it’s crazy season

Português: Jogador Neymar em 2010.

Neymar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For many, the term ‘crazy season’ in the context of pro soccer refers to the summer transfer window.  It is during this time that pro clubs shell out obscene amounts of cash to buy the rights to players from all over the world.  For pro clubs, the goals are largely twofold: (1) new (better?) players will improve the team’s performances in the upcoming season and (2) new, higher profile players will increase merchandise sales and bring in  revenue from a variety of other sources.  The highest profile transfer of the last week, that of Neymar from Santos to Barcelona, is a perfect example of one that fits both goals – he will likely supplant the aging David Villa on the left side of the attack, and the transfer will increase jersey sales in Brazil about a million-fold.  

Unless you are a coach, parent, or player at the youth club/academy level, you probably don’t realize that it is crazy season at the youth level too.  In Georgia, now is the time that parents are shuffling their kids from tryout to tryout in order to decide what club is the best “fit”.  Club hopping is a May/June pastime, with many players changing clubs 4-5 times between the ages of 9 and 19.  Having spent some time in Southern California, I observed there that the crazy period is less frenetic, as it seems to span the entire spring offseason.  However, the mental stress on the parents, players, and coaches remains.

What drives all of this?  Given that moving from one club to another is by definition an individual decision, it is impossible to list all of the possible drivers.  However, the most common ones are:

The Coaches and Clubs – Every coach wants a larger pool of high quality players on a squad, and every club wants a larger player pool at the developmental academy level.  Recruiting is rampant, as coaches seek to draw talented local players into the fold from competing clubs.

The Parents – As I have discussed before, parents can be somewhat obsessed with youth soccer (although it has been mentioned by others that perhaps we need to be MORE obsessed and strategic).  In an effort to seek out something “better” for the kids, parents will often change clubs.  Family logistics can enter into the equation, as well, since proximity to the training grounds is often a key consideration given the high frequency of training.

The Players – At all ages, youth players may on occasion seek a new situation.  They may see a different club as meeting their developmental goals better.  They may wish to get away from a particularly distasteful coach.  Frequently, the goal is to be amongst friends: my best friend is changing clubs? …mom, dad – can we go there too?

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Given those drivers, I thought I would share my own views on this phenomenon.  By and large, I view player development as an exercise in patience and persistence.  It is very rarely the case that players and situations change dramatically following a move to a new club – sticking it out may provide the continuity needed to break through to the next level.

That being said, there are some good reasons to move:

  • a demonstrably poor or abusive coach – It is a rare child who develops well in an abusive situation or under the guidance of an incompetent coach.  Most of us can identify abusive and inappropriate behavior – get your kid out ASAP.  However, as a parent don’t be afraid to ask yourself if you can really label a coach as incompetent.  Don’t confuse dissatisfaction with an outcome with poor coaching.
  • a poorly run or disorganized club – Sometimes it is simply the case that a club’s leadership is in over its head.  They may hire unqualified coaches, continually make errors in match scheduling, fail to provide satisfactory training grounds, or any number of other things that distract from the stated goals of the program.  If you can genuinely identify poor club management as an impediment to player development or enjoyment, it may be time to move on.
  • child losing love of the game for “external” reasons – Children will grow away from a sport, so if your kid falls out of love with soccer for “internal” reasons, it is unlikely a club switch will bring back that joy.  If, on the other hand, your child is frustrated with a difficult coach, unfriendly or unwelcoming teammates, or a parent group that is less than supportive, moving to a new locale may rekindle a passion for the game.
  • unique opportunities for going to the next level – Ok, so if you happen to be the parent of a child destined for the national team set-up, you might consider moving to a club that provides the highest level of competition possible.  However, I would argue that a player can advance quite far by driving him/herself to get better outside of regular training, and until a player demonstrates that kind of commitment, moving on to a new club is premature.

reasons for moves that require caution and consideration:

  • the coach doesn’t start my kid – Well, if your child is not starting, it may be because they are not at that level yet.  Is starting a match really all that important, anyway?  Development comes largely in training – don’t over-inflate the importance of the weekend games.
  • coach plays my kid in the “wrong” position – Silliness.  Let the coach do his/her job and stay out of the way.  If the player’s skills are developing, it is inappropriate to place too much emphasis on where they play on the weekends.
  • my child isn’t challenged – Is your child challenging him/herself?  See the point above – if your child is so driven that they crave challenges, let them challenge themselves to be dominant where they are right now.  Only after they take responsibility for challenging themselves is a new set of challenges needed.
  • my child is overmatched – Let the coach tell you that – don’t make this decision for yourself.  All youth coaches should be providing regular feedback and evaluations of players.  If the coach sees value in your child at a specific level despite your sense that your child is lagging behind, it may be that the coach sees qualities you do not.  Remember, we all tend to be somewhat critical of our own children – let the coach be a less biased evaluator.
  • club prestige – Is it really all that important to drive 45 minutes to training at a “bigger” club when a similar level of development can be found 5 minutes away?  Is it necessary to carry your child away from friends and longtime teammates just to train with what you perceive as “the best”?  Do a reality check – is this for the child, or is this for the parental ego?
  • coach promises “the world” if you move – What can a coach possibly promise a pre-teen or teen player that is so unique?  College contacts?  Unique training opportunities?  All of these things will come if your child is really that talented.  Exposure will happen – don’t try to force your child into the limelight at the expense of all the good things that have gotten the kid to this point.

The point again is that this is a very individual decision and various factors will be weighted differently in each situation.  Just remember that the important individual in all of this is the child. Let them enjoy the game in a supportive, fun and challenging environment – don’t try to micromanage a “career” that hasn’t happened yet.

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