I still remember the conversation with my Dad at age 5. I even remember where I was standing in the house. "Shawn, do you want to play soccer this upcoming season?"
I replied with a, "Sure!?" Sounds like fun I thought. This leads to the memory of my very first practice at U5, which even today still sticks out vividly in my head. During one point I dribbled past all my mini teammates where one by one each fell to the ground and did a epic face-plant. Every - Single - Last - One... From there, the love for the sport begun 24/7. Moving forward 28 years and while I took the presitigious TOVO Course in Spain, one coach from Sweden pointed out during our last coaching workshop that I stood out for having the most passion for the game. He said, when I talked about football, the look on my face changed. Knowing myself as a person and coach, I knew this already but it was great to hear from another person and fellow coach. Why I am highlighting this? Even though my soccer career was ran through the dumpster that had a garburator attached: poorly managed, financially taken advantage of, and so many injuries that I lived in the physiotherapy room. BUT, I still love the game. Probably even more now then as a child. Why didn't these life occurrences put a crack in my foundation? I don't have an answer to that, but I believe it is a natural love like any obsessed soccer player that literally: Eats, Sleeps, Thinks about the game of football. My wife still rolls her eyes when I am completely adrift in church staring at the walls, or not answering her in the car. She knows I am thinking about my players or something related to soccer.
What is the point of all this you might be asking yourself? It all starts with the local youth associations & Academy's role is to help build and engage children's love for the game. I 100% agree that this is part of their role and most do a decent job in creating healthy, fun and nurturing training environments. Hopefully fun is always centred in their sessions (often I don't see but I will save that for another blog) and through learning the game hopefully the love builds within the athlete. Parents want to see their child advance in the sport, grow technically, and have fun. The athlete continues their journey by showing up to practice, games, and making friends and as I sit back and observe this, I do see enjoyment. But it's just that, enjoyment or "like". They like the game. It isn't passion or love and their development long term suffers. Can a association club input love and passion for the game into a player or does it come naturally? Does the family culture and upbringing play a key role in the athletes love for the game?
Players that continually grow with the sport and continuously get better and better you can tell LOVE the game. They will do anything to get better. They will wake up at 6:00am to train, they will train on their own or with friends on their spare time, they will train 3+ times per week with their team without hesitation. They will leave home to other countries to achieve perfection and not stop if homesick gets in the way. Something is in their blood and every professional soccer player that I've known, come across or read about has the same blood.
Imagine - passionate players training with other passionate players. Instead we have the passionate playing with players who "like" the game, and even a few who are dis-interested at times. I see it daily and no one is filtering this. You could argue that U15+ this should be mandatory.
Passion - Love - Obsession ---> Untalented passing the talented
Passion - Love - Obsession ---> Driven passing the lazy
Passion - Love - Obsession ---> Recreational passing the "Elite"
The entire time I have seen the "recreational" players who are elite in their heart and minds, consistently made the talented that "like" the game look weak. Remember Parents: it's long term player development, becoming the better player doesn't come over-night. But the passionate always prevail.
Players with love and passion for the game can typically overcome players who have more talent, granted the right character is intact.
Injuries, a poor team environment, or an unprofessional coach will not negatively sway a player with passion and love for the game.