Thanks for the opportunity to expand upon what Graham and Jan rightly pointed out in the article, “Players Path to Proficiency.” factors in development;
The two aspects mentioned by Graham and Jan are massively important from a developmental perspective. The play-practice-play model introduced by US Soccer is definitely an improvement on their previous approach. Still, that alone will make a minor difference (in my opinion) than it would address the two points raised by Graham and Jan. Of course, if all of the aspects mentioned were addressed in tandem (access to small-sided fields, vertical pick-up play, and better-organized practices), this would be a huge benefit to youth soccer in the US.
Futsal seems to be growing here, which is a big positive. Access to futsal courts is great, but the same kind of development can be had from pick-up games on the field or random hard surfaces. The development gained from playing unorganized, sometimes brutal pick-up games cannot be overstated. The exclusion of adults from this equation is almost always a good thing for the development of young players.
I have some personal experience of the issues mentioned by Graham and Jan; let me briefly address this with my anecdotal evidence. I played on tennis courts and basketball courts growing up. Still, mostly I played 5v5 in an indoor hall for 10+ years (much of that as a teenager against adults, addressing the vertical play issue). I wasn’t quite good enough to stay at the top level. Still, I developed an exceptional game IQ and touch, primarily because of the indoor 5v5 exposure. I’m absolutely sure of that. Why?
That was the only differentiating factor between myself, my twin, and older brother; aside from the fact I played way more indoor soccer, our development and experiences were almost identical, and yet I can say with all due respect to them (they were both very good) that I developed into a much better player.
To summarize, no single issue will ‘fix’ youth soccer in the US. It is a combination of factors that need to be addressed to see noticeable change (including all of the above issues). Even then, culture and early engagement with a ball are additional issues, but I won’t expand on that for now; I’ve said enough!