Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Guest Post: Greg Petersen on the New US Soccer Coaching Curriculum

Former Rocket City United head coach and current technical consultant for Extratime Professional Football Consultants is kind enough to share his opinions on the recently released USSF's Coaches Curriculum which is designed to organize the development of players in the United States through consistent coaching methods.  If you are a youth coach, you should become familiar with the curriculum and read what Greg has to say about it.
Greg Petersen

The New Curriculum: Hopeful and Positive, with Some Concerns

Recently viewing Claudio Reyna’s presentation on You Tube (see below) and getting feedback from my colleagues during the recent summit at Nike Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon left me with two reactions:

The Positives:

The first reaction was positive.  Reyna came out and said we are not doing a good job developing top talent in our country for the world stage. It was refreshing to hear this from someone who had a very impressive professional career in Europe and represented his country in four World Cups. Even more impressive is the time he has spent learning and observing the developmental process in top football countries and at clubs around the world.  Mr. Reyna is working very hard to learn his new position as US Soccer’s Youth Technical Director and does not suffer from the self-aggrandizing hubris that some former USA National players do. One simply can’t know everything about a job without any real experience in that position. It is also refreshing that Reyna is spending time truly learning from and honestly evaluating developmental methodology in other parts of the world, something I have been very critical of in coaching circles in the USA. How can we assess and develop top level talent if we really don’t know what that means?

Reyna will be learning as he goes. Colleagues of mine in attendance at the summit mentioned that Reyna stumbled on a question during the Q&A about “how do you run less,” demonstrating he still is growing into his new role. But to be fair to Claudio, might he have been in shock that someone would ask that question?  Claudio needs to teach the elite youth coaches what “good positional play” means to answer that question. It also will help promote the possession style he wants the youth of our country to play. I know the curriculum was presented was designed for players 5 to12, in which the main emphasis and goal should be developing competent technical players by age 12. Promoting good positional play, however, even in the simplest of forms at early stages of development is just as important to learn how to pass and control a ball. You should not introduce possession without promoting good positional play. You cannot have one without the other. Good positional play makes defending much easier, too. Possession exercise diagrams in the newly presented curriculum in which supporting players stand in corners must be corrected. Reyna’s project will be a work in progress and will have its dips, but I like what I hear from Reyna and like the staff working with him. He should have all our support. He definitely has mine. Let’s hope US Soccer does not get in his way with politics and vote preservation tactics. Let’s hope this is not another Project 2010!

Some Negatives:

My second reaction was of anger and frustration. Why has it taken our country so long to recognize and acknowledge that the inherent flaws in our system of developing top talent? Reyna will be the first to admit that his new curriculum is not new information. It is information that has been available before and it is not like our country didn’t have other good information available prior to Claudio’s tenure. I like the fact Reyna is trying to promote a possession style foundation and promoting one language amongst the youth coaching community, but I have some real concerns about this really paying off, especially concerning development of special talent within our youth ranks.

In our country, nobody has ever put a gun to anyone’s head and told them what style to play. Coaches have had complete tactical freedom. That said, most coaches have chosen a style emphasizing the physical attributes of their players, thinking is optional and technical qualities are accepted at inferior levels. Not to say there are not coaches and clubs that try to promote the style of soccer Reyna wants. Unfortunately it is a small minority. One could argue that coaching is reflected by the talent pool, but I am too experienced to know that is not true. Maybe at the professional and Senior National level that is true. At these levels coaches are hired to succeed immediately, if not they will be fired, but the inadequate talent we are developing at the youth level has nothing to do with the talent pool. It has everything to do with the coaching, the selection process, incompetent decision makers who have no business being involved in the game, and the current youth soccer culture of winning over development that has been prevalent for the last 30 years. The culture must realize results are not important in youth development at younger levels.  If Reyna’s main goal to really develop a higher level of an intelligent, technical player base within our country, do we really have the coaches to get there? My opinion is no!  I don’t think we do. This is based on first-hand knowledge: most coaches in this country promote a style of football and possess a mentality of how the game should be played that is far away from Reyna’s vision. Playing and promoting an attacking style of football is the most difficult form of football to teach. We have very few coaches that are capable of teaching this style and more importantly have the moxie to commit to it. We also must lose the “Defend first” mentality. Teaching attack should be promoted as a priority for our youth. Emphasis on teaching possession not only has it’s importance in attack, but creates an understanding that possessing the ball is a form of defense, a much more effective form of defending than defending when the other team has the ball. Simply look what happened to Germany against Spain in the last World Cup.

Our Current Youth National Teams selection motto seems to be, “athletic players with very little smarts or technical ability wanted!” Is this perception or reality?  Because we really don’t have that many athletically gifted technical or intelligent players. Or is it because of the selection process used by the current coaches? Or is it a reflection of our coaches’ abilities and understanding what an elite player is? Or is it a reflection of the environment our players currently come from? Or is it that we have no true definition of what we are really trying to achieve here?  I would say a little of everything mentioned. The last thing we need are coaches at the youth national level telling players who just gained possession to kick the ball behind the opposition’s back line because if they lose possession, which they do most of the time, we can put the opposition under defensive pressure farther up the field, but unfortunately they do. Where is the development in tactics like that?  Why do we even have coaches like this at this level? Saying this tactic is reflective of the talent at this age group is not a good enough answer nor is it true. It just reflects coaches’ limitations. Let’s hope US Soccer and Bob Bradley will let Reyna do his job. This age group needs to be taken more seriously by US Soccer. Technical players in this age group should be the focus and made a priority. If we don’t have enough of the quality players we need, then it should be made a priority we start developing them. Changes definitely must take place here.  We will never improve at the World Cup level if we don’t produce more intelligent and better technically competent players at a younger age.  Recently viewing USA U-17 and U-20 squads performances just demonstrate we are currently not doing a very good job of providing this type of player. Contrary to media reports, neither of these squads is very talented, and any talent that is there, which is miniscule for the top level, is very difficult to see when you watch them play with their supporting cast.

