April 30, 2011
Claudio Reyna: 'Coaches should sit down'

For many reasons, Claudio Reyna was the perfect choice to be named U.S. Soccer's Youth Technical Director one year ago.

By Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America's Youth Soccer Insider)

The New Jersey product, who captained the USA at two of his four World Cups, played American youth club, high school and college ball before embarking on a career in Europe that saw him captain teams in Germany, Scotland and the English Premier League. After finishing his playing career with MLS’s New York Red Bulls, which he also captained, Reyna traveled the world to observe the most successful youth programs – including FC Barcelona.

Reyna’s research, and his own experiences, culminated in the Federation’s new curriculum for youth coaches (available for download at USSoccer.com).

Upon the unveiling of "U.S. Soccer Curriculum," Reyna spoke to us about what had impressed him about the youth programs that he found worth emulating.

“The coaches were guiding the training,” he said. “They were not controlling. They weren’t on top of the kids. They were not stopping the play for every mistake.

“None of them yelled. The only time they barked was when kids were screwing around. That’s when they said, ‘Hey, cut it out!’ And boom, the intensity went back up.”

It’s important, Reyna says, to avoid the temptation to focus on mistakes:

“When you first start coaching young players, you see so many things, because, yes, they make mistakes, and if you see a lot of mistakes you want to correct a lot of mistakes. But these coaches were really letting the kids learn the game.”

In the United States, youth soccer struggles to stifle the influence of traditional American sports.

“In our country, we feel we have to do things because of our other sports, which are very much dominated by calling a timeout, writing up a play, 'do this, do that,'” he says. “There is more of an influence from the coach in those sports to solve a situation for the players.”

Another trait of the youth coaches at clubs that succeed at producing top-level players was that they “were very organized, professional, very prepared.

“You could see that they knew what they were doing from one exercise to the next.”

Reyna was struck by the humility of the youth coaches at the pro clubs:

“Very humble. Devoted to their jobs. I got to speak to so many coaches and it was almost when I asked them things they were embarrassed to talk about it. They’d say things like, ‘We’re a part of something else. The kids are students. We’re their teachers. We have to do this job, then we pass them on to the next coach and he does his job, and I get the next group in.’

“And it was very, very powerful to see these guys who were working behind the scenes. They don’t get any credit, no one knows who they are, and for me they were fantastic coaches.”

During games, Reyna observed that “at the best places the youth coaches are sitting down. And if they get up to give instructions, they sit right back down again.

“When the game is going on, all the coaches should just sit down. I think if you ask any player at the youth level, if the coach is on the sidelines standing, it brings tension. You can sense it.”

Coaches at the foreign pro clubs Reyna observed are judged by how many players end up reaching the highest level. And that’s what Reyna says should be the measure for American youth coaches.

“For me, it’s irrelevant if coaches win state cups, regional cups, national cups,” he says. “We get a lot of resumes -- I don’t mean people shouldn’t put that in their resumes – but how many trophies they have in their cabinet isn’t important to me. It’s about the kids, it’s not about you.

“We care about how many players you develop rather than how many trophies you win.

“What is the plan you have? What is your style of play? What’s your philosophy? What do you teach them? What do you do with your staff? If you don’t address that, then what are you doing? Going from week-to-week trying to win games?”

April 23, 2011
Field play important for young keepers

Why goalkeepers shouldn't specialize too early ...

By Tim Mulqueen with Mike Woitalla (excerpted from "The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper")

When goalkeepers reach their midteens and are serious about the position, they’ll be competing for a starting spot on their club team. Some may be trying out for state or regional teams -- or even the national team program. Goalkeepers who have mastered most aspects of the position may find themselves losing out to keepers who have better foot skills. Keepers with superior foot skills expand their team's options and opportunities in numerous ways.

Goalkeepers can’t pick the ball up with their hands when it’s passed back to them by a teammate; therefore, foot skills make all the difference.

If keepers can confidently use their feet to deal with back passes, they give their defenders a valuable option when the defenders are under pressure. To do this, keepers must be able to settle the ball with either foot and pass the ball over various distances with precision. To illustrate how important foot skills have become, consider this: Goalkeepers touched the ball with their feet more times per game during the 2010 World Cup than during any previous World Cup, seven more times per game.

