Expectations for women's soccer development must be higher9 Dec, 2008
By Chris Hummer, Potomac Soccer Wire Editor
About the author: Chris Hummer is Founder and President of
HummerSport, LLC, publisher of Potomac Soccer Wire and numerous other
soccer-focused web sites. Off the field, Chris spends his days running
his soccer company, writing about soccer, and helping administer FC
Virgina, an elite youth soccer club based in Northern Virginia. On the
field (and sidelines) He is a USSF B licensed coach with 10 years
coaching experience and 31 years of playing experience (and counting).
Hummer is a Head Coach and Trainer for multiple FC Virginia teams, as
well as Assistant Varsity coach for the girls team at Potomac Falls
High School in Sterling, VA.
It was very cool to have the chance to watch the NCAA women's
championship back to back on ESPN with the U-20 World Cup finals on
Sunday. We have come a long way in this country when it comes to
accessibility to the game for fans. A new generation is growing up not
ever knowing what it was like to not have an option to watch soccer on
In theory, this should be very good for the game. It is supposed to
give our youth players something to emulate and aspire to. It is
supposed to be a learning tool. And to the extent that something is
better than nothing, it is a great thing. But if the NCAA final was the
example our youth are supposed to be striving for, I'm worried.
I had just come from coaching a weekend of U14/U15 girls at a
tournament, and was frustrated with myself because I felt I expected
too much. Technical skills assumed, I try to teach my teams to play the
way the game is played at the highest level. Focus on possession,
defensive organization, and creating high-percentage scoring
opportunities. We work on all the principles of defense and attack, how
the game changes based on the third of the field we're in, and
encourage creativity and individual brilliance. What we don't do is
spend half our 3 hours of weekly training time learning how to kick the
ball 60 yards and hope our forwards get lucky - nor do we work on set
plays over and over again.
More in tournaments than in league, our goal is not to win NOW, it's to
teach them how to win when they're older - when it truly matters. We
can't stick to this goal completely in league play because the threat
of relegation can take away the development opportunity of playing
against better competition. But in tournaments it's 100% about teaching
them the game, and forcing them to play the way we want them to play in
the future - even if it means we lose a game where a different tactic
might have gotten a result. But if winning that game comes at the
expense of learning, then what's the point?
This is a VERY difficult philosophy to stick to in the world of
competitive youth soccer here in the DC area. The result is we often
find ourselves drawing or losing games against opponents with less
individual skill on average, and barely a hint of any system of play or
game philosophy. It's often more about kick it far, and let their star
player do her damage. We actually get much better results against
"better" teams - teams that are also trying to work on the game the way
it is meant to played in the future, not only the best way to win today.
This weekend was no exception, and with a little rust from over a month
without competitive games, we lost by multiple goals to teams we
outclassed at an individual level on average. The theme of the weekend
was that I refused to alter our tactics just to try and get a result,
when those tactics would have been completely contrary to the way I
want to teach the girls to play. Clearly, a diamond back four, marking
wingers, and twin holding-midfielders would have plugged all the holes,
but our attack would have been totally one-dimensional, and wouldn't
solve any of the areas where we're trying to improve.
We played much better soccer in the second half of the weekend, but it
was still a frustrating weekend. On the drive home, I was contemplating
whether or not I was expecting too much of such young players. Forcing
them to play such tactical soccer, that requires a consistent ability
to build possession. Am I too anxious to move on from so many years of
focus on individual skills development? Should I be making more
decisions that help them win now rather than teaching them the tools
and knowledge they'll need if they don't want to crash into a ceiling
when they're 17? How worried should I be that if they don't experience
the fun of winning more, they may never make the connection that what
I'm teaching really is the "right" way to play at all? Will they give
up, and go play for a "run-and-gun" team that emphasizes trophies over
development, but that has a whole lot of fun in the process?
