Individual Practice is Old School
By Joe Ulm
When I was growing up, practicing on your own or with friends was the way to get better. If you wanted the starting spot on the team you were a gifted athlete or you figured out a way to practice on your own. That often included being creative with what you had and talking siblings and friends into practicing with you. Whatever it was, it was up to you – you took the initiative and figured out ways to get better. I still think there’s enormous value in that type of creative, self-initiated effort, but I also see why it’s rare today.
For most grade school kids today, parents actively participate in the activity with their kids, whether playing or practicing, instead of leaving it to them to figure out the best way to practice. Additionally, parents often help organize time with friends for their kids. In this way, parents have largely replaced “friends and siblings.” High Schools have their own programs for older kids (many of which now provide options for middle school kids) and, of course, clubs play a huge role throughout. And let’s not forget the nearly endless entertainment options kids have today. All told, it’s a fundamentally different environment than it was when I grew up. The question is… is that a good thing? I think it is. Mostly.
When I look back at the way I grew up, the creativity and initiative needed to get better taught me some essential lessons – lessons which are still valuable even now. Yet, I wonder how much more I could have learned if I had the type of dedicated, knowledgeable, instruction available to kids today. Or how much better I could have been if I hadn’t spent time practicing the wrong things or practicing the right things the wrong way. The most poignant example of this dichotomy between structured practice and self-initiated practice is the way Lati grew up. It’s a story I can’t do justice to here, but I can tell you that our Street Soccer program was born from his experiences growing up. Literally.
Ultimately, I believe that today’s environment can be better for kids. It can provide the structured, knowledgeable instruction kids need to reach their potential. But only if we surround them with coaches and people who care about them, who are knowledgeable in what they’re teaching, and who teach in a way that helps players learn the sport AND the underlying lesson. Simply put, even though the structure of youth sports – and the world our kids are growing up in – have both changed, the lessons are still as valuable as they were all those years ago when I grew up.
So, individual practice is old school. I get it. I guess we’ll just have to create an environment that provides both great coaching and opportunities for players to learn those valuable lessons. Easy stuff. Because it’s all doable when we do it together. United.