A keeper with limited foot skills will turn too many goal kicks and punts into 50-50 balls, meaning that the opponent has as much of a chance to get the ball as the keeper’s teammate does. Goal kicks are often the first point of a team’s attack, and having a field player rather than a keeper take a goal kick means giving up a numerical advantage in the field. Punting the ball isn’t just a matter of blasting it upfield. The trajectory of the ball can give forwards an advantage. For example, a well-aimed low punt can find a wide player who has slipped away from her marker.

The goalkeepers who exhibit exceptional foot skills at the college level and beyond are most likely the ones who didn’t specialize in the position too early. In fact, some of the greatest goalkeepers played in the field as well as in goal throughout their youth careers.

U.S. national team goalkeepers Tony Meola and Tim Howard were both center forwards in high school. That experience helped them in their ability to read the game and to use their feet. Meola’s feet in goal were those of a field player. He was proficient with both his right and left foot, and his skill with his feet played a key role in how his teams played the ball out of the back.

Hope Solo, who won the Olympic gold medal with the U.S. women’s soccer team in 2008, scored 109 goals as a forward in high school. She was a Parade All-American selection twice as a field player. Brad Guzan was a consistent starter in MLS at a younger age than any previous keeper (before he moved to the English Premier League). He played in the field for his youth club, the Chicago Magic, and for Providence Catholic High School, where he earned all-state honors as a midfielder.

These examples illustrate why it’s important for young players and their coaches to realize that having the desire and the key attributes to be a goalkeeper does not mean it’s time to specialize. Young players should take every opportunity available to develop their skills in the goal and out on the field.

Field play does more than improve keepers’ foot skills. It also improves their ability to read the game, understand and organize the defense, and anticipate an opponent’s attack. By taking part in an attack, the keeper learns to comprehend how the attack unfolds. This knowledge enables keepers to intercept through balls -- the passes that penetrate the defensive line to give an opponent a clear path to the goal -- and to recognize danger spots when the opponent prepares for a cross.

Keepers must possess game intelligence. Game intelligence allows keepers to anticipate the play so that they can make the proper decisions, and it enables them to communicate to teammates where they need to move and where the keeper needs help. The best place for players to acquire game intelligence is out on the field. The need for goalkeepers to truly understand all aspects of the game is why we say a goalkeeper is just a soccer player who can use hands.

And, as unique as the position is, goalkeepers depend on their teammates just as field players depend on their keepers. Keepers who play other positions get a good appreciation for what a field player has to do. Have you ever heard a goalkeeper screaming at a player to get back and play defense after the player just made an 80-yard run? If you’ve ever made an 80-yard run, you know that it’s not easy to get back right away and that being berated by your keeper does not help.

'FEELING' THE GAME. Making spectacular saves can indeed separate the great keepers from the good ones. But preventing a situation that requires the emergency save is the mark of the very best keepers; therefore, young keepers should constantly strive to improve in this area. There is only so much that a coach can do to help keepers “feel” the game. To a great extent, players must find it for themselves. That’s why keepers should not specialize too early and should continue to get plenty of field time in their youth play.

Being a good field player can also create a more enjoyable soccer experience for young keepers. Beyond the variety and additional challenges, it can lead to more playing time. Each team only needs one goalkeeper at a time.

A good field player can get action when it’s another keeper’s turn between the posts. Keepers who can play well in the field also get the extra respect of teammates.

(Excerpted from “The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper” by Tim Mulqueen with Mike Woitalla courtesy of Human Kinetics.)

(U.S. Soccer Federation coach and instructor Tim Mulqueen has been goalkeeper coach for U.S. national teams at the U-17 World Cup, U-20 World Cup and at the 2008 Olympic Games. He’s been a goalkeeper coach in MLS, for the MetroStars, and the Kansas City Wizards when they lifted the 2000 league title.)

April 21, 2011
Reyna unveils new USSF coaching curriculum

The U.S. Soccer Federation has unveiled its new coaching curriculum for coaches of players ages 5-12.

By Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America)

The U.S. Soccer Federation has unveiled its new coaching curriculum for coaches of players ages 5-12. Youth Technical Director Claudio Reyna presented the "age-appropriate roadmap" to player development on Wednesday to youth soccer coaches and directors at the Nike International Headquarters in Beaverton, Ore. The curriculum is available for download on ussocccer.com.

Reyna, who captained the USA at two World Cups, said four key points of the curriculum are:

1. Development over winning.

“Our players are naturally competitive,” Reyna said. “We don’t need to ramp that up anymore. The whistle blows, our kids want to win. That’s one of our strengths and we're proud of it. But if we’re manipulating and thinking winning-over-development, we’re making a huge mistake. We’re short-cutting the development of players. ...

