From the Karate Kid to iSoccer: The Skill Mastery Journey

By Scott Leber:

The notion that someone is just naturally born with a talent is largely a myth. Star athletes, musicians and artists have spent countless hours in training before we see them performing on the ‘big stage.’ You don’t just pick up a violin and start tackling Vivaldi either – you start with basic scales and work your way up. From music, to karate, to soccer, you must continually work on mastering the basics as you learn to play at a higher and higher level.

However, a common problem for youth is that spending time on the basics can often be tedious and boring. But by adding the ability to witness incremental improvement, basic skill training can be rewarding, which leads to the ultimately satisfying realization of, “Hey, I’m actually getting pretty good at this!

“Football is simple. But the hardest thing is to play football in a simple way.”
– Johan Cruyff

The first part of that quote sums up why you must master the basics. When you boil it down, soccer is a simple game. Before any of the complexities of the modern game, it’s just you and the ball, and what you can do with it, which we refer to as technique. Whether it was in the street, at the park, or in practice, all the best players spent thousands of hours growing up working on basic technical skills before they were able to do what we see on television. For example, when Dennis Bergkamp was a youth player at Ajax, “they had little three foot high walls [and] would knock the ball against them for hours.” Later, he was able to do this:



Once the most basic elements of soccer become second nature, a player can start expanding their focus to include strategy, tactics, and creativity. But if you are still worried about making a simple trap, the advanced aspects of soccer will be hard to perform consistently.

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How many soccer coaches hear from players that the ‘technical’ part of practice is no fun? “Can’t we just scrimmage!?” It’s true, focusing on the basics is not necessarily as fun as just playing. Deliberate practice is repetitive, requires focus, and sometimes seems more like work than play. So how do you convince kids that to play soccer well, you must spend time on the basics? Well, you can take the Mr. Miyagi approach and trick them into working on the fundamentals:



Sure, toe taps, juggling, and dribbling in Figure 8’s aren’t the same as cleaning floors, but the point is the same. Mr. Miyagi turned to creative means to force Daniel to realize that the basics are important, and once he saw that he was, in fact, learning karate, things clicked for Daniel. However up until that point, Daniel was frustrated because Mr. Miyagi’s method was missing the ability to see improvement during the training, instead of after, regardless of the nature of the training. That’s where iSoccer comes in.

The ability to witness yourself making incremental improvement is the key to making basic skill training rewarding from day one. If you are going to spend hours on something, don’t you want to know that you are actually getting somewhere? To do that, you need to be able to easily measure those basic skills, hence the iSoccer Assessment. So even if a player is just starting out, or has been playing for years, they can see themselves getting better, slowly but surely, through their iSoccer scores.

The basic psychological component of iSoccer is that people, and kids especially, want to know that they are moving in a positive direction towards the final goal of actually being good at something! Without that ability, many young players learning the game become frustrated because they don’t know if they are getting better, and end up leaving soccer to pursue other interests. However, once a young player gets a little momentum going, they get excited about improving, and their potential is endless.

The Karate Kid didn’t realize that he was actually getting better at karate until after the fact. iSoccer is here to help players realize that they are improving during their training, which helps motivate them to spend more time with the ball. After all, they say it’s not the destination, but the journey!

Reach out to Scott Leber at s.leber@isoccer.org