Our recent blog post “Jack of All Trades, Master of None” elicited a great deal of feedback from the Soccer Nation. A common theme that kept popping up was the idea of specialization. One question was phrased as follows “What age do you feel is an acceptable time to “pick” that sport to concentrate on; especially if you haven’t been given the opportunity to even try other sports until middle school?”
Here are our thoughts on specialization:
I can only speak for soccer, since this is my area of expertise. At 13 a player must decide on soccer if they wish to have a chance at the next level. I am not talking so much about college, because there is a college to fit every player’s ability. There are D1, D2, D3 and NAIA colleges and universities all across the country. I am talking about the players who wish to play for their state at the Olympic Development Program level, play at the Regional level, play at a bigger D1 program, play at the semi-professional or professional level, play at the National Team level.
The age of thirteen in soccer is referred to as the dawn of tactical awareness. It is a very important time in the development of players from this age onwards, so if not fully engaged at this point they will be at a disadvantage. Soccer also requires foot and eye coordination, which is significantly different from hand and eye coordination. The body movements are very different and the level of mobility, flexibility and agility required is very high. The sport also requires a very high level of fitness. Soccer specific fitness.
There is also an international rule that has changed that put our college bound players at a disadvantage. In other countries the best players play for amateur academy teams, that feed into the professional academy teams. These players are groomed until 18 and are signed to a full professional contract if they have developed to the standards required to play at that level. Those that do not make it are released. Some are released earlier. These players were previously not eligible to play collegiate soccer in the United States, but this has changed, so the bigger schools are grabbing them. They are also looking for players , who have represented their countries at the youth level (U16 and up).
Domestically, coaches of the more competitive schools look for players who have played for the USA first. When that resource is exhausted, they look for players from the National Team pools, then the Regional Teams, Region Team pools, United States Soccer Federation Academy Teams, and Olympic Development Program teams. To play at any of these levels requires an extremely high level of commitment.
I have a very good working relationship with many college coaches. They all want the best players. Those with the larger budgets look outside the USA first for their key players. It has nothing to do with talent. It has to do with the level of intelligence and experience they bring to the sport because they have invested significantly more time to the game.
Developing game intelligence in our players is critical if we are to give them a shot at competing at the next level. Simply running them through drill after drill is not going to do the job. We must put them in environments where they can learn the game. Coaches can’t simply make all of the decisions for them. The players must learn to think.
We created our Ciplified Soccer 2.0 coaching guide with this concept at the forefront of our mind. Putting this program into practice will help players learn to make quality decisions as well as rapidly improve their skills. For more about Ciplified Soccer 2.0, click here.