Americans are still recovering from Sunday’s nail-biting, heartbreaking loss to Japan in the Women’s World Cup Final, but a professor at the University of Delaware says Japan’s win was not a surprise.
“We, the U.S., are still ranked first in the world, but other countries have closed the gap and that has not been by accident,” said Matthew Robinson, a professor of Sport Management at the University of Delaware.
Robinson, along with UD professors William Latham and Kenneth Lewis, have spent the past year studying and comparing what U.S. women’s soccer competitors around the world have been doing to catch up so quickly to the U.S.
“I think the biggest thing is what countries are doing at the youth level and the emphasis they place on developing the player and the skills of the player,” said Robinson. “In the World Cup, what you saw was the benefit of we’re very physical, we’re better, more fitness, but the actual skill, I think both the Brazil game and the Japan game, you saw that they were more skillful with the ball.”
According to the study, countries like Japan, Brazil and German approach training differently than the U.S. They retain full-time, formally trained coaches who know what they’re doing, and who focus only on skills and repetition among kids ages 8 through 12.
“We have well-intentioned volunteer coaches, that their focus is on winning games as opposed to developing players. And a lot of the time, player development can be to the detriment of trying to win a game,” said Robinson. “Japan doesn’t even play games until like 12-years-old… We don’t do that repetition of that skill to the degree that other countries do.”
In addition to differing training approaches, the study also revealed culture as a variable as well.
“In America, parents want to see their kids playing games, and winning scrimmages and things like that, and that’s part of our culture,” said Robinson. “America, we’re bent on winning and I think you saw that in the Brazil game that we never gave up… and that’s the American mindset.”
And while Robinson acknowledges the American way of training and developing players has had obvious success, he warns the U.S. has to find a way to elevate American players to the skill level of everyone else if they want to remain at the top of the heap.