Our player development approach has two main pillars: Providing a top quality learning environment in every session, and maximizing the overall weekly playing time in direct confrontation of the participant. This month, and this post, focuses on the second one.
Every word in our player development approach has been carefully chosen. This is not a philosophical approach, it’s pragmatic, and defines a set of expectations. If we believe in this, we need to self reflect on the application of it: What are we doing to provide a top quality learning environment? What are we doing to maximize playing hours in direct confrontation?
WHAT WE BELIEVE IN (extracted from The Heart Of The Rush)
At Rush Soccer, we believe that the game is the teacher. It is in the complexity of the game where skills and creativity arise and develop, not in isolated, mechanized situations. These last can introduce a concept or a technique but can never be the core or the proposed channel for learning. It is in the game that the player discovers solutions and creativity arises, and it is the role of the coach to facilitate that environment and guide, when needed, through that discovery. It’s participant centered, not coach centered.
Stating that the game is the teacher is more than a philosophical idea. Our 70 Games Rule is the overarching expression of it. At the youth stages, we want our teams to play 70 11v11 scrimmages a year. Some will be formal and some others as part of a training session, just like some will last longer than others, but they will present the stage for learning to take place.
At the grassroots level, the 70 Games Rule is expressed through the constant encouragement and club initiatives to increase the overall weekly playing time of the participant. That doesn’t mean increasing the number of training sessions (team or individual), it means providing opportunities for the players to play more time in direct confrontation.
We believe that players go through two developmental stages that are ‘playing ball’ until the age of 13, in which the game teaches and the coach’s role is to create the environment for learning to take place, and a second stage of ‘playing football’, in which the coach conceptualizes to maximize the players ability. It is in the first stage in which the nature of the game makes the diamond, and it is in the second the stage in which the diamond is polished.
To accomplish this, we believe passion is instrumental, and passion, as said before, can’t be learned but it can be shown, and it’s contagious. This is not a philosophical, romantic approach, but a pragmatic one. It is the passion of the player that drives them to play more, and the more they play, the more they learn, from the game.
Once again, this statement poses two clear, main objectives:
What can I do, at the local club level, to maximize playing hours? That’s what we’ll try to respond during the month of April, presenting alternatives taken from our partner clubs that serve as strategies to accomplish this goal. Take what best suits your own environment and connect with others to get help and information on how to implement them. That’s the power of the Rush.
To explain the importance of this second pillar is almost unnecessary. Find reasons in research and/or find them in history. It is fundamental to highlight that we are not just seeking hours on the ball, we want them in direct confrontation. The fundamentals of this are based on the game itself and expressed in the same statement: The game is the teacher and it is in the complexity of the game where skills and creativity arise and develop, not in isolated, mechanized situations. You need to play against somebody. Otherwise, there might be technique but the skill is not granted.
CHECK THIS INTERESTING STUDY BELOW
In 2009, Juan Cruz Anselmi and Enrique Borrelli (two Argentinian CONMEBOL and ATFA lead instructors), working alongside Frank Ditgens (youth soccer coordinator at Germany’s Bayer 04 Leverkusen) and Massimo Tell (a professor from Italian Football Federation), conducted a study to measure the weekly number of hours of formal and informal play in U12 age groups across the three countries involved and found the following results.
Italy: Formal (Training + Competition) 330’ + Informal (Pick Up, Street Soccer) 90’ = 420’ / 7 hours of weekly play.
Germany: Formal 330’ + Informal 150’ = 480’ / 8 hours of weekly play
Argentina: Formal 420’ + Alternative Formal (Futsal) 160’ + Informal 200’ = 780’ / 13 hours of weekly play.
*This study can be found in the book ‘Proceso Formativo Del Futbolista Infantil Y Juvenil Hasta El Fútbol Profesional’.
Avoiding any suggestions about technical development in different areas of the world, the study invites us to reflect on where we stand in comparison to the playing hours in some of the leading and most traditional soccer countries. Do we make it to Italy’s level at least?
AN EYE IN HISTORY
How did the great learn? That’s a simple question, yet a very important one. This is a passage from an interview to Diego Maradona’s first coach, Francisco Cornejo:
Diego Maradona’s time with Argentinos Juniors began when he was eight. One of his childhood friends had gone to train with Argentinos. When the coach, Francis Cornejo, was looking for new blood to come for a trial, Diego’s friend spoke up. “Sir, I’ve got a friend who’s better than me. Can I bring him next week?”, he said.
A few days and numerous bus rides later, Maradona’s talents shone through at the Las Malvinas training ground of Argentinos Juniors. “They say people witness at least one miracle in their lives, but most do not even realise. I certainly did”, Cornejo wrote in his book ‘Cebollita Maradona’. “My miracle occurred on that rainy Saturday in 1969, when an eight-year-old kid, an age I could not believe, did things with the ball that I’d never seen in my life”.
This passage is important because it places the coach in the right spot. Like a friend and colleague of mine says: “It’s important to limit the coaching pedantry”. Cornejo is honest, humble, and recognizes that neither himself nor the club Argentinos Juniors ‘made’ Maradona. No, Maradona was there already, the game made it, then the club shaped him.
Basic statistics knowledge tells me that is wrong to make a rule out of an individual sample, so let’s keep searching. What about Leo Messi? This is what we found.
“When I started, we were playing in a seven a side league, against other little teams. I only got the chance to play as young as I was because of my grandmother. Grandoli didn’t have a team for boys as young as me but, one Sunday, an older boy didn’t show up for his game and my grandmother pushed me forward to play”, Leo remembered.