The Problems with Prevailing US Youth Soccer Culture:

Our current youth soccer culture will be a big challenge for Reyna.

First, it is financially driven. In the big picture everything financial is a priority, where development should be the priority. This leads to decision makers like State Youth Associations, Youth Club Boards, Director of Coaches, US Soccer, and Coaches who most of the time that make decisions in the interest of making money or self interest, which usually means “how do I keep my big paycheck and my controlled environment?”
Follow the money?
Secondly, the people who supply most of the money, parents of players, are really clueless in the big picture of development. As long as their kids are winning and have a positive experience, they are happy, even though the child might be getting poor coaching or leave a team that is well coached prematurely because the team is not winning. The fact is parents are mostly interested in getting their child in front of college coaches. Very few have interest in the child being offered a professional contract. A serious culture challenge when we are talking about development for the top level. Do players and all others involved really care? The current culture is not providing an environment for quality soccer and high level soccer development. Just look at the stop-start nature of current youth’s soccer training and competition calendar. There is no continuity. In reality the structure is  poor! We can do so much better. The shear number of youth players creates the perception that we are doing a good job developing top players, but in comparison to other top soccer countries with smaller population, we fail miserably with the percentage of players we develop for the top level.

Lastly, our culture needs to stop making things bigger and better than they really are.

There are always media darlings who are touted as our country’s next GREAT COACHES, but recent sessions at the summit demonstrated this is far from true. Like many other coaches in this country, they don’t address the small details. Reyna really needs to spend time identifying coaches who are actually capable of coaching his vision and have the ability to teach attacking soccer.  Claudio must ignore the hype and focus on the quality coaches this country does have to offer; especially coaches who can help him reach his goals, so to speak. Currently, talented coaches with proven coaching experience are ignored. Look for coaches who are there to challenge you and your vision, but at the same time to support you and your vision. Remember, the college game has nothing to do with developing players for the world stage. In order to get to the next level, the college game has and will have very little, if anything, to do with us getting there. This last MLS Draft pool was touted as a special group of players. If this was the case, would the cream of the crop really have signed with MLS? Also remember the tactical and technical foundation that most retired MLS players possess and understand is not the kind of soccer Reyna is promoting.

Letter to Brian McBride:
Dear Brian,
We need you to be integrally involved in player development in this country, but we don’t need robotic training methods promoted here. These methods have hurt the development of U.S. youth greatly over the years. We need training that promotes creativity, technical competency, and intelligence, especially with our attacking players. Wouldn’t it be nice to produce skilled and multi-dimensional strikers with your goal scoring abilities, midfielders who can possess the ball and dictate the rhythm of the game, and defenders in this country who can actually possess and pass a ball?

Role of Coaching Schools and Academies:
Where do the US Coaching Schools fit into Reyna’s new vision? I hope the importance, professionalism, and the seriousness under Chysowicz’s and Gansler’s tenure will return. US Soccer’s Coaching Schools have gotten soft over recent years, but are great revenue generators for the US Soccer.  When will we have a course for the professional coach? Do we currently have a staff that can fulfill the above and promote a level much larger than the MLS?

I know certain MLS US Development Academies have produced players for their first teams and I hear some are quite decent, but most of the US Developmental Academy games I have seen and evaluated for my work in Europe have been played a very low level. Finances are still a big issue here. Some good players cannot afford to play, yet MLS Academy teams are paying for their players’ expenses and MLS owners’ are committing serious money to this project. I would too if I were MLS. Player transfer revenue is serious business and big money. The question is, will the MLS Academy commit to Reyna’s vision or do their own thing? Do the other USDA’s who charge fees for players to play understand that they’re not entitled to any developmental fees under current FIFA rules? The fee-based “pay-to-play” system in our country is a big obstacle in developing top talent that needs to be rectified.


In conclusion I am very positive about what Reyna is bringing to the table, but this requires far-sightedness over the long-term. I hope it is not just another US Soccer gimmick like project 2010. It definitely will not happen overnight and will have its share of road blocks, but it can happen much faster than most think. We just need to be realistic and use the resources available to us in this country. Being on the Senior Technical Staff Ajax Amsterdam‘s American project and currently scouting for the top levels of Europe, I know first hand we produce very talented players in the USA comparable to their European counterparts at the U-12 level. My sincere hope is that under Reyna’s vision we will produce even more, because based on our numbers of youth players playing right now, we are not doing a very good job overall. Until we get this vision established, I can’t recommend special players over 12 to stay in this country under the current conditions, even if MLS has money to throw at these players and their parents. Our best players must be in Europe no later than 14 years of age or, unfortunately, they will get worse. This is a sad fact about our current youth soccer environment that I hope will change under Reyna’s plan, along with the improvement of our U-14, U-15 and U17 National team programs, along with the MLS establishing serious youth academies. Remember MLS, Europe is your competition, not these non MLS US Developmental Academies. Set your standards high and start focusing on younger age players. If not your return on your investment will be disappointing and so will the opportunity to improve the level of play in the MLS. Good Luck Claudio!

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