Euro Trip 2019 – Soccer Culture

The next installment of the Euro Academy Trip from December 2019.

Culture can cover many different areas, and blend in to other topics that differentiate the US and European soccer experience. The last post covered the difference between winning and development, and this is down to culture. This post will explore the culture in which soccer is lived.

In Europe, soccer is life, it is everything you breathe. When growing up your local town football team is everything to the player, and the team you follow stays with you, to change your team is unheard of, no matter how bad it might get.

“You can change your wife, your politics, your religion, but never, never can you change your favorite football team.” – Eric Cantona

Throughout the corridors of the academy clubhouses, the names of players who came through the youth groups are highlighted with pictures from the past, and quotes from their journey to the professional level. While these players are at the best academies in their respective countries, they feel no pressure in winning, but are encouraged to embrace a process and do what they can to be better every day. The education is vital for these players, as the reality is there is such a small chance of making the elite level even when starting from this position.

“As a kid, you obviously dream of being a professional footballer. I would watch players like Ronaldo of Brazil and pretend to be him on the playground. But I don’t think about trying to become one of the best in the world or anything like that. I just play football.”
– Gareth Bale

The game days is spectacle, where thousands of fans descend upon the stadium in their teams colors, arriving in plenty of time to start the chants of players and the club during the players warm up, and the continuous waving of flags and cheers to support the teams on the field. It’s this passion that bleeds in to the youth player. Young players will get hold of a ball before, during, and after school, with limited structured practices where kids go out and pretend to be the player they dream of becoming and learn through getting multiple contacts with the ball without an adult shouting at them to do it differently. Kids play in 2v2, 3v4, multiple age group, and a variety of playing surfaces, with no cones are structured goals, where they use their creative thinking and problem solving to get a small game going. No adults, no referees, and no league tables. This is street soccer, the most efficient and effective way for a player to learn. Our challenge in the US is the over structure of the game, and the adultification of telling the kids what to do, how to do it, and when to do it, not giving the youth player the freedom to make their own decisions.

Where the culture bleeds in to other areas of youth soccer, is the direction and dream of the player. In Europe the dream is to play for the team you support, to represent a foundation of a community, whereas in the US, the dream is of the illusive college scholarship. One rewards the intrinsic motivation and desire of a player, while the other is transactional.

How Can You Help

  • Encourage and support the youth player in believing in the process. Support their development through empowering the player to make their own decisions in an environment free of pressure.
  • Stop chasing brackets, trophies, and league championships. These are just a short term result of a priority placed on winning, and not the long term growth of a player. Its this pressure that burns out a player and results in the 70% drop of of players at 14.
  • Make the game intrinsic, create a passion for the sport over the importance of a transaction in putting in money now for the reward of a scholarship.
  • Be aware of the life lessons that are available through sports participation, being respectful, humble, passionate, and having a purpose, will set the player in a positive direction for their adult lives.

“I don’t believe skill was, or ever will be, the result of coaches. It is a result of a love affair between the child and the ball.”
Roy Keane

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