Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Soccer Wars: The German Way

World Cup watchers may have noticed that several of the best American players were German Americans who grew up in Germany. Bloomberg has an article on the German soccer machine. It reminded me of why Germans continue to scare the hell out of me.

Brazil certainly underperformed on Tuesday and throughout the World Cup. Its wins have all been lucky, barely, or both. But Brazil didn’t just fall apart against Germany (although it certainly did fall apart). Germany beat them with the precise and inspiring soccer it’s played all month in Brazil. This is not an accident, a golden blessing of a generation of talented fussballers. It follows a 14-year plan to find all the kids among 80 million Germans who can really play soccer, train them young, and get them attached to a professional team.

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The Guardian wrote a great piece on the German program last year, or you can read the DFB’s own chest-thumping self-assessment from 2011. Germany’s standardized national program starts teaching the same skills to 6-year-olds all over the country. It’s run in every town by coaches who have to get a license from the DFB. Then by age 8, as training continues, scouts are watching for the kids good enough for the club programs.

This spring I watched my German godson, Paul, play a soccer game with his youth team. He’s 8 years old. German kids at that age don’t play herd ball. They play their roles, make clean passes, and pick their shots. None of this is left to chance. His youth club, TV Rodenkirchen, is part of the national program. And standing on the sidelines—for a league game between 8-year-olds—were professional scouts.

Every professional club team in the first and second division of Germany’s Bundesliga now has to fund its own soccer high school. Between 2002 and 2010, the amount that professional club teams spent on youth development almost doubled, to about 85 million euros a year. We can already see what this spending has helped create. Last year’s Guardian article listed them:

Joachim Löw, Germany’s coach, is blessed with a generation of gifted young players—Julian Draxler (19), Andre Schürrle (22), Sven Bender (24), Thomas Müller (23), Holger Badstuber (24), Mats Hummels (24), Mesut Ozil (24), Ilkay Gündoğan (22), Mario Götze (20), Marco Reus (23), Toni Kroos (23) … the list goes on.

By comparison, most American kid teams are coached by an adult who never played and barely knows the rules. "Kick with your toe - not your foot" I heard one yell. Of course all this disciplined planning and selection is anathema to the American way.

Imagine it being applied to, say, science talent.