Importance is in the individual not the team.
Youth sports are a huge industry not only in America but in the world. Children all over the world go to the local park, sign up to play a sport, then decide if they like it or not. If they do they will sign up again. Once they get older the child is no longer just playing in their local park but they are put on a team. This team is supported and paid for by the parents and plays against other teams. If the team wins everyone is happy, if the team loses not so much. If a club team loses, players don’t want to play, parents don’t pay and the team begins to dissolve. The club loses money from that team and has to work to salvage it. This leads to the teams instead of being fun training for kids become a monopoly where the only importance is winning. The teams begin to be trained only as a team so the strength of the team can defeat another team. However, this leaves a large vulnerability. The individuals can only play their best with that team, they lose their individuality and never develop to their full potential. The goal of youth sports at young ages should be to develop the individual player, not the team.
Kids are at a young age are at the pinnacle of being able to learn a language. Once they grow up, learning new languages is no longer as seamless. The same goes for sports, if a young child is playing soccer and learns to pass and play as a part of a team or a system they have just learned their first language. As they grow older this same language is drilled into their mind, over and over. Pass here, run here, you are a defender not a forward. By the time this player is older they are now only able to speak the one language. They have to work very hard to learn a new position or a new style and have lost their individuality. This has to change. A young player needs to be allowed to explore, experiment, and become their own self. If the complex skills are discovered and taught when they are at a young age the simple stuff like positions and passing is easily taught when they are older. Winning at a young age does not matter. What matters is the development and learning to love the sport.
Individual development is long-term. You won’t see an immediate improvement but the results you want are in the future not in the present. Games won when the kids are ten years old will not bring attention to your club. It won’t make people say, “Hey that club has some amazing teams.” Winning at ages sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen is important for creating a name for a club. To do this consistently there is only one way, developing individuals. Just because a team of ten year olds is able to win games doesn’t mean when they are eighteen they will. As kids get older they get smarter and they will watch how a team plays and counter it. But stopping a team of individuals becomes trickier, you never know what they are going to do or which way they are going to go. You can get the general tendencies from scouting but nothing more. So, by creating an individual and not a team at young ages you consequently create a team of unpredictability and dominance.
Developing a team is easy, find a group of kids, have them play together all the time and not allow new players in. Run them through drills, positioning training, tactic sessions and teach them to pass. Developing an individual is even easier. They just need to play, for hours on end. “Real” games don’t need to be played until around age thirteen when competition will begin to help them. They should start out playing 1v0, playing alone at young ages and getting comfortable with the ball at their feet, next they move into 1v1s and will immediately start to develop their own individual style of play. Once they are comfortable playing alone and against a single defender you begin to introduce 2v2, 3v3, and other small sided games. The players will naturally begin to pass the ball as they get older and will understand on their own that teammates will help them. Now when they have hit ages eleven, twelve, and thirteen they are going to be wanting more competition with other kids. At ages eleven and twelve having them play low level games with high amounts of touches on the ball work wonders. They begin to understand how other teams work and how to use their individual skills along with their teammates. By age thirteen you have your basic team of individuals.
When players are ten-thirteen years old they will lose a lot of games because they are trained to be individuals not a team. Losing games is the best thing that can happen for them. You learn more from losing every game than from winning every game and it builds personal character, your individuality. As they reach their older years, the years a dominant team will bring attention to a club, the team will begin to win. They will have naturally acquired the experiences to be able to adapt to many situations. Their solutions through naturally playing that they now match the teams trained through tactics and drills. But the team of individuals has something the other team doesn’t. Individuality. There isn’t a system of play but merely an unpredictable set of players who have the skills necessary to become great.
The success of a club depends on the repetition of great players being produced and top-class teams being created. When developing a team, you have to be lucky with the players you have put together to create a great team. Of course, some great teams will come out of this system but so will dud teams. Using the team of individuals approach will result in a more consistent flow of great players and top-class teams. However, the importance of developing individuals isn’t just to make a club great but for the benefit of the player. This approach helps kids reach their goal of becoming a high level player while teaching life skills along the way. Therefore, it is more important to develop the individual than then the team.