This article digs into the science of education and of coaching methodologies. This was done to prove the point with peer-reviewed, empirically developed theories. It was not meant to be a rant, but rather as a review of legislative decisions from another perspective and a kick-start to begin a discussion of what we can do to move forward. Twitter, Facebook, and the radio waves are inundated daily with everyone ranting about the state of youth soccer, but no one is talking about the why, the how, and the what for developing better solutions. This article was written to touch a nerve. It was done to act as a change agent rather than an agent of discontent. Science could argue for both sides in this, and numbers or theories could prove either argument. The fact remains that we are legislating competition and not development. We are making rules to adjust for bad coaching and skewed philosophies instead of diving headlong into changing the culture. As Stu Armstrong recently told me, “Culture eats talent for breakfast”. My worry is this new legislation is going to get eaten by the prevailing culture of win at all costs. Read, share, rant, rave. I will use what you say to help write future articles on this topic. Next time, I am most likely going to address our most fundamental flaw in U.S. Soccer: A Culture that Games the System for the Coaching ERR. That cannot be blamed on the governing body or the Head Coach of our National Team. That is our fault and we need to change the underlying philosophy and culture to fix it. You pull a weed out by the roots, not the leaves.
What would an Educator say about these changes?
A review of educational research lends a unique perspective on these mandates. Of course, this is paraphrasing volumes of research and distilling it to a theoretical situation. Until we institute the changes, we have no idea what will actually come of this. It is easy to apply theory to the abstract. I would like to revisit this in about 5 years to discuss what actually transpired.
On its own, each change is relatively benign. Adding a couple of extra players to the field makes sense as was discussed in the last article of the series. The extra players do not create too much learning stress or build too adverse a constraint into the game. Children can still play parallel and cooperatively in a larger group as much as they would in a smaller group. A few extra players really shouldn’t have an adverse effect on learning. Adding a few questions to a math test won’t cause too much undue stress.
In addition, the field size changes have no effect on the outcome of most games. We experience variations in field sizes throughout a typical season, and our players adapt to it fairly easily. This should not have any major bearing on learning at all. Adding or removing a few yards of space is not a deal breaker for a proper development environment. Adding or removing a few minutes from a test time frame, again, wouldn’t cause too much harm.
A friend asked my opinion on this the other day. My answer was exaggerated.
“We could force our children to be better mathematicians by cramming more questions on our tests and reducing the amount of time they have to complete the tests. Or we could teach kindergartners to read by handing them War and Peace and telling them ‘you will adapt to the change’. It doesn’t work that way. We painstakingly develop educational procedures that create long-term, positive outcomes.
Let me explain:
Combining the two without providing coaching resources is where we may experience some development backfires. Adding two more players to the current 6v6 and 8v8 (one on each team) and also decreasing field size can be a bit troublesome for young learners. It would be akin to adding more questions to a test and also reducing the time frame. It may not be creating a total failure situation, but it will cause a more distinct curve in the test scores. Some players will adapt, others will fail, learning is altered by these combined constraints, especially if the preparation has not been adapted to the test changes.
We added the pressure of more players and reduced the space in which to work. In theory, we would be “forcing players to learn to be good with their feet in tight spots and under pressure”. Children are capable of adapting, but we are very scientific about how we set educational environments, develop instructional procedures, and manage psycho-social reactions in the classroom. We take great measures to ensure our children are learning in proper environments leading up to the “test”.
We cannot assume that we can force children to adapt without properly addressing all the factors in the learning environment apart from the games themselves. Changing game rules does not alter the training for those games. We changed the test, but left the prep unchanged.
Did we develop coaching/training methodologies or simply mandate changes? Have we considered how we can help coaches develop learning environments during training that will accommodate for these “test” changes? Are these changes linked to the X’s and O’s of the game, or do our coaches need training in educational theory to better understand how to develop their players? Do our players already have the technical foundations to successfully adapt to these changes because they freely play soccer on playgrounds every day when they are not with the coaches?
We will still have coaches gaming the system, or clubs/parents/players caring more about winning over development which erodes the basic reasoning for these changes. We made the changes to overcome poor coaching and the emphasis (winning over development). We may see that we do not improve much technically but get really good at throw ins and goal kicks. (I am not knocking all coaches, but we all see and hear the stories. Turn on Sirius XM FC and you will hear the comments about lack of quality coaching at all levels of the game. The Winning versus Development argument is raging daily and these changes play into that argument. There will be those who want to “win at all costs” who will game the system to get there.
This may sound like Chicken Little (The sky is falling!), but the fact remains we are legislating against poor coaching and misled philosophies instead of attacking the root of the problem. Making game-based changes does not account much for what is happening during training (which should happen more often than games).
Here are some arguments as to why this may not go well for us. This may be well off base and the hope is these arguments are off base. However, if we are going to make sweeping changes that affect an entire generation of soccer players, we should at least weigh all possible scenarios to better understand what may happen. Shoot from the hip if you must, but measure the wind, angle, distance, and size of the target first.