“Our aim is to produce skillful, creative, confident players.”

Reyna, who made several references to Barcelona’s famed youth program, quoted star playmaker Xavi: “Some youth academies worry about winning. We worry about education.”

2. Quality Training.

“Make every session a quality session, come prepared, don’t waste time,” Reyna said. “Keep players focused and active. … If you have 12 one-hour sessions in a month, and you waste 10 minutes each session, you can waste two sessions in a month.”

3. Age appropriate.

“Providing players with too much too soon leads to confusion and hurts development,” he said. “We don’t need coaches teaching 8-year-olds zonal defending or an offside trap, just like we don’t teach a second-grader calculus. Kids learn rapidly, but at different stages in their lives.”

4. Have fun and inspire your players.

“If we make it fun, we’re going to inspire them. Soccer is a great, fun game,” said Reyna. “Let’s make sure we create an environment so that our players want to come back to our training sessions and be part of the fun.”

(FURTHER READING: Members of the U.S. Soccer technical staff -- Dave Chesler, Tony Lepore, Jill Ellis and April Heinrichs -- discuss the curriculum HERE.)

April 19, 2011
'Whether boys or girls: be consistent, send clear message'

A youth coach for nearly three decades, Theresa Echtermeyer is a director of coaching with Colorado United and also coaches the Mountain Vista High School boys and girls teams. She is a National Staff Coach and Instructor for the NSCAA. Echtermeyer spoke to us for the Youth Soccer Insider's ongoing interview series on key issues facing American youth soccer.

Interview by Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America's Youth Soccer Insider)

SOCCER AMERICA: If you had a magic wand, how would you use it to improve youth soccer in America?

This would have to be a magic, magic wand. I would like to see us all work together more so that we would be supporting our players of all ages and all levels.

You’ve got USYS, the Federation, US Club Soccer. You’ve got recreational, competitive. You’ve got professional, collegiate, high school, youth. There are so many different things that have the potential to pull us apart. Because sometimes when you’re competitive, whether to win a championship or to have players at your club, we forget we’re really all in it together.

SA: As someone who oversees the recreational program at Colorado United/Highlands Ranch Soccer Association, has coached competitive youth ball, W-League, and coaches high school ball -- you’ve been involved in many different areas of the game …

What I’ve seen is we really have more opportunities to learn from each other and help each other out, which at the end of the day helps the kids.

The more we share ideas and the more we work together the better it is for our kids. So we should always be asking two questions with every decision we make.

First, “Is this what’s best for the kids?”

Second, “Is this what’s best for soccer in America?”

SA: Have you seen an increase in women coaches since you started coaching in the early 1980s?

We’ve see an increase since then, mainly in women’s collegiate coaches when Title IX took its place.

But recently I’ve actually seen a decrease. I have not seen an increase in women coaches at our [NSCAA] courses. And I have not seen an increase especially at the club and high school level.

In my high school league, there are no other women head coaches – even on the girls side. At the state level, there are not very many of us. Maybe 10 percent.

The majority of the girls who come to my high school team have never been coached by a female.

SA: Why don’t we see more women coaches?

Clubs were first run by volunteers, then boards, then professional coaches. And for the most part those were men.

When you start a business, you bring in people you know, and men were coached by men and played with men, so those are the guys they know and they bring them in.

Also, when you come into a club environment, parents have high expectations and there’s a lot of pressure: trying to stay in your division, win games, develop players, all those things. You have to have a thick skin and I don’t think that’s for everyone.

And it’s a tough job description. Me, given the two jobs, working high school and club, pretty much from 3 o’clock to dark, Monday through Friday, you’re out on the field. All day Saturday and sometimes Sunday as well.

I know there’s more men who are now caretakers for their children, but traditionally it’s the women, and that’s a tough schedule if this is your full-time job.

SA: How do we get more women coaches?

It is getting better now because we’re in the second generation of girls playing sports. There are girls who played college whose daughters are now in high school -- and they see being a coach is something they can do.

Clubs need to do more to recruit and keep female coaches, giving them better support systems and having female mentors.

SA: Why is it important to have more women coaching?

I think it’s absolutely imperative that our young players have strong role models from both genders.

