What We Can Learn from Basketball

I was reading the Sports Illustrated article Inside the Lakers’ Disaster and came across some interesting tidbits from Kobe Bryant regarding player development in basketball.  Kobe grew up in Italy during is his youth basketball years.  Apparently, Select Basketball (called AAU) has the same problems that Select Baseball does and soccer too.  Kobe states:

“I feel fortunate that I was over in Italy [from ages six to 13] when AAU basketball [got big] over here,” says Bryant. “They stopped teaching kids fundamentals in the United States, but that didn’t affect me.  Over there, it wasn’t about competition and traveling around and being a big deal; it was about fundamentals, footwork, spacing, back cuts–all those things. Look at Pau Gasol. Look at the skills he has compared to the guys who grew up playing AAU ball.”  Inside the Lakers’ Disaster, Sports Illustrated (February 25, 2013, page 39).

He mentions Gasol because Gasol is a 7′ player with ball skills.  Kobe’s statements seem directed to youth coaches who place more importance on winning than on development.  As a parent, the question we should be asking ourselves is “is my child progressing” rather than focusing on the win-loss record of your child’s team.  Consider this video from Jeff Van Gundy.  He was coach of the Miami Heat (NBA team) and is addressing high school and youth coaches.

Van Gundy questions the coaches:  do you want to teach kids the fundamentals of basketball or just focus on winning games.  In youth sports, he advocates player development, not team success.  This sounds a lot like the Curriculum from US Youth Soccer and what we are trying to accomplish at Gusher United.

Champions League – Knockout Round Summary for Today

Yesterday started the beginning of the knockout round in the UEFA Champions League.  In the two matches yesterday, both away teams scored critical away goals and secured results, all but guaranteeing them berth into the Round of 8.  Juventus won 3-0 at Celtic in a game where the score is no indicative of the competitiveness of the match.  Neal Lennon has rightfully complained post-match of the the Spanish center’s pro-Juventus calls, particularly the center’s allowance of Juventus’ grappling in the 10 corners Celtic had.  While Lennon is being criticized, it must be hard to watch your team getting mugged at your pitch when you have dominated possession in the game and created most of the goal scoring chances.  Yes, Juventus made the most of their breaks, and they are a solid team (I only wish Arsenal’s back 4 were that interested in defense), but Lennon has a right to be frustrated. He was left to wonder what the rules of the game are in Spain.  (There are some great quotes in there).  Here are some links reflecting the coverage post-game:

Lennon will escape UEFA Sanctions.

Lennon hits out at “pro-Juventus” ref.  

Keep in mind, Celtic had 53% possession and out-cornered Juventus 10-4.  Celtic had 17 goal attempts to 10 of Juventus.  You can see the Match Facts here. That being said, I think Juventus will be a tough out the next round too.  Their defense is that good.

In the other match, PSG scored 2 away goals while only conceding 1 against home Valencia.  I guess this is Ancelotti style — playing the Spanish club, PSG all but conceded the ball to the home team.  Relying on quick counters, PSG was able to score 2 with only 34% possession and meriting zero corners.  A frustrating game, to say the least, for Valencia who had 12 goal attempts but only 2 on target.  PSG, on the other hand, had 8 goal attempts on target.  It goes to show you that there is a lot of meaningless possession.

On a side note, the red card given to Zlatan was ridiculous.  As expected, UEFA is reviewing it.  I do not see it being upheld.  (Meaning, he will be back in the home leg).


Big matches on hand for today.  In the most hyped match of the round. Manchester United travel to Real Madrid.  This will be a quality match.  All the reports out of Madrid are that the team are in shambles, but they are still getting results.  Cristiano may not last the summer, Mourinho almost definitely is gone.  Manchester United, on the other hand, have catapulted to a sizable lead in the EPL, with Mancini all but conceding the title to them.  After losing the EPL last season on the last day to goal differential, Sir Alex goes out and gets the top goal scorer in the EPL – RVP.  How is that for management?  Today, power shifts back to England as Manchester United merit at least a draw away on their way to advance out of the knockouts to the 8.  United has a legitimate chance to win the title this season.

RVP can match Ronaldo’s quality.

Madrid’s season at stake.

Ferguson braced for Madrid’s “acid test.”

My darkhorse favorite for the title (yes, title) is in the other game today — the one no one is talking about.  Dortmund travel to Donetsk in the first leg of their tie.  This Dortmund team is legit.  The possess with purpose — always threatening.  Klopp has done a wonderful job with this squad.  This is the team that won the Group of Death, eliminating Man City and outplaying Real Madrid.  Mark it down now — this is a team to watch to go the distance, not just for some cute points.  As much as I want to watch the super-hyped match of the day today, I will be watching the eventual winners in yellow and black.  Bayern has walked away with the Bundesliga so Dortmund will give primacy to the Champions League.  Lookout!


INTERNATIONAL BREAK: Friendlies and WC Qualifying Today TV!

Soccer never stops giving.  International breaks in soccer just mean more soccer!  Today, there are some great friendlies on as well as some World Cup Qualifying Games, with the U.S. playing Honduras today!  Here are some great matches today:

12:00 pm  Spain hosting Uruguay

1:30 pm  England hosting Brazil.  I believe this game is on FoxSoccer and FoxSoccerTV has a delayed broadcast for 4:00 pm.

