Player Development: Accountable for What? And to Who?


I don’t know if real accountability for player development is possible.

What are the metrics?

  • Is it how many players you place in college?
  • Is it the number that get called to youth national teams?
  • Is it the number of professionals you’ve touched while they were amateur?

Certainly these things are important.

But we need to be careful, because they can also be explained with reasons other than player development.

So the real problem is:

Who’s going to judge?

Thoughts? Ideas?

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  1. Walt says

    Before we can “plan” for player development, I think we have to figure out what kind of players we want in the end. We have a very diverse country. There are many many ethnic influences in our culture. Which system, what style etc. , each group will tell you theirs is the way to go. What I like, you may not. Our diversity is what may not allow us to ever develop our own style. The one thing most of us agree on, right now our current programs at every level are not working. We can all “judge” by the success our teams have at each level and we can “judge” the crudeness of our player’s abilities.

    Who at the highest levels will make those decisions? That’s a question I can”t answer. It seems to me, it is at the higest level where the problems are.

    All I ask for is, along the way, we should have teams that are enjoyable to watch and be proud of.

    • Gary Kleiban says

      “What kind of players do we want.”
      Yep. That needs to be answered by each MLS team and the National Teams.
      Unfortunately, I think in many respects it has been answered. And I think (no I know) it’s wrong.

      • CarlosT says

        My question is can an MLS team win while selecting the right players? Fans like to say that MLS is a “physical” league, which is code for saying anything short of knifing is a-okay. How can a player with a game built on technique survive and thrive in a league like that?

        • Gary Kleiban says

          Absolutely 100% yes.
          The exact same way Akron players – guys like Ampaipitakwong – thrived in the college game notorious for the exact same things as MLS. College coaches for years told me to my face, that it couldn’t be done. Enter Caleb Porter to shut everyone’s face.

          Want to talk at the professional level? Well I think Arsenal of the EPL has also shown that playing the right way can be done in spite of the “physical league” horse shit.

          I’m not going to be timid with this issue. But to all those who think that the “physical league / refereeing” is dictating style of play, you are wrong. Very wrong!

          All it takes is a coach with a bloody clue that knows how to implement the right system with real SET TACTICAL WORK.

          Like I said elsewhere, one day a coach will rise in MLS (like it has in youth and college) and prove it.

          • CarlosT says

            I don’t know why this didn’t occur to me before now, but what about the possibility the “Caleb Porter of MLS” being Caleb Porter? I know he has a good thing going in Akron, but what if maybe some MLS club that’s struggling gets a clue and a long term commitment, do you think Porter could succeed in MLS?

          • Gary Kleiban says

            What gave me even more respect for his work, is when he turned down DC United. I haven’t talked to him so obviously I don’t know what really transpired there, but I have a suspicion.
            Knowing the type of work required to build something of that level, I tried putting myself in his shoes. I would have studied the crap out of DC United and all its players – videos and analysis all over the place! If I came to the conclusion that the club was in no position (team, roster, or front office) for my work to be successful, then I would have declined. I suspect that’s a big reason why he declined.

            So in my opinion I think he has the capacity to be the best in MLS as well. But the right ingredients are required (ie long term commitment and support of the front office).

  2. Walt says

    Sorry, our current US Women’s team I am very proud of. I love their fighting spirit and their success. Not sure we have the players at the younger ages in the women;s program that will be able to replace our current crop.

    • Gary Kleiban says

      The women have certainly been inspiring and a huge plus for the popularity of the sport amongst young girls and their parents.
      I’ll leave it at that for now …

  3. says

    Player development is successful when, as youth coaches, we are getting our players placed on/in professional club environments at 16 to 18 years old. If you are shooting for college, it’s like a very good college golfer setting a goal to get in the Senior tour as their next step. College is the Canadian Football league in relation to the NFL.

    • Gary Kleiban says

      I’m with you Tyler. I think the target must be the moon and the stars.

      Now, here’s a problem;
      If we consider the vast majority of American MLS players “not developed”, then were their respective youth coaches “good”.

      For instance, was the coach who had a big influence with Altidore, Wynne, Casey, et al an excellent developer of players?

      • says

        I would say they weren’t good coaches. If those players were able to make it to the professional level/National team without their “special” physical attributes, I’d say yes.

        Altidore is 6’1″, Conor Casey 6’2″, Marvell Wynne is 5’9″ but possesses freakish speed. Those guys still aren’t good enough to be special even with those attributes. When it’s easy for a coach to pick a player based on their physical attributes, and they don’t help that player become a phenom then they aren’t good. Sorry, but if Marvell Wynne had a great coach, he’d be playing left back for Barcelona or Chelsea. Altidore scored only 1 goal in 28 appearances for Hull City in the EPL… nope, not good enough.

        We don’t have those coaches. I think there are very few coaches in the American system that would pass up size or speed for a skillful player. Remember, they’ve got to get the kids into college so that they can market their programs… and Colleges want to win… athletes win because its a game of multiple subs and athleticism.

        It is hard to get kids to play attractive soccer. It takes a lot of time and attention to detail. It also takes intensity at practice to create an environment that is game like. I just don’t see coaches willing to require that intensity, nor do they pay enough attention to detail to get the kids better. They are too afraid to lose the kids and the parents or they just don’t know what it takes to be damn good.