If you see women in leadership positions who are confident, poised, educated in their field, then young girls think, “Hey, I can be like that.”

It’s also important to make sure you put a coach in who’s qualified, whether they’re male or female.

Young players really look up to their coaches and the more balance we can get – background, gender – the better. It’s really important to put all kinds of good coaches in front of our kids.

SA: You started out coaching boys, and have been coaching high school boys – in addition to coaching girls. Do you coach them differently?

Overall I don’t see big differences between my boys and girls teams. I actually see it from team to team. Teams take on certain personalities and tendencies.

I have some teams where the reins need to be tight. Other teams are more self-disciplined, self-motivated and you don’t need to put the hammer down as much. The main thing, whether they’re boys or girls, is be consistent and send a clear message.

Let them see why you’re doing something. The days of coaches saying "jump this high because I say to jump this high" are over.

For me, getting the players to buy in, take ownership of their team and their team’s goals, that’s how I get the most out of my boys and my girls.

SA: What reaction did you get when you started coaching boys high school ball?

I think if they see you're knowledgeable and competent, they don’t look at your gender first. I think the parents appreciate having a strong female in front of their sons. I know that a lot of these boys might be working for women someday, so that’s not a bad thing.

SA: Should the U.S. Soccer Federation create a Development Academy league for girls as it did for the boys in 2007?

I’m on the fence with that. April Heinrichs and Jill Ellis [of U.S. Soccer] are the ones looking into that and the state of the women’s national team program.

The women’s national team has done fine over the years, so we’re obviously doing some things right. I know the people at the top levels are looking for more. More technical development. If they put that program in place, will they get that? I don’t know. It depends on how it’s done.

(Theresa Echtermeyer is a Director of Coaching for the recreational programs at Colorado United and the Highlands Ranch Soccer Association. She has coached high school soccer for nearly 20 years and currently serves as the boys and girls coach Mountain Vista High School.)

April 18, 2011
When They Were Children: Stories from the Stars

By Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America's Youth Soccer Insider)

One of the more enjoyable parts of interviewing stars is hearing anecdotes from their youth soccer days. Here are some from this season's MLS players:

WINNING CAME LATER. Chicago Fire captain Logan Pause recalled his teen years with Carolina United, coached by Elmar Bolowich.

“I didn’t win a state cup once,” Pause said, “but we had a fantastic training environment and a lot of guys developed in that and took it to the next level. Those years were really when I put a lot of energy and focus into developing my game, and Elmar was a big part of it. We were probably one of the most talented teams never to win a thing, but six, seven guys went on to play collegiate Division I ball.”

Pause, now in his ninth MLS season, won the NCAA Division I title at UNC (also coached by Bolowich) and with the Fire lifted two U.S. Open Cups and a Supporter’s Shield.

BOUNCING BACK. FC Dallas’ David Ferreira, the 2010 league MVP, played soccer barefoot on the streets of his hometown of Santa Marta, Colombia.

“One time I slipped and broke my arm,” he recalls. “Right after I got my cast on, I was playing again, because I always love soccer.”

Since arriving in MLS in 2009, Ferreira has been fouled more than any other player, yet he’s started in 68 straight MLS games.

DISTURBING THE NEIGHBORS. Another Colombian star, Fredy Montero, painted a goal on the wall in the backyard of his home in Campo de la Cruz when he was 7.

“My brother was always the goalkeeper,” Montero says. “I scored many, many goals, and I would have problems with my neighbor, with the people who lived next to us. Because whenever I scored it went ‘Boom!’ The sound was really, really bad.”

Montero led the Colombian league twice in scoring by age 20 before in 2009 joining the Seattle Sounders, which he's led in scoring the last two seasons.

THE JOY OF SOCCER. New York Red Bulls playmaker Dwayne De Rosario, who has won four MLS titles with San Jose and Houston, remembered pickup games in Scarborough, Canada:

“We played in the streets, in yards, on fields, in parking lots, at recreation centers, in the lobbies of apartment buildings. There were no restrictions on who played. There’d be little kids and old men. It was play with no stress. Pure joy."

CJ Sapong, a Virginia product whom Sporting Kansas City grabbed with the 10th overall pick in the 2011 SuperDraft, signed up for soccer, basketball and baseball when he was 6:

“It's funny, I'd play a half (of soccer), and my baseball game would be just across the street and I'd go play a couple of innings there, and (then) I'd make it just in time for my basketball game. I remember wearing my basketball jersey underneath my baseball jersey sometimes, just hop in the car and go straight to the (basketball) court, play a couple of quarters and then straight to the soccer game.”

