How Do We Create Real Players?

by Graham Ramsay

How do we create real players?  That is the question.  We have been a soccer country with professional soccer since 1967 and many would argue that we have yet to produce any world class players.  And yet we have spent millions of dollars with more sponsors and more DVD’s on teaching us the arts of the game than we know what to do with.  The United States should be soccer utopia by now.

Obviously, the present dysfunctional system does not work and at the present speed, soccer will be replaced by the next fad sport.  If this was a business, we would be bankrupt and a memory.

POSSIBLE ANSWER – We need youngsters to step up to learn how to organize their own games and this means adults, for the most part, need to retreat or disappear from the pitches. This includes learning to set up the games and creating their own teams and leagues. When they take ownership of their team and league, maybe one or two adults might supervise – but only in a supportive role. I am certain our youngsters are smart enough to learn the ropes of organizing their own teams and leagues.  Years ago, such was the way in many schools.

Boys play a Sunday “pelada” soccer match on a street closed to traffic

This can be done within a school, boys and girls club or any youth group with a minimum of supervision.

The lessons are many and valuable – learning to assemble a team, creating a league, learning to debate, give and take.  You need very little money but a lot of creativity. You might not have a “home” so you improvise one – paint cans or jersey tops for goals. Your “home” might be a local street or cul-de-sac where traffic is minimal.  Or perhaps a local parking lot or piece of wasteland.  A real pitch was the equivalent of Wembley Stadium or Maracana Stadium.  Uniforms are expensive but youngsters are brilliant at improvising like opposites – dark vs. light, socks up vs. socks down, shirts out vs. shorts in.

Then there is the ball.

If you are lucky enough to own one – great. But that’s where the brilliant imagination that only children possess comes in – like children of the barrios (the slums of Montevideo). It’s here where they not only built their own balls using straw and cane, but created a new type of ball – the futsal ball. This development lead to the invention of a new game played all over the world.

We need to encourage youngsters to take ownership of “their” game with the assistance of one or two adults at most. Like the children mentioned above, they become the real future of the sport. Do this and I will guarantee you a life long passion to a great sport.

WARNING – Too structured, too organized, too much adult interference and another generation of robots will result. You can tell when more adults dominate the game by all the screaming from parents and coaches – the fastest route to producing another generation of drop-outs.

THE HOPE – Youngsters that become ‘leaders’ both skillful and creative. They can coach themselves. The coaching is being done by the players. This way we will produce ‘savvy’ players and a bright future for the sport.

About Erik Imler

A Retired Professional Player, NCAA Champion (1989,1991,1992), and 1992 U.S. Olympic Team (Barcelona, Spain)who is dis-satisfied with the status quo of youth soccer development in the United States and motivated to create a youth program that addresses the most prominent technical deficiencies in many youth players - passing & receiving.

  • Erik – Great article. I have been following your posts for some time and always find them interesting. I stumbled upon the “free play” concept a few years ago through “Joy of the People” which is based in Minnesota and was started by Ted Kooten. I did a free play futsal program for our U-9 team last year. 2 hours of no instruction, free play. For the boys that consistently attended, we saw a major improvement in their technical ability – especially passing. It is so hard to convey the benefit of this approach to parents – most think you need to be spending money on trainers to see your kids improve. This is simply not the case.

    Keep up the great work.


  • Right on Erik. Well done. Thank you for being such a great evangelist for our sport.


  • thank you for this great article ! we need coaches like you! we are creating robots in this country ,no flavor ,no creativity!!!! very uglly soccer.,coaches focusing on fitness,speed,strenght at early ages.and kids cant even juggle or take a player one on one or ever have a right kick . and we clap when big jonny kick the ball from the back to the other side and score an ugly goal!

  • I agree with the article. However, I come up against 2 big resistance: parents and the city.

    My experiences organizing pick up games the past 2 years with my son were never easy. The kids want to play. So when I asked if anyone will be available on such a date, more than likely, the response is no. The parents were not willing to let their kids go out to play without their presence but the parents cannot be available because of various reasons. Another likely challenge was that the kids had at least 2 other activities, a higher priority since it was paid for.

    And if I got enough kids, finding a place to play was the next obstacle. Parks would be closed during winter due to weather and closed during the summer due to maintenance. We have some turf fields in the area but other sports take priority since that was their season. We can’t use empty spaces because of liability. Finding streets or cul-de-sac as the article noted was a big danger sign to other parents.

    Although, I could reach a lot of parents/kids in my area, the best I could invite were less than a handful. What the kids need most is play time and even that is difficult to get.


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