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  • Writer's picturePeter Green

Talent Needs the Right Development

I once attended a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament in which my kids' professor was competing. He was a multi-degree black belt and handily won his weight class. I don't remember the weight at which he competed, but it couldn't have been more than about 150 pounds. He was short, compact and sinewy, frighteningly strong, and unbelievably agile.

In addition to his weight class, he competed in the Ultimate bracket, which matched up all fighters across all weight classes. For the final, the professor was paired with another black belt that was at least twice his weight. After minutes of a stalemate, during which the heavier opponent used his weight to try to submit the professor, something clicked and the professor beat his opponent with a wrist lock no one saw coming—especially not his opponent. In an apparent upset, the diminutive professor had completely outclassed the entire field and won the tournament.

The reality was that the match wasn't an upset at all; the professor was a master tactician who had devised, and then executed, a patient and effective plan against a seemingly stronger opponent. The sheer physics of the problem suggested the 300 pound fighter should have been able to leverage all of that weight and submit the professor, but he simply couldn't. And sure, the larger fighter, a black belt himself, had had plenty of training, but not in a way that helped him fully use his physical attributes to his advantage, even against a "weaker" opponent. The professor used all of his defensive skill, built up over years and years of training, and found ways to use his own leverage to neutralize all of the weight he was giving away to his opponent. Then, when the moment was right, he struck, and the professor's victory came shortly after.

Being faster, bigger, heavier, or stronger—having any physical advantage—is a good thing for an athlete. It's a subset of having more talent on any level; every great soccer player has an abundance of raw ability for the sport. Of course, a lot of less successful players—even players that burn out in college, high school, or earlier—might also have raw talent.

In the end, though, talent is like the gasoline in your car: it's vital to the potential to go somewhere, but you still have to drive the car to get there. One person might have more gas to get farther than another, but neither of them will get anywhere at all if they never start the car, leave the driveway, and get on a road that leads them where they want to go.

Being located in Flagstaff, Revolution faces the challenge of having relatively fewer kids who want to play club soccer. Just two hours away, in Phoenix, there is an overabundance of talented, motivated, engaged kids playing for a plethora of clubs; in Flagstaff, we have no such luxury. As such, it's easy to lament that having multiple youth soccer clubs here dilutes the talent pool. And it might seem to follow that one answer is uniting clubs into one "superclub" that dominates leagues and tournaments.

It's true that small-town soccer is, strictly by the numbers, likely going to pull from a shallower talent pool. However, the "solution" of simply uniting all of the talent under one banner ignores the fact that it matters which banner the talent is playing under! Just as with athletes that burn out or the 300 pound black belt who relies largely on his physical advantages, underdeveloped talent tends to end up as wasted talent.

Revolution recognizes this fact, which is why there's such a strong focus on a coherent development strategy across the entire club. It's fun to dominate opponents and win tournaments, but Revolution's goal is to teach kids to play the world's sport how the world plays it and to help kids learn confidence and endurance through adversity. The game success and tournament wins tend to follow, but without solid, intentional development, no amount of talent can keep those wins from being fleeting and ultimately disappointing.

Talent may be the gasoline; development is teaching kids how to get the best performance out of their car, how to get where they want to go in their soccer life, and how to enjoy the ride by driving well. Development turns potential talent into actual success, in life and on the pitch.

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1 Comment

John G
John G
Sep 14, 2023

I hope you and the other coaches continue to blog. Insightful material.

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