That's what we mean!
Give the children and young people back their soccer ball.
By Deniz Solmaz (Head of Youth Development Center)
Julian Draxler, Mario Götze, Thomas Müller, Mesut Özil and Manuel Neuer. More and more well-trained players are making the leap from the youth development centers of Bundesliga clubs to the top echelons of international soccer. Not only after the spectacular offensive performances of the German national team do many soccer nations look to our domestic youth training. But what is the real state of play at the moment? How do things look on the sports fields for the youngest soccer players?
Motivated by the successes of many young German professionals, one experiences an environment of unconditional striving for success on many soccer fields. Ambitious spectators who increasingly try to influence the game. We adults, and I don't exclude ourselves as trainers and coaches, who want to trim the "command receivers" to top performance by permanently directing them with an exaggerated will to win and often excessive expectations. All this with the goal of leaving the playing field as the winner. For many dedicated parents, this may go hand in hand with the belief that the eight-year-old child is supposedly already like a new idol. Often, the feeling creeps in that it is much more important for us adults to achieve victory than it is for the children who simply want to pursue their favorite sport.
The question is: where is youth soccer headed? On the one hand, the list of young talented kickers in the top leagues is enormous, but on the other hand, how can it be explained that many clubs complain about a great fluctuation especially after the E-juniors and lose many players? Many young players, who often started out with great motivation, give up playing soccer again in a state of frustration. There is no doubt that demographic change is also affecting children's favorite sport. Nevertheless, this is not the only answer to the high "quitting rate" after the E-youth. What can be done to curb this?
Players need their space
Put yourself in the position of an eight-year-old soccer player who enjoys his favorite sport immensely. On game day itself, he gets "tips" from each side every time he has possession of the ball. The coach shouts "Left!", the mother "Shoot!" and his father "Run!". This barrage of "tips" overwhelms him. Not only does he have to sort out the "tips" from outside, but he also has to control the play equipment. Most of the time, he loses the ball as a result of this overload, which often earns him a reprimand from the supporters. Such actions are unfortunately not uncommon in many junior games. Following orders from adults is not much fun in the long run, so that a game culture of trial and error and creativity unfortunately cannot be developed.
How is a child supposed to learn to make its own decisions if these are permanently taken away from it? For this reason, it is incredibly important that we give players back their space, in which they are also simply allowed to do things. In the past, this space was called the football field.
Now I'm talking about my time as a young kicker: We felt most comfortable when we were kids among ourselves. Here we could make decisions all the time. Without the fear of not pleasing any adults. You can't take these experiences away from a child. Rather, they enrich the child's personality immensely and are thus also an important part of the child's development.
Dealing with mistakes must change radically
In the course of life, one builds up a great treasure of experiences. One has had to make many decisions. It is not uncommon that precisely the perhaps more unfortunate decisions often contain the greatest learning success. Not without reason our wealth of experience is irreplaceable and in this respect every own experience is of positive importance. Just think of the infamous hot stove.
Especially children in their early days of soccer make a lot of experiences. In order to acquire the resulting knowledge in the first place, many mistakes certainly happen. Mistakes are made. However, it is of central importance how his role models, namely the great adults, deal with these mistakes. Young soccer players are therefore constantly weighing up how they can best please the adults.
Let's get back to our eight-year-old soccer player. As part of his development, he is now on the sports field for the first time. Full of anticipation and peppered with creativity and a willingness to take risks (children are much more willing to take risks than adults, as we know from our own experience), he is now trying things out. Whether it's playing a risky pass or dribbling out two players at once. If this player is loudly criticized during his creative moments, he links this creativity and the risk he has taken with a negative feeling. The conclusions are clear and sobering: creativity and risk are not wanted. But isn't it precisely the players who have the courage to take risks that we like to see play? Just ask the kids which are their favorite soccer players. And don't we enjoy watching Messi make risky dribbles and passes? How many times do you think such players got stuck on dribbles in their footballing lives? How often risky passes might not have arrived? Yes, how often they made mistakes. If Götze had been told when he was a child that he should only play safe balls...What would have become of him? Not to forget the self-confidence gained when you have played an opponent with a trick. Maybe even with a trick that didn't work before. No one makes mistakes on purpose, otherwise it would be sabotage.
Training more important than results
Game results should not matter in the children's area. It should be secondary whether you score seven goals and concede nine goals. Basically, the training and development of players in youth soccer must be the central goal. Who benefits if you are the undefeated league leader in the E Juniors, but there are players in the team squad who very rarely play? Or the victory even comes at the expense of the creativity and development opportunities of the players? Gaining experience, discovering the joy of taking risks, developing as a great soccer player and, what is probably the most important aspect, going through the world as a self-confident and fun-loving person is more desirable than winning tournaments, games or championships. Certainly the children want to measure themselves and also gladly decide the comparisons for itself. This is undisputed and this should not be prevented of course. But the question is whether we as adults should do everything to ensure that they win these comparisons. In my opinion, the only answer to this is a clear "no".
As soon as the result moves into the background, it is also easier for many of us adults to accept "mistakes" made by children and to perceive them more as a learning experience. In this way, we can finally remove the unnatural pressure to perform and offer children not only intentional but also actual support.
The goal of these lines is to put the players back in the spotlight. In the true sense of the word, youth soccer is the soccer of the youth. And not the soccer of the coaches or parents. We should see ourselves only as companions of the children. The players must follow this path at least to some extent on their own responsibility. The important thing is that we are always there for them
Of course, we all occasionally find ourselves taking decisions directly from a player. It also happens to us that we literally dictate to him what he should do on the sports field and how. If, after such instructions, a reflection sets in or even the first signs of a guilty conscience spread, we are on the right track.
There are sometimes parents and coaches who would like to have a controller in their hands like a Playstation, with which to control the child. I like to approach these people and ask them with what objective they are doing this. I often hear that they really only want the best for their children.
This is ultimately also the core problem and I summarize this as follows, because we actually all have the same intention: children should be self-confident, creative, independent and friendly personalities, on and off the court. Only the way is often not the right one.
Soccer is and remains the most popular sport for children. The influx of G- to E-juniors is immense at many clubs. We should do everything to respect and protect the players in their individuality. We should give them a bit of freedom and simply trust them.
I believe this is the only way we can all succeed in keeping the children enjoying the most beautiful sport in the world.