“The Coach Is The Most Important Person In Football.”
Aimee Jacquet – French National Team Coach, 1998 World Cup Champions
I read with great interest the recently completed U.S. Soccer Curriculum – the proposed way forward for soccer in the USA. The author, former national team captain, Claudio Reyna, provides a template for the development of players. Maybe the document is, specifically, addressing the needs of the American player and it does a fine job of that. I see nothing, however, on the development of coaches which is essential for the future success in the game. Nothing in the document addressed the coach of the future and the skills coaches need to stretch and challenge and excite players. A significant amount of time should be spent on this topic. We need thousands of high quality coaches in the USA who, not only teach the skills of the game, but turn players on to a way of life. This would include watching the game. Our players do not watch enough soccer and the important learning step called “modeling” is absent in the development of many American players. Coaching development is an activity dear to my heart and something I spent the last thirteen years of my life doing. A massive document could be written on coaching development – and one of the items I would inject into that document is a section regarding the virtues of Position Specific Coaching – P.S.C.
I became interested in P.S.C. when I visited Steve McCLaren, then of Middlesborough FC in the English Premier League. Steve had introduced a coach for attacking and a coach for defending and was about to introduce a coach for restarts. My interest was ignited at that time and the curiousity regarding P.S.C. has proliferated since then. I have received a number of enquiries over the years, from Premier League managers, about setting up visits to NFL teams. I see Harry Redknapp, of Tottenham Hotspurs, recently wrote an article on the virtues of P.S.C. in an English newspaper. This is futuristic thinking.
Seems to me that this model of coaching should be adopted as a template for our soccer clubs and coaching community and could be one of the best ways to produce the players we need to become a world class power. Having a coach for the backs, midfielders and forwards, as well as a goalkeeper coach, is, in my view, the missing link in the development of American players. Position Specific Coaches would report to a head coach and be experts in their positional assignment. In some cases, the head coach may coach one of the units. Not only do players get more specific feedback they are, also, given more highly specialized training sessions. Dick Bate, the world’s #1 Coaching Educator, has developed courses in P.S.C. for the English F.A. and suggests that clubs should have special nights when the players are broken up into positional groups and trained for a period of time functionally. For something to tickle your thinking read the late Bill Walsh’s book “Finding the Winning Edge.” A superb book by an American Football Coach on staff and player management. Comments are welcome.
As we approach the playoffs in N America I wanted to feature one of the most amazing reversals in team fortunes I have ever witnessed. As their new $200,000,000 stadium could not be finished until June, Sporting KC, Kansas City’s MLS team, played all of their games away from home. They were dead last in their division with an 1-6-2 record and looked in serious trouble. When I visited their training facility a shadow hung over the complex and the Kansas City newspapers began to do what newspapers do best – speculate when changes in the coaching staff would begin. Then, Sporting KC had a 4-1 away win at Dallas and began a run of wins and ties which rocketed the team from the bottom of the division to the top. Sporting KC’s Livestrong Stadium opened on June 10th and, this past weekend, celebrated SKC's first divisional championship when the home team defeated NY Red Bull 2 – 0. To begin the season so poorly and end up winning the division is a testimony to the coaching staff and players and I asked Sporting KC Head Coach, Peter Vermes, what his advice he might have for coaches in a similar situation to the one he faced in June. I think his answer is quite interesting.
The playoff system itself is an interesting topic for discussion. Winning the league, such a massive accomplishment in Europe, merely leads to receiving a favorable playoff seeding in the USA. A league or divisional champion, if defeated early in the playoffs, does not get a ticker tape parade or trip to the town hall…that will be reserved for the team that won the playoffs, in some cases, despite being defeated by the League Champion several times in the regular season.
To a European this arrangement is bizarre. Winning the league is what it is all about and there are no playoffs. However, this is not Europe and, due to the peculiar cultural development of American sports in the early twentieth century together with the size of the country, together with the scholastic conference system, winning the playoffs is what it is all about in N. America.
Anyway best wishes to Sporting KC on what has been a remarkable turnaround.