For Parents: Navigating Kids Soccer Programs
What You Will Learn:
- How to find the best soccer program
- What separates an elite soccer player from the rest
- How to keep kids from athletic burnout
- Top things to consider when navigating sports programs from youth through college
- Should you strength train for soccer?
About Raphael Viana and Go2Soccer
Go2Soccer was founded in 2013 by Tony Dominguez and Raphael Viana – two individuals whose soccer roots trace back to Harrison, New Jersey; a town well-known for its national record of 24 soccer state championships. Dominguez and Viana both made their marks at Harrison, each earning all-state honors while winning four combined state championships. Raphael attended Fairleigh Dickinson University playing two seasons before turning his attention to coaching.
As coaches, we are responsible for creating a positive environment that results in the player’s development reaching its full potential. We strongly believe that positive reinforcement plays a crucial role in the evolution of any athlete. Go2Soccer’s philosophy is simple: teach the game while promoting self-confidence.
Go2Soccer’s coaching style is unique because we work on building a solid foundation that includes self confidence, and a fun learning environment. With a solid foundation, there is no telling how far your child can go. Self confidence is instilled in our players right from the beginning.
Welcome to the podcast that’s focused on everything you need to know to drive your athletic career. Welcome to eye on the prize with Dr. Todd Stragan.
Todd: I’m thrilled to have Raphael Viana on this morning. He’s an elite athlete and soccer player and owner of Go 2 Soccer, an organization dedicated to training soccer athletes ages 4 to 14 years old.
Todd: Good morning, RAF! I just want to ask you first, what is your background in soccer and the soccer training as well?
Raphael: Well, good morning, Todd. I appreciate you having me on, man. I’m excited to do this with you. So, my background is, you know, I’m Brazilian, you’re born with a soccer ball at your foot, you know, when you’re born in Brazil.
Raphael: My grandfather was a professional soccer player in Brazil, big time professional soccer player, played on the Brazilian national team in the 50’s. Played pro all the way through the 60’s. So far soccer has been a big, a big influence on my family. When we moved to the states in the 80’s we moved to a town called Harrison, New Jersey, which so happens to be the hotbed of soccer, I think, in the United States arguably. So I played soccer growing up in Harrison, played an Ashland High School; won three overall state championships at Harrison high school. The number one ranked team in the state, my junior year; ranked in the country. Harrison has 25 overall state titles, the most in the country out of any sport. You can actually check that up. You can look that up. That’s a fact. After playing in Harrison, I played at Fairleigh Dickinson. I was a goalie over at Fairleigh Dickinson in Madison and I started coaching pretty early. I started coaching when I was a senior in college, sort of volunteering at Harrison High. I was a JV coach. Started as a JV Coach. When I was 21, I was a young JV Coach, and that’s really where my soccer career/coaching career kind of kicked off.
Todd: So you’ve been around soccer your whole life?
Raphael: Been around soccer my whole life.
Todd: And it’s a passion and you love it. You’ve been around elite soccer players. You understand what they go through, et cetera.
Raphael: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I’ve been around a lot of elite soccer players. I’ve actually trained a couple of soccer players as well. So, you know, I appreciate the grind, these athletes put themselves through on a day in and day out basis.
Todd: What parents want to know, and I know personally I’ve got kids, is how do you navigate finding the correct soccer program, as well as, once you’re in it, how do you know it’s the right fit?
Raphael: Well, you know, I think in the last 10 years there has been an explosion, right, of soccer training organizations, especially in ‘academy teams’, right? These, secondary options for players to go try out at. So I think the sign of a good program is one that caters to the athletes first. Right? I think soccer, like many other youth sports, have become big business. Right? And you lose sight of, that your job as a coach is there to help every athlete, not just the elite athletes, nobody comes into your program as an elite athlete right away.
Or even a great athlete. Your job as a coach is to try to get them as close as possible, to reaching their potential as you possibly can. I think the sign of a good program is where they treat all the participants the same way they would treat your top participants.
Todd: Sure. So then what attributes would you say separate an elite player from the rest of the pack and is that even appropriate at 4 to 14 years of age?