        I still see too many coaches, with credentials galore, playing kickball, bypassing the midfield, not playing out of the back, having a defender take the goal kick, looking for big strong forwards…

        So, my answer to your question about the coach of those guys is no, he wasn’t good… because those players had physical attributes that should have given them a huge advantage in the world of soccer and they aren’t in the top 200 in the world.

        • BillR says


          Excellent post, I think you’ve hit the nail on the proverbial head!

          My only quibble is with your comment about Wynne, I don’t think he has the level of concentration or creative ability to step up to a World class level. I think the mental capacity to concentrate for 90+ minutes is underestimated by people looking at players (or the game in general). Soccer may place a greater toll on concentration/mental strength than almost any other sport (certainly team sport). No time outs, constant pressure, and a single lapse can cost you the game.

          Wynne has World class physically to be sure, but the mental side of the game appears to be well short of the mark. His skill level was probably stunted by his ability to overpower everyone as a youth player.


          • says


            I agree with you about the mental capacity being very important. I think that mental capacity is developed with an intense practice. If the practice is lackadaisical, then the player’s mind just isn’t challenged. We have to make them think while they are in practice, call them out on it when they don’t and do our best, as coaches, to get the kids to keep pushing the limits of both their physical and mental game. A good coach is one that inspires and pushes a player to be what they can be and doesn’t let them just be what they are.

          • Nuno says

            It’s hard to be world class when you have rocks as feet …Wayne’s 1st touch makes Gary Neville look velvety…perfect example of the importance of being challenged to play in tight spaces growing up

  4. Kevin says

    First off, about the women’s team: Yes it’s great their doing well, but if you are watching the games and not just looking for the score on sportscenter after it’s over you can’t deny how bad the soccer actually is that’s being played. It’s awful! It shouldn’t prevent us from being proud of them for going so far, but at the same time as more nations take woman’s soccer more seriously we are going to be in the same situation as the men’s game. It is starting to happen right now, this might be the last world cup that the US women are a true contender in, so enjoy it, the rest of the world is getting far better and just like the men’s team they are stagnant at best, if not regressing.

    As for player development I agree about the diversity in this country, and I feel like if we had a coach who would come out and say that he wants a specific type of player and he won’t select a player who does not fit his system, you would really see teams trying to create those kinds of players. I think this country is to large and diverse to have a style on its own, and “melting pot soccer” doesn’t work. People liked to think it was this great idea beforehand, but what happens is you have 10 good players that can’t play together, and the team has no identity. I think the only way is from the top down, Bradley and his staff need to figure out what they want to play like and emphasise it when they speak and create training methods to produce these players. I love the skillful, attack minded, possession game, but maybe that’s not what Bradley wants, but whatever it is that he wants it needs to run through the whole team, that means if we want guys like Altidore and Onyewu, don’t both playing a Torres or a Cherundolo, and vice versa. I know people disagree, because it is easy to argue on paper, these 4 should probably all start based on pedigree, etc. (not that I agree), but I think an identity is more important than slight upgrades in concieved quality of players. No team has ever won a big tournament without a clear identity, not that I can think of (Barcelona-short passing, skillful, creative, Spain- see Barce, Inter- Organized, disciplined, efficient Italy- See Inter, and so on).

    So to make a long story short I think obviously the coaches that develop the individual players and the players themselves are responsible, but equally responsible or more so is the USSF, or the Club as a whole that the player plays for, choose an identity, and develop your players to fit that style.

    • Nuno says

      Don’t buy too much on “culture” not allowing for attractive/quality soccer in MLS
      The key is “right” coach, and an owner with the vision (and quite possibly) the patience) to support the project….having an economical model that rewards who is developing players at the different levels would be a big help
      The history of soccer has been built on cultural revolutions…Michels & Cruyff @ Ajax, Barca, Holland; Menotti in Argentina; Shankly @ Liverpool; Lobanowsky @ D Kiev; Fergie @ Man U; Wenger @ Arsenal; Sacchi @ Milan; Bielsa @ NOB, Chile
      and Bilbao

  5. Matt says

    Right now I feel the culture is accountable. We don’t have enough individuals (parents, relatives, coaches, etc.) who understand the game and can guide young players along the way. In other nations there are dads and uncles who can show a boy proper technique at 3-4 years old. So his first experience in the sport isn’t at 8 when he joins his first club team. Better clubs are offering quality training to younger players and educating parents on the road to the top. When I was a youth player 10 years ago, only a few of the ‘top’ coaches around had any clue and I’m sure not even all of those coaches got it.

    Development shouldn’t fall on the USSF beyond offering guidance to youth clubs and organizing national teams. They are moving in this direction with the DA although it takes time. More importantly is the thousands of youth coaches out there in contact with players on a daily basis. I’m hardly the best coach around, but everything I do is informed from what I can gather from the pros. I see too many who have no clue what players should be learning and in what type of progression. Few clubs have a clear vision for their coaches to follow so most are flying blind.

    Ultimately it’s on the coaches and players. Players need to be willing to challenge themselves and strive for what goals they set. The coach needs to help them realize just what is possible beyond college scholarships. Then the coach needs to have a clear vision of how to train his team from day one at U6 or U8 through senior level. Once he has this he can sequence it in a way to gradually bring the players to the end product. Along the way he needs to motivate the players through challenge/encouragement. And above all, his playing vision needs to be sophisticated and in line with the requirements of professional soccer (in other words, playing basic youth level soccer that we too often see doesn’t qualify).

