Why does US Soccer ignore teaching youth players foot skills?

Commentary by Gordy Thomas

Why does US Soccer ignore teaching youth players soccer foot skills? I’ve spent many hours over the years watching and observing how youngsters learn to develop skills as they grow in their primary years. It amazes me that the US Soccer community turns a blind eye to their development until they reach the age of 10+ or become competitive (it’s always competitive in the kid’s eyes).

 It is amazing how quickly young children can absorb, master, and retain new skills they develop. They are eager to please parents and coaches alike, showing what they have learned.

I’ve always wondered why there is a complete lack of quality age-appropriate foot skills training provided to young youth soccer players in programs such as US Soccer organizations (AYSO is an exception). Ian Campbell also made the same observations after growing up in Dublin, Ireland. “Probably the biggest problem with youth soccer in America is that coaches are not qualified to be teaching kids the mechanics of the game,” Campbell says in his 2017 article “American Kids Stink At Soccer Because of Baseball“.

Alan Merrick

My associate, Alan Merrick (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Merrick), who began playing soccer professionally in England in 1967 before coming to play professionally and coach in the USA in 1975, told me it’s been that way since US Soccer set the precedent many years ago. Merrick stated, “They used to teach the fundamentals, but not anymore, which creates several lost years for youth development“.

Brad Carlson

Another of my associates, Brad Carlson, who has been coaching soccer for over 40+ years, stated, “there is very little if any, foot skills training provided to young youth recreational players by organized soccer clubs in the USA“.

A while back, Alan and I were sitting and having lunch with an assistant DOC of a large soccer club. We showed them our MOTI 3D motion captured skills in our MOTI Soccer App and asked what they thought. They made the comment “if we use your 3D skills within your app with our players, we won’t be able to sell as many hours of private lessons to parents. It will cost trainers income!”.

Coach Ortmann observing player foot skills being developed

We are aware of the limited attention spans of youth players, and of the limited soccer training skills available at the youth level. We are also aware that the vast majority of young youth players are coached by well-intentioned parents lacking the ability to perform the needed foot skills correctly. It is why MOTI Sports uses 3D motion-capture technology to create 24 soccer foot skills for young players and make the first seven (7) Foundation foot skills available free to anyone who will download our app.

The current thinking seems to be to let players mimic what they see other players doing. If players mimic foot skills improperly, they develop bad habits. When soccer becomes competitive at the age of 10+, lessons begin and players become disenfranchised, having to re-learn basic skills they’ve already been using in Recreational, In-Town, or In-House programs over the past 3-4 years. It can take thousands of repetitions to re-learn these basic skills.

We recognize that communities in the USA are more geographically dispersed than in other countries, resulting in a lack of easy access to community-based (neighborhood) play for young players.

3D motion-captured foot skills are an eloquent way of providing high-quality foot skill training anywhere and should begin with our young players, as early as the organized play begins.

Help Wanted!  –  Volunteering has its own rewards

Struggling to have parents volunteer?

A board member mentioned to me they had over 300 kids sign up and were experiencing problems having parents volunteer to coach. They asked if our app could help guide their coaches through their season. Yes, our app can help their coaches coach.

However, you have to get the parents to say “Yes” to volunteering first. Thinking back, I remembered, “the most rewarding time I had as a parent” was volunteering to coach a group of kids.

Why did I Volunteer and say “Yes”?

Someone I knew and respected, told me I had the skills to do a good job, and that I would look back someday and remember how good it felt to contribute to the development of young people. They were right!

Cornered into volunteering? Sure!

Unless parents are given a deadline they make a decision, they won’t. Parents think they are too busy! In reality, they should invest the time with their kids!

Was I afraid I would mess up and blunder? Of Course!

Harry Houdini once said, “Never try to fool children, they expect nothing, and therefore see everything.

Was I happy I volunteered? Yes, absolutely!

The rewards!

