Challenging the conventions
A program for change
Every kid can be feel successful
As a first step, helping kids feel comfortable in their environment goes a long way to their active engagement. However, the greatest challenge is how to write a development program that keeps them participating and leads every kid to feeling of successful.
You see, if kids don’t feel successful, they won’t continue playing.
The critical time frame for this realisation is between 9 and 14 years. So if we could get kids to feel successful at this age, there’s a good chance they’d want to continue playing soccer into their teenage years and possibly longer.
We needed an alternate approach
We knew if we followed the development practises at the traditional clubs, we weren’t going to get the results we needed. This is because the high drop out rate is a result of kids playing in traditional clubs. We had to crack the code and find the reasons why kids are failing in the club system.
Now stay with me, a little, as I give you some background.
For our program to work, it had to work for everyone. In other words, it had to work for kids who had the least physical skills and maybe were late developers and also affected by the relative age effect.
These kids are seriously behind the development 8-ball, so the reasoning was, if we could write a development program that worked for them, it could work for everyone.
So think of a kid that has their birthday in the last quarter of the year, is a few years behind in maturity, hasn’t played a lot of sports and is lacking in confidence when they start. Make this kid successful, and you’re found the secret sauce.
By the way, if you think there are only a few kids like this, think again. I’ve seen thousands of kids toward this end of the spectrum. I suspect this is the main reason why our sport has significant drop-out rates.
Unfortunately, the soccer industry hasn’t caught on yet and probably isn’t going to either. That’s because the primary development method in clubs is one of selection and filtration. You might know this as gradings, and it starts around the age of 9 or 10. So not only do we have the majority of kids behind the development 8-ball; the clubs happily label kids into winners and losers during their most critical period of development.
It’s unrealistic for us to think we can change the system overnight, so our efforts are to prepare our players to win the grading system and at the least feel like they are becoming more successful.
Short term goals
We achieve this by having a short term goal to have our kids play the game better than their peers by twelve years of age. It was thinking ‘outside-the-box’ time as we know the traditional approach isn’t working.
The way we tackled this was to develop a method where young kids could understand how to play the game. We teach our kids to think and play tactically from an early age. Now, this wasn’t easy because nobody had done this before, so in this sense, we were behind the 8-ball.
We invented a new approach, new exercises and a new language so kids could comprehend what they were learning. We also tested everything to make sure it worked for everyone. Throughout this whole process, we guided development using the ‘principles of play’ so that anything the player learnt wasn’t going to jeopardise any future learning in the sport. In other words, we only teach things they’re always going to use. There’s no wasted time learning stuff that they might not use.
In the end, we created a development method that’s foolproof and works for everyone, no matter how far behind the 8-ball they are when they started.
After a few years of our program, we started to see unexpected benefits.
Firstly, kids became much more confident in their abilities. This effect was significant for everyone and also an enabler for them to learn more.
Secondly, we see kids reaching the playing goals much earlier than expected. For some players, this has been as early as eight years of age. Their improved understanding of the game also helped other players around them.
Thirdly, our graduates are playing football at a higher than expected level of competition. In their teenage years, we have many graduates playing Division 1, National Premier League and above.
Our method sees kids gain more success when they play soccer with much less training. This success combined with increased confidence has seen increased participation during the teenage years, combating the current trend to drop out.