May 17, 2013
The Death of a Referee: Make it an Hour of Silence

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

"The yells and insults from the sideline from the parents make kids more violent.”

-- Utah referee Pedro Lopez, the brother-in-law of 46-year-old referee Ricardo Portillo, who died last week after being punched by a 17-year-old goalkeeper.

In addition to working as an editor of Soccer America my whole adult life, I have been a player, fan, referee, youth coach and soccer dad. I love the sport. I even like the smell of my daughter’s shinguards, which my wife wants left on the porch. (Apparently I suffer from Proustian Phenomenon).

During the last decade I’ve grown even fonder of soccer because I’ve been involved in the youth game. Watching youngsters explore the joys of the sport is simply delightful and makes one appreciate soccer even more when watching it played brilliantly at the highest levels.

But there’s something about soccer -- all sports, in fact -- that I loathe. And it’s that, for some reason, it brings out behavior in adults that would not be tolerated in any other setting.

At the professional level, coaches wearing suits on the sideline throw tantrums that would embarrass a toddler’s parents. Adult fans sitting next to children in a stadium yell obscenities at the top of their lungs. (Just one example that really bothered me recently: In Azteca Stadium in March -- you probably heard this yourself if you watched it on TV – tens of thousands of fans chanting a horribly offensive slur at Brad Guzan each time he took a goal kick.)

But worst of all are the adults screaming from the sidelines at youth games. Whether it’s the coaches or the parents -- what on earth makes otherwise civilized people believe that it’s acceptable to invade children’s playtime in such a way?

One can’t imagine an adult screaming at children on a playground but this is tolerated when they’re playing soccer. If you think your kid unfairly got a bad grade, you might discuss it with the teacher -- but come into the classroom screaming and you may just get arrested. Yet usually well-mannered adults go raving mad at referees in front of children.

I watch many, many games, from youngsters in the park to the very top level with the world’s best referees. And I have discovered that the frequency at which referees make incorrect or questionable calls averages out about the same per game at every level. Why in the world would you expect a referee -- very often a teenager -- at the youth level to whistle a perfect game when the refs of the EPL, the World Cup, MLS, etc., can’t pull it off?

Besides, criticism from the parents and coaches is usually so biased, plus they’re generally not in a good spot to see the incident, that it’s very often wrong.

Our league, NorCal, has quite rightly called for a minute of silence before all the games this weekend.

I say, for the adults, let’s stay silent the entire game, every weekend. Sit back, relax, and relish the sights and sounds of children playing a wonderful sport. You'll find it's more enjoyable for everyone when there's no screaming.

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for East Bay United/Bay Oaks in Oakland, Calif. He is the co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)

May 10, 2013
'Patience is crucial for coaches' (Q&A with Red Bulls' Bob Montgomery, Part 2)

In Part 2 of our interview with the Bob Montgomery we asked the New York Red Bulls' Director of Youth Programs about the clubs' coaching philosophy, its structure and the challenges of producing pros
for the first team.

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

The Red Bulls, which last year had more than 20 players called up to a U.S. youth national team, were rated Soccer America’s top 2012 boys youth club – the first time an MLS club claimed No. 1 since the rankings’ inception 10 years ago.

SA: What do you look for in coaches at different age groups?

BOB MONTGOMERY: One of our coaches is a pretty interesting guy -- Manny Schellscheidt [who four decades ago became the USSF’s first A licensed coach, has coached at all levels of the U.S. national team program and has won national titles at the youth, pro and amateur levels].

I’ve worked with Manny for years and one of the things we’ve always said is:

You’ve got to have people who are good with kids, who have patience. One of the points he always makes is, if you treat each child as if he was your own, then you probably won’t make mistakes.

You don’t need these coaches who are concerned with winning and losing and their record. They have to be patient and they have to be teachers. It’s not about winning championships.

Kids growing up, they’re supposed to develop. There has to be a fun part of it. It’s not work. If you make it work, you’re going to turn them off. ...

You’ve got to find the age-appropriate coaches. A U-16 coach … maybe he would be a good U-12 coach, but maybe he wouldn’t.

When you’ve raised kids you know you have to be patient and continue to teach them. Some young coaches come in and they’ll explain something once and they’re frustrated that’s it’s not picked up. Well, if you’ve had kids then you know you’ve probably told them 700 times they have to put their shoes back in their room, and don’t leave them in the living room, before it finally clicks in. That’s parenting and teaching and coaching.