    • Gary Kleiban says

      Quality post Matt!
      But how can one confidently judge if a coach can truly develop players? Are there some metrics to complement any quasi-objective or subjective criterion?

      Everything you said is great, but how many coaches will claim they do what you describe? How many parents/fans say their coach is good? If we went by those opinions, then everyone is doing a great job! Obviously, that’s not the case.

  6. Lalo says

    Who judges and who is accountable depends on who is in charge, motivation, and goal/vision. Difficult with youth clubs as the DoC or any BoD have are in charge of a fiefdom. Clubs answer to themselves, motivated by wins and tournaments to generate cash flow, and no long-term vision (i.e. developing professionals) because it carries no financial reward. So nothing happening on this front.
    There isn’t a deep pool of good coaches. So hiring and firing annually won’t cut it. Just recycling. More educated parents (informed consumers) need to let their feet and money be the judge. But easier said than done I know.

    Unless colleges get financial reward / incentive by MLS or USSF (which they aren’t), nothing happening here either (and it especially ain’t happening with NCAA rules). College soccer is a relic of US sports scene (favors a closed domestic system with franchise business model). It needs to go way of buggy whip if US soccer wants to improve.

    That leaves official MLS and USSF club academies. I don’t see any reason why club academies can’t be rewarded financially? Small fee like happens elsewhere. Doesn’t have to be a contract. Just some sort of fee to acknowledge an investment and to fuel the pipeline for future mutually beneficial transactions. People and organizations perform according to how they’re rewarded.

    MLS is already moving to placing more home grown products. That will continue to improve. Reward for them is via open market and at the turnstiles if they develop top talent. So lucrative incentives abound here.

    So as I see it, MLS needs to step up big-time. USSF (national teams) don’t develop players. May round them out and give higher level competition. National teams cherry pick best talent, but development is already there. It’s a player pool.

    Real development of elite players s/b at MLS and other professional levels (e.g., NPSL, PDL, USL). However, these other leagues lack finances and not competitive enough to develop real talent. So for now we need to rely on MLS, but that’s still a work-in-progress.

    In the end, the player must rely on himself. Show discipline and motivation to develop himself. As has been said in other posts, 80% plus of development is via the individual. Think of the martial arts expert. His sensei provides words of wisdom and shares his experience, but the pupil develops himself. The ones who do this from early age typically succeed. Each player should be their harshest critic and critic. Same is true in tennis, golf, music, dance, and other hyper-competitive, super selective endeavors. I remind my son of this as much as I can and it seems to be working. He realizes his coach won’t do it for him, so he must go hard to achieve his own goals.

    • Gary Kleiban says

      Hi Lalo.
      I’m trying to pick out your main points directed specifically towards metrics or how to judge if player development has happened.

      Your first sentence:
      “Who judges and who is accountable depends on who is in charge, motivation, and goal/vision.”
      I agree. Now, the question is:
      Is there a right or wrong goal/vision?

      Next. I also agree with your last paragraph. But that last 20% is critical!
      How can we judge whether a particular coach is doing a good job of it?

  7. BillR says


    A good thought provoking question, something tells me you have some thoughts. You’ve already gotten some good contributions that helped me get my thoughts together.

    Who is responsible? All of us. Who pays if we don’t do well? the same all of us.

    How do we measure success? What are the metrics? There is a principle called SMART (specific measurable, actionable, relevant, timely) used to define good one. Getting to SMART may be quite hard because the easy ones do not necessarily lend themselves to the results we all want. We have lots of specifics (number of professionals, college scholarships, tournaments, state/regional championships, ODP, etc…) all of these measure success at a game that may not be completely up to the task of success.

    We know that our present system misses/loses A LOT of talent. If a coach produces a Connor Casey, but misses (or mis-develops) Xavi or Messi is he really any good? My guess is that finding Connor Casey was a lot easier than finding and developing Xavi. We do have a melting pot of talent, but the diversity of style and play in this country is dismal. We manage to fully blend the melting pot and remove diversity by the time we get to the National pool. Almost everybody plays the same horrible style (Boot-n-Run) from Youth-College-Pro (MLS) and there is too little diversity. We need to modify how we play the game to accent the diversity by interpreting the rules to stop giving such an advantage to overly-physical play. We need to nurture skill and intelligence instead of allowing brute-force to overwhelm it.

    What is left to measure? What would be relevant? Precious little unless we change the game here in the USA.

    What is actionable with the current US setup? There is enough evidence already that huge changes are needed, yet no action? The same small-minded people defend their Youth/College/MLS turf to avoid instituting the changes needed. We have timely evidence in hand and nothing is done.

    Who is going to judge? In the end it’s the USSF and the amoeba of organizations governing the game. This is the heart of the problem, the small-minded defending their little turf rather than joining forces to produce something bigger and better. The manner of competition in the youth game is a continual drain on player development, but many lousy coaches have their reputation built on its nature (I see coaches who simply recruit rather than develop their way to success, College is probably the same). We have a college game that is strangled by the rules that govern it, morphing it into a hideous shadow of the World game (and college should be an advantage for the USA rather than a problem!). At the head of our chimera is the USSF, which does not appear to have a clue about how to move the game forward.

    Maybe we need to be clear about our objective. What sort of result to we want from player development?

    My answer is “win the World Cup (at any level)” and “ produce the first real American superstar” .

