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Great Clubs Lose Players

December 10, 2015

To be successful in life, the first step must always be to define what success means. What is the end goal? How will we determine whether or not we are successful in achieving that goal?

Throughout the United States, there are many youth soccer clubs. Many of them claim to have “the best training” or be all about “player development.” But are they really? Do most clubs really have the best interests of player development in mind? Do they really have top-quality training?

One easy way to determine this is by asking these clubs how they define success. What metric do they use to determine whether or not they are successful?

Some clubs still measure by the archaic method of counting trophies, division placement, league wins, etc. If a youth club is using match results as evidence of the quality of their training or player development, run away. Fast.

Many other clubs define success by player retention. In fact, I know that many clubs will determine the quality of their staff simply by the retention rate of their players. If players leave, the coach must be terrible. If players stay – or even better, the numbers grow – the coach must be great! Many clubs will determine that they must keep all 20 of their teams intact, or always have 300 kids registered in order to succeed.

This measurement is severely flawed. Player and team retention are clues that quality might exist, but they are not the distinguishing factors of a superior youth club. It is not a youth club’s job to retain players. Its job is to produce quality players and people.

It is true that if a club is providing a positive environment, players will stay. However, the only thing better than players staying, is players leaving.

Now, if a player leaves because the coach was a jerk or he never got playing time in matches, then obviously, the player leaving is not a good sign. As always, the most important question is “why?”.

Why do players leave? If players leave for the right reasons, then it is a great sign for the club.

What is a good reason for players to leave? They become too good for the club and leave for a better opportunity. Youth clubs must make it their goal to develop players, then happily “graduate” them to higher levels – not cling on to them so that they can help the team win.

The fact is that every organization has its place. Not everyone can be the club with all the best players. Someone needs to be developing the lower-tier and/or beginner players. In fact, the vast majority of clubs fit this mold.

So how do we differentiate between all these clubs? The ones that consistently send the most players to higher levels are the best. Think about it: If a youth club has produced eight national team players, that’s a great indication of quality, and everyone knows it.

But let’s take it to a more common level: What if a club has had 20% of their players eventually leave and join another local club with the best players in the area? What if a club has 60% of their players eventually play at a higher level, such as college or professional? What if a club has at least one player each year join the local professional team’s youth team? All of these are signs of quality training and player development.

Youth clubs are about producing quality players.  Period. If players are consistently moving to higher levels, then the club must be doing something right.

Surely, a club or coach is never fully responsible for a player becoming a standout. Most players make it because they put in extra work themselves. However, it does take proper nurturing of these players for them to fulfill their potential. This nurturing is largely the youth club’s doing.

Building a Sustainable “Player Leaving” Model
If a club is so good at producing players that the players keep leaving, how can they survive? All their players are leaving (for good reason), but they need kids in order to exist.

Clubs that send players off to higher levels need to shout their success stories from the mountain tops. Players moving on to higher levels is their best marketing tool! If these clubs start telling everyone about all the players that have played there then successfully moved on to higher levels, more players will come play for them. The more players leave for the right reasons, the more other kids will come to try and become someone who eventually leaves. And realistically speaking, the number of new kids who come will likely be much larger than the number of kids who leave.

So the next time we find ourselves stressing and trying to stop one of our best players from leaving for a bigger or better opportunity, remember: This is proof that we are a great club, not just a good one. It is a success, not a loss.

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