“When it came to training with boys my own age, my dad was our coach. By then, I was playing every hour of every day that I could. I’d go to school, come home and, straight away, go out with a ball. Then I might go training, come home, have something to eat and then be back out in the street again. I was always out in the street. And always playing soccer. I even kept a ball with me when I was indoors! By the time I was eight or nine, I didn’t have to be afraid of being kicked by anybody. I could just play”.Lionel Messi.
“I grew up with my brother and my cousins, playing in the street. I watched and learned things from there and, when it came to playing matches, my dad used to say things afterwards about how I’d done. My family have guided me in my life, but in playing soccer? Sincerely, the truth is: no. I’ve always just done what seemed to come naturally. And haven’t had to think about it”, he added.
How many times does he highlight the unlimited hours he’d play on the street? In fact, in Messi’s quotes we marked every time the word ‘street’ was mentioned. I found it quite funny how he politely refers to all of his dad’s coaching as a pretty useless effort.
Two samples, still not enough to make a rule, I know, but something tells me that we could find another thousand similar examples, wouldn’t you agree?
It does seem very real that maximizing weekly playing hours in direct confrontation has a powerful impact in player development. We know that in the USA the pick up, street soccer does not happen as naturally and spontaneously as in other places in the world, but that’s not an excuse to stop us from pursuing it. What are we doing at our local level for that to happen? This month, we’ll try to find options. Here goes the first:
THE LITTLE HAITI RUSH STORY
*Based on testimonies from Pablo Toledo, Coach Development Director, and Pablo Gentile, Little Haiti Rush’s Technical Director.
One of the cool things that we are doing with the coach development team is work with Pablo Gentile, Technical Director of recently launched Little Haiti’s Rush, in creating fully Rush Way adapted season plans for each of the club’s age groups and provide Rush Way guidance and help to his new coaching staff, so I visited the club a few weeks ago to start meeting the staff and the players.
After 20 minutes of the first U16 session I was watching, the picture was clear: Great technical level, low tactical level. So I decided to ask Pablo about the players backgrounds and routines, to what he explained what I was obviously suspicious about: Most of the players had very little formal soccer instruction, but grew up playing pick up soccer in the park all day. In fact, they still do after practice, staying until the lights go out and they get kicked out of the park at 10 PM at night. Loving that fact, we ended up talking about alternatives to keep that spontaneous, informal program running.
You know how this story goes, right? Pablo Gentile tells the details of it below and what he’s thinking of to support it.
Brief description of the program: Our program is in an inner-city neighborhood called Little Haiti. Little Haiti Soccer Park is located just north of downtown Miami. The program is growing, but we currently have around 110 kids, ages 5-19. Around 100 of those kids are from Haiti, a passionate footballing country. The others are Central American, South American and Anglo American.
Age groups involved: We have co-ed Under-8, Under-10 and Under-12 groups. The Under-16 and Under-19 groups are just boys
Schedule along the year (how many days a week, how many hours): We have a City of Miami parks permit on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays from 5:00-8:00pm and Saturdays from 9:00am-2:00pm. We will not be FYSA carded until next year, so we have not played any official games or tournaments. Although practices end at 8:00pm, the park stays open until 10:00pm, to allow the general public to have access to the public park. From 8:00-9:45pm, pick-up games are always played among adults, mostly but not all are Haitian. Some of our older players stay after to join those pick-up games. (It has been a topic of debate between my colleagues and I on whether we should allow to stay after or force them to go home). Their argument: They are kids, they take city buses to go home, they need to go home to study and get ready for school. My argument: When I was young, I was the kid that loved to play pick-up ball… and I believe I improved a lot when I started playing with adults in the Mexican adult leagues in the Dallas area. (The program re-started about a month ago, it is an ongoing topic of debate) *Worth mentioning that Pablo G. played in the professional ranks for several years.
On season / Out of season variations: Since we have not played in any leagues yet, we are just practicing and I am trying to set up scrimmages, especially for the older groups to keep them engaged and motivated. I am relatively new to the program, but I believe pick-up soccer is year-round.
% of participation over the total players in the age groups involved: We have around 60 players total in the older age groups. Around 10-15 will normally stay to play (or try to play until told to go home by a coach). If allowed, more would stay for sure.
I need to highlight this paragraph.
Just put it in perspective. 25% of LH’s membership is getting 1:45 hours a day of extra play in direct confrontation, four times a week. That equals to 7 additional hours a week and 364 a year! How do you compete against that? Are we cognizant of the impact that this has in player development?Pablo Toledo, Coach Development Director
Staff required: One person to stay after to ensure their safety
Facilities required: One big field to make 2 smaller (U-12-size fields)
Cost of the program: The kids do not pay to play. They come from low socio-economic homes, some live with extended family members. Pick-up soccer is always FREE
Price of the program: Currently working on a budget for 2021-2022
Revenue Generated: Right now, from local business owners who want to better the neighborhood and get the kids off the streets. I have stayed after to play with the adults once but will do so again. My goal is to play but also to build connections with Haitian-American adults as they could potentially help to support our program.
Other Purposes or Benefits (Recruitment of players, for example) – More time on the ball. Non-stop games (zero coach stoppages unless an argument over a hand-ball breaks out 🙂 ). Freedom to try things, work on deficiencies, try other positions on the field. Deal with older players’ experience, knowledge of the game.
Do you want to learn more about this ‘program’ at Little Haiti Rush? Contact Pablo Gentile at email@example.com.