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Sunday, 1 January 2017

The CEO of Youth Development: The Secret Is There Is No Secret

Coaching, environment, opportunity.

It's actually that simple. Now by no means is the process of achieving world titles and creating high performers simple, as it takes years and years of getting everything right, and even then, someone can still be better than you. Everything it takes can be easily placed into CEO.

This dawned on me last week while vacationing in the south of Spain. We took a day trip to Morocco and went to Gibraltar too for good measure, and it was on these journeys, while burning my arms and watching my girlfriend be head raped by monkeys, that it suddenly all made sense. This won't for a second help anyone improve their footballing or coaching ability. I am merely seeking to be able to explain the process in simple, yet all-encompassing terms. At the time I was reading The Talent Code, and listening to another book called Legacy, about the New Zealand All Blacks. My mind began racing, and I had to share these thoughts.

These three components are intertwined, have a lot of overlap, and are necessary almost in sequence. Without one, it all falls down. Without the one before, the next one cannot happen. I've already explained how the coaching is largely irrelevant. You just need a decent coach, whereas a terrible coach can completely destroy everything. One that is good enough to teach and to inspire. There are plenty like that without being amazing coaches. For the environment, we need one that is conducive to learning, to playing, and to competition. I talk frequently about sewing seeds. We put the seeds in the ground, but if it is bad soil, they won't grow. If there is no rain, they won't grow. If there is no sun, they won't grow. The seed could be a top notch seed, the Beez Neez of seeds, but without those necessary ingredients, it will not blossom. The gardener would represent the coach, who if they forgot to water the seed and give it attention, could destroy its potential. Likewise, if they do give it water and attention, it probably won't matter anyway as the environment is awful. Then there's the opportunity. I'm not a botanist, so I'm not going to pretend to know what opportunities plants desire and what they aspire to be, but let's say that if a plant doesn't see other plants achieving success and becoming the best plant it can be, it may lose that ambition, that confidence, and decide to do something academic instead.

Then we come to the opportunity. Let's make a male-female comparison. I love those. Girls get worse coaches than men (less money, worse quality, and a pinch of downright sexism). Girls play in a world that tells them they shouldn't be playing. Girls have less teams, and only a small handful of players can make a living out of playing the game. Their coaching is worse, their environment is discouraging, and their opportunities are severely limited. And yet people are still mocking talented female players for not being good enough. It's a miracle they're still going considering all the challenges they've had to overcome.

Now I shall seek to draw on my vast experiences of coaching all over this planet in order to explain the CEO of Youth Development.

Coaching

The quality of a coach can make or break a player from a very young age. At this stage it could be a parent, or a teacher, an older sibling, or even a qualified coach. Football is a sport that requires the player to learn and master a high number of skills. By certain ages, as the body grows and changes, it becomes true that if you haven't done it by now, you never will do. It comes down to muscle memory, neural pathways, and how much myelin one can create to embed and make the skills permanent. A game like chess could be mastered much later in life, providing one already has some level of intelligence. A sport like cycling can be mastered later in life providing the rider already has a high level of stamina and endurance, thus possessing a big engine, as the physical techniques used in cycling are limited and repetitive. Football takes a lot of agility, balance, and coordination, together with strength, timing, awareness, and everything else required to make thousands of decisions, while eliciting thousands of different techniques, in an ever changing environment, that can be hard to predict. It requires a high degree of specialisation, compared to say, javelin, running, or handball. Not that these aren't difficult sports, but due to the lower technical demands, one could feasibly become good at these later in life. It's like in gymnastics. For girls, their window of opportunity is between thirteen and sixteen years old. In order to achieve their ten thousand hours, they would have had to have started very young.

And let's get rid of the "ten thousand hours is a myth" stuff. It never claimed to be scientific in the first place. My impression was that it was a rough ball park figure, that would change dependent upon the sport, the athlete, and several other circumstances. Truth is though, you need to be practising a hell of a lot in order to be brilliant at your game. A better coach or environment may get you there quicker than ten thousand, but does that mean you should stop there? Brazilian football kids achieve their ten thousand hours around thirteen, whereas in England it's not until eighteen. By this point, the English kids have already been playing academy football for a number of years. It's entirely possible, and probably true that most Brazilian thirteen year olds possess as good technical skill as English eighteen year olds. Practice, practice, practice. There has never been a champion that hasn't impressed me with their training schedule. It's never a little here and a little there, it's loads. More than you would think possible. More than you would think sane. They did it more. They worked harder. Sure, that's not the only thing that counts though.

