Had the opportunity to sit in on US Soccer’s Regional Workshop a week ago and learn from the national coaches and national technical staff.  It was a jam packed four days of great information on the developmental pathway US Soccer has laid out for the youth in our country, how the coaching education pathway is changing and becoming more connected, and how to be a better individual coaches and instructors.  Below are my notes from Jurgen Klinsmann’s “state of US Soccer” presentation that kicked off the week.

Klinsmann (2)

REALITY

The state of soccer in the USA after this last World Cup cycle.  Klinsmann noted that the USA has not produced a FIFA top 10 player since 1990 (the modern era of USA soccer).  In that same period 15 different countries have reached the FIFA World Cup semifinals while the USMNT has only reached the quarter finals once (2002).  And the MLS has struggled to produce and success at the continental level (one CONCACAF champion in 2000).

The point is simply the United States struggles in player development.  In the modern era of soccer we haven’t produced a world class player out of the hundreds of thousands that come through our “premier” youth ranks.

OBSERVATIONS

  Couple of things that Jurgen has noticed scouting the younger generation of USA talent are related to technique and focus.  We lack players who have a combination of physical speed AND quality technique.  This is one of the primary reasons the USA lacks a dangerous push into the final third of the field.  And the other observation is we lack focus for 90 minutes.  Klinsmann pulled out examples on both sides of the ball for the USMNT where a lack of concentration resulted in allowing a goal or missing an opportunity to score.

KEYS TO IMPROVEMENT – COACHING

So how do we tackle these short comings in the next World Cup cycle and beyond?  Coaches need to obtain the top coaching credentials.  Does having an “A” License mean you are one of the top coaches in the United States?  Not necessarily, but according to Klinsmann it gives coaches credibility to the players and parents.  It fosters a culture where professionals desire the credentials laid out in our field to improve themselves and their teams.

Another key was to use all available learning platforms to teach and engage players.  This is a technologically advanced generation, and we need to keep up to engage them in every facet.  And we need to use these resources to connect with players and to get them thinking about the game.

Other keys that were mentioned; treating every day of training like game day.  Players need to train harder and more intensely. Coaches need to help players realize the importance of off the field attitude and behavior as much as on the field.  Areas like fitness, nutrition, sleeping patterns, and lifestyle all play a role in the development of a player.

Jurgen concluded that coaches are the foundation of player development, and we need to take our role in this process seriously.  We need to model and practice what we preach as coaches.

MY THOUGHTS

It was interesting to hear Klinsmann’s thoughts on the state of soccer in the USA.  I agree with several of his critiques; we do lack those difference makers, game changers, to break open a game at the senior level.  Our top level of talent does not play as many games in a calendar year as the other nations we are competing with internationally.

I believe US Soccer has made some great strides in player development with the introduction of the DA.  Having a system where coaches and directors must have the top licensing, and training is monitored and evaluated regularly adds to the consistency of growing the game.  But as always, there are some factors that are outside of our control. At the end of the day our best athletes are not making the choice to play soccer over American football and  basketball.  The geographical size of the country makes identification of top talent and playing good competitive games much harder than our counterparts.

The growth of soccer in the USA is definitely on the rise, and we need to keep it going in that direction.  We are better off than we were 20 years ago, but we still have a lot of ground to gain.

With all the talk from last week’s announcement of the US 23 man roster for Brazil a lot has been mentioned about a new era of US Soccer especially with the exclusion of Landon Donovan from the World Cup.  A question was even raised about how good the senior national team is now compared to 1998 and 2002.

Here are some stats I found about the level of soccer at the senior international level.  I’ve divided international soccer for the United States into four distinct periods…

The Forgotten Era (1930-1950)

  • World Cup Highlights: 3 wins – 0 draws – 4 losses (-9 Goal Differential); the obvious highlights are reaching the semifinals in 1930 after two shutout victories in the group stage before being eliminated by Argentina.  Another highlight has to be the victory over England in the 1950 WC Group Stage is considered one of the greatest upsets in the history of the tournament.
  • Olympic Highlights: 1 win – 0 draws – 3 losses (-12 Goal Differential)
  • National Highlights: The National Challenge Cup (now the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup) was created in the 1913-14 season and the American Soccer League was reinvented as the professional organization in the USA during this period.
  • Key Contributors: Bert Patenaude is credited with scoring all three goals in the 1930 victory over Paraguay, and thus holds the record of the first hat trick in World Cup history.