Raphael: You know, it’s funny that you say that, is it appropriate at 4. You know, the younger ages, here’s what separates, I’ll tell you exactly what separates kids at younger ages. I actually wrote up a recommendation the other day for a child who’s moving out of state and he’s a younger kid, he’s 4 actually, and my recommendation…it’s hard to…, you can’t measure a child’s athletic ability. It’s very hard to measure a child’s athletic ability at four, five years old. But what you can measure is a child’s ability to take direction, to listen, to focus, to be involved, and engaged. So at that level, at that age, that’s what I’m looking for, right? If you’re a young kid, if you’re four or five, that preschool age, kindergarten age, simple things we’re looking for is, can you follow directions? Can you engage in the tasks that are presented to you and you don’t necessarily need to be the best soccer player, but at least you’re on your way to being able to handle some of the things that we’re throwing your way. If you’re focused and ready to pay attention. Now, the older you get it’s, I mean, I would say probably right at like eight, nine years old, you can start seeing the kids really kind of pull away from each other and in these ways. It’s not necessarily about private lessons. It’s not necessarily about how many programs your parents signed you up to. It’s about what you want to do at that age, right? Is the ball always at your foot? Are you going to the beach? Are you taking the ball or you’re on vacation? Is the ball in your bag? Are you coming home? And are you juggling outside your house? You know, without your parents having to tell you without your parents, you know, dragging you into the car and then taking it to a private lesson that you don’t want to be at? A lot of times, the kids that are going to differentiate themselves are going to do it on their own.
Todd: So it’s a love and a passion that you find even with the younger kids?
Raphael: (5:09) Oh, yeah, it’s a love and a passion. It’s the kids always asking for more and you know, I’ve been coaching now, like I said, I started coaching when I was 19. I’m 36 now. And I’ve been coaching long enough now to where, you know, I’ve had kids in the past, come up to me and ask for extra work and ask for if I had any extra drills for them to do at home or any videos that I can send their way so they can practice on their own. And those kids have panned out to be good soccer players, good high school soccer players, good college soccer players. You know, it always, you know, it tends to. The good players, right? They tend to gravitate to hard work on their own, you know, they run on their own. They’re not being told when or when not to practice. They’re just always looking to improve themselves and get better.
Todd: Interesting. And you find that young, is that intangible or is that something that parents can help with or, or the coaches help with its intake?
Raphael: I think it’s intangible. Well, I think coaches can help think our job is to try to profess that love for the sport and try to make it grow and try to show them that look with hard work.
You can achieve this, but it also comes from within the longer I coach, the more I realize that it’s up to the individual player, you know, for the most part. You can try as much as you want as a coach, you can have the best game plan, the best practice plan. But if a player is coming to practice not engaged, not willing to participate, not willing to try to make themselves better or not willing to push themselves outside of a comfort zone that no matter what a coach does, that player will never achieve a level that they should achieve.
Todd: (6:42) So I know also on that same line the kids start so young and they’re differentiating into sports right away, like soccer all year round. How do you keep the kids from burning out or, and also injury?
Raphael: You know, that’s a great question, Todd. I mean more so now than ever, I think, the specialization of sports has grown to a point where…It’s almost unhealthy to a child, I think. Right? Like I, you know, I grew up playing three sports. I grew up playing. I played soccer, I played baseball, I played basketball. I’ve played with my friends, touch football on the streets; so I got exposure to a variety of different sports. I think now having exposure to just one throughout a full year, I think it’s counter productive. I think kids do burn out and I think you get like parents, you know, and kids maybe not knowing exactly how to approach these situations and then they go too hard, too fast. They have their kids scheduled, you know, five times a week for soccer sessions, you know, two private lessons, two team trainings, one game on the weekend and by the time that kid gets to eighth grade, they’re burnt out. They’re either injured, you know, or they are just not interested anymore because they’ve given up most of their pre-teen youth to just dedicating themselves to a one sport practices, five soccer activities, five days a week, or whatever sport by the time they get to high school, they kind of just they’re finished with it.
Raphael: Quick story about a player that I knew really well, who actually just graduated college, he played academy, his whole life and academy and town soccer, which people call now, which is still club soccer, but it just, where town soccer is, they pick from the town, right you’re just picking your kids from, let’s say Millburn or Livingston versus regionally. He opted to go academy, this kid, early on, which is where you get picked regionally with other kids, higher level, more practice days, higher level of competition, more exposure to colleges, et cetera. By his senior year, he already had his commitment to school so he was like, I’m going to go play high school soccer and all those years of academy, his first week of senior year high school, he tore his ACL because he put so much damage and so much time and pressure on his body over the years where he was playing soccer every single day, that by the time he got to high school, he was kind of broken down already.So you start to see injuries develop later on in kids as they get older; the kids that have played significant amounts of time as they were younger and didn’t give themselves a little bit of a rest period in between where it doesn’t really impact them in a positive way.
Todd: Now, do you, I know I saw some stuff on you, obviously, I know you, do you do some strength training as well with your, with your athletes?