If you're never shown how, how will you know? I find it sad when kids tell me I'm the best coach they've ever had. The flattery dissipates after a second when you realise how disappointing that is. I have many colleagues, past and present, that are far better than me. Many of these times were even when I had done a basic job. Camp for a week, playing simple FA Level 1 games. Is it really that bad? Well, for some of them, it is. When I lived in Canada, it's got to be said, some of the coaching was horrendous. Many of them didn't know coaching, and many of them didn't know football. Even if you could adequately communicate with teenagers, what's the point if you don't even know what you're doing? These kids were going nowhere, and yet very few people could see it. They're being taught the wrong things, they're being taught nothing, they're being taught bad habits. Many thought that asking a high school kid to do seven keep-ups was overly ambitious. When we tried teaching advanced stuff to the kids, all the adults shat bricks. I could have made myself a nice house up in the Rockies. Because these parents and coaches had never seen it before, they didn't know it was possible, and they didn't know that pretty much every other eight year old on the planet could do it. A moment of silence please, for what that does to a young player's ambitions.

The instructions these Canadians received were; hustle, kick it out, and boot it. That sounds more like the primitive commands one would associate with the old sport of Village Football. Even your better kids were still braindead when it came to football. The centre forward would receive the ball on the halfway line, back to goal, with no teammates in advance, and would turn and boot it forward. The parents thought it was great as the ball had gained territory, but that means absolutely nothing if there's no one there to either receive it or pressure it. How could anyone survive in this scenario? Any shred of footballing intelligence was being crushed, and all the skills and techniques that should have been learned by certain stages were not even known about. You don't need great coaches to affect young players positively, you just need to avoid idiots.

The notion is true though. How many young players had a Pep or a Mourinho when they were playing grassroots or at the academy? They would have first had a volunteer coach, maybe a parent, with a basic qualification, that loved the game, interacted well with kids, and knew a bit about football. That's enough. That builds a curiosity. That builds a bond with the ball. Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. Someone somewhere would have ignited that fire within them. They would have learnt basic skills, probably done laps, line drills, and listened to too many lectures, but that wouldn't have mattered, as the better coaching was still to come. What's really important at the early stages is not actually the training, but the playing. It's in the back gardens, in the parks, on the streets, and in the school playgrounds. Where kids learn for fun, experience trial and error thousands of times, make their own rules, playing for the sheer enjoyment of the game. Here, they are being challenged, and are receiving relevant, competitive practice, without even realising it. The guidance of a coach can help grow and improve. We all need feedback, to stop, to start, and to continue parts of our game. What we don't need is an inhibitor. A negative influence that prevents us from growing.

The Brazilian coaches interviewed in Gold Mines claim to be no better than the coaches from anywhere else. They make the point that the work is done on the streets. Brazilian boys are playing for countless hours every day, in small spaces, with hard balls, against other highly motivated, highly skilled players. Through trial and error, these boys had already learned and developed so much of their game, reaching their ten thousand hours in their early teens. Essentially the coaches just need to pick the best ones, keep them fit, and show them some tactics. I'm good enough to do that... you see? It echoes much of what I have heard on the FA's Youth Module courses. I don't think that these tutors are blowing their own trumpets here, as the ones I've talked to seem genuinely into their football and their coaching. They say that on trips to Spain, the Spanish coaches are telling them that England is producing some of the best coaches in the world. Our coaching education is lightyears in front of many of the top footballing nations. We go into so much depth nowadays about the theory and philosophies of coaching, that our football coaches know more about child development than our teachers. Where it goes wrong is in the environment and the opportunity. (Just to point out here, I mean best coaches in terms of ability to teach, coach, instruct, and develop. What I don't mean is the most knowledgeable. We're still relatively tactically inept.)

That's not for a second to suggest that shouting and screaming touchline prowlers aren't harming the English grassroots game. They are. It's 2016 and they should be ashamed of themselves. These are the people that extinguish the flame of interest, excitement, and personal development within the children. These people are the last stubborn skidmark of an outdated era that needs to be long forgotten.

"But there are coaches out there that have produced great players. Cristiano Ronaldo had a coach. Pele had a coach." Yes, you're right. So why do you think these coaches aren't now world famous, winning trophies at top clubs in Europe? Because they were only decent coaches (good enough to teach basic skills and light fires) and just happened to be one fortunate cog in the wheel. Why do I say fortunate? Because you can't often determine who you will inherit in your team, how good the kids will be when they come to you, and what it is they do in their spare time. Messi will rightfully thank his coaches, and they no doubt played a part, but thousands of other coaches in the same situation would also have produced Messi. Those coaches in Canada, or some of the English grassroots coaches, definitely would not have produced Messi. Messi gets a tick for coaching, as his first coach wasn't horrendous enough to turn him off the sport.