  • Volunteering moved me out of my comfort zone. We all gravitate to thinking we’ve put in a long day and accomplished a lot. But who for?
    •  This was for the kids my kid played with and I could watch them grow and develop.
  • This taught me how to educate, communicate, and motivate more effectively: How you keep kids engaged:
    • Being competitive
    • Winning & Losing
    • Working together as a team
    • Experiencing individual accomplishments
    • Feeling the accomplishment as a Team
    • That feeling of the team “giving back” to an individual or a community with no expectation of receiving anything in return.
  • This was something I could do:
    • The interactions I had with the kids & parents were great fun
    • Watching them all grow and learn was priceless

In summary:

Looking back, I worked with amazing people, kids, parents, and families. It was great to see people and communities working together. I would not have thought that the rewards were as great as they were. The memories are amazing as well!

So, if you need some parents to step up and Volunteer, here are some suggestions:

  1. Tell them they would be great at coaching youngsters.
  2. Remind them you are here to support and guide them.
  3. Make sure you get them a training platform to guide them along their way.
  4. Show them they will make a difference in the kids and the community.
  5. Mention they will have experiences they will remember for a lifetime!
  6. Tell them here is your chance to lead, using your leadership skills.
  7. Hand them a signup form with a pen and wait while they complete it! 😊

Learn more – Coaching Smarter saving Time

Player & Coach Development

Players and coaches that are new to your organization need to learn your training system, and your training system needs to be able to adapt to their different learning needs and developmental rates.

There is a continuum of knowledge and skill that accumulates as both players and coaches gain experience, like that of an infant learning to crawl, walk & run stages of motor skill development.

Everyone experiences learning in all its forms at different rates: visually, auditory, physically (kinetically), reading & writing.

Your training system needs to allow the individual to experience the learning as often as needed so the individual understands what is being taught.

If your training system has too much information to learn before the learner is ready, this overloads their development process, and it can lead to deficiencies in the development of either the player or the coach.

Player Development: Player development occurs across 4 major areas:

  • Developing Technical skills to play the game (ball mastery, shooting, passing/receiving, individual abilities)
  • Developing Tactical game understanding (decision making, team/group play, positioning)
  • Physical development (overall athleticism, speed/agility/quickness, strength/endurance/balance/flexibility/coordination)
  • Social/ Psychological (coachability/willingness to learn, communication, leadership, work-ethic, interactions with others, teamwork, punctuality/attendance)

Coach Development:  Coach development occurs over a minimum of 5 major areas:

  • Developing knowledge of the game
  • Developing coaching communication skills
  • Set-up of the ideal training environment
    • Understanding the structure of the session plan
      • Engage the players immediately with a fun warm up or game which will introduce the topic for the session.
      • Present activities or games with little or no pressure to help the players experience success with the topic, improve their technical ability, and increase their confidence.
      • Add pressure, gradually increasing to an equal strength small sided game to see if your topic has translated to the game.
    • Tactical area set-up of the practice area (skills, tactical)
  • Coaching a Practice Session
  • Coaching the Game

Training systems need to facilitate putting together session training plans for technical skill as well as tactical game development. Additional elements should be enabled to be incorporated into training.

What works when Training:

In researching writing this article I ran across the following pyramid defining player engagement and learning retention from the National Training Laboratories in Bethel, Maine.

What you should know: 90% of what is retained is done so because we had to teach it to another individual, 75% is learned because we did the activity or skill, only 50% is retained when we discuss something, 30% retained when we watch something being done, 20% watching a video is retained, 10% when we read something, and only 5% when we listen to a lecture.


Training systems need to encourage, monitor, measure and report usage to be of real benefit.

Read part one of this series: Select a Soccer Training App and System that is right for your organization!

Select a Soccer Training App and System that is right for your organization!

This article will guide you through a process for Selecting Soccer Training that is right for you and your organization.

Evaluating Soccer Training Apps & System(s):

I recently watched a YouTube video that evaluated a handful of Soccer Training Apps. Their evaluation criteria focused on the “glitz and glitter” of the apps vs the content quality and delivery methods of instruction.

Evaluate training Sports Apps and Systems, focus on the criteria, method & style of instruction as well as the  “what, where, when, and how” content is being presented to the coach or player. 

Goals for your Training System:

Write down the goals/expectations of what you want to achieve when purchasing the training system.