SA: Do you have a policy about sideline coaching during games?

BOB MONTGOMERY: Coaching during the game happens at every level -- it’s just a matter of doing it at the right time and the right place, and not over-coach.

The philosophy is that you’re teaching and training during the week, and the weekend, the game, is the exam. Like school, you study all week, and then you have an exam.

Our goal is to create players who can make their own decisions. So we don’t have our coaches yelling directions all the time.

There are some things, like a coach talking to a central defender, or a holding midfielder, because something needs to be changed. But we don’t want non-stop chatter. That’s completely ineffective. By the time you finish telling a kid something, the play’s over. They need to make that decision on their own. They need to read the game.

Instead of yelling at the left back, the better way is maybe let him get burned. Let the other team take advantage. Then later on ask him what happened. ... “My position wasn’t good.” ...

SA: Do you urge your coaches to sit down during games?

BOB MONTGOMERY: They should be at the bench, whether they’re sitting or standing there. But patrolling the sidelines and constantly yelling is something we don’t want.

Sometimes it’s nervous energy. I had one of my coaches like that the other day, and I spoke to him afterward, “You know you’re commenting a lot on plays. What you’re trying to do is put a band-aid on something. At times we need to let the guys fail, because they’ll learn from that.”

He kind of disagreed, and then he reviewed the videotape of the game -- the camera was right by the bench -- and sent me a text, “I watched the video and I was talking too much, too many play-by-plays.”

When you’re involved in a game, almost like a player, sometimes you don’t realize it. It’s nervous energy. I’ve seen coaches who cuss too much. And if you say something -- “Watch your language.” They say, “What do you mean? I didn’t curse.” If you have video, it helps.

SA: What age do players come under your umbrella?

BOB MONTGOMERY: The Academy we start at U-13. But we have the training programs for the local community -- 7 to 14, boys and girls -- then we have we have what’s called an RDS Program, which is select programs. Those programs we do charge for. That’s a division of Red Bulls Training Programs, and that is a profit center. Our Academy teams are fully funded.

The RDS will bring in the best kids from the area, almost like a state or regional team, and the best kids train one night a week together. An additional training and they do technical training and small-sided. And they work with the better players. Many of them enter our Academy teams.

At the Academy level, we have U-13, U-14, U-15, U-16, U-18, and the college players can come back if they’re invited and play in the NPSL U-23.

SA: You’ve said that one of the challenges of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy programs is doing a better job at getting involved in the grassroots, at the 8- to 12-year-old level ...

BOB MONTGOMERY: When we get 13-year-olds, we’re starting with players who have a number of bad habits because they haven’t learned to work in small units, the building blocks. How do you play 3-v-2? They don’t understand a whole lot of that.

The fact is they still come out of youth soccer that still is so many games, so many tournaments, so much winning-at-all costs mentality – those are the players coming in to our Academy.

We find that at U-13, U-14, U-15 level, there’s a lot of retraining, trying to break bad habits, it’s much easier to establish good habits and teach good decision-making than to try and reverse them.

May 03, 2013
USA's No. 1 club aims to produce more pros (Q&A: Red Bulls' Bob Montgomery, Part 1)

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

The New York Red Bulls, which last year had more than 20 players called up to a U.S. youth national team, were rated Soccer America's top 2012 boys youth club -- the first time an MLS club claimed No. 1 since the rankings’ inception 10 years ago. In Part 1 of our interview with the Red Bulls' Director of Youth Programs Bob Montgomery we spoke about the club's quest to produce pro players, the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, and the impact of pro teams on the youth soccer landscape.

SOCCER AMERICA: The Red Bulls (nés MetroStars) were one of the first MLS clubs to launch an ambitious youth program. How would you assess its progress?

BOB MONTGOMERY: I think it’s going very well. When I came on board five years ago is when we decided to have a fully funded academy and to model it similar to European model, where the focus is on player development. Now the clubs in the area and people in the area are now recognizing that we are the best place to be for player development.

One of the attractions is that it’s completely cost-free. We have six teams, five in the regular season, and we bring our college players back and play in the NPSL so we can keep track of them and see how they’re progressing.

We’ve had seven players sign with the first team and we’ve had numerous players over the last few years who have been selected to U.S. national teams.