We've all seen the coaches that shout, scream, criticise, humiliate, intimidate, bully etc. and wonder how they are allowed to be around kids. An effective coach needs to be able to support, encourage, and provide feedback. Feedback could very well be in the form of playing, of guided discovery. If kids are given plenty of games, they have more time to master their skills and make decisions, as opposed to line drills, which do nothing but waste time. We all know what a bad pass looks like. We can all recognise mistakes within our performance. It's usually fairly obvious when it goes wrong, because at the foundation stage, it's black and white. That pass went badly because you used the wrong part of your foot. You lost the ball while dribbling because you took too big a touch.

All that's needed is the encouragement to try again, with a few adjustments here and there. This creates the intrinsic love of the game, plus the potential for mastery, which is needed for long term motivation. As the young player begins to age, they do need to have better coaches. The game becomes far more tactical and in depth. Players train to play, they train to compete. They will be judged, selected, and have to face much stiffer competition. No longer are we looking solely at technical development, but now vision and understanding. A Level One coach with the best will in the world cannot do this. The level of football knowledge of the coach at this stage must be significantly higher. I've had many players come to me that are good technically, but tactically inept. Whichever coach they've had didn't understand the formations, the decisions, the structures, the patterns etc. or for whatever reason, they weren't able to teach them. It's frustrating to see wasted talent. As mentioned in the book Legacy, England are world class at wasting talent. This was said about rugby, but it's so true for football.

The Germans completely restructured their youth development system. This placed a highly qualified coach within easy reach of every kid in the country. Mario Gotze, scorer of the winning goal at the 2014 World Cup, would not have been identified or developed if Germany didn't make these changes. They were able to get good coaches out to all players, leaving no one behind.

In England we're starting to catch up. A large problem that we have is that coaching often isn't a profession. For many within football, it's part time. They have another job. That must take priority. Football becomes secondary. In the US, coaching is a profession, and even average coaches can make a good living. That's going to draw more applicants to roles, and keep coaches in the career paths for longer. It's changing now, as even academies lower down the pyramid are looking to employ a few coaches on a full time basis. These coaches will be able to stop looking for other ventures to supplement their wages. We keep the talent in coaching. It can become a career. It can involve less risk. It can involve more reward.

To summarise; just don't have a bad coach when you're very young, and IF the child is developing well and hitting certain targets by certain ages, then they should also be receiving better coaching as they play for better teams in better leagues. The IF sometimes isn't due to the work rate of the child, or the input of the coach. As we'll now find out.


Environment

Do you operate within a supportive environment, or are you told that you will become a lesbian if you keep playing sport? Environments can either encourage or destroy. They can fuel the quest for excellence, or reinforce the comfort zone of mediocrity. You'll be surprised how even at high levels the leadership or the environment can be completely toxic. Players want to feel valued, they want opportunity to play and to grow. Mourinho, Ferguson, Guardiola etc. all masters at making their players feel incredible. That's a very important skill.

The environment is often caused by a particular mission statement. For the All Blacks, it's to leave the jersey in a better place than when you got it. The team comes first. The shirt is not yours, you are only wearing it for now. I've always liked the way some countries like Brazil and Mexico refer to their first teams, or national teams. Selecao, or Seleccion, translating as "Selection." You have been selected to play for this team. You have been selected to play for this country. That has great connotations. Playing for your country is not a God given right, but a privilege and an honour. Think about how that could affect the motivation of the player. Out of millions of people, YOU, have been SELECTED.

For Allardyce at Bolton, it was Us v The World. We are scummy, unfashionable Bolton. No one likes us. No one wants us here in the Premier League. They all hate playing against us. For Mourinho at Real Madrid, it was similar, in that he convinced his players Barcelona and UEFA were secretly running football and cheating Real out of titles. At Barcelona, they are representing a nation. They are Catalonia. They are fighting for independence. Everything they do is shoving two fingers up at the Spanish government. This creates an environment of urgency, and a cause that all the players can buy into. This increases the drive towards excellence.