Goals may be different for coaches and players. Age and regional location may play a role in selection criteria. As an example, you would not want advanced skills being taught to an age group that is too young, or you would not want a series of activities that are games designed for 6-year-old players while training high school age players.

Is an integrated system required with your team management platform, or a nice to have?

You also know that people do not all learn the same way.

As a result, this will help you focus on what is important and what isn’t, as you walk through your evaluation. 

How do we learn?

Coaches and players learn by:

  • 65-75% visual (seeing things for ourselves)
  • 15-30% auditory (coaching points)
  • 5-10% kinesthetic (a learning style in which learning takes place by carrying out physical activities or “doing it”). 

First, the app should use engaging visualizations that clearly define what is being learned. Second, it needs auditory coaching/teaching points that are easy to understand at the age group listening. Finally, exercises/activities & drill(s) are needed. Make sure all Coaching Points are clearly understood and presented at the same time with the visualization. 

Coaches should watch the visual movement of players within the activities/drills from the beginning to the end of the drill.

This results in teaching the transitions of the activity. Also, it helps the Coach understand that “what is being taught” is clearly understood.

Auditory coaching points need to be easily understood linking directly into the visualizations.

There are times when coaches need to physically Do the activity such as Mentoring, in order to understand the importance of it as well.

Players need to watch the visually engaging movements (skills or activities) of what is being taught.

They must clearly understand auditory coaching points in language that is easy to comprehend. 

Skills/Technique development requires the need to physically do the activity multiple times to train the brain and muscles to do the move in unison.

The app should have a method of recording analytics like “time on task” & “number of times” it’s been practiced. This will require thousands of repetitions of doing the move “correctly”.

Create a training matrix for the coaches and players:

  1. What teaching/coaching methods, drills/activities, strategies, setups/set-plays, skills/techniques are being employed. Are the best training methods being used to insure coaches and players alike, understand, and quickly comprehend concepts, skills, setups and scenarios you want them to adopt into the game.
  2. Where should the training process occur? At practice, home, games?
  3. When, at what age is training content best learned? What age are skills, rules, strategy training most critical and best processed?
  4. How training should be conducted and how often should different types of training occur?


Soccer Training app(s) or system must monitor and measure what is being learned. This is critical to ensure coaches and players are learning and performing what you are expecting them to do.

Oversight is an important aspect often overlooked in training. A key phrase here is you can’t expect, what you don’t inspect.

Make sure you can monitor to see things are being done the way you anticipate they should be done, measure system usage as well as perform improvement.

Get the Soccer Training app:
MOTI Soccer for Android: https://motisports.com/google-soccer-app/
MOTI Soccer for iOS: https://motisports.com/apple-soccer-app/

Why Animation?

Why 3D Animation for teaching youth players 6- 12 years old?

MOTI Sports, Inc. began as a project between an NFL Football Coach and an animator. The Coach was trying to solve the problem of “why are my players not looking at the X’s & O’s diagrams and studying them in their 3-ring notebooks”, but they will watch Madden Football.

We patented a 2D to 3D drawing tool that creates 3D animated drills/scenarios/activities for sports coaches and players to watch and gain understanding of the strategy presented.

MOTI used motion capture to record techniques and skills that players need to learn and master to be able to play the sport well.

We created 3D Animations to teach youth sports to coaches and players because of these benefits:

