Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Tisha Venturini-Hoch, a legendary U.S. Women’s National Team player who is on the National Soccer Hall of Fame ballot. Check out the entire interview in the latest edition of Total Soccer Magazine.
Venturini-Hoch was insightful and had some great things to say about the current state of women’s soccer. Again, I encourage you to check out the full interview. One particular point of interest that I want to focus on is the development of youth players.
Yes, I know what some of you are thinking: Not this again. The topic is at the forefront of the women’s soccer world right now. From a domestic point of view, there is a need to better develop players. Internationally, the development of players has increased exponentially over the past decade to a point that there are more countries establishing themselves as elite women’s soccer nations, particularly in Asia (Japan, South Korea, North Korea and Australia all come to mind and that even excludes China).
But as the U.S. continues to search for answers to better develop female players, there has to be a recognition that players need to have freedom as they develop – and time to be kids.
“I go out and I listen to kids that are playing club at seven-years-old and they are already talking about soccer scholarships and all of that. It scares me,” Venturini-Hoch said. “I know the competition is a lot tougher now. Kids are doing personal training and they are doing speed training. I feel like I am really blessed that I came along at the time that I did because I just kind of played every sport and had as much fun as I could. I obviously was a competitor and I worked my tail off. I’m just overwhelmed with all the stuff these kids are doing. I’m wondering if my kid will have to pick one sport when he is eight.”
This will be a tough line to walk for U.S. Soccer. How will April Heinrichs, new technical director for the women’s national teams, and Jill Ellis, development director, find a balance between developing players and allowing them to have fun and freedom of expression on the ball?
Players should be gradually developed in a way that is implicit at very young ages, such as the U-10 level for example, and more explicit in the later teenage years. In essence, it is a case of guidance versus instruction. There is a greater necessity for guidance at an extremely young age, where players do not need to be drilled constantly but simply given a direction.
As players get older and develop their ability to process tactics and technical skills increases, that is the time when more instruction can be given (although freedom of expression is still critical then, when players have a greater capacity to execute moves).
But perhaps the bigger problem, as Venturini-Hoch points out, is the emphasis on scholarships and exposure as opposed to development. In a way, those two go together, but there has to be an emphasis on just playing the game and not always worrying about the next college showcase.