He focused on soccer in high school. “Being that my parents are from Ghana, [soccer’s] what they knew,” he said, “and that's what my dad could help me with when I got home.”

IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT. D.C. United’s 19-year-old rookie defender Perry Kitchen started playing when he was 5 and was allowed to move up to a higher age group only because, as his father Chris explains, “After the first game, every little kid on the other team was crying. Perry had decided he was always going get he ball and score.”

Once he entered his teens, Perry joined the Chicago Magic, which meant a commute of more than three hours from their Indianapolis home.

Said Chris, “Perry learned to drive when he was pretty young. I'd say, ‘Perry, I’m tired. You’re driving,' and got in the passenger's seat."

BACKYARD KEEPAWAY: New York Red Bulls defender Tim Ream, whose rookie performance in 2010 led to national team duty, had the advantage of growing up with plenty of siblings to play ball with at his St. Louis home:

“I’m the oldest of five children. We always played in the backyard. We had a kick-back net. We were always shooting on each other. Always trying to make each other look foolish. We played four vs. one. Keepaway from the little ones. See what they can do.”

COLLATERAL DAMAGE. A.J. Soares, a first-round draft pick by the New England Revolution out of Cal, broke cabinet doors and shot a perfect circle through a window of his home at age 5 while launching his career.

“My dad made me fix the window,” says Soares. “He helped, of course.”

His taste for glory came, “When I was 12 in the Surf soccer tournament, I scored a great goal from the outside. At the time, I thought there were a lot of fans there. Maybe there were 20, 30 people. They were all cheering and that’s a feeling you get attached to. People cheering for you and your team winning a game. That feeling is something I try to feel everyday.”

April 12, 2011
'Coaching still a boys club'

Miriam Hickey, who has coached girls youth national teams in her native Netherlands, is the Girls Coaching Director at Vardar East and was U.S. Youth Soccer's 2008 Competitive Coach of the Year. She's also on Michigan Youth Soccer's board as Recreation Director. Hickey spoke to us for the Youth Soccer Insider's ongoing interview series on key issues facing American youth soccer.

Interview by Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America's Youth Soccer Insider)

SOCCER AMERICA: Have you seen an increase in women coaches?

I don’t see an increase, unfortunately. I took my UEFA B license and in my class we had four women. I got here, took my [USSF] B, and there were three women. At the A license, I was the only one.

We need to get more women to go to the coaching courses. But it’s pretty scary at times to go to a course to get your D license and you’re the only female and the testosterone is flying around like crazy because all these men at age 30 still want to prove how good they are.

It might be a good idea -- we did this in Holland -- to have courses for only females. We had male and female instructors and invited female coaches to the course.

SA: Why don’t we see more women coaches?

We’re not supposed to take the lead. More than even in Northern Europe, it’s still a boys club here.

Here you see so many male coaches. Most of the older ones are all from England and such -- and when they came over here there was no soccer over there for women.

When they coach girls now, they’re probably a little bit out of their element. More than that, they want to direct what happens on the field. The girls don't learn how to direct the game for themselves or for their teammates because the coach is telling them what to do every second. So they don’t feel like that’s something they could do.

SOCCER AMERICA: How do you see the future of recreational soccer in time when competitive clubs are courting players at younger and younger ages?

There should be a level for every child who wants to play soccer. And the better players should have an opportunity to go to a better team.

But the players who are not ready should not be pulled into travel soccer. Within our club, we also have a 700-member recreational league. Unfortunately, every year a lot of kids who are not ready get pulled to different clubs. A lot of times, it’s just to fill the teams and it’s not right. They should stay within the level they can handle and have success.

SA: You're saying that clubs over-recruit because they want the registration income?

Coaches want to make money. The more kids you have, the more teams you have, and the more money your club makes. All I want is that 6-, 7-, 8-year-olds to play until they’re in their 50s.

But if it’s just not fun because they’re not playing at their level, the coach sits them on the bench, or the coach screams at them because they’re not doing what they’re supposed to do because they’re not ready in the first place -- then they drop out.

SA: How does one determine when a child should move to a more competitive team?

Even with our 5- and 6-year-olds if we see they dribble past everybody and score eight, nine goals a game, yes, let’s get that child out of that system and let that kid play with more players their own level.

