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 2: Sahil’s Choice – Team Captain
Kip FC has been around since quite a long time. They were quite proactive in trying to attract players to their team. The promoter had reached out to the three parents on a couple of different occasions.
The Kip FC coaches used to take the football sessions in some schools in the city. And the three players had been to one of their coaches while training at school. This coach was keen to have them join the Kip FC team too. So much so that they were also offering the three players a stipend – they were the only ones to get such an offer. But this meant they were the best players the club would have.
Kip FC was not a strong team. They had lost in pre-season friendlies and on a couple of occasions by a big margin (they didn’t invite those teams again).
Kabir had made up his mind and his son joined Meg FC. Arya was not too keen on Kip FC either.
But Sahil was interested as the coach promised Sahil that his son would be playing all the time: “He will be our star player and captain. We will center our game on him and he will end up having a lot of match experience. We may not win all the matches but he will get special attention and progress far. In a superior team with better players, he might lose confidence and get demotivated.”
Why Sahil Choose This Team?
Arya: “Why do you want to send your son there, Sahil?
Sahil: “My son will be the center of attention there. They may not win often, but I am sure all that match experience and special attention will help him go far. Moreover, it will also build his leadership skills since he will be the Captain.”
Arya: “Won’t he get demoralized by being in a weaker team that might lose more often than not?”
Sahil: “He is mature enough to know that this is a team game. Besides, the coaches have said that there is more danger of him losing confidence by playing with superior players and sitting on the bench.”
Kabir: “I don’t believe that, as you know. Which is why I am sending my son to Meg FC. But aren’t you worried that he won’t learn much by being with weaker teammates?”
Sahil: “It is better for him to be a big fish in a small pond than the opposite. This is based on my personal experience when I had started my career as a management consultant and have heard that it applies in other careers too. The coaches have promised to give him special attention – which he should be getting in any case since he will be their Captain. Being the strongest player of the team, he will probably see more of the ball during the matches and develop faster.”
Arya: “And how big a factor in your choice is the opportunity for him to be the Captain?”
Sahil: “Quite big actually. What better way to get leadership training? But more to that, I also feel his resume will stand out and he may get an advantage in other selections too.”
Kabir: “Ok Sahil, it’s a pity that our children will play in different teams but I wish your son the best.”
One Year Later
Sahil’s son joined Kip FC and the team had a relatively poor season. They lost quite a few matches and finished in the bottom half of the league. Sahil’s son was their star player and led the team in all the matches.
When the three friends connected again at the end of the year and after Kabir shared his reflections on his son’s experience, the attention turned to Sahil.
Arya: “Well Sahil, how was the experience for your son?”
Kabir: “Yes, I am keen to know that too. Hope this decision turned out better than mine.”
Sahil: “Well, actually not. I am also sad and feel that this wasn’t the right decision. My son shouldn’t have joined Kip FC, in hindsight.”
Kabir: “Why? Your son was the Captain and clearly the Star player of the team. He must have got much more match experience and also seen much more of the ball than my Son. Didn’t that help?”
Sahil: “Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work that way. We realized belatedly that good players in significantly weaker teams don’t get the right match training of either passing the ball or receiving it properly.
Such players are starved for options to pass the ball, as the teammates do not take the correct positions. For instance, my son could never change the flanks as his teammates did not overlap at the right time. So he has poor judgment on the rare occasion that he gets an opportunity to pass a long ball under pressure.
The reverse is also true – even the star players in a weaker team – who might see a lot more of the ball – don’t learn much due to the poor ball distribution or incorrect positions/skills of the teammates. Off-ball positioning goes for a toss resulting in poor Game Intelligence.”
Arya: “But he may be better trained tactically since he had a greater role in the matches?”
Sahil: “Not really. Weaker teams also tend to be more defensive for obvious reasons. This doesn’t help in tactical development either as younger players need exposure to all facets of the game including attack.
Since his defenders were weak, my son often went deep in support and tended to stay there longer anticipating a quick turnover to the other side. The resulting habit formed through the season of staying a bit withdrawn prevents him from being effective when his team shifts to attack.
And I also realized that the big-fish-in-a-small-pond analogy doesn’t apply at such early stages of player development. It is probably more relevant for older players breaking into professional football when they are already at a certain level of technical and tactical proficiency.
As you rightly mentioned earlier Kabir, in Soccer players also learn a lot from their teammates and he couldn’t learn much from them since he was the best one around.”
Kabir: “Well, at least he was the Captain. So he must stand a good chance in other selections?”
Sahil: “Being a captain might seem good for the resume but it doesn’t seem to impact future selections in any meaningful way. We saw that in the recent selections. The scouts don’t even take this into account, apparently.”
Arya: “But at least he got the leadership experience and that should help?”
Sahil: “That experience was sub-optimal. Leadership training is best when there are different situations, not when the team is mainly facing superior teams. Frequent losses due to inadequate skills and tactics cause greater frustration among the players. It’s hard for even grown-ups to manage those situations. Many of his matches ended up in a bickering contest between players who wanted to shift the blame to others. I am afraid, it has even shaken his self-confidence in leading a team.”
Arya: “Do you feel the coaches or the academy could have done anything differently?”
Sahil: “I wish they hadn’t made this experience seem so much more beneficial than what it actually was. They shouldn’t hide their own technical and tactical training weaknesses by highlighting non-existent benefits.”
Kabir: “Sorry to know all this but as you guys told me, this was just one season and hopefully he will be wiser from this experience.”
To be continued…
Smart Sports Parenting Tactics For Your Child
Captain’s role is not the same in a dynamic sport like Soccer with constant action as opposed to games like Cricket with plenty of stop-deliberate-decide movements. Leadership role in Soccer is flexible and every player can lead during the game as long as they make sense and others follow. So a formal designation is not that important.
Moreover, selections to other teams don’t factor how many times a player has been Captain. Experienced scouts will not consider the designation of captain in previous teams for selection. Leadership skills in the game are easy to make out and good scouts will always rely on judging it during the matches rather than relying on historical data. This is why you can’t find statistics anywhere about how many times Modric or Ronaldo or Messi or any of the professional players led their youth teams.
So it’s not wise to select a youth academy mainly because it offers the Captain’s armband. A truly good academy will foster leadership skills in every player.
- It is very important to select the Right team for your child.
- Being the best player of the team at the youth level is often not ideal for learning.
- Captaincy is not so important at this stage.