By: VYSA Technical Director Gordon Miller
On any given weekend throughout the calendar year, there is an exorbitant amount of youth soccer tournaments: recreation tournaments, travel team tournaments, college showcase tournaments, 3v3 tournaments, 8v8 tournaments, all-star tournaments - the list goes on and on. Is this the right way to develop our talent? While the experience of traveling with your team and bonding with them over a weekend is admirable and enjoyable, are we really helping you to improve as soccer players?
Organizations generally run tournaments because it’s a good way to raise money. They use that money in a variety of admirable causes: 1) to pay technical people; 2) to pay for uniforms and other equipment; 3) field development; 4) scholarships; and 5) to off-set travel costs. The bigger clubs also get a kick-back from the hotels, sponsors and vendors. Who can complain? The money rolls in and everyone is happy.
Let’s take a closer look at what this is doing to our players. Studies show that, in a 90-minute match, the ball is in play a little more than two-thirds of the time. That number is derived from taking into account the time out for goal kicks, throw-ins, injuries, goals, etc. In the English Premier League, during the 2011 season, the ball was in play on average 62.39 minutes and in the Spanish League (La Liga), that same season, slightly less at 61.48 minutes. And, that is with multiple balls on the sideline that are quickly getting fed back in by the all-attentive ball boys. For the purposes of highlighting a point, it wouldn’t be a stretch to use a similar figure for a youth travel team. So let’s do that and say the ball is in play for an average of 62 minutes in our 90-minute travel team games. If each team has the ball an equal amount of time, then 31 minutes per team becomes the number. With 11 players on each team you can surmise that each player has the ball less than three minutes. If the player is in a position where he/she is generally out-numbered or encouraged to play the ball quickly (strikers and defenders respectively), then the amount of time on the ball becomes even less frequent. Add in that most teams will play three, four, or even five games at a tournament, and this ensures the player gets a minimum nine minutes and maximum 25 minutes of individual ball contacts over the entire weekend.
Let’s also throw in these two additional points: 1) Medical proof states that, in a high-level physical event, the body takes up to 72 hours to fully recover. 2) Under the stress, speed and pressure of a match is not the optimum way to train a player to try new ways of thinking and better decision-making. The better part of learning occurs when players have well-constructed training sessions with positive reinforcement, a challenging environment and lots of repetitions. This doesn’t happen at tournaments.
The costs to the average family, depending on how far they travel, in hotel expenses, food, gas, entertainment between games, plus tournament paraphernalia, is huge. But, hey, everybody’s doing it, so it must be right. Right? Wrong! No other country has our model when it comes to tournament play. And, I can’t imagine anybody wanting it. In the overwhelming amount of other soccer-playing nations, teams train during the week to play their one league or cup game on the weekend. And, the individual player quality and technical proficiency is still, on the whole, better than ours.
Can we not come up with a better model?