Sunday, October 22, 2017

My first "mega tournament" experience

I'm not sure how many readers of this blog know I coach, I am the president of a neighborhood youth club, and I am the father of 3 youth soccer players. This weekend my youngest daughter guest played for a pay to play club as they went to a "mega tournament" in another state. 550 teams were at this event. Locally, I've coached in and my kids have played in multiple tournaments but they are always 40 to 100 teams.

Big difference in scale, prestige, and what types of clubs participated in what is available locally here and what was at this tournament.

I saw some super committed parents, heard lots of cheering, loads of kids smiling...

Awesome uniforms, parents in matching shirts, club tents...

Food trucks, tents full of jerseys for sale, sponsors giving away swag... 

My daughter had a blast, her teammates were very nice, coach was awesome, the other parents were very welcoming...

I saw kids win championships, parents beam with pride, high fives and hugs after goals...

What I saw was people getting what they wanted out of the weekend. I only saw one parent the entire weekend berate the refs, the other parents laughed at him, he felt stupid and quit. It was a very professionally ran, organized, and on time event. Everything about the tournament was awesome except one thing...

The soccer.

I made sure the family got to the fields a couple hours before our first game so I could watch a bunch of these big clubs teams play. I was ready to see some great youth soccer. We stayed after our second game of the first day so I could watch more. Repeated the process the 2nd day.

After watching a few games the first day I started taking some game notes. I started by just writing down a few things... but as the weekend went along I took more in depth ones just because I had the idea that I wanted to write something about what was going on.

Game 1 - u12g - watched for 10minutes

2 obviously very quality players
0 strings of 3 or more passes
Goalkeeper kicked a ground ball punt that hit a girl of the other team 10ish yards away from her

Game 2 - u10g - 15 minutes

Very much worse play
0 strings of 3 or more passes
1 player of obvious high quality
Even with the Build Out Line both teams played long from the Goalkeeper every time

Game 3 - u10g - 10 minutes

1 string of 3 or more passes
All players lacked technical ability

Game 4 - u10g - 15 minutes

0 strings of 3 or more passes
Both teams are VERY BIG
One team uses a Defender to take Goal Kicks even though there is a build out line

Game 5 - u10g - 25 minutes

1 very high quality possession based team
Every player on this team is technically sound
Multiple 10+ pass strings
Amazing level of play

The other team uses their Defender to take long Goal kicks even though they have a Build Out line

I Googled the club and the coach of the good team is from Italy and has a USSF E license

Game 6 - u12g - 10 minutes

Defender Goal Kicks by both teams
Another ground ball punt

12 Random long balls forward
1 Drop out of pressure

Terrible technical quality

Game 7 - u15g - 30 minutes

1 team tried to Play Out From The Back
1 string of 3 passes
Very poor tactically and over matched physically
Lost very big

0 pass strings of 3 or more by the winning team
Not good technically or tactically
High pressed with all 11 players in opposing half

Game 8 - u10g - 10 minutes

Team closes down the first pass with 4 players
Other team has zero defensive shape... looks like a school of fish
One total purposeful pass was attempted total by both teams
Completes a few random clearances to big cheers

Game 9 - u10b - 30 minutes

First 13 times the ball was either in the GK hands or a Goal Kick the ball was played long by both teams
1 attempted POFTB total
2 strings of 3 or more passes
0 drops out of pressure
20 random long balls

One team is putting all of their players on the other side of the build out line and playing it long to them. (See the picture above)

One team is easily technically good enough to POFTB they just are not doing it

Game 10 - u15g - 12 minutes

Cenerback is taking Goal Kicks for one of the teams
6 Random Long Balls
0 drops out of pressure
2 punts before an attempted POFTB
2 strings of 3 or more passes total

One punt is taken by the GK running full speed to the top of the box and playing long to nobody while 5 of her teammates are behind her walking in the box

Game 11 - u10b - 13 minutes

18 Random Long Balls
0 strings of 3 or more passes

Both teams are full of plus level athletes and playing at a high rate of speed


Couple of obviously very talented 1v1 players
2 absolutely beautiful individual goals

Game 12 - u15g - 13 minutes

14 Random Long Balls
0 strings of 3 or more passes
4 punts
1 attempted POFTB
0 drops out of pressure

One extremely bad series of play after another made me start to keep count... the worst was.
9 touches were taken in the midfield and 8 of them were direct turnovers... yes. Between the two teams midfield players they took 9 touches of the ball and it led to the other team gaining possession 8 times.

The team who attempted the singular POFTB was the less skilled and less athletic team.
Neither team had a single player who I observed receiving a pass across their body on the back foot. 

Game 13 - u10g - 30 minutes

Saw the same great team on the field from the day before and had to watch them again.

Didn't disappoint. Joy to watch.
Several 10 pass strings. Playing it out of pressure. Playing through the GK. Combination play.
The other team had a couple 3 pass strings. One player read the play well and intercepted several passes that put the defenders under lots of pressure and created a couple goals.

Everybody who watched this game said it was a joy to watch the quality team play, they "Played like a college team" "are amazing" etc.

I watched a few games before I started taking notes. The level of play in those games was not much different from what I noted from these games. I didn't take notes of my daughters team. I watched bits and pieces of over 40 teams this weekend.

My wife made a few observations as well. Her first was that she saw less than 20 black families. I noted in my pad that walking from game to game I never saw more than 2 black kids on a team on the field at once. She also noticed that tons of parents didn't know the rules of the game.

What does all of this mean?

I'm not sure about anything other than we need to be playing better soccer.

I did have a few other thoughts while driving home today. 

This tournament collected over $250k in registration fees. I'd hate to guess how much was spent on hotel rooms, food, and gas for the out of town teams. I am confident in saying that an investment of +$400k could do a whole lot for a bunch of kids that this tournament didn't deliver.

Many parents don't know what they are looking at.

Even more parents ONLY watch their kids play at these tournaments. They aren't really looking to see what the quality looks like in games where they aren't invested emotionally with their child. As soon as their child's game is finished they walk to the tent or a shade tree and talk to the other parents.

There are some really bad coaches coaching really bad soccer at prestigious "big" clubs.

Most of these teams didn't need to be traveling to play games.

Anybody who says we need better athletes playing soccer is crazy. I saw kids who would be starting tailbacks and cornerbacks on their local football teams playing in the boys games and starting point guards in the girls games. Great athletes abounded. Athleticism was not the problem.

Parents really need to analyze why they have their kids playing "travel soccer". If the kids aren't getting better, why are you spending this big money? If they aren't getting top level training why are you paying top level money? If the team isn't playing good, high quality soccer... not just winning games, but playing good technical and tactical soccer... why are you paying big money?

We as parents are voting with our pocketbooks. We allow clubs to give our children sub-standard product.

Some of these parents are being sold dreams. Parents are being convinced that the experiences that these trips out of town for soccer provide is enough. Parents are being fleeced left and right.

Youth soccer is broken. I knew it. This experience did nothing to make me think anything different. I'm not sure exactly what I expected to see this weekend. I just know I walked away from this even more disappointed in the youth game and it sucks.

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