Weekly Coaches' Email 11/4/14
For those of you that follow international soccer you are probably aware that the national soccer team of Iceland recently shocked the world by defeating the Dutch national team in a qualification match for the European championship held in 2016. I'm sure you all know that the Netherlands finished 3rd at the last World Cup held in Brazil.
The national team of Iceland currently stands on top of their group after 3 games, with 9 points, scoring 8 goals and not conceding any goals so far. Even Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie couldn't break the defense from the Icelandic soccer team.
I of course watched this game supporting my home country and I was definitely frustrated with the result. How on earth can the Dutch national team lose against the team from the tiny island of Iceland? Iceland only has 325.000 citizens and about 20.000 of them play the game of soccer. There are more than 50 cities in the US alone that have more inhabitants than Iceland has.
Yet, they have been done really well in international soccer the last few years. If they had managed to beat Croatia in the play offs of World Cup qualification they would have been at the World Cup for the first time in their history.
I recently stumbled upon some information that might explain how it is possible that a small country like Iceland is able to produce so many talented professional players. Iceland also has about 90 professional players playing abroad in different professional leagues in Europe. It can't be a coincidence that they are doing so well? Below a list of reasons given by the former technical director of Icelandic soccer federation.
1 - Young players are given the opportunity to play professional soccer.
Some players on Iceland make their debut in the Icelandic professional leagues at age 15. They do not shy away from putting a young player on the field when he, or she, is good enough to play at the senior level.
2 - Coach Education
If you want to coach a soccer team on Iceland you have to be licensed, even at the grassroots level. 70% of coaches coaching in Iceland have at least their UEFA B license. Many of the coaches are also educators and hold a bachelor degree in physical education or a bachelor degree in sports science.
3 - Work with the players in your youth system that you have got.
Some towns in Iceland are so remote that they are unable to recruit players from other towns. To be successful and to be competitive they have to work with the players they have in their own town! Many of Iceland's best players are developed in small town clubs from the countryside.
You might wonder why I share this kind of information with the coaches in Westfield. At first I was just interested in how Iceland had become so successful, but I realized that some of the information found is very valuable to share with all of you. Especially the 3rd point really stood out to me. As we go through a season coaches start asking how they can hide the weaker players on their team during a game and when tryouts come around many coaches can't wait to replace the bottom 2 or 3 players on a team with better players.
The overall focus is too often on the recruitment of talented players, not on the development of the players that are already on the team. It has been said on many occasions that players develop at different rates. There is a chance that the better players at U10 and U11 right now will not be the best players at U15 or U16.
Since the little league world series have started years ago, 27 players out of all the players competing in the world series have made in to MLB. The little league world series started shortly after World War 2 ended......
With a focus on the outcome and not on the process many coaches feel pressured to win games and select the physically more gifted players at the younger ages. A 6 months age difference at U9 and U10 is a huge difference. Sadly enough some of the younger and/or smaller players are not given the opportunity to develop in our current system. We instantly demand success and alienate many players before they turn 13.
Players develop at different rates and we as coaches should do our best to include all players in the process. Please think of this when little Johnny or little Suzie is struggling out on the field, playing against players a lot faster and stronger than them. Let's not only select players on current results, but see if we can look at the long term as well. Players need a lot more characteristics to be successful in the long run than just strength, size and speed. We wouldn't want to miss out on the opportunity of developing our own Xavi, Iniesta or Messi in Westfield.
This email might have been a bit differen than some of my previous emails, but I hope you find it just as resourceful as some of my previous emails. Don't hesitate to reach out to me if you have any questions.