We want players to take players on and dribble, dribble, dribble at that age. But the other players have got to have a chance to play as well, and when you have two or three really good kids within one team, then the other six or seven just don’t get to play.

So players who are too good even at 6 or 7 should make a jump and play with kids their own level.

SA: How does this compare with your youth soccer experience in the Netherlands?

We played on the street and we might have 30 kids. We said, “No, you’re not good enough. This is the good group and you guys can play over there and have your own game.” And everyone was fine with that. It was ages 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 -- different ages playing together. But there were no coaches and no parents telling you what to do. We arranged it ourselves. That is missing here.

SA: How does your club cope with high cost of youth soccer?

We’re one of the more affordable clubs in our area and at the same time one of the better clubs in the area. But there are people who can pay more so they go to the clubs that are more expensive because they think that the more expensive it is, it must be better. It’s not about how much it costs. It’s about how much your kid improves every week.

SA: How do you keep costs down?

We just don’t pay our coaches as much as those other clubs. We’re going to lose another coach this year who’s been asked to go to another club that wants to pay him way more than we can offer. So he’s going to leave. A couple of years ago a coach left and took his whole team with him because they were going to pay him more.

We’re just not going to do that. I come from an environment where we thought a $150 a year was a lot to charge a kid.

SA: Why is American youth soccer so much more expensive than in other countries, such as the Netherlands?

There, only the professional clubs and top amateur clubs have professional staff. Everybody else can do with volunteers, but the sport has been there for a 150 years. In my family everybody played. My uncles, my father, my grandfather. That’s how it is in every family. So you have knowledgeable people directing the sport and so you don’t spend a whole lot.

The fields are city fields, and you don’t have to pay for them. There’s only one association that leads all the different leagues. So you have a really good pyramid going from 4-year-olds to 60-year-olds. And, of course, it’s a smaller country.

SA: Right. Travel costs are another reason why American youth soccer gets pricey. How does your club handle the tournament options?

We go to a local preseason tournament, and that’s it. We don’t play tournaments during the season. At the end of the season, we go to an out-of-state tournament to play teams we hopefully don’t normally face.

If you look some clubs, their Web site will say their U-11 girls team is 42-3. A lot of those games are tournaments. They pick tournaments where they can tell the parents, “Look how good we are. We can beat everybody.”

They take guest players. They sit their weaker players hoping they get guest players to join their club next season.

SA: What do you think about the proliferation of organizations running youth soccer in the USA?

There shouldn’t be four or five associations trying to govern a sport. All these new leagues popping up left and right are all pulling on the same pool of players.

It should just be U.S. Soccer and they have an office in each state. They have professional people who direct it. U.S. Soccer should direct the game from grassroots all the way to the national team level.

U.S. Club Soccer has their ECNL event for the girls at the same time there’s an ODP national championship. I got to believe they do that on purpose. Kids shouldn’t have to decide am I going to play for my state or am I going to play for my club.

That doesn’t happen in other countries. They work together. Trying to get the national team to highest level possible. That's not going to happen if we’re basically fighting against each other.

SA: You’ve coached both boys and girls. Do they require a different approach?

I never looked at it that way. I don’t see a lot of difference and I don’t want to see a lot of difference. To me they’re soccer players. There’s no difference to how I coach boys or girls.

SA: What’s your advice for communicating with players?

I ask questions. I’m not going to stop a training for five minutes to explain something or ask questions. If they don’t get it in 30 seconds, then I’ll give them the answer and I know he or she doesn’t understand it, and I gotta make sure I keep an eye on that and next time in training I’ve got to go over it again.

SA: What’s your club’s criteria for coaches?

First of all, they need to be good people. They need to be good with players. We look for people with extensive soccer background.

You’ve gotta have been a pretty good player because we want to make sure they can show the skills to the young ages. They have to be able to make a curriculum that makes sense for each age group.

At age 7 and 8, we don’t worry about passing. Let them dribble. If he loses the ball too many times, his teammates will tell him, “Hey, I was open. Give me the ball.” We’re not looking for play-by-play coaches.

SA: Should the U.S. Soccer Federation create a Development Academy league for girls as it did for the boys in 2007?

They should be responsible for the sport from top to bottom. Why only have an Academy for boys?

The reason then was the women were winning. The Federation needs to take away the power from all the other organizations and have a girls Development Academy where the teams are not playing 50, 60 games a year. They can train with capable coaches. I’m hoping they will hurry up and get it done before all these girls are pulled in different directions again.

