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Resources Apr 21, 2015

Can we develop players AND children at the same time?

WendyLeBolt-HeaderSpecialize and develop, or diversify and support? Which one is better for the future of soccer in America?

Chas Sumser, the “no-cut coach” I introduced you to last week, definitely falls very much to one side in this debate. Not only does he allow his players to participate in activities outside of soccer, he encourages them. Drama, band, and other soccer teams are all fine.

+READ: LeBolt: How to build a successful travel team without ever cutting a player

Well, not just fine; he and his wife Sally regularly show up at them. Talk about support! That’s putting your presence where your mouth is.

To me, Coach Chas defines “player-focused development.” He gets to know each of his players so well he can focus his coaching attention individually. He identifies the needs of each player and is 100 percent behind meeting those needs, soccer or non-soccer.

Instead of contending for their time, he collaborates. When his club team players try out for their high school teams, Chas contacts the prospective high school coaches to ask how he might prepare these players to have the best chance of making their high school teams.

Clearly, he wants every kid on the team to reach her full potential. Who wouldn’t want their kid on this kind of team?

Unless I am concerned that he will coach to the lowest common denominator, in which case, my kid who has star quality, will not be challenged sufficiently to develop her potential. I guess then I move my kid to a different environment, one which is peppered with instruction and more pressure-packed, so they can really see what they’re up against.

+READ: LeBolt: Should your kid be a specialist, or general practitioner?

I see so many examples of parents trying this approach with their kids: honest efforts to get the kids in front of “quality” coaching. Hey, even if they sit the bench, the heightened competition at practice is bound to speed their improvement, right?

Usually not. Instead, their confidence fails and their soccer shows it. Daily – because that’s about how often they are training – they are watching other kids play and internalizing the message: “I don’t measure up.”

How long they last often depends on how invested the kid is in trying to meet their parents’ expectations. That’s a lot of pressure for a kid, and layers a lot on the nerves of a teenager who is already trying to figure out the pecking order in the world.

Development, in so many ways, it is not.

Bench funBut thank goodness we have competitive sports, because where better than here to let it all hang out? A coach who is connected with more than just the soccer of each individual player can see just what’s going on with that kid off of the field by how he responds on it.

Had a rough day? Pooped. Failed a test? Lethargic. Broke up with your boy or girlfriend? Angry. Shouting match with your parents? Mouthy. It’s all out there, plain to see. Especially when the arch-rival team comes to town, because that’s when it matters.

+READ: Adult obsession with winning is killing youth sports in America

That’s where I see team sports as a bonanza, and good coaches are golden. We, as parents, see our kids as they are evaluated in individual events: report cards, sibling rivalry, college applications. Good grief, there’s a lot of ranking going on out there!

The coach gets another view, from the sidelines and in a group setting among peers. It doesn’t take an A-licensed coach to figure out what’s going on with a player once he gets to know them. But sometimes the assessment may be very different from the perception we’ve drawn based on what happens at home. Do we trust coach’s judgment?

We can, if we are the beneficiaries of a coach like Chas who cares about the kids more than he cares about the win, his job or even his reputation.

Ironically, that same environment may even be best for our star-quality kids who, absent the pressure-cooker, can let their guard down and give themselves a break. They may try out a new move, take an outside shot or chuck it all and audition for the lead in the school play. Coach Chas’ approach seems mighty tempting, even though he only holds a D-License and never got paid for his efforts.

+READ: LeBolt: What’s so wrong with early specialization?

He reminds me of the ‘first teachers’ described in Dan Coyle’s interesting book The Talent Code who, in spite of being rated as “average” in knowledge and experience, turned out more than their share of musical virtuosos because they created “ignition” in kids.

ChasApparently, performance may not depend on getting high-test teaching early. It may be much more related to having a teacher who connects with the child in a way that creates and sustains motivation. And, according to Coyle, this “first teacher effect” was sufficient for the first five to six years!!!

Early teaching, Coyle writes, was meant to “get the learner involved, captivated, hooked … and to need and want more information and expertise.”

That’s what we’re all after, right?

+READ: LeBolt: Julie Foudy offers an alternative for our childrens’ soccer development

Putting our young talent in a pressure-cooker may be exactly what they don’t need. Letting them explore may be exactly what they do need so they can be creative in sports or decide to dabble in other stuff that just may be what ignites them.

Ironically, hands-off may actually be the key to success for all of them. Along with handing them off to someone we can trust to be completely invested in the good of the kid.

Who wouldn’t want their kid on that team?

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