Before we enter the next part of the narrative, a brief note about the state of world soccer at this time. The Spanish national team was in the process of being crowned the greatest soccer team in the history of either soccer or teams, and their quality was being evidenced in the success of Real Madrid and Barcelona, the two premier soccer clubs in Spain. What is important about this development is that none of the Spanish players were bigger or faster or stronger than the players they were routinely drubbing. None of them. This was a monumental shift in how athletic skill was considered. Americans had always consoled ourselves that the reason that we were not good, hell, not even competitive on the international soccer scene was because we had our best athletes playing other sports. This no longer held up. We were regularly losing to smaller, slower players. We had to rethink what it took to be successful at the highest level. This clicked for me when one of the players I coached, an All-American at college and an elite physical specimen who almost seemed engineered to play soccer, went overseas to tryout for the team my former boss was running. They said he was good. He was fast, great in the air, good feet. All things that we already knew. They said he wouldn't make it. In fact, he would probably never make it. He made good decisions, usually the right decision, he just made them too slowly. Boom. The difference between good soccer players and great soccer players was the ability to make the right decision quickly. As Dutch legend Johan Cruyff put it, "Soccer is a game that is played with the brain. I want players to learn how to think fast."
Soccer was already the most player-centric, dynamic game in the world, as with the 22 players on the field and the 50,000 screaming enthusiasts and no timeouts or substitutions to instruct the players, a coach generally has very little impact on the play of actual games. Players needed to be effective, efficient, autonomous decision makers. The task of youth soccer coaches became trying to figure out how to teach good decision making. Which meant we had to learn how to make good decisions, but that was really more of a bonus.
I took a new job, as a director of kids 11 and younger. I would note again that at this point in time I did not have any idea why some of the things that I did were successful and others, sometimes the exact same things, were not. I went to a special class offered by the USSF, specifically focused on player development. This class was run by Sam Snow, the US Youth Soccer Technical Director and a visionary who will redefine youth soccer in the United States (admittedly, not alone, there are a lot of great people working at US Youth Soccer who are doing a great job keeping the kids at the center of the youth experience). Sam taught me a lot, but most importantly, Sam spelled out the lesson that I had been fighting for almost a decade. People. Are. Not. The. Same. This was The Lesson. I had been always building my lessons from what I knew. Learning was not about making information available; it was about making it accessible. The audience was just as important, if not more so, than the material and the delivery.
At the US Youth Soccer Youth Development License course Sam introduced a lot of reading material, including Piaget, Freud, and Erikson, outlining the stages of development from birth to adolescence, emotionally, socially, and physiologically (US Youth Soccer). He broke the fundamental components of soccer into concepts that included these perspectives. As an example: passing includes the recognition of an other that is not yourself, differentiation, and a desire to share your fun, your toy with that other, and a decent bit of balance and, at the least, gross motor control. These skills are not usually present in children until the 8-10 age range, but passing is almost universally taught much younger than that age range, even as early as 2-3. 14 year-olds are capable of abstracting long term goals, like championships and fame. 11 year-olds tend to function more on a weekly reality.
This disparity in chronological perceptivity is a large part of the reason my attempts to set goals before a season, both as individuals and as a team, had a great impact on older teams, considerably less on prepubescents, and almost none at all on the 7 year olds. What would have have a great deal more impact would have been setting seasonal goals at older ages, weekly goals for the prepubescents and activity goals for the 7 year olds. The shape of any plan of information distribution, and the content of the plan, depend on developmental functionality of the target audience. The critical question: what kind of information is my audience capable of understanding, and how can I best communicate that? A Curriculum needs Age Specificity.