When working in Mexico, the environment was all wrong. How can a football mad country of 120 million not be producing world class players? They've never even threatened a World Cup. At my club, it was full of rich kids, who were enabled at every turn. There was no discipline. There was no drive for excellence. There was no incentive. It's a difficult one though, as this is not the experience of all Mexicans. The poor kids have plenty of time and space to play football in the streets, and as they are football crazy, there's plenty of passionate and enthusiastic people around to join in. What doesn't help there is that there is a distinct lack of facilities, it's incredibly dangerous, and it's a largely lazy nation where many people are superficial. They value overhead kicks and nutmegs over proper, pragmatic, British football. It's all for show. And with this, they're just not that bothered. Mexicans are a very relaxed group of people. And they're incredibly happy too. What they don't have is a track record of producing high quality talent.

Given enough people, which is provided in a population of 120,000,000, and with that nation being football crazy, then enough of them will make it as professional. Enough of them will be decent. Enough of them will be able to compete on a world stage. But they're not world class. Each of the World Cup winning nations has some absolutely standout players, and even those to have come close. Mexico should be producing far better players than they have done.

Looking at another country I know well, we can see similarities with Kuwait. Kuwait takes it a bit further in that they are even more lazy than in Mexico. At least Mexicans have somewhat of a motive to play football and to compete, whereas in Kuwait, that just doesn't exist. The children are spoilt and rich. There is no work ethic whatsoever. The players, the parents, the coaches, the clubs, have very little inspiration, desire, or motive to play the game. They don't need to, If they're not very good at it, then they either pretend they are, or give up to not look foolish. If they are good at it, they probably won't apply themselves in the way they need to, because the environment is not one of hard work, sacrifice, and determination.

We must make a distinction between the micro and the macro. The environment can be different between clubs within the same country. For example, in Kuwait, we represented one of the biggest clubs in the world. Our culture was determined by them. We had high standards, and held our players, coaches, and parents to those high standards. We stood out as by far the best football experience that a young player could get in the country. We could improve what came to us, but only to a point. We were inhibited by the wider world around us.

In Kuwait, we held players accountable. We gave them ownership, We enforced strict rules in regards to code of conduct, how the boys would train, play, and represent the club. As coaches, we did not cut corners. We researched our sessions and thought deeply about what to teach them, and how to do it, working from a scrutinised curriculum. Other clubs didn't have any of that. It's no wonder we were in such high demand. We had really set a very high bar. Sadly, what use is it if we are the only one? What's the point of being the smartest peanut in the turd? There was no progression, and no opportunity (but we'll come onto that later). We played against other teams, and it was a shambles. No structured league, no organisation, no adherence to rules. We couldn't provide regular, competitive, or even useful fixtures.

Away from football, Kuwait has two large problems that directly affect the development of young players. The first is that there is rampant obesity. So many young players are chubby. Some of them even have saggy bellies, How is that possible as a teenager? Even the ones that aren't fat have terrible fitness. Their body fat percentage is high despite looking relatively thin. There is no shape or structure about their bodies. This directly affects their strength and stamina. They live off of fast food in an indulgent society that will bring frozen yoghurt to your door via moped at one in the morning. That's their dopamine hits right there with that instant satisfaction. Linked to this is the school physical education system. The P.E., where there is any, is atrocious. So they are unfit, and massively lacking in any kind of developed motor skill system. Their agility, balance, and coordination is useless. This greatly inhibits their ability to learn and develop skills when they are older because they have not got a decent base to build upon. There is no foundation for skill development. A lot of the P.E. teachers they have, even in some of the private schools, are not qualified or experienced in sport.

So the kids are taught to be lazy, arrogant, bone idol, dependent upon others, and expectant of the world to magically provide, while not developing any kind of skill set or fitness. That's why our effect on them was greatly limited. We were just a fart in a hurricane. There's no culture of grit, and no demanding of excellence. The environment was not conducive to player development of any kind.

Like with coaching, the difference between a good coach and a great coach, or a good environment and a bad environment, is a fairly small advantage to be gained. Anyone would rather have a great environment than a good environment, but a bad environment is destructive. There's no real coming back from it. The world a child grows up in frames how they view the wider world around them. If they are not pushed or challenged, they will not have the desire to excel. If they are not shown or encouraged to go and practise in the parks, or if there are no facilities for that to happen, then they will miss out on the extra work that needs to be done. For many of our players in Kuwait, the three or or four hours a week they had with us would be their only exercise. Some would play at school, and some would have underutilised home swimming pools, but very little was going on. They did not develop a love for the ball. Without it, success becomes impossible.