  1. Players ages 6 to 9 relate to Animated Characters – because it is easy to see themselves as that character.
  2. Animated stories can teach Empathy – as youth envision themselves as a character in the story, they attach their emotions to that character and learn how they feel in a situation.
  3. Animations are a Multi Sensory teaching tool – players SEE and HEAR what the character is doing. 3D animation allows the player to sense this learning from any perspective.
  4. Animations separate the youth’s behavior from their person – when comfortable with the animated character it is easy for youth to envision themselves as that character. If that character can do a technique or skill youth, they believe they can do the technique or skill,. Seeing a video of an adult doing the skill does not transfer that belief that the youth can do that skill..Youth know adults can do things they are not physically capable of.
  5. Youth Imitate Character’s Behavior and Actions  – ever see youth acting out a cartoon character behavior or action? It happens all the time. Youth absorb sports skills the same way.
  6. Animations are an effective way to Convey Information – as youth become comfortable with a character, they focus on the message or actions being conveyed vs the person or environment presented in a video. 
  7. Animations are a way to Engage Youth –  when youth are entertained they are engaged. If youth are watching an animation and they see some movement by a character does not conform, but is later corrected, they become engaged with Empathy. They also learn that correcting movement is acceptable form of behavior. They will watch for it.
  8. Animated Stories create a Shared Viewing Experience – when watched as a group or even individually, one of the best ways to teach is to have a common story everyone sees and can talk about. Animations provide that safe story where the actions of the characters can be taken about.
  9. Animations are a Powerful Social Learning Platform – animated characters present a safe method of discussing actions and making corrections to them, without singling out an individual.
  10. Animations provide time to coaches and players to transition – showing an animation of a drill / activity during a water break to youth is a great way to allow everyone to do a mental reset and visioning for the next activity.

Through the years with computer 3D animation we can now create the perfect movement or Skill/Technique for players to Imitate.

We have motion captured the primary, intermediate, and advanced Foot Skills/Techniques for Soccer for youth to train with. We have created 3D Animations of Activities for coaches to use themselves and with players creating a “reverse-classroom” on the pitch.

Get the MOTI Soccer Training app:
MOTI Soccer for Android: https://motisports.com/google-soccer-app/
MOTI Soccer for iOS: https://motisports.com/apple-soccer-app/

MOTI Soccer App – Sole Lateral Roll

MOTI Soccer App – Sole Lateral Roll Skill

MOTI Sports Soccer Training

MOTI Sports Soccer Training Platform Video featuring Jemma Merrick.

Get the MOTI Soccer Training app:
MOTI Soccer for Android: https://motisports.com/google-soccer-app/
MOTI Soccer for iOS: https://motisports.com/apple-soccer-app/

It’s Time To Make A Change

February and March allow most organizations to pause and reflect a bit.  Board meetings will bring up new topics, as new board members come on board and try to rejuvenate the organization’s leadership. High School awards banquets or Club banquets celebrate the players and coaching achievements, and often the parental involvement for being supporters of their players.  Many organizations are beginning to work hard to improve skills with their competitive players, and in some cases, that is in-doors.

The buzz among soccer coaching directors, recreational directors, and organizational leadership  revolves around several questions regarding training, retaining and growing youth players in that 13+ age range.

  • How do we increase the percentage of players in recreation moving up to competitive, to greater than 30%?
  • How do we decrease the fall off of the 60-70% of the players at age 13+ that leave the game?
  • Should we try the Play-Practice-Play methodology to increase the “Fun” factor in hopes of both retaining players and improving their soccer skill set?
  • How do we continue to provide advanced skills, techniques and tactics to players as they grow past the “parent coach” expertise level?

Yet, the conclusion is as you walk around and listen to the conversations, nothing seems to be breaking this pattern.

At MOTI Sports, we believe young players in recreation need to begin learning a solid foundation of foot skills/techniques.  

As young players begin to learn basic ball handling techniques, it becomes apparent their confidence and self-esteem increases.  Success from maintaining possession grows proportionally with the close ball skill handling, passing lane awareness and increasing the rapid movement of the ball between team-mates.  They develop the skills to beat their opponent and learn to restrict the player movements of opposing players.  They experience success, and it continues to grow.

During this lull between seasons, consider making a change. Bringing in skills training at the lower level of recreational soccer really helps players (and their parents) get involved in their own development if they have a mind to do that.

Change the stigma, so success is measured on the players’ ability to play, and not on their family’s ability to travel and pay for experienced coaching. Create community opportunities for solid recreational league 13+ (non-traveling) play so that players who cannot afford or parents, who don’t have the spare time to drive everywhere, have a viable socially acceptable alternative.

Hey, bring players back into the community, don’t make them leave.

Get the MOTI Soccer Training app:
MOTI Soccer for Android: https://motisports.com/google-soccer-app/
MOTI Soccer for iOS: https://motisports.com/apple-soccer-app/