600 Juggles – iSoccer says this is NOT Good Enough

[Inspiration for Article: iSoccer Founder, Scott Leber, was presenting to youth coaches at Notre Dame Coaching Course last weekend, when a 15 year old player who could juggle 600 times only scored a 10 on the iSoccer Non-Preferred Foot assessment. His comment was, “I guess I am not as good as I thought I was.” It was an Ah-Hah moment for him and for all the coaches watching!]

by Scott Leber

“I can juggle 50 … I can juggle 100 … I can juggle 200 … I can juggle 600!” It is being said across the country and most everyone is praising those high numbers! But in reality, the higher the number, the more we are misleading ourselves about the development of real soccer players. Because juggling for hours on end does not require key game-related elements – Limited Time, Limited Space, Increasing Pressure – coaches, players and parents are tricking themselves into thinking we are developing highly technical players, but our players’ technical skill often breaks down when presented with in-game situations.

This story of “600 Juggles” is representative of our current short comings of developing youth players that can not execute skills properly in a game situation.

1) We are giving our players FALSE CONFIDENCE
2) Players are not able to SOLVE PROBLEMS in a game

What is the Problem?
Without being confronted with time or spacial pressure, players develop an unrealistic assessment of their technical ability.

Let’s take the scissors move for example. All your players are in a box dribbling around doing their little touches and you yell out “Scissor Left.” Players immediately scissor the ball with their left foot, shift their body weight left, touch the ball with the outside of their right and accelerate into the open space. All looks good, but here is the problem: There are no consequences for a lazy scissor or a poor touch with the outside of the foot. The player is not being DELIBERATE, but more just doing. When there are no repercussions for a misplaced touch, players are unaware of their weaknesses. And this is where players begin to develop false confidence.

Solution – Deliberate Practice
Demand that players are DELIBERATE. If the touch after the scissor has to be a five yard burst into space, demand it. If you want a quick outside right touch and then an inside right foot touch past the defender, demand it. How iSoccer does this: Each test isolates a specific skill and assigns a score to the execution of the skill. There is no room for interpretation – the player sees and knows exactly where they stand and where their weaknesses are.

What is the Problem?
In a game, we are not dribbling in a box. We are not performing skills on command. We are not allowed to have lazy touches. We are not allowed to go through the motions. But we still wonder why the ball is turned over quite often in youth games. It is because we are not forcing players to perform the technical skills in game-like conditions. When there is no pressure, no time constraint, no space constraint – We have not giving our players the proper tools to solve the problems that the game demands.

Solution – Deep Practice
First, isolate the skill you want to work on. Second, limit the space and time to execute the skill. Third, require maximum speed and concentration. Finally, increase the pressure. These items are what iSoccer calls SPECIFIC DEMANDS. In all of the technical skills iSoccer test, you are working in a confined space with clear consequences for poor touches. Players are given a limited amount of time. We are requiring players to perform the skills at their absolute maximum speed for 20 seconds. Finally, we are applying the best pressure we can to an individual player – the pressure to be better than yourself.

Players will feel improvement. Players will see improvement. Players will like improvement. Each skill iSoccer assesses, players will be motivated by their current level to push even harder to get to that next level. And that is training smarter!

To close, I want to challenge all of us as coaches to question our current definition of player development and look with a critical lens as to what we are doing right and more importantly, what we have to do better.

Maybe you are doing an excellent job or maybe there is room for improvement. Regardless, if our collective goal is for the women to regain their world dominance and for the men to continue climbing the world rankings, it is all of our responsibilities to do our part.

At iSoccer, we are trying to push the envelope of player development and are always looking to make our program better for the players and coaches across this country. If you agree, disagree or have any other thoughts, please email us directly at RaiseTheLevel@iSoccer.org

And, to close with our company motto: Together, We Can Raise the Level!