The Dark Ages (1954-1986)

It’s not that we lost soccer all-together during this period, but it was mostly imported from outside of the USA.  This was made very evident by the lack of success at an international level for the USA and Team America finishing in last place in the NASL during the 1983 season.

  • World Cup Highlights: None, didn’t qualify once during this period in history.
  • Olympic Highlights: 1 win – 3 draws – 7 losses (-25 Goal Differential)
  • CONCACAF Gold Cup: 6 wins – 4 draws – 2 losses (+4 Goal Differential)
  • National Highlights: The birth of the North American Soccer League in 1968 gave the USA it’s first viable and competitive professional league that lasted until 1984.  The Major Indoor Soccer League continued to carry the flag of professional soccer in the USA from 1978-1992.
  • Key Contributors: The New York Cosmos and owner Steve Ross fueled the game by bringing international superstars to the USA in the likes of Pele, Giorgio Chinaglia, and Beckenbauer.

The Modern Reformation (1990-1998)

  • World Cup Highlights: 1 win – 1 draw – 8 losses (-11 Goal Differential); made the Round of 16 when they hosted the 1994 World Cup.
  • Olympic Highlights: Beginning in 1992 the Olympics became a competition for national U23 sides
  • CONCACAF Gold Cup: 16 wins – 2 draws – 3 losses (+20 Goal Differential); Won their first, and only championship during this period in 1991.
  • National Highlights: After the success of hosting the 1994 World Cup a new professional league was started in 1996, the MLS.
  • Key Contributors: Alan Rothenberg lead the US Soccer Federation as president from 1990-1998.  He was instrumental in hosting a successful 1994 World Cup and played a key role in the development of the MLS.  Bob Gansler also has to be noted for his ability to help lead the US MNT back to WC qualification during the 1990 campaign.

The National Awakening (2000-2011)

  • World Cup Highlights: 3 wins – 4 draws – 5 losses (-4 Goal Differential); 2002 was a breakthrough year for the US MNT when they defeated Portugal and Mexico to advance to the Quarterfinals before falling to Germany.
  • CONCACAF Gold Cup: 32 wins – 4 draws – 4 losses (+48 Goal Differential); this run includes four championships and two runner-up finishes.
  • National Highlights: The MLS continues to strengthen in attendance, financial stability, and TV ratings.  In 2009 the US MNT finished 2nd in the Confederations Cup, their first appearance in a FIFA Final.
  • Key Contributors: Sunil Gulati, current president of USSF, hired Bob Bradley who led the US MNT to the 2009 Confederations Cup Final.  Don Garber’s impact on the national development of soccer as the MLS Commissioner since 1999 also must be mentioned.

Since the “Modern Era” of US Soccer (usually deemed 1990-present) the level of play and the pool of the national team has increased.  The team has become more and more competitive in international competitions where we have a realistic expectation to win the Gold Cup every two years and finish on top of World Cup Qualification every four years.  Just 25 years ago we were shocked to qualify for the World Cup in a given cycle, and now the expectation is to compete.

I’m interested to see where the  next era is going to take us in this country, and it started with the hiring of Jurgen Klinsmann in 2011.  He is ushering in a mentality that the United States should play a more attractive style of soccer and that it must be fostered down through all tiers of development in the country.  The philosophy and methodology of our coaching education has seen drastic changes in the past three years along with the development of the MLS and other leagues in the USA.  Another factor that I think will be a key to the dawn of this new era for us is television.  Never before have we seen networks make such a financial investment in the game of soccer for the USA, and the recent deal between Fox, ESPN, and Univision with Major League Soccer for eight years could make an amazing impact on the culture of our sport.

Exciting times.

So the US MNT 23 man roster for the 2014 World Cup was announced yesterday afternoon and I’ve had a little bit of time to think it over.  I’ve seen the tweets and blog posts all stating their opinions on both sides of the debate.

Jurgen Klinsmann alone is the man who can give the clearest perspective, but that doesn’t stop the rest of us from chiming in with our two cents.  However, I believe we won’t understand or appreciate the full impact of this move (positive or negative) until July 31st, 2018.  One of two things will happen; either we will be praising Klinsmann for his foresight and genius that led the USA to one of their best WC finishes in the history of US Soccer, or we will crucify him for wasting away two WC cycles and wondering what could have been.

