Consider this quote from “No Hunger in Paradise: The Players . The Journey. The Dream”, by Mike Calvin:
“The statistics are really sobering. Out of all the boys who enter an academy at the age of 9, less than half of 1% make it. Or a make a living from the game either. The most damning statistic of all is only 180 of the 1.5 million players who are playing organized youth football in England at any one time will make it as a Premier League pro. That’s a success rate of 0.012%. Pretty much the sort of chances of you being hit by a meteorite on your way home”
This statistic applies not only to football clubs in the UK. Academy players all over Europe confront the same mind-blowing percentages. In the United States the figures are likely worse. Pause and let that reality sink in for a moment. Your focus and aim is developing future professional players. However, the odds of players reaching that lofty goal are out of step with the pro player dreams 99% of young players hold onto.
As a club leader, perhaps your focus and aim should be be much broader than football. Maybe the youth football club experience should be more than just the dream of a pro contract. Is there something else more achievable, perhaps more valuable, that we should want as an ultimate objective for your young players.
The reality is that the overwhelming majority of youth players need Plan B. Even if they make it to the professional ranks, they will always be one injury away from Plan B. They will need to find an alternative career path in society. Don’t discourage young players from pursuing their football dreams. To the contrary, encourage them to pursue those dreams at a club that offers a positive, authentic Club Culture.
A club that can educate and guide players toward their goal of being a professional player, but also prepares them to be valuable contributing members of society if a professional contract is not in their future or Plan B is needed.
So why do club leaders devote the overwhelming majority of their effort into football tactics and strategies and virtually nothing into other aspects that are important for developing human beings? Most coaches simply don’t think about. For others, the easiest explanation is that believe culture just happens. If a group of players and coaches show up at the same time and place, a fantastic culture will simply materialize. That’s flatly wrong, of course.
Establishing an authentic and impactful culture requires intentional and deliberate architecture and daily execution. It requires a culture-first mindset. This is perhaps the most important change required at youth football clubs. Building the club’s future means working with young players to help them to find ways of fulfilling their potential, in whatever pursuit or opportunity comes their way.
A truly great club does more than develop athleticism, tactical intelligence or ball mastery. A great club promotes the human values of friendship, work ethic, shared struggle, empathy and sacrifice. A great club does not undermine the value of education or the arts and encourages players to mind their studies and prepare themselves for the next chapters of their lives.