U.S. Soccer coaching education: One foot forward, one foot firmly stuck in the mud

U.S. Soccer just unveiled its new grassroots coaching modules for 7v7, 9v9 and 11v11, making it much easier for parent coaches to learn what they need to know for working with players who will go on to become elite players, travel players, adult rec players, youth coaches and fans. It’s an important —

… What? Something else happened?

OK, let’s get back to those coaching modules. They’re worth discussing. But what you may have heard about was the first of two Soccer America interviews with U.S. Soccer technical people about coaching education and youth development. The interview didn’t have any specific quote saying, “Hey, Latinos aren’t interested in doing coaching education,” but the USSF’s bureaucratic language certainly came across as a little dismissive. Something along the lines of “mission vision proactive hey they’re just not signing up assets leverage activation.”

Herculez Gomez, the retired MLS/Liga MX player now doing commentary (including an excellent podcast with Max Bretos) for ESPN, pounced on Twitter.

One of the many great things Gomez is doing these days is following up on his initial reaction. U.S. Soccer offered up conversations with the people in this interview, Nico Romeijn and Ryan Mooney, and Gomez reported on the conversation on the Aug. 20 Max and Herc podcast.

Romeijn and Mooney clarified and apologized, and Gomez seemed to be satisfied that they didn’t intend to slight any persons of color. That’s not to say USSF’s outreach is as good as it could or should be, and diversity efforts will always require watchdogs.

In any case, the conversation shed light on several other issues, many of them at least indirectly related to diversity.

First: Cost. Excluding travel, which is going to be a significant cost in itself, someone moving up the coaching ranks will pay (according to Gomez — I’ve contacted USSF to confirm, and they did):

  • C license: $2,000
  • B license: $3,000
  • A license: $4,000
  • Pro license: $10,000.

Yikes.

Now, in fairness, if you’re working for a half-decent professional club or the federation itself, your club will pick up the check. We’d hope. But if you’re trying to break through to those ranks, well …

Second: Difficulty getting pros involved. Here’s where the MLS union got involved …

MLS Players Union executive director Bob Foose will be talking about that with Glenn Crooks on SiriusXM’s The Coaching Academy on Wednesday.

The good news: The NWSL has taken steps to get its players a good headstart on this path. Details are confidential, and any dissatisfied players should certainly feel free to contact me, but it seems promising.

The Max and Herc discussion took a couple of wrong turns. Gomez was surprised U.S. Soccer didn’t have data on the number of minority coaches taking their classes, saying all employers should have that data. But people don’t take coaching courses to be employed by the federation (excluding Development Academy jobs). They take them to be hired by youth clubs. In some cases, up through the D and maybe even C licenses, they take them to be volunteers. That sounds extreme, but in other countries, you’ll find B-license volunteers. All that said, perhaps U.S. Soccer will consider gathering such info in the future, not because of employment law but because it’s simply a good metric to see how their outreach efforts are faring.

Also, Max and Herc seemed surprised that the federation hired Belgian consulting firm Double PASS. That’s definitely not breaking news.

But the discussion did indeed get a much-needed push forward. And it’s clear from the Soccer America interviews — first with Romeijn and Mooney, then with Jared Micklos of the Development Academy — that we’re still not getting much by way of illuminating conversation from people in Chicago. They’ll tout their new training center’s central location in Kansas City, which is indeed a vital asset if all their prospective coaches are traveling by horseback.

And yet, somehow, progress is being made.

The new “grassroots” modules will never get the attention that the Gomez/MLSPA tweetstorm got. That’s understandable. But they’re giving coaches a good way to get started, and they’re giving parent coaches — usually the first coaches a player will encounter — much firmer footing than in the past.

Sure, I still miss the old F license video series. The new grassroots series, though, is better than the old E and D license.

In the old path, the older the kids you were coaching, the higher the license. So, in theory, you needed a D license just to coach rec soccer from U13 on up. Now we can take the corresponding grassroots class, which is (A) less of a time imposition, (B) can be taken online and (C) presents a new practice approach that is already making my life easier.

The approach is “Play / Practice / Play.” As kids show up to practice, you get them playing small-sided games. (Pause to have them do some dynamic stretching once they’ve warmed up a bit.) Then do a half-field activity — 7v7, 8v6, etc. Then a scrimmage. The biggest difference from practice to practice isn’t so much the “drill” you’re attempting as it is the coaching points you make during each practice.

This is an improvement over the “Warmup with a drill that takes a little bit of time to explain / Small-Sided Game that takes a little bit more time to explain / Expanded Small-Sided Game that’s ridiculously complicated and will never be explained over the course of this practice / Scrimmage” approach, in which we were all supposed to develop practice plans like we’re Fabiano Caruana prepping to face Magnus Carlsen for the world chess championship in November.

It’s certainly not perfect. For one thing, United Soccer Coaches’ Soccer Journal seems like a relic now — it’s full of all the triangles, circles and squiggly lines that take us 10 minutes to understand and half of a practice to explain to our kids. (I did like the “secret goals” exercise in the preseason issue, where each side has to do something before scoring — possibly a cross, possibly a certain number of passes — but the other team doesn’t know what the opponent’s restriction is.)

The bigger issue for many (see “Rondos, The War On”) is the insistence that everything has to “game-like.” And it’s a slippery definition. Having the defense try to clear the ball to any one of three “counter goals” is game-like. Having a neutral player is not.

And the jargon is mind-numbing. We have four “moments” of a game — attack, lose the ball, defend, win the ball. So can you come up with a practice that prepares you for … losing the ball? (Don’t even get me started on the “six tasks of a coach,” which include “Leading the player,” “Leading the team” and the redundant “Leadership.”)

But if you can cut through that, you’ll find something quite useful. The video examples in the 11v11 online course are terrific.

So maybe we could sneak an editor into Soccer House to translate bureaucratic talk to plain English?

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “U.S. Soccer coaching education: One foot forward, one foot firmly stuck in the mud

  1. “Transitioning to defense” is a clearer description of what they’re trying to say with “losing the ball” (or at least a way that you can proactively practice it with a little more clarity).

    Like

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