to play with the first team, or a first team player who is struggling, to get more play time on the second team. Of course in real life, many coaches substituted “development” for “winning” and had 4 or 5 first team girls at a time play with the second team. This put regular second team players on the bench and gave the team an unfair advantage. I’m all for flexibility and girls having opportunities to play at different levels, but strategies that take away from the team are unsettling.
The tension here is between creating soccer superstars and giving players the concept of teamwork and dedication. At Ajax, every player is out for himself- even seven and eight year olds. Their goal is clear, and although there is a need for a high level academy for a the select few here in the US, for the rest of us, giving kids the lifelong lessons of teamwork and dedication will serve our country better than producing self-focused, wanna-be soccer superstars. This is just my opinion…what do you think?