So many questions swirling on that long drive back to Northern
Virginia. By the time I got home, I had dedicated myself to truly
exploring this more to determine if my expectations were too high, and
if we should lower the bar we want the girls to reach. Should we really
be teaching them the way Arsenal or ManU play the game, under the
theory that at least they'll know "how it should be", even if it's an
I wasn't convinced at all. I still felt that intellectually, the team
understands what we're trying to do, and that if we can just continue
to work on the individual abilities and decision processes within the
framework of the team's style of play, that we can get there by the
time it really matters (when college scouts come looking). I was
excited to get back to work this week at practice.
Then, I turned on the NCAA final between UNC and Notre Dame, and I
almost puked. Here were the two best teams in women's college soccer in
the country with the best women's national teams in the world, and they
were playing the exact style of game I am trying so hard to avoid for
our team. I don't think they worked the ball around the back more than
twice. The back line never dropped off far enough in possession to
provide adequate support, and the players constantly chose to try and
force the ball in situations where the defense had already
concentrated. In general, they had more patience than youth players,
but the game was still more about getting the ball to the best players
and trying to get a long ball to a streaking forward, or to punch it
through a crowded defense after getting numbers forward.
My jaw was on the floor - in a bad way - for much of the match at the
decisions these players were making. I mean every elite female youth
player today views UNC as the ultimate in soccer for them (even though
some dream of playing elsewhere, if UNC came calling, it would be VERY
HARD to turn them down.) And here I was, staring at what is commonly
seen as the pinnacle of female soccer, and having the SAME frustrations
I had just had watching our own games.
I mean, if these two teams, in the NCAA final, who between them had
only lost one game all year, could not play to my satisfaction, SURELY
I was expecting too much from our 14-year-olds, right?
Then, the Under-20 World Cup Final came on, and my prayers were
answered. This team, made up of college freshmen and sophomores - and
even some who had yet to begin their college careers - was playing some
of the best soccer I've seen. They were calmly, yet aggressively moving
the ball around and through all "thirds" of the field with possession
as the major priority. They were holding the ball, and looking for the
highest-percentage chances on goal - the chances that come when you
unbalance a defense, and are quick enough to exploit it. Oh, and there
were SO many moments of individual brilliance and creativity. Not just
Alex Morgan's goal, but dozens of little things. A flick, a juke, a
great first touch away from pressure turning a 50/50 ball into a
counter-attack opportunity. It was just a pleasure, and just at the
right time. Honestly, I think that U-20 team might have performed
better than our full 2007 World Cup "Greg Ryan" team did in China. That
team looked more like a college team, kick it long to our forward and
pray. This U-20 team played like an Arsenal - with the only real
difference being the speed of play and range of power.
What was the difference? Was it individual skill or was it coaching?
You would think skill at first considering the U-20 team is an "all
star" team, but then you think about that 2007 World Cup team that was
embarrassed by Brazil and played poorly throughout the event, and it
creeps into your mind that it's not the talent, it's the philosophy.
Tony DiCicco is not one of my favorite personalities in the US Soccer
world, but I have to say, that after what I just witnessed, he is
clearly a coach I plan on learning from.
We have a ton of talent in this country, and I don't see any reason why
more than just our national youth teams can't play the game the way it
was meant to be played. Soccer is a pretty simple game when its players
follow the principles, have the proper foundation of skills, learn how
to make the right decisions quickly, believe in each other, and follow
a good game plan.
The college game is supposed to be the ultimate goal for so many youth
players out there, but it is obvious to me that without more examples
of a higher level of play like there is on the men's side, the women's
college game is far too low a goal for our girls. They should use
college soccer to pay for a great education for sure, but please don't
look at the actual soccer on TV and aspire to only reach that level.
That bar is clearly too low.
Do you think the bar is too low for our girls? Please share your thoughts here, or send your opinions to
-- You can reach Chris at http://www.potomacsoccerwire.com/contact or on Linkedin at http://www.linkedin.com/in/chrishummer