What if we treated soccer players like skateboarders?
What if we created places for the soccer players - in some cases caging them in - let them wear whatever they wanted and allowed them do their thing without coaches or parents breathing down their necks?
I first imagined the result would be something like the Nike commercials (circa 2002 World Cup) featuring Ronaldo et al, competing in a small-sided game in the cargo area of a ship. The superstars showed-off with the ball inside a chain-link fenced area - performing lifts and moves you don't see in the average soccer match.
The scene wasn't too far from what I observed on a recent trip to a local skateboard park. Kids performed, experimented, challenged and created - all on boards with four wheels. They entered the "cage" without parents or coaches, yet seemed to push themselves to do the best they could - taking risks, trying new things and enjoying their accomplishments without trophy ceremonies or fanfare.
It was fun to watch.
And I do believe there's a soccer lesson to be learned from skateboarding. But I also think there's a point where you can't compare the two because one is a team sport and the other is for individuals.
Soccer coaches are obligated to promote individuality, creativity and imagination, but they must also teach roles, responsibilities and decision-making. It's a tough balance - a lack of which can result in either an undisciplined, unproductive group of individuals or an over-managed team that can't see the forest through the trees.
So how do you teach the team components of the game without dampening creativity?
Fire Coach Dave Sarachan says it happens in different ways when his team practices. He told me the veterans typically help the younger players see the line between productive team play and overly creative individual play.
"There are days in training when guys are on each other," he said. "But if it (a player's creative contribution) fits into the scheme of good soccer, let 'em go," Sarachan continued.
Over time and with the influences of repetition in training, bad habits go away, teamwork emerges and hopefully the player sees where the individual flare can help the effort.
But when should a coach step in with correction when creativity takes a side away from "good soccer?" Coach Sarachan said the game will teach the players the consequences of poor decision-making.
"Lessons come from soccer, reminders from the coaches."
Other Coaching Tidbits
At least two MLS alums will guide their club teams to the Midwest Regional Championships later this month in Rockford, Ill. Former New England Revolution goalkeeper Juergen Sommer trains the Carmel (Ind.) United Soccer Club's Cosmos in the U-15 boys bracket. And former San Jose and Tampa Bay midfielder Caleb Porter has his Bloomington (Ind.) Cutters Red team prepping for U-18 play.
This is Sommer's first season as a head coach and Porter's second.