Raphael: Yes. Personally, I love to string and train, you know, myself. I think it’s an important quality that I think all athletes should possess. Right. I think strength training. Aside from just making you stronger and aside from helping you avoid injury, I think strength training has an incredible, incredible benefit to mental toughness, right? I think when you get up and you, you work out when you don’t want to, when you get up and go for a run, when you don’t want to, I think that develops some type of mental callouse that helps these athletes to push through tough moments, whether it’s on the field, whether it’s in practice. Whether it’s pushing through an injury and you know, their sideline and, you know, that’s where your mind kind of takes over and keeps you strong. I incorporate strength training with my athletes. We do a lot of lunges, a lot of body work like a lot of body workouts, pushups, situps, calisthenics; Very little weights. We keep very little weights in the facility. We kind of just keep that more towards the older athletes, but we always incorporate dynamic stretches with our younger ones to make sure that they understand the importance of that. We emphasize the importance, like I said, of working out on your own as well, because what you do behind closed doors is also important.
Todd: So then to, to wrap it up, what would you say would be the three most important things for a parent and a student athlete navigating through youth sports all the way through college?
Raphael: I love this question, man. I love this question. Well, for parents, sometimes as a parent, I think you want your child to perform at his best or her best possible ability. And that doesn’t necessarily mean playing time. Right? I think sometimes you need to sit back and realize what’s best for your child and trust the process of practice, working hard, that your child’s time will come with hard work and with good work ethic, their time will come to show their showcase or sell themselves on whatever fields that they play on, whether it’s a soccer see on the football field, the basketball court, whatever. I think my main message to parents is: be patient. The cream will rise to the top regardless of how much pushing you’re doing from behind. Sometimes you get in your own way. You’re pulling your kid out of a program too soon to go to another program because your kid’s not playing the next program and you think he may play in Y program. I think we become a society of mitigating risk. We try to mitigate too much risk. And when you don’t expose your child, you don’t expose your child to the risk of not playing, you’re not exposing your child to the possibility of failing. And I think we all need to be exposed to the possibility of failure because failure lights a fire in certain people, right?When my back’s against the wall, when I feel like I’m close to the edge where I’m about to fail, you know, I’m going to kick a little harder to make sure I don’t fall off that edge. Society of mitigating failure and mitigating risk. So my biggest advice to parents: Let your child play. You’ll notice if your child’s coming home and he wants to do more at home on his own or her own. Or, if they want to play in the backyard, without you telling them to go onto the backyard, if they’re asking for more, that’s a great sign. I think parents, all you can do is as you put your child in the best possible environment to succeed. And by that, I mean, just keep a soccer ball or basketball or baseball or a football around them. You know, it doesn’t necessarily mean an email to the coach or an email about playing time or moving your kid from one travel team to the next travel team, to the next travel team, to the next travel team, because you’re never going to be happy. I find people that move themselves over and over to different situations to try to find their perfect fit are never happy because they never find that perfect fit because they’re always looking for something better or, you know, the kid that tends to stay in a certain place and maybe he’s not, maybe he or she are not the top players on the team, but they work hard enough to work their way up to the top, I think there’s a lot of value in that.
Todd: Sure. The mental toughness, character, patience, simplicity.
Raphael: And for kids, like, you mentioned my advice for kids and athletes is… I asked myself, what would I tell myself again at 14, 13? You know, when I was like, just about to hit high school, I’d work harder. I’d work harder. I could go on longer runs. I’d push heavier weights. I’d do, you know, heavyweight for less rep just to get myself mentally strong, I would do more on my own. I think we, again, like I said, there’s a crisis of people trying to mitigate risk in society now. And I think there’s also a crisis of laziness in society right now, where we’ve become comfortable waiting for things to happen to us, right? Where motivation falls in my lap. You know, motivation, doesn’t fall in your lap to get out of your house. You got to get out of your house on your own. You’ve got to find it. You got to go out and, you know, you may not find it on your first mile. You may, you know, make it that runner’s high on that second mile, but you’re never gonna know until you take that first mile, you know? So I think athletes have to do more on their own. This is huge: social media. Everybody now has the gold. Everybody now is the greatest of all time, right? A kid scores, one goal in a game against an opponent that’s not as strong, he’s got seven people to tell him he’s the greatest soccer player of all time and you start to believe the hype. You start to buy into the hype. Don’t buy into the hype. Always strive for better. Always strive to be better than you were the week before or the month before the year before. I think we’ve become complicit in the small achievements that we achieve. There’s too many pats on the back, I think right now and you’re not allowed to really get that kick in the butt, like you used to back in the day, you know? So I think you have to push kids to realize that there’s more, there’s more that you can accomplish out there.
Todd: Cool man. Hey, thank you so much for being on this morning, Rafael Viana. Go2soccer. My man.
Raphael: Thank you, Todd. And I appreciate you having me on and I look forward to speaking to you more often.
Raphael: All right. Awesome.
Todd: Peace and love, brother.
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