Opportunity

This is the last, and easily most important one. How did players in the good old days make it to the top without coaching, and in an environment where football was still carving a niche for itself? It comes down to the opportunity to play and to grow. Opportunity is something that is needed at all levels. When it comes to job fulfilment, we care more about feeling valued, and seeing the benefits of our work, than we do about pay. Once you are paid enough, salary is no longer an issue. For a doctor, the opportunity exists to see the health of their patients improve. For a firefighter, it is to see the family saved. They actually see if their endeavour was a success or not, as they have that tangible evidence right there in front of them. That's what they love. That is the reward from them. They love what they do and love the effect that they have on the world.

There also exists the opportunity for them to be who they want to be, to improve, to be something important, to belong, to feel valued, to make a difference. At a young age, footballers want the opportunity to try things for themselves. They want to learn and try these new exciting skills, and to see the success of their actions. Simple, short, repetitive games provide them with the opportunity to learn, experiment, and succeed. Don't go telling them what to do, as they want autonomy. A bit of help and guidance is welcomed, but don't do it for them.

As young players progress, what they want and need begins to change slightly. They move away from games as a U3 where every player has their own ball and gets to behave like cartoon characters. They want to score goals, compete with and against others. They need the opportunity to experiment. They need the opportunity to experience failure and success. They still need that autonomy, to experience the game as theirs. Sure, we teach them skills and give them advice, but we can't take too much of the decision making and ownership away from them, or they will not have the opportunity to develop. Do they have these opportunities? Are they allowed to play at school? To play for their school team? Do they have the opportunity to play for a club side? If they are doing well, do they get the opportunity to play for a better team?

I often wonder what it must be like in remote villages, or one of the many island communities that surround the UK. I suppose I've seen it in Canada in the small towns to some extent. If you're the best in your group or team, do you have the opportunity to move up an age? To play for a better team? To receive better coaching? To play against better players? Once a year, the best kids in our town in Alberta would get to compete in provincial tournaments over a weekend. Our season lasted two or three months. They didn't have the opportunity to play all year round, as leagues were not set up for that. There was no interest in indoor leagues or futsal. They did not spent those months playing at school. They weren't part of a culture that would go to their park and play some jumpers for goalposts. Thus, their opportunity to play, practise, and develop is not there.

These opportunities can often be taken away by the parents. I've worked at some very expensive clubs. We could give scholarships, but I've seen young players turn them down because they would feel embarrassed. In Mexico, we tried to recruit a few poor kids that were phenomenally good. They came, tried hard, and set the place alight. We bent over backwards to bring them in. What scared them off was the quality of cars (or even having cars), sometimes the accents of the fresas (posh people), the careers of the other parents, the houses the kids lived in, the schools they went to, and even that the coaches were British, and they couldn't speak English. It would be a combination of those things, and a combination of parental influence and not wanting to be excluded or looked down upon by their peers. I had a girl trial for me who was pure class. The others desperately wanted her in the team because they wanted to win. I spoke enough Spanish to be able to communicate with her, and for those that didn't understand, the rest of the team translated. We thought we did our best to make her feel welcome, and to show we were willing to help out. Sadly, we never heard from her again. We don't know what we did wrong, and would have loved to have known. She joined another team that was largely made up of girls from the barrios (working class neighbourhoods), who didn't have the facilities or coaches that we had. She'll probably still make it as a very good player, because of who she was and how good she was at twelve. As long as she keeps playing, only having catastrophically dreadful coaches, and being in a god forsaken environment will prevent her from getting there.

Opportunity means different things to different players at different ages. In the UK, as is in many other countries, girls simply don't have the opportunity to make a living from the game. Up until exams because a big deal, boys and girls could potentially give the same commitment to football. At fourteen, when the GCSEs start, some boys may get it slightly easier, or may have some allowances from their parents, that does not interrupt a strict, demanding, academy environment. These boys have a realistic chance of being able to pay their bills from playing football, and so will be encouraged. Girls don't. They may begin to sacrifice their centre of excellence sessions in favour of revision (or their parents will refuse to take them to a one hour session, believing that one hour will make all the difference). Such a choice has a clear motive; education is more important than football. To make a difficult decision quickly, pretend you have a gun pointed at your head, and you have five seconds to choose, or you get neither. Another one is to flip a coin. Instead of going by what the coin tells you, while that coin is in midair, you will reveal to yourself which of the two options it is that you truly want.

