One day, heading towards my car after an individual training session with one of my players, I was approached by a dad who had been watching with his 7 year old son. He said he was impressed by my training methods and would like to get more information about my service. We talked for a bit and he told me of his son’s passion for soccer. As we continued talking, his son took off with the ball at full speed and then tried doing some tricks to show me he could play. I was quite impressed by his foot skills and I asked him what position he likes to play. He excitingly answered, GOALIE!! I was surprised; almost every kid likes playing forward. I then asked if he was interested in any other position besides goalie. He definitively answered, NO! He then started naming all his favorite goalies from the different teams and leagues. I was even more impressed. For a 7 year old, he was very knowledgeable about the game. He was passionate! I asked him what his favorite team was and he told me he didn’t have a favorite team because he just enjoys watching soccer. For a second, I thought I was dreaming! I found a kid that ENJOYS WATCHING SOCCER!!! I wish you could have seen the little happy dance I was doing in my mind!
The hardest thing for us as coaches is to encourage our players to watch soccer. I scratch my head when kids tell me they don’t like watching soccer because it’s boring, they just like playing. What??? You’re boring, I feel like responding.
So, this led me to wonder if watching is important to a player’s development. In order for a soccer player to fulfill their potential, do they need to watch soccer? I believe myself and the majority of all youth coaches would say, yes. However, I also say no. Let me explain!
For those parents that have their child in Rec soccer and don’t really see a future for their child in the sport, please let me spare you the few extra minutes you might waste reading the rest of my opinion. No, your child does not need to watch soccer in order to improve. That’s not your aim, anyway. Thank you for reading up until this point. In all honesty, I really hope your child eventually falls madly in love with the beautiful game enough to want to play competitively. If that is the case, you will need to continue reading.
Are you still reading? Okay, good! For you, the parent that has a child playing on a competitive team, yes, your child needs to watch the game in order to keep improving. There are a couple of things about the game that cannot be taught, and can only be learned by watching the professionals. In addition to practicing regularly, these two things are what every player needs in order to play at the next level, whether that’s academy, college, or the professional level. Without these two things, high school is about the highest level your child can reach. Has your child ever been told they need to improve their decision making? Or they need to improve their soccer IQ? If yes, then their coach is pretty much saying they need to watch more soccer.
What’s the big deal about decision making and soccer IQ? My child doesn’t need to watch the game to improve his/her decision making, you might say. Let me ask you, though, how will your child fully understand their role in whatever position they play, if he or she doesn’t study someone that’s making a living doing it? How will they learn to be creative? How can they expand their imagination if they don’t know how far they can reach? You might say, well it’s their coach’s job to teach them all these things. Unfortunately, these things can’t be taught.
As a young player growing up, one of my favorite defenders was Roberto Carlos. Roberto Carlos played left back for Brazil national team and for Real Madrid. He had big legs like myself and was exciting to watch. Every game, he would consistently make overlapping runs to get in the offense. He had a canon of a foot and could pretty much shoot from anywhere on the field and score. He was my idol. So, whenever I played, I wanted to play just like him. I wasn’t taught by any coaches what overlapping was, or how and when to make an overlapping run, but I did it on my own, because I saw Roberto Carlos do it. No one taught me how to slide tackle, but I watched Roberto Carlos enough to know how it was done. I became the player I was by watching someone I idolized. I learned how I was supposed to play my position and what decisions to make by watching the game.
It’s simple, even the best soccer players in the world today grew up watching someone they idolized, and no amount of individual training can substitute for that. If you’re paying for your kid to play on a competitive team, why not make sure they fulfil their full potential? No one ever said they will become the next Messi or Ronaldo, but help them become the best they can be. All the World Class Futbol coaches would tell you this; we are better players now than we ever were at any point in our career even though we barely play anymore. How? We watch the game more. Now, we play more with our mind than with our bodies. Encourage your child to watch the game and learn from it, they will become better players because of it.
Kokou Assigbe, Coaching Director at World Class Premier