los angeles

JAN 11-15, 2017

Background: How I came to meet Tom Byer

After briefly working as personal assistants & technique demonstrators to the legendary youth football development guru Wiel Coerver at the Al Wasl Club in Dubai UAE, my brother Simon and I introduced Wiel Coervers material to Australia (what was later to become Coerver Australia headed operated by the NSWSF) and arranged the sale of the Wiel Coerver (Philips-sponsored) instructional training videos to SBSTV (Australia). We also personally presented the first Coerver training method demonstration for the New South Wales Soccer Federation at the 'Parklea' headquarters as guests of David Lee. After this period, we occasionally kept in touch with Wiel Coerver and his trusted first assistant Michel Mommertz but we were not involved in The Coerver Coaching method itself.  During this time I had learned that Wiel Coerver and Michel Mommertz had employed several coaches to assist them in the Middle East, such as former Manchester United assistant coach Rene Meulensteen and Ricardo Moniz of Spurs. On the franchise side, I was also aware of people heading up regional divisions of the now named, Coerver Coaching Method (camps, DVDs, coach licensing, etc.) in other parts of the world. One such individual had achieved great success in Asia, specifically in Japan, where he developed an enthusiastic following, with TV shows, magazines and camps. His name is Tom Byer. You can see his most recent book here

About Tom Byer: His work in Japan and China

Tom Byer is renowned for revolutionized youth soccer in Japan and developing a culture of 'self practice'.  After running Coerver Asia, he went on to launch T3 soccer in Japan, which became very successful.

(In Japan, Tom Byer is referred to as "Tom San", with the title of "San" being a sign of respect used towards other people whom you are speaking of, or addressing. "San" also means "three" in Japanese, so Byer used this play on the pronunciation to create the brand name "T3").

The success of the brand and attention he received resulted in Tom being recruited by Chinese Football due to its desire to grown the game in the world's most populous country. Tom & T3 is one of the biggest name in Chinese youth football today, receiving major, support investment and contributions from Beijing Guoan, supporting Grassroots Football Development together with the Beijing Bureau of Education. See article here. and is mostly focused on players ages 1-4 years of age. This may seem unusual, given the widespread understanding that technical training is more suited to children ages 5 or 6 and older, but he is simply sharing his teachings, opinions and findings about how families/parents can create a culture from within the home, which is after all, the child's playground, in order to grow the player base in China. Tom believes the motor skills and technique developed in the home when the players are in their formative years enhances the learning curve when players move into more organized sports. As a young player, I undoubtedly benefited from this same philosophy and reality myself, as I entered organized youth soccer very late by today's competitive youth sports standards. 

Meeting Tom Byer at the NSCAA Convention

Several months ago, I learned from Tom that he was presenting at the NSCAA Convention in Los Angeles. I had not met Tom in person, but for several years we had been corresponding frequently. While there were a variety of speakers and topics covered at the event, I had a particular interest in hearing Tom speak. 

I ended up attending several of Tom's speaking events, one of which coincidentally included Anson Dorrance as the moderator in a discussion about the role of the USSF Development Academy in female youth soccer development. The panel consisted of Tom (for his unique insights into youth development), the US Soccer Women's Technical Director, Director of the USSF Development Academy and the ECNL President.

My interest in Tom Byer was to hear his viewpoints on player development in Japan, where he is based with his family, and of his impressions on China, where he now spends a majority of his time. 

Japan has a small amount of registered players. They have a lack of grass and turf facilities and players often train on hardtop surfaces and small spaces on less than perfect fields. Despite this formula, Japan has still produced world class players and won world championships. mostly on the womens side. Japan is now considered by many as one of the best youth talent pools in the world on the womens side of the game and achieved much success on the mens side of the game. For Japan to have so few registered players and often poor facilities AND, according to Tom, an apparent lack of quality instruction and coaching, yet enjoy such great success (particularly in women's soccer where Tom has had a great deal of experience preparing/teaching some of the best players who have played for Japan. e.g Miyama), they must be doing something right. It’s an acknowledged fact that having good facilities doesn't necessarily make for good players. The best players in the game often grow up with many obstacles to overcome - bumpy fields, with varying level of grass, or on turf, or concrete using a variety of balls - everything from tennis balls to regular soccer balls. But what about limited player pool and lack of quality coaching? What is it that they are doing to develop their players? 

Tom was able to offer insights into the reason why he believes Japan have done so well and his reflections on Chinese and US soccer. In addition to attending Tom's talks, we were able to meet up with him on a few occasions during the convention to discuss these topics at length. We enjoyed a private dinner and several after-dinner conversations, where we discussed at length on several of the points around player development and learning. 

Takeaways from Tom Byer's talk: 