As any fan of the US MNT I am extremely disappointed in the squad that we are taking to Brazil, but as a coach I do understand (or at least I think I do) the long-term perspective Klinsmann is taking into this tournament and what he hopes to achieve in 2018.

No one can argue that this is a roster for the future with the likes of Julian Green, Mix Diskerud, Aron Johannsson, John Brooks, Timmy Chandler, Fabian Johnson, and DeAndre Yedlin included.  And in 2018 we might be singing Jurgen Klinsmann’s praises for bringing in the team of the future so they could get WC experience early on.  The potential for future success is evident in this roster and it’s exciting to think that we might be on the verge of a new generation of players who will make quality runs in Russia and Qatar because they had the foundation of participating in Brazil.

The competitor in me hates to see us sacrifice this World Cup, but the coach in me sees the value and wisdom in building for better things to come.

It’s also hard to imagine the US MNT having success on the field without the likes of Landon Donovan for a generation that was on their feet in 2002 and 2010 as he streaked down the field and scored five World Cup goals.  But sometimes we need to put our ambitions for immediate gratification on the shelf and trust in the foresight of a coach who wants bigger things for the USA than a win against Ghana and a draw against Portugal.

Here’s to an okay 2014; and a GREAT 2018!

CEW - Better Coaches, Players, Game

Image  —  Posted: April 23, 2014 in NSCAA
Tags: ,

If you are a soccer coach in the area of Dakota Wesleyan University, please take our survey about the possibility of a coaching symposium to be held in Mitchell, SD.

The issue of professional development in the coaching ranks here in our region is one that is not addressed very often. The limit of coaching education usually ends with the USSF “D” License offered by the state association, and I am exploring the idea of offering a short symposium annually to address current trends in the sport.

Any feedback from coaches in the area would be greatly appreciated!  Please follow the link below…

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/VQ93THD

Four days into preseason and it has been anything BUT routine.  We’ve a had a few medical emergencies and a few disappointments in our roster, but there’s still a lot of excitement about the upcoming season.

I’m not the most seasoned coach by any means, but it’s always heartbreaking to see players make the decision to walk away from the team in the midst of the battle.  I’m not sure I’ll ever understand it, except to take them at their word and understand that there just isn’t a passion to compete any longer.  And I have to be honest with myself and admit that I have no idea what these players are going through in other areas of their lives that might be impacting their decision to leave soccer.

We’ve put so much time into developing a sense of family and team unity that it’s hard to understand how someone who has been a part of that family can walk away in the middle of season.

It’s probably something that I’ll never understand, and it will probably happen every year, but it never ceases to shock me how easily young men and women can walk away from people who have dedicated so much of their time and energy into helping them.

This is the nature of competitive athletics; some chose to compete and fight through adversity, and some just can’t for what ever reason.  There are struggles, and victories, and it takes a person of passion and motivation to find a way to fight through the challenges to reach the successes.

Just returned from my first residential course assignment as Associate Staff for the NSCAA.  It was a great experience and I’m excited to be on this journey of developing myself as a coach of coaches.  I’ve been on state staff for Federation courses now for five years, but it’s been a great experience to see the other side of the NSCAA.

For the my first course as staff I “apprenticed” with the senior staff.  Basically shadowed a few  instructors in the National Diploma and Advanced National Diploma courses, watched how they conducted model sessions, and I was a part of the candidate evaluation process too.

The differences in the philosophy and mentality of coaching education is drastically different in my mind between the NSCAA and the Federation.  Maybe it’s more fresh in my mind since I only completed my “A” license this past January, but the emphasis on development versus evaluation is very apparent, and I even experienced it as an instructor in training.  It’s always been something I’ve really enjoyed about the NSCAA, they want you to go home a better coach because you’ve been at their course, no matter what grade you end up with.

During the National Diploma course the four instructors were always available to the candidates for help.  We ate in the cafeteria, we stayed in the same dorm, the staff were regularly walking through the lounges to make themselves available to the candidates, and even the course social the second evening sets the tone for the remainder of the course.  It’s a community of coaches, and the more experienced ones are trying to share knowledge with the less experienced, and one another.  It’s a coaching fraternity, and once you’re in, you’re in, and you have just as much right to the information and feedback as anyone else.