Many people have heard me say this before, but we lose plenty of good female players in England because they choose education over football. They move away to university at eighteen, at a time when they could be pushing to play in some good teams and get plenty of football. Some stay sharp, playing for their university team and their local team, or even get into a very good team while at university. Opportunities are increasing every day, but on the balance of things, I've seen more lost than gained by making these choices.

At the top of the pathway, opportunity manifests itself in the ability to be a professional and to play at a good level. In England, the debate we have is are too many foreigners in the Premier League ruining our game? A more specific and accurate question is; does the short-term, results-based, high pressure environment of the Premier League influence coaches to spend money on foreign talent than risk bringing in a young player that may not be ready? Look at the careers of Allardyce, Pardew, McCarthy, Bruce, Pulis etc. You've got six months to keep this club in the Premier League. You don't bring in a U18 that's had a few good games for the reserves, you bring in a cheap import that is over twenty five, that has been playing in this league, or a league of similar quality, for many years. This type of player can hit the ground running. They can do a job today, The U18 will need years to be at their best. The U18 is more likely to cause mistakes, and the more mistakes in a game, the more likely you are to concede, lose, and be relegated.

In countries like Kuwait and Singapore, where football is the most popular sport, there's just not much opportunity to play professionally. Their national teams are dreadful, and are in no danger of making it to a World Cup any time soon. Kuwait occasionally qualify for the Asian Cup, but rarely even score a goal. If you're born in these places, you probably won't think being a professional is viable. Even if you do, who would you play for? Qadsiya? Kazma? Who are they? The natives don't pay attention to their own league. You wouldn't be making much money playing for them. There's not much of a realistic opportunity, and it's certainly not a glamorous one.

If we head back to Mexico, where a good level, rich, professional league exists, we'll note that in the top levels, the bridge from youth to professional is often obstructed. You have to be a favourite. You have to pay a price. The first thing that comes to mind in Mexican football is corruption. I heard countless stories of players not being picked because they didn't pay the coach. So it looks like there's an opportunity, but just how real is it?

When analysing a team, club, league, or country, try to consider the opportunities available, and how it coincides with what the player might need at that time. Can they play? Can they play a lot? Can they play extra? Can they compete? Can they compete against others? Can they be challenged more? Can they play in an elite environment? Can they earn money from the game? These are very important factors to consider. That added incentive, that opportunity, can be that extra push to help players strive to be better, and to make the necessary sacrifices to make it. If there were no space program, very few of us would grow up wanting to be astronauts. We'd not even know it was possible. Even less of us would have any idea of what going to space was like. We wouldn't think about oxygen, spacesuits, radiation, and gravity. What on Earth are those things?

Summary

Coaching is important, but not as important as the environment, which is not as important as the opportunity. Kids make it in Africa, despite a less than conducive environment, and despite no coaches. It's because they have the opportunity. They can play with their friends, in teams, and even make it professionally. Because they love the ball, they find a way to do it. There may be a scout hanging around, looking for the next Michael Essien or George Weah. In fact, agencies thrive off of it. These kids know, even if it is a one in a million shot, that they have a slim chance of making it to play in Europe.

If you've got the opportunity, then it would also help to have the right environment. Are people supportive and encouraging? Do they value learning? Does it challenge you? Does it inspire and empower you? Does it set high standards and strive towards excellence? Think of it like the culture. So many things can drive, change, and influence it, both on the micro and macro scale. Is it the coach of the team? The club rules or playing philosophy? Is it how the parents raise their kids in a certain part of the world?

Once all that's in place, how about the coaches? Are they decent enough? Poor coaches are ones that turn their players off to the game. They rant and rave. They humiliate. They bore and they frustrate. We all want leaders that show compassion, understanding, value us, empower us, and give us the opportunity to be better versions of ourselves. We'd definitely prefer a more knowledgeable coach if we could get one, but how about their ability to actually teach? Do they get their point across? Do they know what is necessary to make you a better player? Are they helping you get there?

Consider the coaching, the environment, and the opportunity when choosing a club. Despite all the best intentions, you could be battling against all the odds, swimming upstream, or fighting a stacked hand. This leads to banging your head against a brick wall, and wasted potential. Don't do that to yourself. You're better than that.

The best players at producing top players don't do it by magic. There is no secret formula that they are hiding from the world. When going to these gold mines, you'll notice that they are just doing good things. They have the right balance of coaching, environment, and opportunity. There's nothing special, nothing amazing, nothing mind blowing. It's sure to be impressive in some ways. Don't go looking for the quick fix, the easy solution, or the shortcut. They do not exist. With all our scrutiny, research, and criticism, we would have found the shortcuts by now.

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