Every youth soccer club, the countless “academy” programs and the professional coaches on the national and international stages throw words around like development and growth when it comes to players. The idea of developing players is associated with the youth game and with the professional game. It is not out of the ordinary that adult amateur players are left out of this discussion.
The truth is that in what from here forward will be referred to as the amateur game, development is just as important and in many cases a conscious effort by coaches, managers and clubs that pride themselves in being the equivalent of the private sector of soccer in this country.
They are not developing players for college or for the miniscule possibility of a professional career like the youth programs. They are not developing players for the World Cup, but they are developing them for something that is very important to the amateur game, the continued success of the team unit.
It is essential to note that the amateur game we are dealing with, is not the local recreational teams, or the bar crowd pick up leagues. This amateur game is weekly the competitive leagues and the win today to play tomorrow National Cup entries. This game is organized and it aims at a high level of play, club and league loyalty and a continuity of players. These ideas are the core of that development of players.
LEVEL OF PLAY
In sport, the level of the gameplay is always important. Developing players that can excel in the amateur game is the first and foremost way in which they are developed. Most players at the amateur level are college graduates. They came through a youth system somewhere, playing school and club ball and they played at their higher education institution as well. When that time for soccer ends, so many still love the game enough that they want to play. They want to play at a high level. If they are serious about soccer, they can grow and hone their skill into being a top-level amateur player. More and more these days the amateur game also finds players that for one reason or another could not play in college and they seek the thrill of the sport at the amateur clubs. Playing and training every week, the coaches and managers develop players that can and will play the rest of their lives in organized soccer.
LOYALTY & CONTINUITY
There is talk amongst the amateur soccer clubs about the idea of “buying in,” to the club ideals and way of life. You can read a negative connotation into that term. The “buying in,” however, is not used as a form of trickery as when an innocent falls for a prank phone call. This “buying in,” is not rooted in gullibility. It is about developing a respect for the intersection of sport and social nature of the team. Committing to the level of play means these players are treated as equals within the club. Shortly thereafter, so long as they stay, they become part of the club community on and off the field. They go from saying “This is the club I play for,” to saying, “This is my club.” More importantly many of them grow into leaders for the next group of players coming through the same system that they did. Club managers see it all the time. A player might have been a youthful, cocky forward who saw his mission as scoring goals in his rookie year with the club. Five years later he’s still there, but now he’s the veteran harping on his teammates to commit to practice or to play to win every time.
That change flows from the development that the coaches, managers and clubs of the amateur game provide.