Famed Manchester United’s Tony Strudwick on What’s Wrong In Youth Soccer
Tony Strudwick, the Head of Performance at Manchester United storied soccer club in Manchester, England, is well known for his outspoken and modern approach to developing professional soccer players.
Recruited by Sir Alex Ferguson, Strudwick has a PhD in sports science and is known across the globe for his successful efforts in developing soccer players.
During the last two years, Strudwick has edited Soccer Science, a book that explains how to effectively develop soccer players and teams. Brimming with information, Soccer Science pushes the game of soccer to new heights with valuable and useable scientific information.
Read our Soccer Lovers Book Review on Soccer Science. Definitely a Must Read for soccer coaches and everyone in the elite youth soccer world including players and parents.
While interviewing Strudwick for our Soccer Lovers’ Book Review, I asked him what he thought was wrong in youth soccer today. One of the best parts of my job is talking to people who really know what is going in the soccer world and asking their opinions.
Being ‘Up Front and Personal’ with the leaders of the soccer world is a dream job for anyone — but especially for me. Sitting at my desk in California at the early hours of the morning chatting with Tony in England, I just had to ask …
What is the biggest mistake in the youth soccer world?
Searching for ways to improve player development is like chasing the Holy Grail and clearly citing what is wrong with youth soccer is unusual, yet Strudwick’s clear voice of experienced reason replied quickly,
The biggest mistake in youth market is imposing our adult structure on young children,” said Strudwick.
“If you look at the heart of player development, we are still not getting it right,” said Strudwick. The numbers for participation are up, but we are still losing a lot of talent.”
Why are we still hemorrhaging youth soccer players at a seemingly uncontrollable manner? I have asked more than a hundred people this question and the answers are almost always the same. And, yes the common answer came to light again. Strudwick said simply,
Winning is still too important. We should not be concerned with the score of a youth soccer game on the weekend.”
“Coaches need to know where the player is at … identifying and developing a player’s potential is not just about winning football games. It is about connecting with and knowing the player and what he needs to accomplish to get to the next level,” said Strudwick.
Perhaps people will listen to Strudwick say the same thing others have said before — perhaps, having a man who is so accomplished in the professional world of soccer and who has helped England’s National Team prepare and play in the 2014 FIFA World Cup say that “we” are too focused on winning might make a difference.
Maybe Strudwick’s track record will liberate the wisdom and let his voice resonate, piercing the dim witted, win-at-all-cost mentality that has plagued youth soccer — obviously on all sides of the Atlantic.
Being a great coach is not about selecting teams to win soccer matches but developing players over the long period. The problem is that some people still see success as winning games not as the end of a journey.“
The effort to develop players which is more of a race win is a journey without a map. It is a trip to the bank for the youth soccer club and coach. In spite of any auspicious signs that offer a different destination, failure on the youth front darkens the prospects of a nation’s success on the world stage. But back to Tony … I wanted to know what he thought was the most important attribute in a youth soccer player.
Generally, all things being equal – the most important attribute for a player comes down to his or her coach-ability.”
“If there are two players and their technical abilities and athleticism are equal, what differentiates top athletes is their ability to absorb information, learn and adapt quickly,” said Strudwick. “A youth soccer player’s ability to learn and take onboard new information is key. The Psychology and Elite Soccer Performance chapter in Soccer Science is excellent for players and coaches to read to understand more on this.”
Getting to the heart of it, Soccer Science is a very usable book,” says Strudwick who also trained players at Blackburn Rovers Football Club and West Ham United F.C. before joining Manchester United. Strudwick has also worked with the English FA for years.
When asked how has science impacted soccer, Strudwick answered,
When I first started coaching more than 20 years ago, sport science was in its infancy. We have enjoyed some real technology advancements, which have allowed us to really know that is going on in the critical parts of the game. Now, more than ever before, coaches can meet the specific needs of a player.”
We look towards a brighter future – now more than ever. But, to step into this reality, we must remind everyone who is overly focused on winning that in order to achieve our future goals, we must look past today’s small victories and work to win an even bigger challenge.
Getting ahead of the curve requires being a leader. Calling all established leaders to loudly push past the win-at-all-cost mentality. Isn’t it time to embrace a new generation of influencers? Ones that want to really make a difference and make homegrown not newsworthy but common place?
On a final note – Let me make sure the record is straight. From the research I’ve done, it is clear that Tony Strudwick works hard to have his team win and it seems he hates to lose. This is not a man who takes the final score lightly but truly understands the difference between developing youth soccer players and the importance of winning on the professional level — where players are paid to be successful on the field.