SA: The Red Bulls won the U.S. Development Academy’s U-15/16 title in 2012. How important are results?

BOB MONTGOMERY: Wins and losses -- we do win. Our teams are successful, but the emphasis has to be on individual player development.

It’s important in developing pro players that you want people who want to compete, who want to win. That’s a trait that’s very evident in professional athletes -- the desire to win and to work hard. Our job is to just make sure they do it in what we feel is developmental and with proper soccer. So we’re not looking to just play long and over the top and get athletes to run on to it. Because we all know that down the road there’s always someone just as big and strong as you, and if you don’t have a brain and you don’t have the technical ability, it’s not going to work.

SA: MLS’s investment in youth programs is substantial -- Commissioner Don Garber says it’s about $20 million league-wide annually. How does a club measure that the investment is paying off?

BOB MONTGOMERY: You judge yourself on who truly goes to the first team. But if we look around the world, it’s a pyramid and only the very best actually move on and will play in the first team.

When I came on board, they told me a good number is if you have a player every other a year -- a player who truly makes it.

We have academy players come through the system, or coming back from college, and are around for one, two, three years and are released. I’m talking about guys who come through your club, the homegrown guys, who become contributing players who play for your club for eight, nine, 10 years. That’s what we’re trying to develop.

It’s not necessarily a Lionel Messi or Thierry Henry, a star player, it’s about a guy who is a good club person who comes from within and contributes over 10 years. Those people are very valuable. If Connor Lade can play for Red Bull and have a career for 10 years, then we’ve done our job.

[Editor’s note: Besides 23-year-old Lade, homegrown players on the current Red Bull roster are Amando Moreno (17) and Santiago Castano (17). Red Bull homegrown signees now with other clubs: Juan Agudelo (Chivas USA), Matt Kassel (23, Philadelphia), Sacir Hot (21, Hessen Kassel/Germany)]

SA: What’s your opinion on the impact of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, which the Red Bulls have been part of since its launch in 2007?

BOB MONTGOMERY: The Academy is in its infancy. What I would say for U.S. Soccer and its Academy program and youth development in general – is we started in the middle and now we’re working our way down.

We need to do a better job and get involved in the grassroots. True development of players is going to occur between 8 and 12 years of age. We need to find a way to impact that.

We do it in the training program where coaches go out and work in the community. They do summer camps, but it’s not full-time … we can go and can teach and we can recommend, but it’s up to them to adopt the policies, procedures and the development programs that we think is best.

Quite honestly, across the country, I have heard, you have heard, and everybody else has talked about it for the past 25 years -- that with young players you should play in small numbers. We should be playing 5-side at certain ages, and 7-a-side and up to 8-a-side, then at 12 or 13, move to 11-side competition, because it’s a process that they need to go through.

If you look around the country, we’ve got U-12 national championships, all these tournaments, and we’ve got 7-, 8-, 9- year-olds playing on huge fields, adult fields, and playing 11-side, and it doesn’t make sense.

SA: There seems to be a good amount of strife between Academy clubs and non-Academy clubs, and pro clubs and independent clubs that begrudge MLS clubs having an advantage in that they fully fund the Academy teams …

BOB MONTGOMERY: I think there’s issues with some clubs. They think they should keep the players and they don’t want to allow them to come. … But right now I think it’s working well for us. We have a good relationship with most clubs in our area and the coaching staffs. Many of them understand when their kids want to come. …

Why come to Red Bull? What’s the difference at Red Bull? Our U-16, our U-18 players are getting into training sessions with our first team. They’re playing in reserve games. We’re averaging four players for each reserve game. Those are the advantages of playing with an MLS club.

Some clubs understand it. Some clubs still feel they’re our major competitor. Down the road, I don’t how many years – 3, 4, 5 or 10 -- I think eventually MLS should have their own leagues with people that are doing things the same way, funding their programs, developing their players. That way we have control of how we do things.

But for now it’s not a major problem.

May 01, 2013
MLS Stars: When They Were Children

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

One of the more enjoyable parts of interviewing pros is hearing anecdotes from their youth soccer days. Here are some from this season's MLS stars in the Youth Soccer Insider's latest edition of "When They Were Children."

DARLINGTON NAGBE (Portland Timbers)
Born in Liberia, Nagbe moved to Ohio with his mother at age 11 after living in France, Switzerland and Greece, where his father played pro soccer.

In Ohio, where the winters are so cold, it meant lots of indoor soccer -- in gyms and in the house.

“I liked to play with a mini-ball and a regular soccer ball,” says the 22-year-old Nagbe. “Did I break things in the house? Yeah, a lot. ... What did I break? ... I can’t say because my mom doesn’t know about it. SuperGlue works pretty well.”

SEAN JOHNSON (Chicago Fire)
The 23-year-old who’s currently No. 3 on the U.S. national team goalkeeper depth chart, grew up in Georgia, the child of Jamaican immigrants. Johnson loved soccer just like his dad, a semipro player, and tried to emulate the way Thierry Henry scored goals.

Now Johnson tries to keep Henry and other MLS stars from succeeding because at age 12 he became a goalkeeper while his Atlanta Fire was in Jamaica for a youth tournament.

“I was 12 years old when we went to a tournament and our goalkeeper got hurt,” Johnson says. “Our coach asked everyone if they could step in, but I was the only one who agreed to give it a shot. It kind of became permanent after that.”

Johnson still played some in the field – he was a high scorer in high school – but he had fallen in love with the position: “The excitement. The adrenaline rush …”

NICK RIMANDO (Real Salt Lake)
The 33-year-old, now in his 14th MLS season, got his start in goal much like Johnson. Rimando’s goalkeeping career started at age 10 when his team’s regular keeper suffered an injury.

“I don’t remember if we won or lost the game,” Rimando says. “I must have done pretty well because my coach kept me at goalkeeper. What I do remember is I fell in love with the position that day. I got to wear a different color jersey and use my hands – and that made me feel like a special player.”

Rimando started playing competitive ball with Upland Celtic but didn’t have much goalkeeper training early on.

“The father of a teammate I car-pooled with used to be a hockey player,” Rimando remembers. “He’d teach me stuff about playing the angles that he knew from hockey. Later on, I went to some goalkeeper camps.”

With Alta Loma Arsenal, he played alongside future national team captain Carlos Bocanegra. But when then-UCLA coach Sigi Schmid first scouted him at a high school game, Rimando was playing forward.

“Sigi got a laugh out of that,” said Rimando. “But he came back to see me with my club, where I played goalkeeper.”

Rimando went pro after his junior season at UCLA.

In Silva’s case, he went from goalkeeper to field player.

“I started playing soccer when the 1994 World Cup was going on,” says Silva, who was born and raised in Los Angeles. “There was soccer fever. I played with neighborhood friends."

Then 5 years old, Silva admired Mexican goalkeeper Jorge Campos, famous for his ventures outside the penalty area, his ability to play forward, and his colorful jerseys.

“Kicking the ball around with friends, they just started taking shots at me and I guess I was good at blocking shots,” Silva remembers. “I liked it. Jorge Campos was my idol. I liked him a lot. A lot of kids liked him. I tried to be like him. I got the nickname – they used to call me 'Campos.'”

The big change came when he was 10 years old.

“We were down 1-0 in a game, and my coach put in another goalkeeper in the second half and put me in the field, in midfield,” Silva says. “We had a free kick. One of my teammates took it, and I scored on a header. I scored!

“After that, the coach would have me play goalkeeper one half and in the field, as midfielder or forward, in the other half.”

The 20-year-old is one of the USA’s most promising young strikers, but he started out in the back.

“I played center back because I used to be really chubby when I was little,” says Agudelo, now 6-foot-1 and 183 pounds.

At age 8, Agudelo moved to the USA from Colombia, where he played plenty of street soccer.

“I used to always play after school in the street,” he said. “Right away we’d borrow somebody’s shoes or something to make goals in the street and just play for like four hours. Sometimes we’d have to get out of the way when cars came through, but it wasn’t a busy street.”

But Agudelo didn’t have great hopes of being a star when he was very young.

“I didn’t think I was that good at the sport,” Agudelo says. “I thought it was too much running for me because I was really chubby. … [But] I started loving it. Once I started getting pretty good I got attached and started watching a bunch of games and trying to improve myself.”

Fernando Gallego, his youth coach at New Jersey’s PASCO said: “When he was 10, 11, 12 -- he used to practice for hours with other kids doing moves, and this and that. What made him so technically good was playing so much with the ball and working on technical skills.”