Excellet Article on Coaching in the US and the Dearth of Creativity
An open letter to American youth soccer coaches everywhere, take the challenge
20 Jan, 2010
An open letter to VYSA [and all] Coaches
By Joe Dougherty
It’s just hours after the U.S. Women’s National Team 4-0 loss to Brazil in China, and I’m still shaking my head.
In soccer, a score line doesn’t always reflect the difference between two teams. But 4-0 is unquestionably a fair result for Brazil. Perhaps a neutral observer would say 5-0 or 6-0 would have been more accurate.
Technically, tactically, physically and mentally – the Brazilians were better in all phases of the game. Never before has the U.S. women’s program been so thoroughly outdone.
We can spend hours arguing over the Scurry-vs-Solo debate, or whether Coach Greg Ryan should have played more substitutions during the preliminary and quarterfinal matches. We could even complain for days on end about the horrendous call that sent off Shannon Boxx.
But the problem is deeper. Much deeper.
As I watched the U.S. team play over the last few weeks, one word kept cropping up – robotic.
Where was the flair? Where was the technical skill? Where was the tactical creativity and combination play? It didn’t exist. And my fear is, unless coaches like you and I do something about it, it never will.
Think about it: the typical travel soccer coach will spend more time developing our young players than the high school coach and college coach combined. Four-to-six times a week we have the opportunity to share our knowledge and experience with tomorrow’s potential national team players. It’s the travel coach who will most influence today’s young player.
And what are we doing with this time?
Some of us already know the dearth of technically strong and creative players in the United States. That’s why your players have a ball at their feet all the time, and why you encourage creativity, spontaneity and fun. You emphasize the importance of a quality first touch, of the importance of passing with precision, and the need for players to beat defenders on the dribble.
You encourage decision-making, and as coach you explain options while not insisting “there’s only one way to do it, and it’s this way!” (Can you imagine Ronaldinho’s – or Marta’s – reaction to that?) You applaud taking chances, playing with passion and thinking over reacting.
You allow the kids to make mistakes, knowing that mistakes are part of learning, growing and developing. Winning is important, of course; nobody should walk on the field with the goal of losing. But you know winning isn’t the most important thing.
Still, others of us prefer another way. Results are important; the parents expect nothing but good results, you argue. Dump the ball down the field? Have to do it, you say, because a mistake in the back may lead to a goal. And the division title and an opportunity to improve your team’s state ranking is at stake, you explain.
“Play the way you face!” you insist, deep inside knowing that if your players always do just that, they will never learn how to turn. You chastise the forward for taking on two defenders (the nerve!). Defenders are instructed to “play it safe” by kicking the ball out of bounds when under pressure, and midfielders aren’t there to create an attack, but to pick up “second balls.”
In the end, the performance is secondary to the result. After all, there are standings and rankings to consider. “Let’s just get this one out of the way,” you may say to yourself, perhaps not realizing that’s what you always say.
Time to ask yourself: which coach are you?
If you’re the first coach, thank you. You’re exactly what we need. If you’re the latter, I urge you: please change your ways.
If you think one coach won’t matter, think again. When I started a team at age 25, I was happy to have more than a dozen kids show up at tryouts. Little did I know that I would play a part – albeit a small one – in the development of five future professional players. I am confident that my focus on technical skill, ball possession and the willingness to experiment played an important role in their individual development. When they moved on to a coach who took them to the next step, they were prepared for the challenge.
Is there a potential national team player on your team? Are you coaching the next – or first – professional from your club? If your answer is a snort and, “No way,” you’ve already doomed them all. You’ve given up before they’ve been given a chance. Are the odds against them? Yes, they are. But you have the opportunity to set them on the path to choosing a professional career.
I realize America isn’t Brazil. But we don’t have to be Brazil. We can take our strengths in structure and organization and blend it with coaches who understand that a team is made up of individual players who ought to be technically strong and mentally confident. Not mechanized players hammered by drill after drill, but creative, imaginative and skillful players molded by coaches who let their kids play.
Take the challenge, coach. Our nation needs you.