Walking into any new environment and succeeding in your first year is not only rare, it is extremely difficult. This is true in business, sports, and almost every industry. It something that many people struggle to deal with. Especially those who are used to success. I have seen this first hand at every single level of soccer. The transition from youth to high school, high school to college and college to the pros are essentially equally difficult. Yes the level of play is quite different but the basic concept here is the same. Most players who are used to being heavily relied on and have been successful, believe they will be so regardless of situation and level. They have expectations that are unrealistic, coupled with being naive makes a dangerous combination usually leading to frustration.
Most recently I have seen this when high-level youth players enter college soccer programs. It's quite evident that there needs to be more time spent in mental preparation for these players. I wish that people who have seen these transitions, both fail and succeed, would be able to arm players with the tools necessary for the journey they are about to embark upon. There are certainly cases where players are prepared. For example, maybe a kids parents played or coached college sports and make sure they know what to expect, and there are some academy clubs in which the coaches and directors make sure their players are ready for college. But too often it goes the other way and quite frankly we are doing potentially successful players a major disservice.
For all the time U.S. Soccer is mandating these players spend on the field, what about the rest of the sport, or the mental side? We're so quick to forget that established high-level players not only perform on the field, but know how to deal with situations that arise off it as well. I would absolutely love it if it became completely normal to have sports psychologists available for academy players. Not necessarily to talk to in individual settings (there are obvious reasons why this would be difficult) but more so that these young, talented athletes could begin to grasp what is needed to truly succeed when adversity comes their way.
When we talk about how we want to be one of the best soccer countries in the world, we're only going to get there if our athletes are armed with the tools to be successful. They will touch the ball enough, they will train enough, and they will play enough games. That's not what worries me. What worries me is that they are vastly under prepared to struggle, and some of the best athletes in the world, regardless of sport, succeeded because they struggled and got through it. Let's educate these players so that they are more well-rounded, so they are able to understand when they need to push a little harder and how to successfully deal with a little adversity. I believe the future of soccer in the United States will thank us.
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