Posts Tagged ‘development’

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.

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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!

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!

Interesting

Posted: January 23, 2013 in Major League Soccer, US Soccer
Tags: ,

I read this article published by the Wall Street Journal Jurgen Klinsmann challenges the mindset of US Soccer internationals and our soccer culture as a country.  It’s interesting because I’d have to agree with him in some respects.

As a country we’ve taken it as a personal challenge to be the best at almost every sport we attempt in international competition.  And for the most part we’ve found a way to be successful.  No one can deny our dominance in such sports as basketball, baseball, and women’s soccer, but look at the other sports that are not popular in the USA that we have developed to become the best.  We won a gold medal in hockey, compete in wrestling off and on, and have developed a successful culture in winter events like skiing.  So why not soccer?

Soccer is one of the most popular sports in the USA when we look at participation, but we are unable to develop enough athletes to put eleven men on the field that can consistently compete against the top five nations in the world.  Given our natural presupposition to do what it takes to be the best at everything, it is kind of strange that we haven’t found a way to at least be a little more relevant in soccer.  Our biggest accomplishments in the sport since the 1930’s is a single win in the knockout stages of the 2002 World Cup and 2009 Confederations Cup final appearance.  Our FIFA international ranking usually fluctuates between 15 and 30, when we are one of the largest countries in the world with shear number of kids participating in the sport.

Maybe we have become complacent when it comes to soccer.  When we are satisfied with a World Cup appearance and advancement to the knockout rounds are a successful campaign we might want to re-evaluate what success is?

I believe it’s okay to demand more from ourselves, and I think we need to start doing that.  We need to start demanding a higher level of play from our domestic league (after we start supporting it), and demanding more from our professionals.  We need to hold the national team staff to a much higher standard, and should be ashamed when our U23 and U20 National Teams are eliminated from qualifying!

Maybe it is time for a change? Maybe we need to find that “go-old American competitive spirit” again and demand to be the best?

ODP Region Camp

Posted: July 5, 2012 in US Soccer
Tags: ,

Just arrived in Rockford, IL with my ’98 Dakota Boys team for Region II Camp.  Tonight we went out to the complex and played a couple 7v7 scrimmages and finished with a full field scrimmage.

It’s always tough being the Dakota team at Regionals and picking up several composite players to round out our teams.  The boys need a couple of sessions to feel each other out and get into a rhythm, but we seemed to get into a flow pretty quickly tonight.

I know a lot of people are down on ODP right now, and don’t feel like it provides much of an opportunity to our players.  But I know for small states like North and South Dakota it can provide players the chance to interact with quality coaches and test themselves against a high level of talent.  I know a lot of the top players have been pulled away by the Development Academy, but in our Region there are still several states that don’t have any DA clubs and ODP can still provide and outlet for these players.

Four weeks into the spring semester for our university and second week of off-season training.  Just thought I’d discuss our off-season principles and priorities.

Technical, physical, mental and tactical development are all intermixed in off-season training.  We break our spring semester into two phases; Phase one runs from mid-January to early March and we focus more on technical and physical development during this phase.  Phase two runs mid-March through April and the focus is implementing tactical elements and developing the mental side of the game.

Phase one will run six weeks and includes three main elements.  The first is individual skills training in small groups of 4-6 athletes twice a week.  One session is always a touch and passing accuracy skills circuit that the players are ranked on every week.  Scores accumulate for the whole six weeks and players are ranked for the entire period.  The second skills session is up to the coaching staff to focus on the technical elements that were seen lacking during the previous season.

The second element of phase one is weight training.  We lift year round, but during this six week period we will run through a metabolic routine that really pushes the players lactic acid threshold.  We have two lower body days and an upper body day with at least 72 hours rest between the two lower body days.

The final element involves film and tactical sessions once a week.  These sessions are held with the entire team, or in their lines depending on the tactical elements that we want to address with the players.

Phase two is a five week period when we go back outside and also schedule three dates of scrimmages that we normally term “spring ball.”  For each spring ball session the coaching staff identifies a couple tactical elements that we feel need attention before the upcoming competitive season.  It is also a time for us to look at new line ups that will be options for the upcoming fall.  We normally train three times a week at normal training times, and have a team meeting once a week to either watch film or address mental skills training.

According to league rules we are allowed to schedule three competitive dates during this period.  Normally we schedule scrimmages against non-conference schools to give us a different look, and we prefer playing teams who are a division above ours to really push our limits and prepare us for the fall.  And if we can schedule it, we will try to have an alumni scrimmage in the spring as well to give us a fourth date of competition and to bring the graduates back to campus and see where the program is headed.

Over the years I’ve noticed that spring semester is a tough time for fall sports.  The season seems so far off in the distance, and the winter months seem long.  Motivation is usually a tough thing, and it’s important to keep team goals for the upcoming season in front of the players.  Still, it is a challenge to keep the intensity high during this period.  But it usually helps to get back outside in March and start getting back to playing other teams.

Coaching licensing has always been an issue in leagues and associations around the world.  Here in the US it is a particularly strong debate because in the “Big Four” sports coaches don’t have a licensing program like we do in soccer.  The athletic culture in the US is to hire coaches based on experience and past success.

So how should we view soccer associations that mandate specific licensing levels to determine paid, or even volunteer coaching positions?

Coaching education gives us a framework of how to teach the game.  It lays out a progression and thought process that is supposed to be a guide to use, not a rigid mold that everything must fit into.  In all honesty when I first started taking the coaching courses I had never heard of the progressive method; simple to complex.  It was a revelation to me, because the coaches I had worked for and played under had never used it.

Coaching education by experience is spotty, and very random.  It really depends on who the coaches are that you had the opportunity working with and observing.  Hopefully in a person’s career they have the opportunity to work with some very quality coaches, but some may not.

Coaching education like the NSCAA and USSF courses give us a consistent standard of information that is communicated about the game.  Does an “A” License coach or a Premier Diploma GUARANTEE that you are qualified to coach at a high level and are capable of teaching the game; no.  BUT it does mean you have a resource of information and the association or club that highers this coach can be confident that they have been exposed to a minimum of information related to the game.  And that this person has been evaluated on several different occasions by some of the better coaches in our country.

The problem is when you come upon a coach who is quality because of their personal experiences but has not been fortunate enough to pursue the licensing available.  Whether because of finances (our licensing structure is VERY expensive at the residential level), or because of location (some states and areas of the country just don’t have the resources or the staff to offer courses) this person may not have the mandated diplomas or licenses.  And unfortunately this person would probably be denied opportunities even though they are a great coach.  Hopefully hiring processes and references will allow this person to be noticed, but it can’t be guaranteed.

To me it is the same as our educational process in careers.  Does a bachelors degree in education guarantee that my teachers were of the highest quality and would be excellent in teaching?  No, but at least we know that our teachers have a base of knowledge to draw from and have passed certain standards laid out.  Education is important, and hopefully this process of learning also continues and we keep growing as professionals.

So are we better off as a sport because our mandated coaching education?  I think so.  Personally I’ve loved the opportunity to learn from other coaches that I would never have the opportunity to meet any other way, and I’m not just talking about the instructors.  There are candidates that I’ve been blessed to get to know because we were taking a license together.  It’s a great process, and something that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed in my development as a coach.  It is something I’m so passionate about that I have joined the ranks of instructing coaching courses to try and be that resources of development for others.