(Miriam Hickey is the Girls Coaching Director at Vardar East of Michigan, former head coach of Louisiana State University [1995-96], and former staff coach for the Dutch soccer federation [KNVB].)

April 05, 2011
Lecture them not

If being told how to play enabled children to master soccer we'd have an excess of great players and superb teams. The game, it is so obvious, is the best teacher. That's not to say the coaches' choice of words doesn't have an influence. The question is how a coach can communicate with youngsters to help them improve, inspire them, and make their soccer experience an enjoyable one.

By Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America's Youth Soccer Insider)

“Obviously it depends on the age group,” says Sam Snow, U.S. Youth Soccer’s Coaching Director. “My dialogue with U-6 players is going to be different than with U-19s. But right away, there’s part of it. It should be a dialogue not a monologue.

“And that’s one of the big issues for a lot of our coaches. They indeed want to lecture the players.”

Says Manny Schellscheidt, “Lectures are for the birds.”

“Every good coaching manual I see now starts with the three L’s: ‘No laps, no lines, no lectures,’” says Tony Lepore, a U.S. Soccer Development Academy director whose background in education includes a decade as an elementary and middle school guidance counselor.

Schellscheidt, head of U.S. Soccer’s U-14 boys national development program, Lepore and Snow agree that one of the most misguided approaches coaches can take is hold postgame lectures.

“We definitely teach coaches: No postgame mortem!” says Snow. “No match analysis right after the game. After the game, if it’s U-12s, for example, the sportsmanship piece comes first. Shaking hands with officials, opposing coaches and players, and my players. Then take care of any injuries and rehydration, and do a cool-down.

“And if I have any wrap-up stuff to say, I want to point out some positives. Then, ‘Next practice is on Tuesday, 5 o’clock on Field 7. See you there!’

“If you need to do some match analysis, we’ve always taught coaches that it’s best to do that 24 hours later, at a minimum, where you get yourself on an emotional even keel.

“Right after the game, you got the emotions. I’ve done it in the past -- we’ve all made this mistake -- standing there going up and down the players in regard their performance. That’s just the coaches dealing with their emotions about the game rather than anything constructive in terms of helping the team improve.”

Schellscheidt has coached at every level of the U.S. men’s national team program, in addition to winning national titles at the youth, amateur and pro level.

“After the game, we do nothing,” Schellscheidt says in regard to coaching the U-14s, “because they’re way too charged up, way too emotionally wound up, be it positive or negative.”

When the time comes to discuss the game, Schellscheidt says, “It’s very much a back and forth -- asking the players what it was like and how it felt.

“How did we succeed? What were the problems? What could we do? What could we not do? It’s all about engaging a soccer conversation. A lecture? Forget it.

“In these long-winded, drawn-out speeches -- after the second sentence, they’ve lost us already. I’m at the point where I don’t give answers anymore. I only ask questions. Because it doesn’t matter how much I know. It doesn’t matter how much I can tell them. It matters whether they involve themselves in the thinking part.”

Snow says the US Youth Soccer national youth license course advocates the “guided discovery” approach.

“We’re taking it straight from education,” says Snow. “That is to pose questions to players to get them to think for themselves and guide them toward the right answers.

“Get the players where they’re thinking for themselves rather than just being told what to do.”

Of key importance is age-appropriate communication. Avoiding coaching jargon that youngsters won’t understand and focusing on aspects of the game they can comprehend.

“It’s really important to speak their language,” says Lepore.

Snow: “As they get older the questions get more challenging. At U-6 it could be, ‘Can you dribble with your other foot?’ For U-19s, U-18s, it might be, ‘Why are we playing zone defense.’”

Regarding the postgame, Lepore says that players do appreciate some closure – a few words from the coach – but always in a positive tone and in a discussion rather than lecture form. He recommends pointing out things the team did well that are unrelated to the final score.

“They know what the score was and they’re probably going to get that on the way home,” Lepore says.

During practice, all three agree that a coach should introduce one concept at a time, and then let the players have a go before expanding on it.

Schellscheidt says the key to all coaching communication is to be concise.

"If you can’t say it in 20 seconds, you probably don’t know what you’re talking about anyhow,” Schellscheidt says. "The coach is really a substitute voice. We want the players to hear the silent voice, the game. The game is actually talking to you."