(WGHP) — Keri Jones was never an elite soccer player, but she knows and appreciates the game.
“I played growing up,” she said.
Her older daughter tried playing when she was very young but without much success, so Lex moved on to dancing. Recently, Keri bought a couple of small soccer balls and started a program called Soccer Starts at Home.
“When I brought these small soccer balls home, she kind of found an interest in it again, and she kind of just picked it up and started moving the ball around,” Keri said. “As any parent will tell you … kids’ attention span is pretty short, and we get distracted easily.”
Sometimes they might do things with the ball for five minutes or on a good day, maybe a half-hour or more. It’s the brainchild of a former American soccer player named Tom Byer who moved to Japan to play professionally.
“After I hung up the boots in Japan, I wanted to stay in Japan, so I had to figure out a way that I could stay there,” Byer said. “I started focusing on youth development … which was good timing … for Japan because they were kind of in need of trying to figure out how to develop better players.”
Both Japan’s men’s and women’s national teams have had one of the fastest ascents up the world rankings, and most observers credit Byer’s work with getting that done. It’s work he now wants to bring to North Carolina.
It’s not just regurgitating what he was taught as a young player. Byer saw real holes in the US training regimen and wanted to create something new. He started with some research.
“There’s 211 member associations that make up FIFA. On the men’s side, there’s only eight countries that have ever won a World Cup tournament. So I started studying these countries … Do they have better coaches?” Byer said. “What they have is a culture of development that starts way earlier than everybody else does, and it starts as early as a child starts to walk.”
The idea has several key elements:
- the number one reason kids quit soccer is they aren’t having success playing
- what the things kids most want to do is spend time with and please their parents
- kids respond well to low-pressure environments when they’re starting out
- a kid who loves having a ball at his feet will love the game
“I started studying the great players of the world, and I found out that those players, in particular Latin players, Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Italy … don’t fall in love with playing soccer at first. They fall in love with the ball, and the ball facilitates that lifelong love of playing and watching the game,” Byer said. “It’s called, Soccer Starts at Home … because we place the parent and the child at the center of development.”
“Looking at his stuff, it’s fantastic because I’m sort of putting all the pieces together in my head, and I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, this is it’,” said legendary UNC Soccer Coach Anson Dorrance.
Dorrance has done it all as a coach: won 21 national championships with UNC and a World Cup with the US Women’s National Team.
“It’s interesting when people look at my career. They think that the thing I’m driven by is … competing for championships, and that’s certainly a piece of it,” Dorrance said. “But if they really understood who I am and what my true ambitions are and what gives me incredible joy, it’s watching a player go from one level to the next.”
He’s seen plenty of it but believes the Soccer Starts at Home program will do that unlike any he’s seen. The program comes with a series of videos and a book to guide parents that is being administered by North Carolina Youth Soccer and its website.
“The thing I love about Soccer Starts at Home is the ideas are incredibly simple because all we’re teaching them is ball manipulation,” Byer said.
The best part is that it will all be free, which is not a small thing in a sport that has been often criticized as being too expensive for most families.
Well, maybe the best part is that you don’t have to end up as a lifelong soccer player to see big benefits from using the system.
Harvard Medical School professor Dr. John Ratey has studied it and says this program will make your child a better reader, better at math and just a better student, overall.
“You’ll give the kids a head start in making their brain better … They’re going to turn on so many brain cells, and it will be the scaffolding for the future for them,” Ratey said.
See more on Soccer Starts at Home in this edition of The Buckley Report.