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  • Writer's pictureDon Draxler

The Road Less Traveled

Embracing the Uncharted

In the ancient year 1978, M. Scott Peck penned this literary gem, urging us to embrace the road adorned with bumps, turns, and potholes – a path less trodden, where getting lost becomes an art form. It's a journey that thrusts us into the realm of the unknown, away from the safety of the familiar.

The Temptation of the Paved Roadway

Amidst the virtual cacophony of online discussions, chat groups, and well-thumbed books, there persists a hymn advocating for the predictable and comfortable paved roadway. A symphony of advice on adhering to the conventional route, saturated with misinformation about how we perceive the intricacies of our surroundings. Questions echo endlessly: Should we mold young novices into technical prodigies before letting them engage in a game? The common refrain: they must master the basics, for without the fundamentals, they won't look the part. A visual testament to a coach's prowess – orderly and competent, far superior to the unruly, deliberately playful enthusiasts.

In this world of order, discipline, and adherence to the coach's curriculum, our young ones appear precociously advanced. Their first steps echo greatness, a visible testament to their improvement, backed by the ever-loyal partner, research. But what transpires when the playful-thinkers catch up in strength and speed, challenging the progeny we've meticulously shaped to embrace safety and the rules of efficiency on the field?

Behold, the Bump in the Road

A staggering revelation awaits – over 70% of kids in the U.S. abandon the journey by the tender age of 13. A colossal waste of potential in the vast expanse of a nation. Even premier academies worldwide share this woe, recruiting younger talents who, more often than not, face teenage release. The culprit? Burnout, lack of passion, and a damning verdict of not being good enough.

Decades of Tradition

The question echoes – despite our decades-old methods, teaching fundamentals and tactical wisdom, why don't we churn out a higher number of extraordinary players? Perhaps an alternative road, one that's bumpy, uncertain, and adventurous, beckons. Should we dare to explore it?

Amazingly, research suggests that kids can kick a ball without formal instruction. They learn to pass after engaging in enough 1v1 and 2v2 games, as we’ve learned from the powerhouse Belgium FA. Street football and pickup games foster camaraderie, just take a look at the Spanish cultures. Structure with freedom – a paradox that transcends traditional coaching, allowing young minds to formulate solutions on their terms. They revel in the games, experimenting with ball manipulations, discovering their bodies' relation to the ball.

Range and Variation

Like David Epstein mentioned in his book Range, we seem not to know what’s best for us. We like to see immediate results, and it’s too hard to look into the future. Quote, “80 percent of students were sure they had learned better with blocked than mixed practice, whereas 80 percent performed in a manner that proved the opposite. The feeling of learning, it turns out, is based on before-your-eyes progress, while deep learning is not.

No Contest

Their preference? Team games over isolated drills, collaboration over competitive superiority. Pick up a copy No Contest by Alfie Kohn, where he goes through the research on how collaboration outperforms competition within schools. The freedom to make decisions devoid of judgment from coaches or parents unleashes fearless execution. They yearn for more play, attempting to lure friends back to sports, reveling in the joy of co-designing their experience with the coach. In union and togetherness, not a top-down approach.

Conformity Academy

Many youth find themselves enlisted in the ‘conformity academy,’ (tradition) contemplates quitting, disenchanted with a system that follows the well-trodden path. When will we grasp the essence that innovation and creativity sprout from the fertile soil of freedom in thought, action, and exploration?


Alas, some may not have read the sign, signaling they are on the road to nowhere. More young souls are destined to drop out or be dropped. Is it that they lacked what it takes, or did we extract too much from them to care? The irony remains, etched on the winding road less traveled.


Inspired by something I heard from John Kessel, former US Volleyball’s Director of Sport Development:

“If four kids showed up on a field with a ball what would happen? They would play.

If four kids and an adult showed up on a field with a ball?...They would do drills.”

The Ultimate Question: Drill or Play?


What would the kids you know prefer? Drill or play?



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