Serving the scholastic field hockey and lacrosse community since 1998

Dec. 17, 2006 — A lesson in player development

Earlier today, Sporting Club Internacional of Porto Alegre, Brazil defeated the Football Club of Barcelona, Spain 1-0 in a game played in Japan. The game was the final of the FIFA World Club Championship.

This tournament used to be known as the Toyota Cup, in which the South American Cup champions would play the UEFA Champions’ Cup winners in what came to be somewhat of an unofficial world title match amongst club soccer teams.

If you look at the champions of the Toyota Cup held between 1960 and 2005, all of the great world teams are represented such as Boca Juniors and Real Madrid.

But in the multi-continental format of the World Club Championship, first held in 2000 and permanently after 2005, there is only one nation represented on the top step of the medal stand: Brazil. Corinthians won in 2000, Sao Paolo FC won in 2005, and SC Internacional took the 2006 title.

What’s the lesson here? Understand that Internacional has a much smaller payroll than FC Barcelona; Barca is able to lure transfer players such as Ronaldinho, Deko, Lionel Messi, and Rafael Marquez from all around the globe.

But Internacional has a roster full of Brazilians from the city streets and rural pastures who have developed their skills without coaches and with a lot of improvisational ability.

It’s something that you don’t see in the American culture, despite the “Go Tell The World” soccer commercial of a few years ago. Most American kids who play soccer have overstructured practices and games rather than going out to a field and playing with a few neighbors. It’s why the United States has not turned out players with world-class ball skills outside of our women. And even then, today’s generation have much less technical skills than the likes of Hamm, Akers, Overbeck, Fawcett, Higgins, and Heinrichs.

It’s the same thing in baseball, where a labyrinth of leagues from tee-ball to summer college wooden-bat leagues exist in the place of going out to a lot and playing a game of “one old cat” or “two old cat.” And, if you think about it, despite all of those leagues, professional scouts go to the Dominican Republic or other Caribbean islands to find shortstops or other infielders instead of our domestic system. And it’s no wonder: the United States didn’t make the 2004 Olympic baseball tournament and didn’t make it out of pool play of last year’s World Baseball Classic.

Overcoaching has even made its way to basketball, where all of these shoe-sponsored camps and year-round AAU commitments have developed superstar players. But if you look at recent NBA drafts, teams are taking foreign players who can shoot the basketball. That’s reflected in the United States’ lackluster international basketball performances in the 2006 men’s and women’s world championships.

I can but hope that overcoaching isn’t making its way into the game of field hockey. When you think about it, the reason that our women’s national team has been improving is not the web of playing opportunities over the summer. Look at our elite pool and you see several players who had two or more older sisters playing the game such as Katie O’Donnell, Katelyn Falgowski, and Rachel Dawson.

In other words, with older sisters in the household, there were some unstructured playing opportunities away from technicians, nutritionists, and kinesiologists.

It’s something that our sports’ national governing bodies would do well to bear in mind.

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