Speaking from the heart to US Soccer on how to win the World Cup

Today is an article by guest blogger,Vinicius Dos Santos.  Vinicius is the author of our best selling book and DVD, the Brazilian Box Midfield.

Speaking from the heart to US Soccer on how to win the World Cup

The joy of the task of playing the game of soccer is its own reward. The performance of
the task is sufficient to provide intrinsic reward itself. It is simply gratifying the act of
playing the game, with no need of external rewards for motivation purposes.

My concern with the youth is on the excessive emphasis on the assumption that
success is only possible thru external rewards. Modern studies about motivation and
drive, consider this approach outdated and much of what we used to believe about what
motivates us it isnʼt so anymore.

The operating system of youth soccer still believes that to improve performance and
generate excellence it is necessary to keep rewarding the good and punishing the bad –
all manipulated thru external-control. It may work for a short term boost but it sure does
harm long term performance by creating short term thinking, crush creativity, creates
dependency, creates possibility for unethical behavior (cheating), and expresses
someone elseʼs desires but the playerʼs one.

The reality is that soccer is much more a player driven sport than coach driven one. We
just keep denying the fact, in which intrinsic motivation has to be factor number one
when playing the game. So as it is everything in life.

For achievement of success and personal fulfillment the appropriate focus for younger
ages should concern less with external rewards that soccer brings (standings, records,
tournaments, State Cup, Regional and National competition) and more with the inherent
satisfaction by the simple act of playing the game. To play the game and benefit from its
excitement, thrills and enjoyment results will come as consequence of quality time spent
with the game.

What matters is the desire to do things because they matter, we like it, because they are
part of something important. Player engagement is crucial to elevate performance. But if
they do not see soccer as passionate as we are discussing here, then the level of
commitment and performance will be lower.

So there is no need to hire a foreigner to coach the US National Team, send players to
play in the EPL to learn passion, copy Brazil, learn state-of-the-art tactics – in order to
dream of winning the World Cup.

In fact, for now forget WC results – it is not going to happen until this focus is shifted –

There is no foundation for that, when the existent foundation only focus on controlling
coaching from very young ages; external structure/organization; severe result driven
developmental programs and youth club curriculums; youth soccer clubs non profit but
profit organizations – along with low player engagement and low player autonomy.

True quality happens thru autonomous kids with the ball feeling direct connection from
their hearts to the game. That brings mastery, the desire to get better and better
because it matters.

Perhaps soccer authorities and renowned coaches already spot my view point, but canʼt
figure out how to do it. Maybe is too late to undo the way it is, since too many other
interests are involved.

The secret of high performance is that unseen intrinsic drive.
The drive to do something for the own sake of doing it, the drive to do things because
they are meaningful.

Success is not the key to happiness, happiness is the key to success!

author of the best seller “The Brazilian Box Midfield”


  1. Justin Neese says:

    WOW! What an excellent view point and a breath of fresh air this article provides! Mr. Saif, thank you for offering this blog to your readers and, Mr. Dos Santos, thank you for your great post!

    I think that most of us would agree with the point that Mr. Dos Santos makes above: Essentially, that we cannot expect our players and our game to grow if our players do not LOVE the game itself for all of the joy and satisfaction that it alone can provide. Most of us would also have read Jay H. Williams’ piece in Soccer Journal that argues that we cannot necessarily force this love with the use of the traditional coaching tools of incentive and consequence. As Williams says, “scientific research shows that incentivizing a problem solving task may stifle creativity and actually hinder the outcome. The traditional carrot and stick approach seems to weaken problem-solving abilities” (March- April 2010, Vol. 55, No. 2, page 55). Players, Williams’ research suggests, “become focused on the reward and lose the ability to think creatively. Their reasoning capacity limits how they come up with a solution” (Ibid.). If this is the case, if our task is to provide what Daniel Coyle, Malcom Gladwell, and Geoff Colvin would call “ignition,” but we know that we have to evolve the ways and means by which we inspire this ignition, then the questions, and thus our charges as guardians of the game, becomes more focused: What specific things do we need to alter about our youth soccer environment, culture, and business to help facilitate ignition, and what specific tools and methodologies do we as a coaching culture need to adopt, utilize, teach and preach to help guide ignition.
    I don’t think that I have the answers to these questions, but I do think that the following quotes (and the sources from which they are drawn) might be able to provide us with some guidance as we embark on this new point in our nation’s soccer evolution.

