Have you ever wondered where the best soccer players are found? I’ve asked this question to lots of my friends and the answers are usually fairly typical: Spain, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Belgium. All my mates segregated their responses into Countries. Fair enough.
But can we dig in a little deeper? Look at the world more holistically and ask yourself the same question: Where do the best players in the world come from?
I have a lot conversations about footy with Willie Cromack and we’ve discussed this question at large. Willie once stated to me that, “the best players in the world are often not from places “up the hill,” but rather from places “down the hill.”
So let’s first have a discussion about what “up the hill” means.
- Kids that have an Xbox typically live “up the hill”
- Kids that have a Whistler pass typically live “up the hill”
- Kids that complain about not having the newest colour soccer boots typically live “up the hill”
- Kids that complain about playing in the rain typically live “up the hill”
- Kids that cry during practice or games typically live “up the hill”
- Kids that have helicopter parents typically live “up the hill”
- Kids that can do no wrong typically live “up the hill”
- Kids that are not allowed to take the bus or walk to school without parental guidance typically live “up the hill”
- Kids that have too much too soon typically live “up the hill”……
So what does “down the hill” mean?
- Kids that don’t even have cable typically live “down the hill”
- Kids that are happy just to have a pair of soccer boots typically live “down the hill”
- Kids that are just happy to be given the chance to play soccer typically live “down the hill”
- Kids that get up and don’t cry when they’re fouled typically live “down the hill”
- Kids that play soccer outside unsupervised because their parents are working typically live “down the hill”
- Kids that learn what it’s like to fight and struggle typically live “down the hill”
- Kids that have little opportunity in our expensive Canadian Soccer environment typically live “down the hill”
I believe the best players in our city come from lower income districts within our city. These kids are often from hard working families, who have immigrated to Canada in search of opportunity. So where’s the opportunity for these kids in our Canadian Soccer System?
Our current system does little for kids that come from lower income families because sport is so expensive. In fact, we’re at a point where you need excess money to even participate. This seems so crazy, because the best players in the world learn how to play on the streets. Their streetballers. Streetballers who have that pure unadulterated love and passion for playing with the ball. Think Neymar, think Luis Suarez, think Alexis Sanchez…These kids all grew up playing on the streets and came from “down the hill” environments.
How do we begin to engage kids from this demographic in our city?
Tony Waiters believes that we need to create an after school program to engage kids, from lower income families, and provide them with the opportunity to play soccer in our communities.
See Video Below from our Tony Waiter Coaches’ Boot Room:
Tony Waiters is a very smart man.
Currently there are a plethora of kids, arguable the most talented, who are not being given a chance to participate in our soccer system. How are we letting this happen? These are the very kids out on the streets playing soccer freely – learning how to play the game in an unstructured environment from a young age – they are the ones we need to engage with.
It’s actually a funny little dichotomy we have going on in Canada. The kid’s that do practice on their own aren’t getting the opportunities to play in the structured environments, and the kids that play in the structured environments, don’t seem to practice on their own.
So how can we bridge this gap? Is it possible to create a blend of the two? Possibly create a “middle of the hill” type player?
Play Better is a solution to bridging this inherent gap.
Here at Play Better we’ve started focusing on rewarding kids for practicing on their own or completing challenges provided by our Team Play Better members. See this link for a quick example of what I’m talking about. Whether that’s breaking your juggling record or practicing certain tricks with the ball, this is a realistic and simple way to develop more technical players. Kids need to practice on their own.
When a child is confronted with a skills challenge, from a professional athlete that they look up to, and the results of completing that challenge are charitable rewards towards a cause they care about, then it really doesn’t matter what demographic you come from [See this link for an example of Team Play Better members rewarding kids for practicing on their own]. As a result, residing “Up the hill” or “Down the hill” is irrelevant.
Every child cares about something in the world, something in the world that will motivate and challenge them. An external motivator adds a layer of adversity that children need to overcome. Providing a challenge and a reward for overcoming that challenge will be the difference, this methodology will get kids out there learning on their own.
We’ve already seen so much success using this model and we will continue in this direction.
I’d love to hear your thoughts?
Editor’s note: If you want to see some examples of groups that know how to technical train and can educate you on what you might challenge your players to get involved in, check out our friends at Year Zero Soccer for some ideas. Specifically Jon Townsend’s 10,000 touches a day challenge, and also the BeastMode crew, who live and breath this specific aspect of football training with great success.
We think if you combine Play Better with these programs, you will be helping build some awesome players and even better people.
Go. Play Better