    These are easy here are some more subtle ones, “produce professional players who stand out based on skill,” “make an innovation in how the game is played that influences the rest of the World,” “produce a coach who succeeds outside the USA,” and “get US players in every major league in the World.”

    • Gary Kleiban says

      I’m going to keep it super short Bill, but be assured that all your posts (like everyone else’s) add great value and I go through them with a fine-tooth comb.

      You stated:
      “produce professional players who stand out based on skill”

      I think you’re on to something! :)

  8. CarlosT says

    In other places, the standard for all youth teams is “can they produce players that are good enough for the next level”. This is because they’re under the auspices of the professional teams and ultimately the professional teams are looking for players that they can either use in the first squad or players they can sell for good transfer fees to continue to fund the club. The coaches at the youth levels are held accountable by that standard and it goes all the way down. If the coach of the 10-year-olds isn’t selecting and developing quality players to pass on to the 11-year-old team, then he’s let go. And if the coach of that team doesn’t recruit and produce quality for the next level, he suffers the same fate and so on and so forth.

    As far as I can see, there’s no other way to enforce any kind of accountability, and as long as the American system remains a patchwork of amateurs, the US will struggle to produce world class players.

    • Steve says

      That’s why the DA clubs and college soccer are dead or at least should be. The “pay for play” has to end in this country. Our entire focus should on the MLS academies whose only goal is to develop pros with skills and don’t care about winning games.

      That’s why the Kleibans are irrelevant when it comes to United States soccer. They aren’t part of the solution, but part of the problem.

      • says

        who have u developed steve? what are your credentials man, u sound like one of these U.S. bloggers who picked up soccer 5 years ago because all your college buddies would come together to play pickup and that qualifies you to speak about U.S. soccer, but 1. you can’t teach the game, 2. don’t know the game, 3. never lived the game.

        So instead of telling Gary and Brian good job for bringing these topics up u want us to show up to MLS games and yell for what???? Longest drive contest, bad touches, lack of skill, vision, technique, etc and say, “hey they’re doing a great job!”

        Heck the MLS only started talking about academies and devt. after Barca started killing everybody, where was that talk 5 years ago? They didn’t care, MLS is a business and business only meaning development is not main goal cause if it was they would throw all their $$$ into it and be like Argentina and Brazil’s:

        who has the best players to ever play the game? Arg and Brazil where did the talent come from, the culture, the style and the coaching made these players, and the MLS with their coaches are not going to make players like brazil and argentina

      • Lalo says

        Steve — I don’t know the Kleibans, but can tell they understand soccer and in fact ARE part of the solution. I don’t know you, but do know you’re off base w/your comment about them and seem to be grinding an axe. There are other blogs (e.g., SoCal Soccer Forum) where nonsensical blogs attacking people are ok — but not here. Your thoughs are welcome, but bash elsewhere.

        As someone who deeply wants to see an improvement in US soccer, the Kleibans website is the only place I know of where issues are discussed in an intelligent, thoughtful manner.

  9. Walt says

    All great ideas. I can see how concerned everyone is with improving our American players, but it seems we are all just whistling in the breeze. Is anyone at the top levels of US Soccer concerned? The silence at the top is deafening, wouldn’t you say?

  10. Kevin says
    This video is pretty cool, how much better would it have been to play in an environment like this instead of the youth soccer environment I was in with stupid politics, gossiping, and a win or die attitude for no real reason. When all is said and done, soccer is a game, it should be fun to play, rather than like going to a job. This team gets killed every game, and they just hope to do a little better each game, but there is no griping, parents are smiling and cheering their kids on as they get closer to scoring, and the kids have the time of their life.

  11. kephern says

    all the points made are great and worth expanding on, but i think in the short term we have to use environments provided in Europe. Look at Belgium, they’re best talents left for Holland and France to develop their players to the next level( Hazard, Verthongen, Vermaelen, Dembele), as well as Anderlecht, Standard, and Genk having a good youth program(Lukaku and Kevin de Bruyn, Fellani). So can we get 4 or 5 clubs in our gigantic country to do the right thing develop their players and get Europe to identify them young that will help at least in raising the level….of course ultimately we need to create an environment that allows us to produce world class players

  12. Lalo says

    Difficult to jude a particular coach. I think the club (or maybe USSF) should set AND enforce age-specific standards. Especially at U12 and below.

    American football is statistics driven. Easy to judge. Soccer is highly individualistic and majority of game spent moving in space. 2-3 minutes max with ball at your feet. Its also things like positioning, reaction speed, anticipation that helps judge if a player has been “developed”. So lots of subjectivity, which is difficult to measure. I say stay away from over reliance of analytical tools to supplant human experience. “A fool with a tool is still a fool”.

    I think it’s pretty simple how we judge a coach. At young ages, focus on hard skills (passing, shooting, heading, receiving), which can be judged by objective criteria. They must be done properly with little room for error and can be taught / learned. This is fairly objective, so let’s judge a coach’s abilit to teach it. If a player can’t dribble w/o looking down constantly by U12, forget about it!

    As players progress, they develop soft skills (purposeful movement, reading game, tactical communicating, calm on the ball, creativity, touch, vision, ingenious passing). This is the soccer IQ everyone talks about. Difficult to judge a coach on this as it’s highly individualistic and player-dependent. But if player developed hard skills, then soft skills come easier.