  • Tom Byer claims that there are only 35,000 registered female players in Japan. I'm unsure if this was the total number of competitive players or if it includes recreational players too? "Recreational" usually means players practicing only 2x per week for 1.5 hours, or less. 
  • They typically don’t have top facilities in Japan (see comments above)
  • Tom has a culture of learning in the home. He placed a couple size 1 mini-balls in every room in his home and encouraged his two sons to touch the ball and documented their progress over years, from very young ages. He told the boys not to just kick the ball and to be as creative as possible, for instance, protect the ball, pull the ball back, dribble, etc. 
  • One of his sons' coach was a rugby player who let the kids play and allowed them to display their creativity because he had no idea if what they were doing was right or wrong. They dribbled, "hogged" the ball and did what they wanted without being corrected. Tom made this point only to illustrate that his son was able to make progress from the practice he did at home and the coach delete this: [and his team practice] played a caretaker role is his son's development. By saying this, Tom Byer was not advocating for poor practice habits or delete this: [poor coaching level] but merely placing the emphasis on the home practice. Coupled with team practice this environment still allowed his sons to improve. What we can assume from this and what has been proven is that if you have a high level coach working with the team, practice with highly qualified and competent coaches then the learning curve improves.
  • Japan is a year-round, one-sports culture 
  • He stated that the USA probably has better coaches than in Japan
  • He suggests Japan has better players and a better development system -- even with less good coaches and poor facilities because players practice and play more year round and focus on technical development 
  • He stated that the USA does not have a practice culture. He doesn't think that parents in the USA would agree to having their children practice for 6 hours a week from ages 3-7 years of age. I told him about PSV Union FC, our youth soccer club in northern California, which has a practice and training focused philosophy, and a high practice-to-game ratio, and is one of a small number of clubs with this model. 
  • Tom's sons' teams spend two x 2.5 hours/week plus Sat and/or Sun for 52 weeks of the year practicing and playing soccer, which he considers the norm in Japan.
  • Tom believes that many coaches prevent children from doing what they naturally do, which is to dribble and be creative and learn to possess the ball. I suggested that players should have permission to create and to explore. Without permission there is no action
  • Tom stated that at the younger ages, girls in Japan do not have separate girls-only teams. The girls join the boys teams. 

My Own Reflections and Conclusions:

I have conducted my own study of the practice-game ratio for female youth players in California for years. What I have observed, (a rough but educated estimate) is that most teams and players only do two x 1.5 hours per week of team practice, while very few teams practice more than 3x per week. I estimate that there are only 3,000 female players ages U10-U18 in California who practice more than 3x per week. Of those 3,000 players, I estimate only one-third "self-train" (or train independently outside of team practice with a coach) which means that we have only approximately 1,000 players statewide that should be considered "serious" players. 

I related what Tom said about raising the base and becoming familiar with the ball and comfortable with the ball at the youngest ages to that of an American named Edward Demmings who was a major reason for Japans post war development.

See following excerpts from Wikipedia: "Many in Japan credit Demmings as one of the inspirations for what has become known as the Japanese post-war economic miracle of 1950 to 1960, when Japan rose from the ashes of war to start Japan on the road to becoming the second largest economy in the world through processes partially influenced by the ideas Deming taught. Deming's teachings and philosophy are clearly illustrated by examining the results they produced after they were adopted by Japanese industry, as the following example shows. Ford Motor Company was simultaneously manufacturing a car model with transmissions made in Japan and the United States. Soon after the car model was on the market. Ford customers were requesting the model with Japanese transmission over the US-made transmission, and they were willing to wait for the Japanese model. As both transmissions were made to the same specifications, Ford engineers could not understand the customer preference for the model with Japanese transmission. Finally, Ford engineers decided to take apart the two different transmissions. The American-made car parts were all within specified tolerance levels. On the other hand, the Japanese car parts were virtually identical to each other, and much closer to the nominal values for the parts—e.g., if a part was supposed to be one foot long, plus or minus 1/8 of an inch—then the Japanese parts were all within 1/16 of an inch, less variation. This made the Japanese cars run more smoothly and customers experienced fewer problems."

The club I co-founded, PSV Union FC, requires each player in the club to practice 4x per week in addition to a weekend practice or game and encourages players to self-train and play year round. We have had much success and have a lot of good young players coming through the club. After founding a training program in 1990 that provided camps and clinics to thousands, we decided to set up a youth soccer club in 2003 so that we could focus on teaching the game to a specific group of dedicated players, and develop these players in a year-round program with a special culture and environment. We lead with an emphasis on self-training, practice in the home or neighborhood, playing a variety of systems, learning to master the ball, and being player and club centric rather than team centric. We are the smallest club in the country with USSDA status. While we are proud of this recognition, this has not changed our club in terms of how we practice, teach, play or address the development of each player. The demands US Soccer have made on us are no more than what we are have already been doing for years and what we have been trying to promote to the region for the past 20 years, which is: more practice, less organized games, more focus on technical development, less systems-based teaching, player and family development (educating not just players but parents), ownership & responsibility (player centric not coach centric), less emphasis on win-loss records, etc.

For example, players on our 8-10 year old team will be reminded by the coaches, that if they kick the ball away with no purpose or thought or pass it too soon or kick the ball long aimlessly, nothing good can come of this action. We often insist that players actually should endeavor to "over-dribble" and only make a pass if their teammates are in a better position than themselves. We do this NOT because we are trying to make them players who are incapable or unwilling to pass to their teammates. Rather, we want to teach them to pass (or dribble) because they have decided that this is the best option, and not out of obligation, fear of being reprimanded, or losing the ball, or because they lack the skill to choose a better option. In fact many of the players we train want to share the ball with teammates, without considering other options. While this "generosity" is admirable and keeps other team members happy (in the short term) it does not help to develop the potential for "special players" or players who can think, initiate, improvise and create differently or independently, nor does it encourage the explorative mindset that kids need to feel liberated enough to engage in. Passing in systems can have its benefits, but it doesn't make players better on the ball for more than a brief encounter. Players can become "cogs in a wheel" and are often not presented with the latitude to develop a more holistic skillset if they are instructed to only perform certain actions or functions. The players who can dribble, pass, receive and shoot better will always be the players who can make a difference and significantly impact a game, not just individually, but collectively. 

To that end, at every level of the game, there is a tremendous value in players who are capable dribblers, can score special goals, can master the ball, are creative playmakers and can out-maneuver opponents with their individual ingenuity, skill and insight into the game. These players can also reap the most enjoyment and satisfaction from being true masters of the game and enjoying the game's unique nuances and challenges.

Gary Ireland 
Jan 22, 2017