Are Brazilian Soccer players Better Because They Play In The Street?

Question: Isn't it better to not teach U-8 players the concepts of positions or support? Aren't Brazilian players great because they learn by playing in the street without any formalized coaching and learn to make the ball their friend before they learn anything about positions?

Soccer Coach, USA

We stress 3 things at SoccerHelp: fun, that each player should have a ball at practice, and that Practice Games that actively involve every player are better than drills. Surely you teach your players that there are "attackers" and "defenders" and don't let them all go up on the attack or don't let them all stand in front of your goal when the opposing team has the ball? If you teach that there are attackers and defenders and that everyone shouldn't stand together in a bunch, then you're teaching the "concepts" of positions, support and movement off the ball. Also, surely you encourage your players to work together and discourage them from fighting each other for the ball; if so, you're teaching teamwork and support. What we're talking about are teaching "concepts" at U-8 and not overly focusing on "positions". Concepts are a way of thinking. You want your players to start thinking about teamwork (that they are part of a team and that each person on a team has a "job"), the use of space, and movement off the ball (i.e., that they should be moving and "supporting" even if they don't have the ball). The alternative would be "herd" soccer and "every man for himself and forget about the team".

The reason the Brazilians are so good is that they have few sports, they practice a lot, they have a culture where most people (even the poor) take Samba lessons which helps their creativity and foot work, they have many experienced coaches and they have a structured "club" system that seeks out the best youth players in Brazil and gives them the training they need to become great (Europe has the same system). In fact, yes, in the Brazilian youth leagues they do teach the "concepts" of positions, support and movement off the ball. You don't really think they get that good just playing in the street with no coaching? That is an urban myth, like the idea from the past that if a player became a great juggler he would be a great player (e.g., "Pele became great by juggling a tennis ball").

The argument that players play better without coaching is false. Soccer is a team sport and teamwork is important. Try taking a group of kids and giving them no instruction, don't tell them there should be defenders and attackers or that they shouldn't bunch up, and see what happens. If the "uncoached" approach worked, the U.S. would be the top soccer country in the world, because for years the coaches have been parents who knew nothing about soccer, and in effect didn't coach. The only training many players received was scrimmaging (which is similar to street soccer and the idea "let's just learn by playing"). I've experienced both approaches and assure you that a team that has had good coaching will almost always beat a team that has had no coaching, and the coached players will be better and have more fun because they understand what to do on the field. Have you ever watched High School teams that haven't had good coaching play a team that has been coached and has had good training? My son played for the top High School in the state. The kids had all played since age 5. They would play some teams that lacked good coaching and it was sad to watch -- the uncoached teams didn't have a chance. They also played some teams where 90% of the players were from foreign countries and had grown up playing soccer, and they also beat those teams because they were poorly coached or those teams didn't play as a team, they were just a bunch of good players. The difference was movement off the ball and how they played their positions, not the individual skills.

Here's an analogy. As a kid I practiced basketball every day in my backyard. I could make 30 free throws in a row. But I didn't make the high school basketball team because I know nothing about teamwork, movement off the ball and how to play a position.

David SoccerHelp