    So again, hard skills is the key! By U13, the game speeds up and ball control is genesis for calmness, creativity, passing, anticipation, and so on.

    Countries like Spain and Argentina develop players who are masters of both hard and soft skills. USA is work in progress.

    We need to judge coach AND player ability on thinks like skill, agility, quickness, stamina, technique. Is he coordinated, comfortable on the ball? Can he dribble or pass w/o looking down? Does he think ahead and does he have good first touch? Does he think before booting the ball up-field? Does he know proper positioning or how to receive a pass w/o showing it to opponent? Is the kid coachable, committed, good attitude? Does he practice same intensity as he plays? This are the type sort of traits we need to teach and identify by about U12.

    Players who can show aptitude in these areas are the type of players who we need to identify and develop for future success. It’s not the 5’9″ man-child at U12 who is big but lacks technique, vision, or can over-power samller kids and score goals for fun. Height and power advantage dimimishes with time, age, maturity. If they don’t develop skills, they turn into the Jozy Altidores of the world.

  13. BillR says

    “People respond to incentives” is an economic maxim. Its good to ask ourselves “what are the incentives in American soccer?”

    I believe the answer is to win. This is true at every level, youth to pro. This is the difference between the USA and most of the rest of the World. Most places the emphasis is on winning at the pro level, and the objective of victory as the centerpiece is subdued at the youth level. I also don’t think the mindset in the USA will change. The result is placing immediate competitiveness over proper developmental practices. At the youth age this produces all sorts of counter-productive practices, such as more strongly favoring early maturing athletes.

    We should carefully reorient the way the game is governed in the USA to try to harness the winning toward better outcomes in player development. I would argue that the way the game is played in the USA causes the win at all cost mentality to do more harm rather than less. We need to restructure US Soccer to offset the impacts so that player development is harmed less. We need to restructure competitions to reward player development rather than physical play. We referee games in the United States in such a way that physical play is strongly rewarded. This is true all the way from competitive youth to MLS matches. This resonates with the win at all cost mentality in the youth game to completely undermine proper youth development as the path to coaching success.

    An example is the lack of acceptance of small-sided play nationally. I see that most of our big youth markets have not accepted this (Cal, Texas in particular). This is good evidence of where their hearts are.

    A coach can be a “success” by simply recruiting the best athletes to their team. Such “success” only breeds more “success” via the coaches record/resume. Thus it becomes self-perpetuating. Because the college and pro game in the USA follow the same sort of approach, the players found through this process become “successful”.

    The problem with this is the players found are under-developed for the World game, and the USMNT suffers. We have the illusion of success in soccer.

  14. Lalo says

    In thinking about this more (yes, this is a pet peeve) possession and passing accuracy are two key indicators of both hard and soft skills.

    The greater percentage at which a player can possess means he’s receiving, touching, dribbling, staying calm, shielding, is moving properly to receive passes and gain possession, and anticipating pressure at an advanced level.

    Passing accuracy means a player has vision, making right choices, not taking risks, playing as a team, understands movement and support, has good range of passing touch, and he has ball control (doesn’t have to look down to pass).

    The other part of it is communication. Communication helps the 11 individuals perform as a unit.

    Soccer is primarily passing and moving. Dribbling accounts for 2-3 minutes, so they remaining 87-88 minutes (98%), players s/b moving (anticipate, communicate, and support).

    Putting all three together, the better an individual and team do these – the more they possess, control the game, make fewer mistakes, minimize scoring chances for opponent, tire opponent (always chasing) and increase their scoring chances.

    Does a team from Spain who won Champions League come to mind?

    So a simple way to judge a coach is to look at possession and passing accuracy.

    Instead of bashing your son for not scoring a goal or dribbling past 5 opponents, praise or provide constructive feedback on his possession and passing (only if you know what you’re talking about . . . if not ask the coach).

    As I look back at my own son’s team, they have improved significantly under a new coach (tournament win and a few 2nd place showings). What’s changed? It’s possession and passing accuracy. Coach focuses on that each practice.

    It all starts at the U12 and under ages. Devote overwhelming time to ball mastery. It enables development of higher level soft skills. The Coerver Method has been around for a while and seems to have the formula right.

  15. Lalo says

    “. . . the way coaches need to organize their players needs to be better.”

    “Overall, it’s not on the same level as we are, with all due respect . . . .”

    “They need to improve a lot of things, it’s not just one thing, it’s everything” said Park. “More [talented] players need to come play but I think it will change over the next few years.”

    However, Lindegaard doesn’t see a quick fix to the dilemma as Europeans have been perfecting their craft and coaching techniques for decades. The 27-year-old says that if Americans put more focus into the coaching side of the game, there is no reason why the development of players can’t catch up to the levels of Europe sooner than later.

    These are comments found on (July 28, 2011) from Ji Sung Park and Lindegaard (Man United keeper) regarding US soccer after beating MLS All Stars 4-0.

    United’s recently retired legendary keeper Edwin van der Sar, says that he doesn’t believe that players in MLS lack talent but they are missing out on the small tactical details that are stressed in Europe.

    I look at above comments as peer review and wake up call for US Soccer. The Route 1 stuff many coaches teach at younger ages needs to go. Keep up the good work Gary and 3four3 bloggers. Hopefully our little bit of complaining will help push us to next level.

    • Gary Kleiban says

      I’m actually a bit surprised players said such things. Usually it’s very PC.
      So if they chose to publicly spill those few small, but key critiques, imagine what they really think.

