Interview by Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America's Youth Soccer Insider)
Lorne Donaldson is the Executive Director of Coaching of Real Colorado, which has nearly 5,000 players and competes in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy and ENCL. In the second part of our interview we spoke about youth soccer's high costs, how his club evaluates coaches, and the field-size problem.
SOCCER AMERICA: You mentioned that traditional youth clubs in the Development Academy must compete with MLS teams that don’t charge the players. And that high costs in general remain a major problem in youth soccer. Do you see any solutions?
LORNE DONALDSON: One thing that’s frustrating is when a youth club produces a player for a pro club, it doesn’t receive a dime. We’ve got a kid trying out in Europe and if he signs we don’t get anything. In other countries, clubs get compensated.
Nobody’s addressing it. They just, “Well, it’s a labor law issue.”
But if I have a player for nine years and he leaves for an MLS club, they could make a donation for scholarships. That’s legal! We’re a 501(c). The MLS club could say, “Here’s 5 grand,” or whatever. “Hopefully you can use to it find more players.”
We would use that money to get more inner-city kids.
SA: Why is it important to bring inner-city kids into the fold?
LORNE DONALDSON: The players who tend to be exceptional are the ones who are hungry day-in and day-out. I think it’s the same in football and basketball. The players who come from a background of need tend to be a lot hungrier. We need more of those kids who are very, very hungry and need a way out.
When we become more inclusive, we are more likely to produce more exceptional players. We produce a ton more good players than in the 1980s and 1990s. I’ve seen some very, very good young players in the younger generation coming through. But the exceptional players -- we’re still not producing enough of those. …
SA: How does your club pay for its scholarships?
LORNE DONALDSON: We try our best never to turn away players because they can’t afford it, no matter if they're recreational or Academy players. We have people who from the kindness of their heart give us scholarship money. Usually getting scholarship money is from a private donor.
SA: If income from pro clubs isn't on the horizon, what are other solutions?
LORNE DONALDSON: I don’t see why the big company supporting soccer doesn’t take a club and say, “Here’s X amount of money, go out and get kids from the inner city.” And they would hold us accountable. …
Trying to develop them in the inner city is very, very difficult because they don’t face that competition in their environment -- sometimes their diet is not right -- and you have to get them kind of away from that so you can get them proper training. ... We’re in the suburb. They have to get transportation. They can’t afford it.
SA: What are some qualities your club looks for in its coaches?
LORNE DONALDSON: First and foremost is they have to be able to relate to the parents and the kids. A lot of coaches might say, “Well I’m not going to talk to the parents because they don’t do that in Europe.” This is not Europe. Here this is a parent-driven business.
They have to be smart enough to relate to the parents and the kids.
I also look at education. If my coaches are telling our players to go to college, they have to be guys who have done it before, at least been there. Not everyone, but coaches with a little college background know the experience and can actually say, "I have done it." That helps out a lot.
Obviously, coaches have to know the game and know the stages of development.
SA: And oft-cited detriment to player development is an overemphasis on results at the younger ages. …
LORNE DONALDSON: I always say there’s a very fine line between winning and development. You’re developing players but if your records aren't good, players feel discouraged and they’re going to switch teams.
We put in a lot programs with an emphasis on development over results, but when you try to do that and people pack up and leave. Good thing we’re a big club.
They tend to come back. They’ll leave us at 10, 11 because they’re not winning. They come back at 14 and they can’t make the team anymore. And it happens a lot. ...
Clubs will recruit just like colleges coaches, sitting in their living room making a pitch to parents of a 10-, 11-year-old.
SA: One thing I see a lot that does not seem conducive to player development is having young teams play on huge fields. ...
LORNE DONALDSON: I agree. I think 11v11 can be fine, but the problem in this country is little kids playing 11v11 on fields 120 yards long.
Even if we don’t make the numbers smaller, shrink the field. I’ve watched games where it takes them five minutes to get to the other end.
We should mandate field sizes appropriate for the age level. I’ve tried to get our state to do it, but they say, “Lorne, everybody doesn’t have a complex to do that.”
I say, just mark the field size. You have portable goals, move them in, mark the field size. Spray the lines for the box. It’s the easiest thing.