Monday, May 19, 2008
Bryce recently got a job in a sporting goods store which means he has his paycheck spent before he earns it. Surrounded as he is by shoes, jerseys, shorts and t-shirts he is a sports addict living in his dream world. The other more positive benefit of his job is the opportunity to talk sports both with his co-workers and the customers. He loves sports and knows the tiniest details of trades, statistics, scores and upcoming competitions. Our TiVo works overtime to keep up with all the events he has programmed so he can watch when not at work. As frustrated as I get when I can't watch Judge Judy because Barcelona is playing, I also understand that Bryce is fulfilling an important aspect of his soccer training – he's a student of the game.
Despite the apparent contradiction of sitting on the couch watching soccer vs playing soccer, watching the game can prove to be as instrumental in developing a good soccer player as actually kicking the ball. Coaches recognize that studying how others play the game increases their own players' abilities, which explains why film remains an important part of any college or pro team's training schedule. Watching film of one's own play allows for a more detailed self-critique. Watching film of an opponent helps teams prepare for defenses and offenses that address the opponent's strategies and helps players key in on particular opponent players' weaknesses. More and more camps are using video to give campers better feedback.
Being a student of the game also means immersing oneself in the history and lore of the sport. Understanding the journey professional players took to arrive at their lofty positions gives a student a better idea of the sacrifice and talent needed to succeed. Looking closely at the history of a club can give a player perspective on the reason for rivalries and the richness that tradition provides to the sport. Once Bryce competed in a contest where he had to name the brand of uniform particular soccer clubs throughout the world wore. It seemed a silly, albeit fun, competition, but as I saw the intensity in which the boys competed I realized that this knowledge was an important aspect of immersing themselves in the game.
Parents should also be students of the game. So many parents narrow their study of the game to those youth games they watch that include their sons or daughters. While certainly exciting and definitely worthwhile, a true understanding of the game and what it requires for success can't come from that singular perspective. When I worked for US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program I would regularly receive emails or be approached on the sidelines by parents who couldn't understand why their son or daughter wasn't considered more highly by the US Youth Soccer ODP coaches. They would tout their child's scoring record or the achievement of their team. The difficulty was in trying to explain to them the more expansive skills needed to be a top player. Some of the best in the world don't hold individual records, but have the special ability to enhance a team by their "soccer brains." Positioning, ability to provide pinpoint passes, ability to anticipate play, team compatibility, speed of play, communication, first touch, and unselfish play contribute to the whole picture. Many of the aforementioned skills aren't flashy or easy to spot, but those who watch the field choreography of top teams week after week have a much better understanding of these nuances.
Players who have a strong desire to move ahead in the game need to include study in their regimen. They need to watch games, attend clinics, read, gather critique of their play, go to camps, play year-round, challenge themselves by playing on and against tough teams, study game film, especially of their own play, and find others who share their enthusiasm and talk about the sport. Being a student of the game is just one aspect of having a passion for the sport which is necessary to succeed. To that point, I'll remind everyone that the UEFA Champion's League Final is Wednesday, May 22, between Manchester United and Chelsea at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN2 from Moscow. Tune in, study and enjoy some top soccer competition.