      We know many current MLS players, and they tell us what their DP’s and other non American-bred teammates really think about the coaching and general level of play. Then what they say to the media are the typical positive sound bites. Haha! And that’s what the fan-base here regurgitates. Ha!

      But anyways, the comments from the United players are correct. It’s what I’ve been saying. Technique is NOT the #1 problem. It is the tactical side of the game that is completely missing here. Our coaches and hence players have no idea what they’re doing out there.

      It’s laughable when people talk and write about US youth, college, MLS, or NT tactics.
      There is no SET TACTICAL WORK done here people!!!

  16. Walt says

    The comments of players from the top leagues and soccer playing countries in the world are a welcome critique of our professional league and the MLS should listen. However, MLS has no interest in improving the quality of play in the MLS beyond the barest minimum of what will fly in order to bring fans in the door. If they did care, why such rapid expansion? Doesen’t the number of teams dilute the talent? Top players from around the world will not come here until the money makes it worth their while. The MLS also does not care about the development of American players to compete on the world stage other than if it will earn money when players are sold. The MLS is soley about the money. The search for and the development of American players(all American players) should be the duty of the Professional Clubs and US Soccer should support that effort with financial incentives.

    • Steve says

      “The comments of players from the top leagues and soccer playing countries in the world are a welcome critique of our professional league and the MLS should listen.”

      Who says they don’t? But MLS is a 16 year old league. It’s a growing teenager. It faces challenges they don’t have in England or Spain where they have 100 year old leagues with soccer being the most popular sport by far. So criticism has to be filtered.

      “If they did care, why such rapid expansion?”

      North America is “much” larger than European counties like Spain, England, or Germany. They are expanding because there is a need and it makes them money. Sir Alex said the U.S, could support four divisions and MLS numerous teams beyond 20 when here was here this summer. So your problem is? More teams mean more players. Less chances for players to slip through the cracks.

      “The MLS also does not care about the development of American players to compete on the world stage other than if it will earn money when players are sold.”

      Yes, and so is every other league. It is not MLS’s job to develop players for the USMNT. But given the MLS academies set up by the teams, the USMNT will one day reap the benefits.

      “The MLS is soley about the money.”

      And so is the EPL, La Liga, Serie A, Barcelona, Real, Man U, Man City, etc. Did you think MLS was a charity organization?

      “The search for and the development of American players(all American players) should be the duty of the Professional Clubs and US Soccer should support that effort with financial incentives.”

      It is the duty of MLS to find to best players. No matter where they come from.

  17. Michael says

    3v3 games and tournaments: improves or hinders development?
    Why are 3v3 tournaments only big here in the US?

    I appreciate your input (and others).

    • Gary Kleiban says

      Not sure how to answer this Michael.
      The more time you’re touching the ball, the better.
      Organized 3v3 games/tournaments? Fine, sure.
      Pickup 3v3 games for hours and hours and hours, week after week after week … much better!

      As for its popularity here in the US? I have no idea.

  18. John Pranjic says

    I feel like there are plenty of critics. We all have an opinion on what is going wrong and what needs to change. We all agree that the focus should be on developing technical and creative players. We all agree that we’re lost tactically. I feel like there is no help, though!

    If someone has the tactical answers here in the US, why aren’t they sharing them? Why is this information hidden? I’m a young coach, only 24 years old, and I have ZERO high level playing experience. After one season at a junior college with an absolutely HORRIBLE coach, I decided i didn’t want any player to have that same experience I had ever again. So, I started to coach. I have spent hours and hours and hours researching online, watching YouTube videos, watching professional games (both domestic and foreign) and I have tried to develop myself as a coach the best that I can. I have pieced together a coaching philosophy of my own that works for me, but no one has offered to help me or give their opinion. I have no one to evaluate me. I have no one to point out my mistakes or give me advice.

    Here is my problem. In order for me to improve my coaching and receive quality instruction on topics where I feel I may be lacking… I must fork out THOUSANDS of dollars. I’m a USSF “D” licensed coach… along with the 30 other mom’s and dad’s who passed the impossible to fail course along with me. I feel like I wasted hundreds of dollars and hours of my time taking that “educational” course. Now, in order for me to get my “C” license I need to pay THOUSANDS of dollars? Why can’t that information just be available to US coaches? Why do i need to pay money to access that information? Shouldn’t USSF or NSCAA want our coaches and players to get better?

    Along those same lines… Should I be looked at as less of a coach because I don’t have my “C”? Should someone be looked at as a better coach because they do hold a C, B, or even A? I’ve had plenty of conversations with “educated” coaches and more often than not I’ve left the conversation confused, completely baffled, at how certain people can be left alone with our youth, let alone be considered a “great soccer mind.”

    I would love for us to stop criticizing each other, our players, our teams, and our leagues. Instead of complaining about the problem… let’s try to fix it! Why don’t we open up the communication lines and talk about tactics and technique and what works/doesn’t work? Let’s share ideas. Let’s share training exercises and coaching points. Let’s help coach each other.

