When this question is asked I am sure there are hundred different answers to say the least. Good ball control, sound fundamentals, ability to pass well, being able to take players 1v1, athleticism, game read and game vision, team player, coachable and on and on an on. While all these things are true and many more how does a player, regardless if they are field players or goalkeepers get there?
Most teams train two times per week and maybe some players do outside training with a trainer once per week. That is roughly 4-5 hours per week on average. The rule of thumb is that to get at expert level at anything one must train about 10,000 hours. Well, do the math; 10,000 hours divided by average of 5 hours per week, it would take 2000 weeks or 38.46 years for a player to get to be an expert at soccer. Probably old age would catch up to him before he is an expert. How about if we were to double those numbers and have a player train 10 hours per week? Now it would take him 19.23 years. So if he started training around 4 years old he may be an expert by the time he is 24-25 years old. You get the idea? If we add a few hours here and there maybe he can get to that level by the time he is 18 or 19. Sounds much better and he now is able to play at the high level world leagues.
This may sound like an exaggeration but this is one of the reasons some pro players are special and that GREAT. A Messi, a Ronaldo. Those players not only play with the ball since they can walk, but they touch the ball every chance they get, anywhere, regardless if there is a coaching session going on or on their own. Fact is both players even at the height of their careers, are the first ones on the field to train and the last ones to leave. They pay trainers to train on their own and constantly polish those fundamental skills and anything else they feel they need to work on. This is why when you watch them play they seem to do things effortless, with such ease as they have been doing it all their lives. Well they have been doing it all their lives. It is called PASSION and LOVE for the sport of soccer. They would rather play with a soccer a ball than do anything else.
The reason why I started to write this article is not to highlight Messi or Ronaldo but to show what it takes to get there. In the American youth soccer culture we think by training a few hours we will be become great. We seem to bounce from one sport to the other and do multiple training sessions with different sports each day. Furthermore when youth soccer players do train most of them just go through the motions and try to do what the trainers have asked them to without any passion in their training, without making training realistic and game like. You can see that they are just going through the motions so they can get to the scrimmage. Although I strongly believe the game is the best teacher and American youth soccer players do not play enough games, they still need to train on their fundamentals and when they do they need to pay attention to the fine points the trainer points out. When I conduct soccer training in Central New Jersey, or goalkeeper training in Central New Jersey I find myself looking at players and as good they may think they are I can see they are just going through the motions. When I coach at my University team, 18 to 22 year old soccer players I still see the same thing in a lot of these players.
So I always wonder how many if any of these players will ever experience the ULTIMATE pleasure of playing at the highest level? The percentages are so low. I speak with some of the pro players that are currently playing with local pro teams in New Jersey, specifically the women's pro league where salaries are so low and most players have to have other jobs while still training, traveling and playing with their pro team. Almost every player will tell you of all the hours they had to put in and the dedication and the things they missed in order to get better and be able to get to the pro point. If you speak with most pro players of any sport they all share the common theme of hard work, passion and love for their sport to get to that point.
So how do we expect youth soccer players to excel with just a few hours of NON CONCENTRATED, lukewarm, passionless training? It may sound like you have to go through torture, but to someone who loves the sport that much, it is FUN.
As parents we have come to be brain washed that if we pay to play our kids will become that much better. Yes, some players do become better players under the right trainer and the right training system. But there are also a lot of players that do not belong in that system. They are there for the allure of that paid outfit or the wins they bring. Some players after their parents have spent 1000s of dollars in a paid enviroment quit and do not want to play any longer. Is that fair? If a player has the passion and desire he will find a way to get there without the parents breaking the bank. But, then the other thought is that the more something costs the better it must be. Soccer training in New Jersey should not be all about the money but unfortunately it is and the parents have allowed it to be.
Please do not misunderstand, there are players who just go out to have fun and have no expectation of anything other than just kicking the ball around, and that is fine. But for the ones that claim that they want to get to the next level it will take a lot more time and passion. A lot of players even when they get to the next level are still not that good, technically, tactically, physically or mentally. Yes you can get to the next level and still not possess all those things. You can fake it in the US but not in Europe or South America. They are that good. The American players that do make it there are also JUST THAT GOOD. So why can not produce more of those players? Is it American culture? Is it the way we do things and think we are so good at what we do but in reality we are not? Is it the fact that we do not seem to want to copy systems from countries that are SOCCER EXPERTS?
Maybe if clubs had a financial incentive to gain from proper development rather than just wins and losses. Maybe if we had more trainers that coach with passion and not just for the money. Or if the were compensated if they developed players properly.
At the end of the day it starts with the players and ends with the players. There is no substitute for PASSION.