Part of the uniqueness of a sport like soccer is that it features stars who are not physically dominant like LeBron James or Marshawn Lynch. For example, Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona is only slightly taller than 5-foot-6 and weighs less than 159 pounds, yet he has proven to be one of the greatest players of all time.
What separates Messi and many others from traditional soccer-loving countries is not just his immense talent but the immense knowledge of the game that goes with it. From a young age, the players learn both the physical skills and also a deeper understanding of the game. The latter is one area where American youth soccer—relatively young in comparison to that in Messi's native Argentina and other countries—has struggled to catch up.
Nick Mulvaney, the executive director of Chicago City Soccer Club, believes that he is seeing more kids in the U.S. starting to develop that knowledge of the game thanks to technology.
“Kids have access to a lot more than they did,” Mulvaney said. “You always hear kids in our club talking about the famous players and the results and that wasn’t happening too long ago.”
In his role, Mulvaney oversees a youth soccer program focused on player development. The Irishman played semi-professionally in England and the United States and obtained his first coaching badge at the age of 17.
He acknowledged that he had an advantage because his father had a soccer background that helped him absorb nuances of the game as a child. That’s how he learned about the ins and outs of soccer.
“If you are a kid playing soccer in the U.S. and your parent hasn’t played the game, that can be difficult,” Mulvaney said.
His program uses video review as a tool for young players. According to Mulvaney, it’s not something that can be implemented too early in a player’s career because seeing oneself on video has countless benefits.
“The big things for kids is the first time they see themselves on video, they are obviously embarrassed because they don’t realize the things and the mistakes that they do,” Mulvaney said. “So it’s a huge, huge learning tool.”
He complements the video experience by sprinkling in basic tactical discussion, so children understand which passes and decisions are appropriate in which scenarios. Such game management is critical to developing a knowledge of the sport.
Making optimal decisions is a by-product of having confidence on the ball. That is shown from players who have the ability to secure it, control it and distribute it the most efficiently.
“A lot of people get it wrong. For example, a father and a son go out and play soccer in the park, one of the main things they will do is kick the ball back and forth to each other,” Mulvaney said. “For me, it’s getting that confidence with the ball on their feet. That takes a lot of time, a lot of work and a lot of reinforcement and a lot of positive coaching.”
From GameChanger and Santosh Venkataraman
Check out more on theSeason here.