What American Soccer lacks and how Flagstaff Revolution Addresses it
Go to a youth soccer tournament next weekend and watch a few games. Chances are that you will see teams with 2 or 3 star players who are capable of influencing games primarily with physicality. They are simply bigger, faster, stronger. When a defender aimlessly sends the ball downfield everybody on the sidelines will cheer "great boot!" If one of those star players happens to corral that long ball, run away from a defender or two and then score, the sidelines will rightfully erupt.
So what did everyone learn during that sequence?
The defender learned that they shouldn't have the ball anywhere near them—the farther you send it, the louder the cheers will be. The star player learned that they are faster than the poor kids stuck playing defense and does not have to look for creative ways to attack the goal. The coach learned to ride their star player so they (and the parents) will be pleased with the end result.
What you're seeing, though, isn't learning at all, but simple confirmation bias. One set of parents think, "My kid is amazing because he/she scored!" Other parents think, "This team is awesome because we score/win!" The coach thinks, "What I'm doing is working because we're winning!" The club thinks, "This coach is great because he/she is winning!"
But what does anyone, especially the players, actually learn when you play soccer this way?
From the players' perspective, the unfortunate answer is that they learn to rely almost exclusively on physical capabilities rather than game intelligence or tactical acumen, which go largely undeveloped. There is a problem with over-reliance on physical capabilities, though: once other kids catch up or surpass them physically, any advantage is lost and the former stars are left entirely average. Further, as the saying goes, "there's always someone bigger and badder" at any age level, and at some level sheer physicality isn't enough.
This plays out at the national level as well. Those familiar with the professional game here in the USA will know that American players are stereotypically "hardworking" and that they "have grit". At the same time, those same American players often struggle to adapt to the European game because of a lack of tactical acumen and technical ability to execute as part of a team.
The lack of intentional and purposeful play in American youth soccer is stunting players. So much of the focus is on physicality and a few individual skills, and so little on positional play and decision-making. If you attend a practice from the team described above you are likely to see a few things:
Kids in lines waiting their turn to shoot or play one pass,
Kids practicing a single skill move (e.g. step-over or elástico) unopposed and out of context, and
Running... lots and lots of running.
In essence, clubs are training kids to stand in lines and run track. Whatever technique clubs may practice is often sterile and without game context. Johan Cruyff once quipped, "Technique is not being able to juggle a ball 1,000 times. Anyone can do that by practicing. Then you can work in the circus. Technique is passing the ball with one touch, with the right speed, at the right foot of your teammate.” If we want our players to be strong soccer players, we have to train them accordingly.
Flagstaff Revolution intentionally operates with a different paradigm. Our training model and its accompanying game models are based on a Spanish view of the game. Our club wants to keep possession of the ball and work as a team to advance toward goal. This style of play requires specific technical abilities and tactical understanding, and all of our training is intentionally designed to train players in both. Coaches utilize rondos, positional exercises, and tactical games to teach players how to manipulate not only the ball but also their opponents. Again, players learn to not only identify space but to intentionally manipulate defenders and create space.
Unlike the raw thrill of that aimless clearance from a defender or a wild and undirected run from a single gifted forward, our training does not bring instant gratification. Success, especially as we define it, does not come overnight, but rather over weeks, months, and even years of practice. Our approach requires patience from the players, parents, and coaches... but results do follow. Goals, wins, and trophies all come as we stay the course. But the best result is that the players become proper footballers—the kind of players that can go on to the next level, no matter where that is, because they actually understand the game and play it in the same manner as the biggest clubs and best countries do.
And that's worth the patience.
For a taste of what the Revolution style of play looks like in a game, check out this video: