LOS ANGELES, CA – I spent this weekend watching my local recreational league.  It was game after game of girls U-12 playing a 9 side.  They consumed oceans of Yoo-hoo and orange wedges.  Parents cheered and screamed.  Coaches and players… well, that is the problem…

AVID Soccer News: AYSO Game

Local Youth Game

A few months ago, when Jurgen Klinnsman was named head coach, we posted a survey on our Facebook page.  The question asked if the US can really change our international soccer fortunes without a fundamental change in the way we teach the game and way players progress.  We believe that a foundational shift in the way soccer is taught in America is necessary to really make a difference.  If the games I saw this weekend are indicative of what is going on around the country, I am completely convinced.

One of the best examples was a coach who should stick to “football” and stay away from the football pitch.  I don’t think he shut up for more than 30 seconds.  This coach started all 8 of his field players on the center line with the a big boot for the kick-off.  The idea was to just kick the ball as far down field as possible and hope that having numbers up would give a chance for a quick goal.  Something that might work once at this level, but they did it every single time.  He also yelled out every single pass (they couldn’t string two together), every single throw-in, every attack, every defensive assignment and every decision.  At one player stood on the sideline waiting for the coach to tell her to throw-in the ball.  She was the only one allowed to throw it in for the whole game, and yet she couldn’t do it without being told.  In general, the game plan was very simple: “Jane” the striker was the designated offensive player.  She was fast and relatively experienced and skilled.  “Sally” was the enforcer.  Her job was to bump, push, elbow the ball away from everyone on defense.  Everyone else was just supposed to kick the ball out, kick it up field, or kick it to Jane.

This type of coaching might win a few recreation league games, but it doesn’t teach the kids anything about how to play soccer.  Players other than the anointed ones get very few touches.  No one dribbles the ball for fear of losing it.  The players are not taught the tools to play at a higher level.  In fact, it isn’t really any fun.  This is a big part of the reason kids stop playing after U-12.  By the time they reach 14, most have either moved up to club or they have quit altogether.

If the US is going to have any chance to truly progress, we need to reset the way we train coaches, the way we train players and the way we play the game.  In the 70′s, the Netherlands went through the Total Soccer transformation.  That took a small country from an also ran to two World Cup Finals.  About 10 years ago, Germany initiated a similar transformation.  They changed the way soccer was taught at all levels and created a unified curriculum.  The US needs to do the same thing.  We must begin training coaches on how to train the game.  Both US Soccer and NSCAA offer good courses, but the percentage of coaches that attend these classes is very small.  Large recreational organizations like AYSO also offer coaching classes, but the quality of instruction and the level of participation by the parent coaches is generally low.  We need to do a better job of training the people that will train the next generation.

We also need to do a much better job of identifying talent and getting them into proper training.  Right now, the general progression in Southern California is rec league to travel team to club to ODP to National Academy.  There is little scouting that goes on outside of the premier clubs or ODP, leaving lots of talent unrecognized.  I have heard several ODP scouts tell me that “any one good enough to make the ODP team would already be playing on a premier club, so no one at the lower levels is worth considering.”  This bypasses the possibility of a player that cannot afford a premier club, has travel or time conflicts, is new to an area, or chose to play with friends.

The last fatal flaw in the US system is finances.  Clubs are expensive.  The premier clubs in Southern California can cost thousands of dollars each year and academies can cost tens of thousands.  In Europe and Latin America, smaller clubs survive by identifying talent and selling the players to larger clubs.  PSV Eindhoven has supported their youth academy this way for decades selling players like Ruud Van Nistory to Manchester United.  They only need to sell about two players every three years to support the academy and produce a top flight professional team.

If the US can start to produce real academies endorsed by US Soccer and sponsored by MLS/WPS and the manufacturers long enough to start identifying/training talent, not only would the US become the powerhouse it can be, but the entire game would be elevated.  If the academy is for profit, as it should be, there must be enough scholarship money to support talented players.  Others that can afford it, can pay, but the best cannot be a burden on their family or we will lose them.

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The Coach is a long-time soccer player, coach and fan. He started playing in the dark ages (1970's) and will continue as long as his body will let him. He has coached players from u-7 to adult and players learning the game to players trying to make their national team. He is a dedicated fan of the Oranje.

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