A Tale Of Three Players
Parents (Kabir, Sahil, and Arya) of three soccer-mad 12-year-olds from the same city are trying to choose the best soccer academy.
The three players are midfielders, have similar skill levels and share the same goal – professional soccer. The parents know each other, being part of a common WhatsApp group of soccer parents.
Teams are forming for the coming soccer season and the parents want to ensure that their children get into the right teams. There are three soccer academies to choose from. All seem to offer the same things – certified coaches, decent facilities and promises of a bright future. But the teams have varying strengths.
How much does this matter?
The three players try out at each of the academies and get similar feedbacks. But each parent selects a different academy.
This is about the choices they had, what each selected and where their children landed at the end of the season.
Story 1: Kabir’s Choice – The Winner’s Club
Meg FC has a Top Division team and age group teams at every level. They call for two-day Trials every year and get lots of applicants – even players from other academies join their team at times. With a strong PR and a reputation forged on winning, Meg FC gets the pick of the boys in the city and is often spoilt for choice.
They are very focused on winning and are among the top 2 in the city every year at the junior leagues. Moreover, in recent friendly matches, Meg FC had dominated other teams and won big.
The coach had said, “I can see your child improving fast since we have a very strong team and are likely to win the league. And we will make sure your son gets some playing time although I can’t promise that he is fielded in all the matches. Because it depends on his performance during the season too. But he will anyways learn a lot by training alongside the best boys in the city.”
Kabir was keen to get his son in this team but Sahil and Arya were not so sure.
Why Kabir Choose This Team?
Arya: “Why do you want to send your son there, Kabir?
Kabir: “It’s the winning team. What else matters? I want him to get the winners medal and be counted among the best players in the city.”
Arya: “They usually select at least 35-40 kids for each age group – much more than the 20 who can be on the team sheet. Because they also want to ensure that other academies have weaker teams. Therefore, competition for places on the team is intense and often the coaches put players on the bench if they can’t perform in any given match. This creates a lot of pressure on players and they might end up losing confidence. Don’t you think this could be an issue?”
Kabir: “Probably it is an issue if the player isn’t good enough to break into their team. But I am confident about my son’s talent and he will break through with the right training – it’s only a matter of time.”
Arya: “But the fact is that these guys have many more players on a team than required. Isn’t that a clear warning sign?”
Sahil: “Yeah. I am told that in their blind desire to win, they don’t even properly scrutinize players who may be age cheating.”
Kabir: “That’s just hearsay, probably rumors started by other jealous academies. Nobody can prove that. Besides, everybody cheats here. The players and parents are to blame – we can’t blame the clubs. It is not really their job to verify age. They can’t change the system on their own and I don’t intend to start a revolution either. I just want my son to be with the best team, even if he is not able to play all the matches.”
Sahil: “Exactly our point. Would you rather prefer that he is a substitute in a winning team than play more in a losing one? Isn’t match experience vital for learning?”
Kabir: “Well, at least he will be practicing with the best players and he will be able to learn from them. The coach has also promised to give him some playing time. Besides, getting their academy on his resume will help him in state selections – even if he is on their bench. And by next year, he will be a regular starter, hopefully.”
Sahil: “Alright. Seems you have made up your mind. Wish him a good season!”
One Year Later
Kabir’s son joined Meg FC and the team had a very successful season. MEG FC dominated the league. Kabir’s son got to play in about 60% of the matches – more than what he expected when he joined.
The three friends connected again at the end of the year.
Arya: “Congratulations, Kabir! Your son’s team won the league.”
Sahil: “Well done to him.”
Kabir: “Thank you both. But I am quite sad. I made a wrong decision and shouldn’t have sent my son to this team.”
Arya: “Why? Your son played quite a few matches – more than what we expected at the beginning of the season. And his team won. What more did you want?”
Kabir: “This experience has taught me that winning at the age group tournaments is not important. Yes, my son did play 60% of the matches. But, to be honest, he was being fielded mostly against the weaker teams where his team was completely dominant. In those matches his teammates were also a bit relaxed after scoring early, so the intensity of the matches was not very high. His skills never really got tested.”
Sahil: “But wasn’t he fielded at all in the tough matches?”
Kabir: “He did start in a couple of tough matches. He also came on as a substitute in some other tough matches. But these experiences did more harm than good. His teammates were so much better than him that he could not match their tempo. He just couldn’t read their movements correctly and ended up losing the ball a few times. The teammates and coaches were frustrated with him. The coaches were also under pressure to win, so they prioritized winning tactics at the cost of long-term learning. He wasn’t able to learn much from those matches and lost his confidence too.”
Arya: “But wasn’t being in the training sessions with the better players helpful?”
Kabir: “Not really. Training sessions can’t substitute the actual match experience. It’s not easy to translate all those skills to the matches without playing enough. It’s like learning how to drive – stimulated driving in a training environment can never really substitute the learning from driving in actual traffic.”
Arya: “Well, at least he will have an advantage in the state selections, being from the winning team.”
Kabir: “That’s what I thought back then. But I seriously doubt that now. The selectors may look at him closely but he needs to perform at the end of the day. And with his confidence gone, he is half the player he was at the beginning of the season.”
Sahil: “In hindsight, do you think the coach or the academy could have done anything differently? He delivered on his commitment to field your son. So I guess the academy is not at fault.”
Kabir: “I don’t blame them directly. They did deliver what they promised to my son. But if a team dominates all the other teams in their age group, it’s a sign that most players are ready to move to the next level – higher age group. Staying put in that age group leads to stagnation. And I see that clearly in their best players. They haven’t really improved much either through this season. So being in a winning team has actually become a hindrance to real progress for almost all the players. They have got the trophy but at a very high price. For this, I do blame the coach and the academy.”
Arya: “I am sorry for your son. But it’s just one year and that may not matter so much in the long run. And clearly, you guys have learned some important lessons through this experience.”
Kabir: “Yes, very much so. I just wish I knew all this at the beginning and he didn’t have to waste this one-year in the wrong place. Now in hindsight, I think you guys made better choices than me.”
To be continued…
- It is very important to select the Right team for your child.
- Winning is not essential at the youth level. Focus on learning.
- In Football, as in Life, short-term gains are often long-term losses.