US Soccer: Offline failures, Online solutions (part 1)

social network graphWhile we don’t considered iSoccer to be a typical online social network, it does share many of the social media components that typically characterize one.  So when I read the article “Understanding Users of Social Networks” in Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge online publication, this quote really resonated:

“Online social networks are most useful when they address real failures in the operation of offline networks.”

I immediately thought about the US Soccer Development Academy presentation where they outline a number of “real failures” in the “offline network” of player development in the US.  The following are some of the things they identify as challenges that have historically prohibited the US from competing at the top level of international soccer. I realized after writing this that it was far too long so I’ve broken it into four separate entries, one for each of the challenges listed below.
(see page 3 of US Soccer Development Academy presentation, download PDF)

1) Geography
2) Climate
3) Lack of professional infrastructure
4) Focus on winning at an early age

Part 1: Geography

The US is a really big place.  Getting the best players in one location to encourage competition and provide good coaching takes a significant amount of time and money.  US Soccer is making positive strides in the identification and development of top talent at older age groups.  However, at the younger age groups, 5-12 years of age, where the foundation of technical development is formed, there are roughly five million kids playing soccer in the US.  This is far too many to ensure that each player receives good coaching and skill appropriate competition.

Physically getting people in the same place for training and games is a huge challenge.  At that age, it hardly seems prudent to most parents (not all parents) to trek their families huge distances to get little Suzie more competitive training and games that match her advanced skill level.  As a result, Suzie plays with a team in a league that doesn’t challenge her to improve, as do thousands of other players around the country.  By the time they are old enough to play on more selective teams with better players and better coaching they have already missed out on some great opportunities to improve their technical base.

The ability to distribute quality coaching and allow players to watch other players at their level or slightly above their level (Albert Bandura, Observational Learning), online rather than in person, goes a long way to eliminating these geographic barriers.  Assessing the strengths and weaknesses of a player, customizing a training program that fits their individual needs, and providing visual and audio instruction is all possible by leveraging online networks such as we have done with iSoccer.  Connecting players with one another, exposing their relative performance, and showing visual confirmation of their technical improvement all help to motivate players by making technical training fun and competitive.

>> Part 2, Climate