American Soccer vs. European: Player Development

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Soccer, or football as the rest of the world calls it, is the most popular sport worldwide and America is catching up with its competitors. The 1970’s were the expansion of football’s influence when Pelé joined the New York Cosmos, but it was in the 1990’s that proved its conquest when the USA hosted the World Cup.  As a result, both mens’ and womens’ teams spent years confirming their skills in the World Cup and international tournaments.

Futbol. Dribbling


With the most youth players in the world, it is surprising that the American system isn’t placing more of its talent in international clubs. America’s competitive limit has to do with the lack of experience and expertise that their system is producing.


“At every level, coaching is judged on the end result.”


Most American players begin their training with AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organisation). With an emphasis on balanced teams, positive coaching and good sportsmanship – the clear objectives are producing different realities. At every level, coaching is judged on the end result (success vs. loss) and comes as no surprise that this technique produces different types of talent. As a result, this mentality prioritises better players and focuses on match preparation, rather than training individual skills. Football then loses its carefree charm and is instead rooted in competition and ranks. In America, the most skilled go on to play for universities because personal development outweighs sole athletic training.


“Scouts are not watching kids, but players.”


On the other hand, the European mentality is to produce as many first team players as possible. It may sound calculated to look at it as an industry, but it is the most efficient way to shape future stars. Scouts are not watching kids, but players. They are not evaluating students, but talent. The new family structure is no longer parents, but the academy in which they enter at ages 6 /7 to develop and grow as athletes. The mentality is not “if you go pro”, but “when you go pro”. Academies focus on the science of sport, perfecting player development in their early years. Matches are not played in such a competitive spirit and there are less of them. All players receive an equal chance, but competition between them is bigger. At the end of the year, they clear their ranks and say goodbye to children that don’t show enough potential.

While American produces teams that win, Europe produces individual players with supreme technical skills. Europeans drive the potential of individual players, while Americans pride themselves on their democratic player development. Singling out individuals by combining talent and technique proves more beneficial than winning games at youth levels.  To paraphrase David Endt, a former Ajax player: two diamonds are worth more than a two handfuls of crystals. Americans practice in competitions, while Europeans compete in practice.


“While American produces teams that win, Europe produces individual players with supreme technical skills.”


The two varying structures result in two different individual player styles. If American soccer talent can be the “brute force” of a Ford Mustang, the elegant manoeuvres of European talent are parallel to that of a Ferrari. The Dutch are analytical strategists, the Italians are master defenders and the English pride themselves on their boot-and-chase technique. Both systems produce talent, but the world isn’t looking for the European Star, only the next International Talent.


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