A series of articles by Next Gen Technical Director – Jeff Bookman – Former Head of International Technical Youth Development for Chelsea FC
Does your child dream of being a professional soccer player? My guess is Yes. But is it likely to be a reality? It is probably unlikely.

Under no circumstances am I saying, “Come to Next Gen and we will make you a professional soccer player!”. What I am saying is that if your child DREAMS of being a pro, then the chances are they have a passion for the game, and that’s a big thing. When you combine this real desire with professional guidance and a plan based on “What’s best for the player” … you just never know where it could lead to! 
Holistic Youth Development:  Learning to Play – Playing to Learn.
There is no magic formula for becoming a professional player. There is also no guarantee at the younger ages that the most talented players will be the ones who go on to make the grade. On the contrary, it’s often those who have the best attitude and character, that leap-frog the early developer and reach the higher levels.
There is also no quick fix when it comes to Youth Development. It’s a long-term strategy, which like a school curriculum, systematically builds year-on-year, with age and current aptitude appropriate lessons, supported by good tutoring. At Next Gen, where we differ from most organizations, is that our focus is not on winning leagues or tournaments, but, instead to get players into the middle of 3 very important aspects during their development years:
  • NUTURING TALENT – Developing the Technical / Tactical skills required to play at a higher level. Providing the tools that allow them to make good decisions on and off the field.
  • DEVELOPING ATTITUDE, CHARACTER & LEADERSHIP SKILLS – No player will reach their full potential without a good attitude and a strong character
  • STRIVING FOR ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE – The vast majority of Academy players across the world do not reach the pinnacle of professional status. So, Next Gen Leadership Academy (NGLA)* is pioneering a way forward for elite players here in the U.S with a hybrid of Soccer & Academic studies, to provide pathways for a potential career in their area of passion for the sport of soccer.                                                                                                                                                                       Learn more about NGLA

Winning v Development
While at Chelsea, I gave lectures at Chelsea-affiliated clubs about why winning is not so important during the developmental years. On one occasion, a parent of a 12-year-old boy approached and told me how passionate his son was to win, and how distressed he became when the team lost. So, I gave the boy 2 scenarios and asked him to choose which option he preferred:
  1. His team won 5-1. He didn’t score. He didn’t create a chance. He gave the ball away on the majority of occasions he was in possession. It was his fault for the goal against. He was substituted… but his team won.

  2. His team lost 2-1 in a great game. He was the undoubted star on the field. He scored for his team and created numerous chances that his teammates failed to capitalize on, on the day. The opposing manager and the officials all congratulated him on a wonderful performance…. but his team lost.    Guess what option he chose?

It’s true we play to win, but the most promising young players need to experience competing in a more meaningful, professional environment. At
Next Gen, we call that
Winning Development !

International Experience
Bob Gansler and Jurgen Klinsmann, both former National Team managers, have gone on record, stating that if soccer players in the US truly want to Develop and Challenge themselves, they must do so against the best players around the world, and not just play against the same opposition on a regular basis.

When I was growing up, I played a lot of Tennis with my friends. We had great rallies, I hit the ball well and I honestly thought I was a good tennis player… Until one day I had a “knock-up” with a friend who went on to be a Junior Wimbledon Champion! I realized then that I was a “recreational” tennis player, who could compete with friends, but when it came to playing the serious players, I was woefully short. The moral of that story is, as Bob Gansler said, you can be competitive at your own level, but to really develop you need to be stretched and challenged. In terms of soccer in the US, that means getting out of the comfort zone of State cups and the usual tournaments, and competing against some of the best teams and players in the world.

As I write this article, I am heading to a Tournament in Holland with a group of 2002 Boys representing Next Gen. We are the only non-professional team invited into a competition involving, among others, Chelsea, Bayer Leverkusen, Club Brugge, West Ham, PSV, Feyenoord, Vancouver Whitecaps and Sparta Rotterdam. Whatever the score in any of the games, from a developmental perspective, our players cannot lose!

In 2017, Next Gen boys across ALL age groups would have played against world class professional academies in Argentina, Brazil, England, Holland, Belgium, Portugal, Spain and Denmark. And our girls will play in UK and Finland. But there is one significant difference between us and other organizations offering Soccer Tours to professional clubs or entering Tournaments, and that is, Next Gen’s groups will not be a random mixture of players coming together for one trip, never to be seen again.

On the contrary, as players grow with Next Gen programs, many will have had an International Developmental Experience in multiple countries. How would that look on a College application? Year 1: I went to Argentina and played Boca Juniors & River Plate. I learned I could compete physically, but needed to work on my first touch and decision making. Year 2: I played in a Tournament in Belgium against Celtic & Barcelona. I learned my first touch had improved but still needed to be better with my decision making Year 3: I went to England and played Chelsea & Liverpool. My first touch and decision-making were better and my developmental focus should be on “better understanding of game awareness”.
Year 4…. You get the drift.

International Development Festivals (IDF)
In spring and fall, due to club schedules, we are restricted for access to the best players. In winter, we are often restricted for space in crowded indoor facilities. Its only during the summer that we can truly get best-with-best from across all regions coming together in inspirational learning environments.

IDF’s are NOT JUST ANOTHER SUMMER CAMP. They include Professional coaches from some of the best Youth Development Academies in the world. They come only to Next Gen for a series of unique 4-day experiences, which forms part of our year-round Player Development cycle. The in-depth contact time at IDF with the professional coaches works out as equivalent to the time spent at a 10-week program, and as such allows players to:

  • Be stretched in training, working every day with a coach from a different pro club
  • Get real insight into the training methods of some of the best academies in the world
  • Gain an understanding of roles and responsibilities in position-specific practices
  • Develop Tactical awareness in a games program with International coaches as team managers
  • Be challenged playing against good players from top clubs around the region
  • Strive to be identified and selected for try-outs at some of the pro-clubs
  • Get noticed to play in the prestigious tournaments, playing some of the top academies in Europe and South America.
  • Learn from Character of Champions workshops to develop skills that help reach full potential both on and off the field

Try-outs with the pro clubs is not a fictitious promise. There are genuine opportunities, which have been afforded to Next Gen players every year. Getting in front of 10 professional clubs from 8 different countries would be an impossible task for any individual player, but with Next Gen you can, and at a fraction of the cost it would be to travel to any one of them!

There are many companies offering supplemental training. Several organizations run tours and others run summer camps. There’s also a few schools who offer a soccer program.
  Look out for more articles on Developing Young Soccer Players coming soon