    To start with, let’s consult what I think should be one of our foundational tomes in youth soccer, US Soccer’s Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States: “The most fundamental skill in soccer is the individual mastery of the ball and the creativity that comes with it. This should be a priority in training and games, especially in the early years. As this skill is mastered, the rest of the game becomes easier – both to teach and to learn. Practices should be built around facilitating the development of the skills necessary to move and control the ball well. As these individual skills and the creativity to make them come alive in the game are developed to a level of competence, the finer points, first of passing skill and later of team organization can be taught” (page 4).

    Best Practices then moves on to quote Manfred Schellscheidt’s, Experimenting With The Game (a work that I cannot find anywhere – Mr. Saif, can you help?): “(Breathing life into soccer)…is more about converting our training sessions into some form of street soccer in which players, with the help of the coach, experiment with the basic elements of the game in a competitive way…Learning (in this case, soccer) is about experimenting with new things and relating to them. Mastery means coming to grips with things we have experimented with, often with repetition. It is all about developing an understanding and feel for the game. The lessons for all of us will come from the game and so will the answers. In the beginning the person and the game are separate, maybe even far apart. When things get good, the game and the person become one” (page 8).

    Finally, a quote from the author of the book that I am currently reading, Andy Barney’s Training Soccer Legends: A Proven Way to Help You Teach the Unique Skills, Tactical Speed and Mentality of Great Players (thanks, again, for the copy, Andy!!). Here, Andy describes his “Training Soccer Legends” curriculum by saying that “it relates soccer skill development to the Physical Education principles of transfer of training, (each skill builds upon the next), economy of training, (many things being accomplished at one time), and specificity of training, (everything relates to the sport and has a purpose). It utilizes accepted practice in childhood education and child psychology. It profits from the benefits of skill compounding. It involves the two skills that are easiest to practice at home and most motivating to players. It focuses on the skills that develop great self-belief and leadership. It emphasizes risk and the individual win instead of safety first and the team statistic. It trains the total soccer player not the limited positional player. It trains the ability vital to making big plays that guarantee selection to the higher levels of play, i.e. state select, college and professional teams. It refutes the instant gratification “win now, pay later” mentality that permeates modern society. It demands great failure on the road to great success. It creates players of amazing perception and skill. It “operant conditions” the technical and tactical habits necessary to play at the very top. It recognizes that there’s no way any human can learn all the techniques and tactics of soccer before they complete their youth career at age 18, and that attempting to do so will only result in poorly developed skills and little tactical understanding that can be used at the highest level” (TSL, page 10).

    If we look at these sources (and others like them), we see quite clearly that many of our leading soccer minds think that we need to reform our current youth soccer culture so that we can provide future generations with a fun-filled, zero stress environment that encourages free-flowing, fast paced, creative, skill based, and highly individualistic soccer because this will provide the players with the opportunity to fall in love with and own the game as a product of their own ideas, creativity, sweat and toil. Such an environment will not only “ignite” generations of soccer players and enthusiasts, but it will also provide fertile ground for true, economic, and appropriate player development.

    If the growth of our game in our children and in our nation necessitates this evolution in our soccer culture, and if we as coaches must move and act in our interactions with our players, teams, Clubs, Associations, etc. to support and grow this new environment, then it follows that our coaching culture needs to adopt a few new ideas or tools. There are, of course, many, many new tools that we will have to utilize, but two most prominent ones to me seem to be: Letting go and accepting mistakes. Coaches in general, and maybe American coaches in particular, tend to want to be very hands on, they tend to want to control everything about each player, each moment, each match, etc.. Though this kind of an attitude may be both accepted and necessary at professional and elite college levels, it seems wholly inappropriate for youth coaching: We have to learn to “give the game back to the players,” as USYSA would advise us; we have to learn to allow our players a “certain amount of uninterrupted play” (Best Practices, page 3). If we can learn to do this, we will also learn to accept our players “making mistakes” because, as Best Practices argues, “is a very important part of the player’s learning and development” (page 9). If we can do this, if we can learn to “accept chaos,” as Best Practices and Barney advise, if we can learn to “encourage risk taking and applaud effort” (BP, page 9), then I have a feeling that we will be moving in the right direction and that, maybe, after a couple generations of this evolved attitude, we may move ourselves closer to doing something amazing like winning the World Cup.

    The good news is that we know that Claudio Reyna is listening to this message, the question is whether or not the rest of us will be willing to listen to his advice?

  2. dez says:

    Great article Mr Dos Santos (& great blog too Mike!)

    Basically young kids need to have time to be with their friends and a football + no adult watching over them. Sounds like my schooldays in the 80s and of those of an even older generation!

    I think the problem is convincing the parents of this fact. I’m pretty sure the kids won’t object.