One of the most unique soccer thinkers I’ve met here in Charleston is Kenyon Cook, a former college player for the University of North Carolina who was raised overseas in an American diplomatic-corps family.
He’s spent most of his adult life teaching the game here in South Carolina, but when Cook talks about youth development, he speaks from the perspective of a man who grew up in Europe and South America.
On Saturday I’m going to be heading out to watch some of Copa Charleston, one of 30 scheduled stops on Cook’s 2013 World Futbol Tour (participation makes teams eligible for State Tournaments, leading up to the big WFT 3v3 and 6v6 World Cup IV on July 27-28 here in Charleston).
I’m going on Saturday in part because it’s a local soccer event. But mostly I’m going because of some of the ideas on display.
Since this weekend’s event is already booked, I don’t want to write a standard preview for it. You’re free to go out to the James Island Youth Soccer Club main complex at 871 Fort Johnson Road on Saturday morning and watch, but you can’t sign up to play this late.
So rather than do the standard thing, I thought I’d get out of the way and let Cook speak.
WFT: What it is?
Cook’s WFT is, at a basic level, one of several for-profit traveling 3v3 tournaments (it also includes a 6v6 component, but I don’t want to get too deeply into those details right now) available in the United States. You sign up a team of young players, the organizers handle the details, and a full day of soccer proceeds from there.
WFT has tweaked the standard 3v3 tournament model over the years, and as a result, Cook’s tour is expanding.
But what I find particularly interesting is the thinking behind the rules that Cook has evolved for WFT.
Q & A
CHS: What’s the attraction of 3v3?
KC: The attraction was smaller fields, more touches, more engaging game, like two-on-two basketball. There’s a simple philosophy: More touches, more skill development.
CHS: What about 3v3 makes it particularly good for youth players?
KC: The (World Futbol Tour) brand of 3v3 is a more innovative brand of 3v3. Several things are key differences.
No. 1, smaller fields. So we offer more touches. We offer twice as many touches as our counterparts for most of the age groups, because our fields are half as small. No.2, we have another rule that they don’t have, and that’s the dribble-in option, which means the player puts the ball down for a goal kick or a kick-in, and they just dribble it in and start playing. An immediate engagement of play.
(Editor’s note: Another reason for the dribble-in rule was that Cook had noticed that with two players on offense and three on defense in a smaller area, the defensive advantage created an imbalance to matches that he wanted to address.)
CHS: Talk a bit about the rules you evolved over time, and why you instituted them.
KC: We call ourselves “the player’s tour” because our mission is to create a game that as closely as possible resembles free play, but that is organized and competitive.
In so doing, we have taken away the ability for adults – parents and/or coaches – to communicate, to give directions, to the players that are playing on the field.
They are not allowed to talk to the players on the field. The players have total freedom of their game. Much like pickup soccer, or any pickup sport, the game is now the teacher. The kids have to make their own decisions.
We do allow the coaches to talk to the kids when they come off the field. But once they go back on the field, they cannot give any instruction to the kids.
And this is a huge problem in this country. We’re trying to develop soccer players by telling them what to do. That’s a bit exaggerated, but nonetheless, it’s reality. We don’t have kids growing up, like they grow up in other parts of the world, where they grow up and the game is the teacher.
Here’s what’s sad, and again, this is a general statement. You take average players, 10-year-olds, 9-year-olds, whatever, who have been playing coached soccer for several years, and (say to them) “OK, kids, go play. Here’s a ball,” and you throw a ball out there. And let’s say you’ve got six to eight kids. They will turn around and say ‘What do we do? What drill, what activity do you want us to do?’ They struggle with the idea.
CHS: How did the no-talking-to-the-kids rule come about?
KC: Very simply, we don’t want our sport to be more of the same.
In general, youth sports in this country, you go to a sporting event, and you hear parents. You hear parents more than you hear the kids. They’re either yelling at the kids, yelling at the ref. Meanwhile, the coach is also trying to engage the kids verbally, or the ref. It’s mental overload for kids.
I grew up in Europe or Latin America just playing the game. We just played. We were kids. We didn’t have interference from adults. And I wanted to create that environment.
So it started off two years ago. We introduced a rule where the referees now have the ability to go to the coach and the coach can then warn or caution the parents. We came up with a rule that if the referee cautions a coach or the parents or even a player, that team must remove a player for 60 seconds. Like in hockey or indoor soccer, it’s a power-play, and now you’re playing 3v2.
The result of that was surreal, because what I just did was I created a situation whereby if a parent was in violation of our Code of Conduct, we would then in turn punish their child. Not punish the adult. Punish the child.
Consequently, the parents zipped it up. It’s been beautiful.
We also have limited the number of fouls a team can commit in a half. They’re only allowed two fouls in a half, after which, on the third foul, that player who commits the third foul – not his or her third foul, but the team’s third foul – they must leave the field for 60 seconds.
CHS: Why limit fouls that way?
KC: We’re trying to create a game that’s more creative, that protects players (who are developing skills)… and that encourages (kids) to play defense within the laws of the game.
CHS: How does this relate to the way we’re developing youth talent here in America?
KC: Three-v-three is now a staple of U.S. Soccer in terms of player development. For U-6 and U-7 players, it’s now something where we want you to start with your young kids playing 3-v-3. That’s what we want. So 3-v-3 is becoming more popular, but most clubs very quickly progress to larger fields, more players, etc., etc.
We’re saying, “Do this much more. Don’t be in a hurry to get to a big field.” This is how kids are growing up developing all over the world, and we’re rushing to play 11-v-11.
CHS: Why involve adults in these tournaments?
KC: American adult soccer has fallen in love with small-sided soccer: 6-v-6, 7-v-7. Leagues exist all over the country, indoor and outdoor. Easier to manage, (fewer players). They like the idea they can play for an hour and go back home. Lots of activity. They like that.
I decided to bring in 6-v-6 to create more of a futbol-family event, but also to give adults, which typically are the stepchild to youth soccer, an opportunity to go beyond just playing in the local league.
If any of this interests you, the WFT will be back in town on June 22 for the Battery 3v3/6v6 Summer Blast.