1:30 pm  Netherlands hosting Italy

1:30 pm  Sweden hosting Argentina

1:45 pm  Belgium hosting Slovakia (We are following the Red Devils on this site to see if they can finally qualify for a major tournament)

1:45 pm Ireland hosting Poland

2:00 pm  France hosting Germany (a World Cup favorite but who have not won in France in the recent past)

2:45 pm Portugal hosting Ecuador (time running out on Portugal’s golden generation)

3:00 pm HONDURAS HOSTING U.S. (THIS IS A QUALIFYING GAME – Quarterfinals of CONCACAF Final Group Stage).  Write up for the game here.    The U.S. will play home and away series against the 5 other remaining teams in CONCACAF (the Hex round).  It is a double-round robin.  Top 3 teams qualify and the fourth goes to a playoff against the winner of the Oceania region (New Zealand usually).

***Regarding watching the game, Honduras is hosting so they can sell the rights to whomever they want.  They selected beIN Sport, a channel carried on Dish Network, Direct TV, and Comcast.

8:00 pm Panama hosting Costa Rica (same as above)

8:30 pm Mexico hosting Jamaica (same as above)

You can watch the Mexico game as well as the Netherlands v. Italy and France v. Germany on ESPN3.

Training v. Games: The Key to Making Professional and Collegiate Soccer Players

***NOTE ON SOCCERTHOUGHT.COM*** Recently, the blog has changed host.  It was hacked prior (twice) but now WPengine.com is hosting and has constant protection.  COMMENTS are back on as well (we turned them off because of spam).

We all know — games are more fun.  More fun for the kids.  More fun for the parents.  In a typical training session, the most  common question asked by the players is “when are we going to scrimmage?”  As trainers, we have been taught to let the “game be the teacher” but, why is training more advantageous to developing players than games?  The answer is MATH.

In a typical training session, each player has a ball.  It may be that the ball per player ratio is 1:1, 2:1, 3:1, or 4:1 (depending on age and activity), but in almost all cases is the ratio better than 22:1 (or 16:1 for 8v8), which is what you get in a game.  In other words, as a parent, ask “how often is my child touching the ball in training versus a game?”  That, among other benefits, is the advantage that training has over game play.

Tom Turner, a prolific writer and proponent of player development, breaks down the touches on a ball thus:

In a study of 1500 ODP level female players, the average number of games reported played over the previous twelve months was 116. With an average game duration of 80 minutes and a maximum roster of 18, and with the ball out of play for an average 33%, the typical player would experience 1.5 minutes of active play per game for a total of 174 minutes per year.  Less than 3 hours of ball contact! (Turner, 2003)

Turner continues,

Under FIFA-3 substitution rules, a young soccer player competing in 100 games per year will only come into contact with the ball for a maximum of 300 minutes, or 5 hours. The recommended ratio of training sessions to games for 9-12 year-old players is 70% training and 30% games.

Dr. Thomas W. Turner, U.S. Youth Soccer Total Player Development, On behalf of Region II Coaching Committee, Fall 2006.

Roger Bennett recently authored an article for espnsoccernet.com where the issue of frequency of training was the topic.  Bennett, who co-host the popular Men in Blazers twice weekly on Sirius Radio (a hysterical show — I highly recommend for a lighthearted but thoughtful take on the game), addressed the issue in his article questioning why and if the U.S. will ever develop a player on the level of Lionel Messi.  You can read Bennett’s piece by clicking here.  It is a great piece with lots of research and interviews with top talent evaluators in the country, including the two men who administer the U.S. Academy system.

Those two men are Alfonso Mondelo and Jeff Agoos, technical directors at MLS.  Mondelo, a Spaniard, questions how helpful pay-to-play soccer is in locating and nurturing top talent.  In Europe, the major clubs subsidize soccer play and training for youth.  Even now, though, with still few professional soccer teams offering free training, they only offer it to Elite players and only when they are around the age 14.  The U.S. will be dependent on clubs to do the training in the critical years (8-12), and that will remain pay-to-play until someone comes and pays the wages of the trainers.  This is one of the reasons it is hard to compare the European model to the U.S.

Agoos explains,

Our goal now is to build a system targeted at producing pro players instead of college talent and there is a world of difference between the two. We focus on the individual not the team — the one or two players in every squad who we can push to the pro level. Having MLS as an aspirational destination for these kids is game-changing.

The key now is to build an environment where everything from the infrastructure, facilities, coaching and training are done right.  We are still a distance from where we want to go.

Tony Lepore, U.S. Soccer’s development academy director of scouting, revealed:

The first thing we realized was the 4,000 prospects we consider our elite were playing way too many games.  A survey revealed the average under-15 player took to the field over 100 times a year, suiting up for high school, club, district, regional and national teams.

As Mondelo evaluated the American system, he noticed that our kids play way too many games too.  He recommends a schedule that is 4:1 training to games: four training sessions for every one game.  Based on four sessions per week during certain months (10 months), the math adds up to 350 hours.  By contrast, Ajax youth academy averages 576, Barcelona’s 768.

So, you do the math.  For many of us parents, tournaments and games are fun for us too.  Training…not so much. But, how serious are we about developing our players?  Are we disguising our adherence to “player development” behind a guise of win at all costs?

The quotes from Agoos, Mondelo, and Lepore were from Bennett’s exquisite article linked again here.