August 14, 2007
Can We REALLY Identify The Future Stars At 13 Years Old?
Koach Karl - Here's the final part of Gary Allen's article.
A 13 year old searching for affirmation as he or she begins to go through tremendous changes physically, mentally and emotionally, is generally not going to be motivated to continue in an area where he or she may not be successful because he or she has not grown enough yet, or may have grown too much too quickly and is temporarily awkward. Yet, instead of focusing on providing intrinsic motivation for more and more young teens to play, we adults do just the opposite, seek to select out those we perceive to be "elite" for success.
"A 1999 study of professional soccer players from several countries showed that they were much more likely than the general population to have been born at a time of year that would have dictated their enrollment in youth soccer leagues at ages older than the average. In their early years, these children would have enjoyed a substantial advantage in size and strength when playing soccer with their teammates."
The study referenced above showed that the vast majority of successful players were born in the first half of the year. Since we place such a premium on physical prowess between the ages of 9 and 14, this makes sense. It is at these ages that there is the greatest diversity in development. For a 14 year old, six months can make a huge difference in physical development. Every parent can relate to the fact that at these ages they have to constantly buy larger clothes and shoes. Most kids born in the second half of the calendar year, therefore, are at a distinct disadvantage having to compete with players born in the first half of the year.
Our current push to select Olympic Development Program players at younger ages exacerbates this problem. While we are legitimately searching for ways to increase our ultimate level of play, our efforts in this instance, hurt us more than helps us. We have decided that the solution lies in finding and identifying players at younger and younger ages. There is a Under-14 National Team, for which players must be chosen from Under-12 Regional teams. Thus, at the very ages when we should be expanding the pool of players for development, we are shrinking it, based upon the faulty premise that we can identify the future stars at 13 years old.
The issues for youth soccer development in this country are huge, but not insurmountable. To be sure, the solutions will require nothing less than a paradigm shift. All of the modern organization and viewpoints notwithstanding, the nature of how kids learn has not changed. If we truly want to develop players who can play on a world level, and a society that enjoys the game as much as the rest of the world, we have to recognize, embrace and utilize these truths. Otherwise, we will perpetually be pushing the rock up the same hill, only to have it roll back down again.