I felt all of this as an apprentice this past week as well.  Senior staff were asking for my input on model sessions they were running, asked for insight on candidate training sessions to make sure they were evaluating properly, and treated me as a member of the instruction staff from the get-go.  It reaffirmed the reason why I feel passionate about educating coaches, especially with the NSCAA.

Just returned Sunday evening from the 2013 ODP Region 2 Camp.  I had the privilege of coaching the ’98 Dakota Boy’s team again this year.  As I mentioned last year, it’s always hard being a Dakotas team and showing up at Region Camp with only half the team ever even meeting one another.  This year we had eight players from the Dakotas, and we picked up seven composite players from Wisconsin and Illinois.  The boys enjoyed playing with each other, and it was a positive experience for the most part, but the soccer was lacking.

Fortunately we had two players that made the holdover pool of 36!  Very proud of these two guys, especially since I’ve been coaching them for a couple of years and it’s nice to see them reaping some rewards for their efforts.  And most importantly, I hope the experience of training with the best 36 players from Region Camp makes them a better player and shows them what the next level will be like.

Proud of the effort the whole team gave at camp, and for coming together and having moments of quality soccer.

This past week I spent eight days on a missions trip to the island of Dominica.  I was blessed enough to be able and use my talents as a soccer coach to try and serve a developing country.  What a blessing to work with a people who love the game of soccer, and appreciate what little they have.

Training the NGB Soccer Academy in Dominica

Training the NGB Soccer Academy in Dominica

The trip was a partnership between Generation of Opportunities and Athletes in Action to bring seven coaches down to the island of Dominica.  We brought coaches from four different disciplines (soccer, basketball, fitness, and volleyball/ chaplain) and conducted player clinics and coaches sessions throughout the week.  This was the first trip of it’s kind to Dominica, so the trip was also as much discovery as it was action.  We met with several officials and administrators from the presidents of the basketball and football associations, to principles, city officials, and administrators of soccer academies.

I was personally impacted by the love of soccer they had.  Kids were taking buses from villages almost an hour away to attend their academy training on Saturday in the city.  Children with out proper footwear and clothing would jump in because they just enjoyed the game and wanted to be apart of it.  In a country with a total population of 70,000 people they had four competitive divisions of soccer plus neighborhood leagues and eight academies for the children to be involved in!  They love this sport, and they are passionate about playing it.

But there is a need for intervention.  The one repeating theme we kept hearing over and over again from coaches and administrators alike was the battle to teach the youth of their country the value of discipline, hard work, and respect.  There is a need for this younger generation to learn principles that will lead to success later in life, and Generation of Opportunities is trying to help change that through the platform of sport.

The trip has given me a passion to see the culture of the youth in Dominica change, and if I can use soccer to do that then all the better!  God was opening doors left and right for us to be involved in the lives of the young and old alike through this beautiful game, and I’m looking forward to going back!

This weekend we wrapped up another session of spring training.  Spring ball, as we call it at our college, brings a whole new environment to the college soccer experience.  In the fall every training session is directly related to our current performance.  Games are layered with pressure to perform and to stay in the hunt for postseason play.

In the spring there is no pressure to perform and attain results on a team level.  However, individual players are fighting for varsity roster spots, and starting positions on different teams.

This spring we improved every weekend of our matches.  We addressed two main themes this spring; winning the ball in specific areas of the pitch, and transitioning forward with quality and quick possession into the attacking third of the field.  Every week we saw players growing and adapting to the college game.

We entered spring ball with 26 players in training, and between injuries, eligibility, and the business of a student-athlete’s life we played our three dates of scrimmages with approximately 15-17 players.  This was actually a huge positive to the spring season; several players surpassed our expectations and really claimed spots on the varsity roster for next fall.  They showed marked improvement in their understanding of our team systems and tactics as a whole, and I will feel much more confident dipping into our bench next season when we are fighting injuries or weariness.

Overall I’ve been very encouraged with this spring ball season.  Probably much more than I have in any previous spring season while here at Dakota Wesleyan University.  But spring is still just spring, and the results mean nothing.

Now it’s time for the coaching staff to contemplate and agonize over what the fall season might bring during the long summer.  The hardest part of coaching a fall sport is leaving the preseason preparations in the hands of 35-40 young men who are looking forward to a well deserved break.  However, the summer is also a very exciting time with the endless possibilities of the season-to-come constantly on the mind.

We’ll find out in three and a half months!