Sebastian currently resides in Corpus Christi, TX where he is co-owner of Giraldo Elite Futbol, a full-time professional soccer training/consulting business. His PhD work at the University of Texas-Austin was in sport management with a specific focus on elite soccer development. One of his major research interests is in the cognitive development and decision making of soccer players. Sebastian has worked for Lonestar SC, Express SC (currently Houston Dynamo Coastal Bend), several other clubs around the Corpus area, and privately for many years in individual/small group skills training. He played for Southwestern University and was involved in the Texas ODP system.
Sebastian has agreed to author a series of articles reflecting his studies and work in youth soccer. This is his first, introductory piece.
Development Series: Introduction to Development
Development has probably become the most used buzzword in U.S. soccer. People throw around the term like it is popular culture knowledge. Don’t get me wrong, as a soccer professional, I’m ecstatic that development has creeped into our daily soccer talk. However, the reality of the matter is that player development is a complex topic. And an even harsher reality is that not everyone involved in youth soccer is going to understand the theories and research that drives a lot of development ideas. If we accept these realities then I believe the development conversation becomes a much easier one to have.
A little introduction is in order. I am a soccer professional that played throughout my youth in the highest levels of the U.S. system and went on to play in college. I always had an intense passion for the game and after college decided that my future would be in soccer. I geared my education toward understanding both the management and development aspects of sport. My doctoral work in elite soccer development was a complete eye opener in regard to the overall breadth of knowledge available. People had devoted their careers to understanding proper soccer development and had produced tons of empirical work to construct theories and test these theories (quick side note: development topics range from creativity, retention and recruitment, technical vs. tactical training, learning and teaching strategies, cognitive development). My first moment of clarity in my PhD program was the understanding that the disconnect between research and the actual training that occurs in most clubs/organizations is HUMONGOUS. In the simplest terms, we know a lot about what works and doesn’t work in development but we are not applying it in training (the reasons for this disconnect are varied and complex and will be addressed in one of the installments of this development series). All this leads me to where I am today. I am the co-owner of a private soccer training company that has implemented a unique research driven development program (Giraldo Elite Futbol- http://www.giraldoelitefutbol.com/). Basically, we focus on creating player training programs that are founded by actual research in soccer development. At this point, you must be thinking “what does this unique program look like?” Answer: Most likely like nothing you have ever seen before.
I need to clarify the last sentence because there are outstanding soccer professionals all over the U.S. that are doing a fantastic job in developing our youth players. These professionals that often work for the best clubs or in the U.S. system are applying many theories and ideas from development research. So yes, proper development ideas have firmly made their way into soccer training here in some areas but even in these places the overall grasp of development is somewhat superficial. Basically, they are only scraping the surface of what development research has to offer. The other side of the issue is the rest of the clubs and soccer organizations that do not fall into the top tier. While there may be anomalies, in large part these organizations are severely detached from the proper application of development concepts. So while development ideas are commonplace now in soccer talk, we are a long way off from the end goal which in my opinion is to offer proper development opportunities for the majority of U.S. youth players.
The strategic plan to spread proper development in youth soccer has to begin with education. For this reason, I am beyond excited to share my knowledge (and to be honest, nerd obsession) about development with such a wide audience. We must educate players, trainers, coaches, referees, and league officials about development. There is no way to apply some development concepts (which look drastically different than what people have been accustomed to seeing in soccer practices before) if we don’t focus on educating people about development. This is not easy as change, and especially drastic change, is usually met with resistance. Even more so when children are involved. If we focus on educating though, I believe we are making giant leaps in the right direction.
I know I have filled my first entry with some serious claims and arguments. Please know that I am always open to learning and discussion. I purposefully omitted parents/guardians from my education list in the previous paragraph for one good reason. Parents/guardians may be the most important puzzle piece in the development process. Without their support, it becomes near impossible to implement proper training programs. The education of the soccer community in regard to development begins and ends with them.
I look forward to our discussions about soccer development and this great opportunity. This was just an introduction into a series about player development and the trends in development research. If you ever want to hear about a specific topic, please send it my way and I will do my best to accommodate.
Next topic: Allowing players to develop creativity