Why Messi and Neymar are an Endangered Species

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Why Messi and Neymar are an endangered species

Describe the best players in the world, and most are drawn to the qualities of skilful players who can carry the ball efficiently and beat numerous opponents consistently. They are also the ones to be called upon to produce something special for the team in the big moments of a game.

These players are confident, creative, crafty and selfish…. Wait, selfish?

Well if we compare the behaviours of champions with our juniors,  there’s a cultural acceptance to label the little ones who are being brave with the ball, to be selfish. If they are deemed ‘too good’ most will either be constrained in sessions with limited touches or pushed up to older age groups. Here, there is less chance of dominating with the ball and more emphasis on team play with the highest of value placed on passing.

“Pass it!”

“Don’t play with it!”

“S/he takes too many touches”

These expressions are all too common from the sideline and in coaching conversations.

Are players with Messi’s and Neymar’s ability with the ball developing BECAUSE of their environment or INSPITE of their environment?

It seems the environments that do nurture the individual are away from any formal coaching or organised sport and in the streets, playgrounds and backyards.

“I trained 3-4 hours a week at Ajax when i was little but played 3-4 hours everyday on the street. So where do you think I learnt football?” - Johan Cruyff

If sporting cultures continue to squash self-expression, those individual behaviours may well become extinct.

There is evidence of cultures raising the awareness - Dean Heffernan from Australia shares:

“The next Messi could slip through the cracks… by being knocked down within football’s systems, or not being allowed to flourish, and play creatively.” (Read More)

It’s not that we’re deliberately meaning to discourage skill. In our honest intent as coaches, there’s valid concern about engagement for all learners within the group and also be wanting to challenge the best players with extra constraints.

But if solely focusing on team play and passing ability, how will we continue to produce Messi-like runs with the ball or Neymar-like creativity?

If we look beyond the sporting realm, being oriented to self is an all-important part of the development journey, particularly early on, knowing that ‘integrative functioning is on the way.’



On another level, valuing the team over the individual can also squash a learner’s unique potential. So remember, when promoting team principles, to provide for diversity and celebrate individual expression. Knowing at the very least you are supporting every child and perhaps even encouraging the next Messi or Neymar.




Q) How do we nurture self-expression, creativity and cater for individual diversity?

Through the power of PLAY

Design the GAME
Let them Play
Watch them Learn

Our next blog will explore how to bring back the organic nature of play to our facilitated environments. (Due Monday,  14th November)


5 Comments on “Why Messi and Neymar are an Endangered Species”

  1. So true. I have coaches an u14 socccer team for the past two years and from day one I had parents yelling at their own kids to stop messing around with the ball. I was met with a mixed reaction when I went straight up to them and suggested that it was great that their son was brave enough to trust his skills and abilities to beat his opponent and that I would hate to see him lose that bravery.
    Allowing players to develop their individual talents does amazing things to their self confidence and self esteem. Its their flair that makes them special and as developmental coaches we have to respect that.
    Thanks again for your work. I’m sharing it around.

  2. Thanks Pat,
    Very brave of you to say that to the parents! 😉 We really do need to educate in the positives that you’ve mentioned. Since you’re in the field of tennis as well, what does that creativity and bravery look like for tennis players? Adventurous and unorthordox shot selection perhaps?

  3. Nice Article,

    I coached for many years and I was labeled as the coach who almost never won any trophies or medals because I always encouraged my players to dribble as much as possible. I almost always lose my best players because the parents needed to see their sons play for teams who always play to win games and tournaments.
    I was talking to one of the parents who left one of my teams in the past and he said that his son one day said “I don’t want to play soccer anymore, I’m sick and tired of you yelling on the sidelines and arguing about how I played on our way back from the games.” The father tried to force him to continue playing, but he said that for the first time he was afraid of his own son because he was taller and stronger. In my opinion, the kid was burned out.
    My own son was kicked out of the US development Academy because coaches gave priority to the players who were physically strong and fast but not technical skills of all.
    This whole USSDA was all about ‘pass it, pass it, pass it.’ At the end of the day, they did us a favor, because my son is still developing his technical skills via street soccer and Futsal.

    1. Thankyou so much for sharing Fito. Sounds like a very familiar story, unfortunately. It’s great to hear you encourage dribbling even with the pressure to win by taking less risks. Also great to hear your son is enjoying more street football and futsal environments.This is where kids are falling in love with the game for a lifetime, not burning out, being pressured and let down by the ‘pathway’ Best wishes and Look forward to hearing more positive stories for you and your son in a few years time 🙂

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