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.
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.
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.
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.