    My team recently switched from a 4-1-4-1 to a 4-2-3-1 and it worked out great in my opinion I moved one of my most technically talented players from right winger into the attacking midfield position. She was able to combine with our target much easier and got about 30 more touches on the ball than she was previously receiving on the wing. She was constantly getting the ball in dangerous places. Our possession increased and we able to string 10-15 passes together on multiple occasions which is a huge improvement for us. We received 5 more corner kicks than our normal average, too. When the final whistle blew, it ended up in a 3-0 win for us against a team we had previously tied 1-1. So, if we were to talk metrics or who is to judge if I made a good coaching decision… I would say that I did okay… but who else wants to lend me a helping hand and evaluate my game? No one. Who wants to give me constructive feedback? No one. Who wants to tell me, a young coach trying to find his way, what my team should be working on? No one? Who would have complained and given their 2 cents if I would have lost… EVERYONE!

    I’d love to see you talk about specific tactics, Gary. I have no doubt that you are very a bright guy, but I wish you’d share your knowledge with us. Tell us about your games or training sessions. Tell us about your problems and how you solved them. Maybe that could be a separate section in your blog? Just an idea. Either way, I’ll continue to be a dedicated reader.

    • Gary Kleiban says

      Hi John. Those are all excellent comments that moved me. I’ve already drafted a blog post which I’ll hit publish on tomorrow.

      But I’ll quickly give responses to some of the specifics you mentioned here.

      1) USSF licenses are meaningless as a measure of coaching capacity. That instruction will not help you become a quality coach in any way. The only reason to get higher licenses is so that (a) red tape can be lifted if you want to coach at the higher levels and (b) parents and clueless people will think you know more than the next guy. USSF & NSCAA want to make money and maintain a degree of exclusivity. Licensing is a racket.

      2) I’m not sure I understand what you mean by criticizing each other. Who? Between coaches? I would love, love, love to expand on this topic. Personally, I don’t think there is sufficient criticism at all. I see a bunch of soft little politically correct puppies not wanting to hurt each other’s feelings. Then again, it depends on specifically what you may be referring to as criticism.

      Ok. Maybe just a response to two things. I’ll publish my full reaction tomorrow. But please, please keep in mind that I’m just flowing from the heart and not editing myself into oblivion for PC sake. My intention is never to offend. I truly appreciate you and what you’re saying. That goes for everyone.

      • John Pranjic says

        Thanks for the response, Gary.

        I guess what I mean by criticizing each other would be better stated as complaining about each other. Criticizing leads me to believe that there would be something constructive and something specific to learn from in the feedback. Criticizing is okay. Complaining would be a statement like “This team played terrible and had terrible tactics.” Well, yeah, it’s obvious most teams have terrible tactics, but what specifically should that team fix? Should their center mids have looked to switch play more or was their back line sitting too deep inviting the other forwards to sit in the gaps?

        I want to hear more specifics. Furthermore, I want to know how to fix the problems! If there is something that needs to be worked on, what can I do as a coach while planning my training sessions to work on it? If our higher level teams have certain weaknesses, what can I do as a coach to develop my players to prepare them for the next level and beyond? I don’t want to pay thousands of dollars to get this information, but where can I get it?

        I called the head office of US Soccer today to ask them if there are any open training sessions this month at the Home Depot Center, no one could give me an answer. I figured out of the USMNT, USWNT, and the U-23′s that I would be able to catch at least one session. I don’t want to drive two and a half hours to go watch practices if I’m just going to be told to leave right away, but I’m tempted. I’ve sought out college coaches as well, but from what I’ve come to learn is that those aren’t the sessions I should be watching. I actually coach the men’s club team at Cal Poly-SLO and have the luxury of training at the same time as the Cal Poly D-1 team. The sad thing is, they lost two of their better players this season because those players were so turned off by their coaches that they chose to come play for fun with us. So, I’ve come to the conclusion that their sessions are not ones to watch, either.

        Going back to your original thought about metrics. At Cal Poly, the D-1 guys and club team guys are friends for the most part. Throughout the year, we play each other in 7v7 tournaments, futsal, pick up games, etc. Club players have consistently shown that they can play alongside and some even better than those who have been chosen for the D-1 team. It’s always made me wonder what those coaches are looking for in a player? And if there are club players who are proving to be better, why not invite them to come train? If anything, it should make the player they actually selected work 10 times harder, right? But as coaches, should it be known to all what coaches are looking for? Should Caleb Porter release his checklist of what he’s looking for in a player when he is on his recruiting trips? Should Jurgen do the same for the senior level? Should I for my girls high school team? Should we as nation have the exact same list of what all coaches should be looking for?

        • Walt says

          You are right with many of your points. US Soccer training and licensing programs for coaches is more self full filling than anything else.But it does help youth clubs find “qualified” trainers.Also there are many great instructors within the program that bring a lot to it, and if you get to attend any of their sessions, you can learn a lot. Keep an open mind. Keep the best, disregard the rest. here is no one pure way to teach or play this game.
          In the end, it is up to your to develop your own ideas and philosophies of the game. The more you seek out, the more you watch, in time, you will find what is most pleasing to you and you will wind up training your teams that way.
          If his helps, Here are quotes from two great soccer minds.
          Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola
          “People talk about tactics, but when you look at it,TACTICS ARE JUST PLAYERS. You change things so that the team can get the most out of the skills they have to offer, but you don’t go any further than that. When it comes to tactics you have to think about what the opposition does and the players who can hurt you. What I’ve done this season is a response to the game plans our rivals are now adopting against us.
          A key is finding INTELLIGENT PLAYERS.”
          ” We’re just trying to use our common sense.” ” why we keep getting good results? That’s the answer: common sense.”

