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Replacing Tournaments with a Better Option

Do Standard Tournaments Really Help Development?

May 15, 2009
By Ben Hardy

It is evident to many that U.S. youth soccer has an addiction to tournaments.

The proliferation of these weekend moneymakers is fueled by the club soccer world's insatiable thirst for more. But even as new tournaments spring up in every region across the country, wiser soccer minds are criticizing the detrimental effect of tournaments on player development.

Jay Martin, former president of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, wrote an article for entitled "Stop the Tournaments," in which he decries American soccer's addiction to tournaments.

"Tournaments are killing soccer in this country," he writes. "Everything about these tournaments is bad for the development of the American soccer player."

The emphasis on more games over training and the tournament format of three or more games played in a 48-hour period do nothing for the development of the American youth soccer player, Martin believes. The Development Academy model supports a training-first mentality, reducing the number of games that its members compete in to 30 a year and cutting out extraneous tournament play altogether.

In an effort to join this bucking of the tournament trend, Far Post Soccer Club of Vermont decided this year to drop a tournament in place of something a little more development-friendly. We called it the "April Training Weekend," and though the idea was initially met with some resistance from parents, in the end the event proved a success.

From Friday, April 24 to Sunday, April 26, the club rented out the Golden Goal facility in Fort Ann, N.Y. (a mere two-hour drive away for most of us). We had 15 teams attend - from our U11 girls to our U18 boys. Over 200 Far Post players descended on Fort Ann on a balmy Friday evening, a veritable army of orange (our club color) ready for double-sessions and some serious team bonding.

Golden Goal is a unique place. In its third year of existence, the facility has mainly been used as a host site for tournaments. With four lighted field turf fields and just as many natural grass fields, the facility was certainly going to meet our training needs for the weekend.

What sets the facility apart? Cabins. Every team stayed in a cabin, bunking with a teammate, chaperoned by a parent-volunteer. Coaches stayed in their own cabin, and everyone ate under a large tented pavilion with picnic tables that overlooked the fields below. There was a bonfire, plenty of impromptu pick-up, and no parents (other than the handful of chaperones) shouting from the sidelines (not that our club has any such parents).

It was like an abridged, co-ed summer camp with a focus on soccer.

Where a typical tournament weekend would have seen two or three games in a day, our teams trained twice in a day, affording coaches the opportunity to tackle technical deficiencies in the younger players and address set piece preparation in the older teams.

Gary Pritchard, a guest mental-conditioning and team-building coach, put teams through their mental paces, teaching them the importance of positive and forward thinking and running them through some challenging team-building exercises. On Saturday night most of our teams played a friendly match against outside competition - teams from Clifton Park, Shenentaha, Albany and Plattsburgh came in to compete in shortened matches, giving our players a chance to test their skills and organization.

Sunday saw more of the same, until parents drove in around 3 p.m. to pick their weary but beaming children up. There were no ribbons, no trophies and no hotel pools, but the popular response to the question "Would you do it again?" was a resounding "Yes."

Maybe we're onto something.

Ben Hardy is an assistant coach and former player for the Middlebury College men's soccer team, and director of coaching for Far Post Soccer Club, also in Vermont.

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