This page includes articles, thoughts, and essays on various topics related to athletic and personal development. Topics range from expositions on talent and talent development, to coaching methodology, to leadership theory, to soccer concepts, and more.
Arsene Wenger of Arsenal FC is quoted as stating "the day you stop learning is the day you stop teaching." FC Wisconsin Eclipse embraces this philosophy whole-heartedly. We expect our coaches to constantly expand their knowledge and improve their effectiveness in order to constantly improve their ability to teach and develop the next generation of players. Many of the philosophies of FC Wisconsin Eclipse are included within the articles on this page.
Beyond educating coaches, it is critical for youth soccer clubs to also provide information and education to parents of aspiring athletes. Being a parent of an aspiring athlete is very different and requires a unique mindset and focus. It is our hope that these articles provide thoughts that will help player development through improved parent education and understanding.
Aim Higher, Always
When most see an athlete successfully perform an amazing feat of skill, under pressure in a meaningful game, their first thought is usually “I can’t believe he/she did that.” This rightfully appreciative thought often reflects an underlying belief that this feat was a singularity; it was so amazing that it just couldn’t possibly happen often and it wouldn’t happen again for a very long time.
That belief is wrong, and the reality of amazing skill is totally different.
Speaking truth can be difficult, especially when doing so challenges long-held opinions, or forces re-examination of fundamental beliefs. Seeking, finding and embracing truth, however, is the only path to improvement. Youth soccer is filled with truths about player development – articles about coaching methods, curriculums for creating training sessions, presentations to watch training activities, and more.
Developing Individual Mentality and Creating Club Culture
One of the most important influences on player development (and eventually performance) is the culture within the player’s club. Culture is incredibly powerful at encouraging or stifling a variety of behaviors and mentalities that help determine long-term success of individual players.
So how do you create a culture that helps develop mentally tough and resilient players, and that promotes long term individual and team success?
How can two players with similar overall athleticism and skill levels, who are in the same training environment with the same coaches, have very different playing careers and very different amounts of personal success over time? How do some players improve so much faster than others in almost every aspect of the game - in skill acquisition, game understanding, and sport psychology? Why do some players handle adversity better than others, and persist in the face of the same obstacles that stop others?
Over the years, we have spoken to countless young players about their athletic and personal “journey” in soccer. The metaphor of the “journey” represents the road that each athlete travels as they grow and develop from young children first exposed to athletics and new sports, to young teens learning what it takes to be successful and what it means to work towards a goal, to young adults learning how to compete at higher and higher levels.
The Importance of Adversity in Growth and Development
The development path to excellence in anything is filled with moments of great reward; but challenge, disappointment, and frustration are also frequent companions on the road. While that sounds demotivating, and perhaps an article about growth and development shouldn’t be so blunt, this truth cannot be hidden or ignored. Ignoring reality doesn’t make it different, and naivety almost always impairs anyone’s ability to navigate complex situations.
Last week, the Football Association in England (the FA) opened an incredible new facility (St. George’s Park) as the new home for all English youth national teams and the base for coaching education in England. It is a reflection of the massive amount of resources and focus being put into youth development around the world, and the recognition of the importance of providing great teaching and training to players at young ages.
The most successful organizations in the world have a set of values that define what is most important to the organization, what drives the decisions in the organization, and what it takes to be successful within that organization. The same holds true in athletics.Programs and teams that have defined the values that their players must aspire to, internalize, and ultimately live every day are far more successful than those that don’t.
Every soccer player, at every level in the world, has had a crisis of confidence in their career. More realistically, most players have periods of low confidence at multiple moments throughout their careers as youth, collegiate, professional, or international players. This is a fact.
Creating an Elite Development Environment and Being an Athlete Within It
The word “coach” derives from the Hungarian word kocsi … meaning “carriage.” The original word referenced the fact that a coach can help “carry” a student to new performance levels or through tests of various types. In other words, “to coach” was to take someone from where they are to where they want to be. A definition that is perhaps more practical when applied to sports, is this: “to coach is to help athletes learn and acquire new skills (and understanding) faster than they would on their own.”
So how do coaches help the most ambitious athletes reach their goals and maximize their potential as effectively and as efficiently as possible? How do coaches help athletes develop skills faster than they would on their own?
Every athlete faces ONE BIG QUESTION every day they train: “How determined am I today to maximize my performance and train at the edge of my ability?”
The list of “things” that can cause an athlete on any given day to train with less than total concentration, effort, or determination are numerous; some days you are distracted, some days you don’t feel perfect, and some days you just want to do other things.
Over the past several years, much has been written about the specific type of practice that is required to develop a world-class performer. In this research, the term for the training habits of elite performers in any field (athletics, music, chess, and more) has been termed “deliberate practice.”
The best developmental soccer clubs in the world have a culture that clearly prioritizes player development above all else. The heart of this culture can be seen on the training field in the ideas expressed by the players and the way they try to play every day. While there may be subtle style differences between clubs, the goal of this developmental culture is almost always described the same way: to develop players that play attacking, creative, and possession-oriented soccer. So how do you create a culture that reinforces playing attacking, creative, and possession-oriented soccer?
Maximizing Growth - Adversity, Timely Coaching, and Athlete Mentality
In 2005, Andrew McCutcheon was drafted in the first round of the MLB draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates and in early 2007 he was rated the 13th best prospect in baseball. Only months later, he was batting 0.189 and in the worst slump of his young professional career. It was at this time that his hitting coach showed him a list of technical flaws in his batting swing that had been observed (but not mentioned) 18 months earlier – when McCutcheon was batting 0.300 and wildly successful.
The Impact of Visualization and Concentration on Performance
Visualization is a technique practiced by almost every elite athlete to help improve performance or manage competitive stress. Recent studies have even shown that visualization (or mental imagery) actually helps the brain build better neural circuitry ... which improves performance.
No one disputes the importance of positive feedback in the learning process. However, balancing the amount of praise vs. criticism, or informational comments vs. encouragement, is very difficult. It is in this area where coaching truly becomes an art - especially considering that every player responds differently to feedback.
What a True Player Development Program Looks Like - On The Field
Individual technical ability is the most important pre-requisite to play high-level soccer. Unfortunately, most youth soccer clubs fall into one of two categories:
Teams with a majority of players that have played within the club for multiple years with a shocking lack of technical ability; or
Teams with players with some technical ability that rarely attempt to play attractive or thoughtful soccer.
It is possible to differentiate between good development clubs and poor development clubs by dividing teams and players that "play soccer" from those that actually just "play at soccer." What’s the difference?
Below is the mission statement of the 1996 Australian Women’s Field Hockey Team (Gold Medalists In Atlanta). It is a great outline of some of the qualities and principles it takes to be an elite performer in any field.
On March 30, in San Diego, CA, US Soccer Director of Coaching Dave Chesler gave a presentation outlining concepts in long-term athlete development to approximately 50 coaches within the Elite Clubs National League. During the presentation, he quoted US Soccer Women’s National Team Coach Pia Sundhage regarding the key quality a youth soccer coach must have in order to develop great soccer players. In her words, “great youth coaches must have the courage to be patient.”
A key philosophy of the FC Wisconsin Eclipse training and developmental philosophy is to push players to train on the edge of their abilities. We expect players to “become comfortable being uncomfortable.”
The best youth soccer clubs are focused on one priority above all others: individual player development. While almost everyone talks about this focus, few act on it to the degree they espouse, and even fewer execute it effectively.