          Manny Schellscheidt :
          “The game is the best teacher. The coach is really a substitute voice. We want the players to hear the silent voice, the game. The game is actually talking to you.”

          “Judge players by their talents, not their faults.”

          “Soccer without ideas is boring. Players with skill and imagination are fun to watch.”

          “We don’t lose by making a few mistakes, we lose for the things we never did.”

          “No kid ever steps on the field and says, ‘Today I’m going to lose.’ They’re naturally competitive. We should be concerned about the players’ performance, not the final score.”

          “There are always shortcuts that you can find to win the next game. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be winning five, six years from now.”

          “The great players lead with their minds. How do I make space and time? How do I take it away?”

          On coaching youth with small-sided games: “It needs to be small enough so positions don’t matter. That’s the best solution. If coaches would have the patience to graduate their kids from really small numbers, one step at a time, that would be the most natural and the most potent education the players could possibly get. They would learn to deal with time and space, and how to move around and have some shape. The problem is we go to the bigger numbers too early.”

          On screaming orders from the sidelines and shackling players to areas of the field: “It destroys the children’s natural instinct of being part of the game.”

          On the difference between team development and player development: “There’s such a difference. … You can divvy up the field, make players rehearse what they’re supposed to do in their small areas, and as far as team development it works fine because they can find a quick way to get results. It’s a short cut to success, but the kids don’t become good players.”

          “The language of the game is body language. It’s universal.”

          On technique … “I don’t believe skill was, or ever will be, the result of coaches. It is a result of a love affair between the child and the ball.”

          “All the questions will come from the game and so will the answers.”

          • says

            Loved that post Walt…we have to constantly learn from one another, talk, find solutions to problems and ultimately always seek to improve and that is the beauty of the game, philosophies and ideas are the heart of the game,

            thanks again enjoyed reading that

  19. Kevin says

    John, That’s an excellent post, and I have the exact same feelings. You and all of us are running into the problem of the good ole boys Club that is the USSF. It’s very frustrating, they don’t want new ideas, because a more creative person could mean one of their boys is out of a job, and could eventually place themslelves out of the job. As long as they can keep that nice little circle where no one challenges eachothers opinions, they all have great job security and can go day to day happy about the mediocrity of us soccer.

  20. Nuno says

    Here’s a little piece I put together to my teams.


    Vision, soccer brain, soccer IQ, awareness, decision making, composure, speed of play

    Probably you have heard your coaches talking about them and trying to help you on how to improve on it.

    These are maybe the qualities that more than any others separate the levels at which you will be able to compete as a team or individual player.

    The question is that these are hard to quantify qualities, and only truly expressed in real match situations.

    So today, we will let a soccer maestro guide us on a master lesson.

    His name is Xavi Hernandez. He is short, he is skinny, he is not fast, but he has all those special qualities above in abundance, and he has been voted one of the top 3 players in the world by FIFA:

    Listen, watch, read, think, learn, do it.

    We hope you learn enjoy and get something out of it.

    Question: What can you tell about Xavi head and eyes?

    Uefa Training Ground

    Xavi’s lesson:

    In Focus: Xavi Hernandez:

    Xavi in action

    Xavi – Chameleon Eye:

    Xavi Top 5 Key Passes

    Xavi Hernández – The Best Brains In The World

    The Guadian Interview

    I’m a romantic, says Xavi, heartbeat of Barcelona and Spain:

    • Nuno says

      Britton is a nice little player (and Swansea plays a very nice style)
      …but as someone wiser than me once put it “tests and stats are like bikinis, they show a lot but not the essential”
      Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets are in a different class than him, Nasri is a different kind of player and much more erratic, but still he is in a different level as well IMHO

    • says

      That’s a great success in the EPL, but let’s not forget Swansea isn’t going up against teams that are the best in Europe… they don’t play in the Champions League, FIFA Club Cup World Cup. Stats and comparisons only work when you can control for the variables. Now, if he’s the best passer in all EPL games this season, still nothing to shake a stick at… just can’t compare him to the Barcelona guys.

  21. says

    I think the way to measure if development is working isnt a fixed thing. You could never land a player in the pros and be a great developer; in contrast most of ur players could play professionally and not be a good developer.

    It has to be a comparison between potential and result. If you have a kid with zero athleticism or motivation and can teach him to have a passion for the game and he/she achieves their goal of making their varsity school team (a terrible goal but were not talking a player who ever had a future in this example) then you could possibly say yes his youth coach was a good developer. The higher the potential of the players you teach then the higher the bar for their success must also be to be considered a good developer.

    If you coach a crop of incrediblely technical athletes that continually play in college and get shots in the MLS but aren’t having success on the national or international stage then you may or may not be a good developer. I look at a player like Roger Torres on the Philadelphia Union. A possession midfielder who is very technical and for my money the best on the team. But he’s young and doesn’t fit Nowak’s over-the-top, direct with power style, so he goes largely unnoticed. I’d say whoever taught him developed him properly, but he may not be recognized for it as his players are all sitting on the benches for coaches who just don’t know any better.

    But player selection is a whole different can of warms I don’t wanna open here.

    I guess, in short, what I’m getting at is there may not be a strictly quantitative way of assessing the success of player development. There must always, at any level, be a qualitative assessment. An eye test of sorts. In a vacuum, not specific to any system on any team, how well prepared are the players both technically and tactically.


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