Should Coaches be Siloed in Specific Age Groups? Part 1

Soccer Player Development Age Groups PipelineYou may have heard people talk about siloing coaches in age groups many times.

It goes something like this:
A club should assign coaches to an age group, not to a team. For example, John has a U13 team. When the season ends, that team moves on to a different coach that coaches U14. John then inherits a new set of  U13s.

There’s reasons why something like this can make sense, but there’s also a whole bunch of reasons why it may not.

If the entire club had a common and well established cradle-to-grave philosophy, then a strong case can be made for instituting such a policy.

There’s a mainstream example of this – Barcelona’s La Masia – where every practitioner in the club is experienced and versed in teaching the same methodology from 8 year olds all the way to the first team. Everyone’s on the same page, and everyone supports each other. It’s one coherent team of practitioners, not isolated age group silos.

I don’t know of a single club in the United States that has this.

Some may be trying, but not really. First, I’ve been immersed in the nation’s soccer mecca – Southern California – and I can tell you this doesn’t exist. Second, I’m not surprised as there is no imperative for this to happen.

As such, the level of effort and efficacy of any club that may be “trying” isn’t the same as those of clubs where the survival & success of their business depends on cradle-to-grave alignment.

Now, if a club had a first team, or a business model where legitimate player development actually meant something on the business end, then there’s a tangible incentive.

Fundamentally, pro clubs consider maximizing player development because it could be good for business. Across the globe, this generally means:

  1. Players for the club’s adult/professional team.
  2. Players to sell on the market.
  3. Players to feed to bigger clubs up the hierarchy (potential monetary windfall).
  4. Local community engagement, which translates to authentic supporters of the club.

Unfortunately, as a consequence of no promotion and relegation in the US, just about every club has no 1st team. And of the few lower division clubs that do, the health and survival of the 1st team is completely disconnected from serious development of their youth.

Adding to that, without training compensation & solidarity payments, all of the incentives listed above don’t exist.

Sure, some non-pro clubs may [in their minds] genuinely and altruistically be attempting player development. But in the American environment, requiring coaches be placed in age-group isolation as part of that attempt doesn’t make the same sense as it does for clubs elsewhere in the world.

I mean really, what is the point of isolating coaches in age group silos if there’s no club cradle-to-grave philosophy/methodology? And further, why would there be a club cradle-to-grave solution to begin with if it doesn’t translate to the financial and hence ultimate *success of the club?

If there were a legitimate incentive to do such a thing, don’t you think that in the decades that US clubs have been around we’d have at least one example to point to where such a thing exists?

This is the first of a multi-part series where we dissect this policy of siloing coaches. Part 2 comes out next – there’s a lot yet to be covered.

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  1. David says

    Doesn’t the wisdom of letting a coach stick with a team from beginning until they’re too old for the club depend to some degree on the ability of the coach to work with kids at different ages? My son started at his current club in Illinois with a coach who, based on a year of observing him, is very good with many younger kids (he has a gentle nature, seems to connect well with them and have a decent ability to communicate basics that 8- and 9-year-olds ought to be picking up, …). But by the time my son’s team hit U10, his approach wasn’t working for most of the kids and, at U11, they have a different coach whose style, tone, … seems more suited to their age.

    Granted, some coaches (including my son’s current U11 coach, I suspect) may be better suited to sticking with a team as it gets older. And full credit to the club, in this case — the first coach I mentioned was assigned this season to the 6- and 7-year-olds in the club’s intro program, where he seems like a strong fit. I assume that happened because what I observed was apparent to the club director (and maybe even the coach in question), too.

    For what it’s worth, this isn’t a development academy or a club linked to a professional team. Just a travel club in a college town.

    • says

      Hi David,

      Thank you for chiming in. In short, yes, a coach’s capacity should be assessed and be a component in deciding whether they continue or not.

      An upcoming article in this series will be touching on that.

  2. Michael Mollay says

    The current US club model, “bigger is better”, is one of the problems fueling this. When decisions are made with the priority being revenue, streamlining operations and maximizing profits, this impacts practical soccer decisions. Simply put, if clubs were to go back to one team per age group, focus on quality v. quantity, resources can then go to atmosphere, environment, education, strong and meaningful interaction vital to a club and maximizing training and development of staff, players, and teams. If this would happen, the following would result:
    1. Quality Control Increases
    a. true curriculum can be followed as the players/teams/staff are of similar quality
    b. smaller environment = meaningful interactions, connection, and attention to detail
    c. meaningful oversight of development quality of teams, players, and staff
    2. Coaches learn and excel due to focus and interaction with other age groups and coaches
    3. Greater connection and interaction from age group to age group (teams, coaches and players)
    4. Players and teams would maximize development and opportunities

    • Andy Mullaly says

      The problem is that any “extra resources” are generated by having multiple teams at each age level. Without training compensation and/or solidarity payments (and absent massive fundraising) there is no way to pay anyone if it’s 1 coach/1 team.

      Another aspect of not having pro/rel and first teams to strive for.

    • says

      Hi Michael,

      You’re right in all 4 of your points.

      It’s understandable why clubs go big. In the absence of a business model geared towards a club’s 1st team (ie its pro team), quality control isn’t important. What becomes critical for survival and prosperity is expanding their youth programs. As you put it, quantity not quality.

      In the absence of a healthy and open (ie promotion/relegation) professional soccer ecosystem, the main revenue driver is completely shifted away from the asset that is the 1st team.

      Youth players themselves become revenue generators, instead of TV networks, sponsors, investors, fanbases, player transfer market, retail, assets such as brand power, marketing rights, stadia/fields/land, and even community/city-driven investment, etc …

  3. Larry Chen says

    Since most US clubs are producing talent for the college game, is there a way to devise/implement training compensation solidarity payments from US college to US clubs when D1 college scholarship is given to an player?

  4. says

    I have been working 10 years towards implementing this with our club, AC Brea. The reason I have not done it sooner is because I needed to be sure I had quality coaches at EVERY age group. There’s no way I could implement this and have a team go from a great coach at one age group to an average coach at another age group. A huge step forward I took with the age group and small sided changes was to implement a new role in our club called “Age Group Coordinator”. This persons role is to determine for every player in the age group which team they would play on. The AGC’s are also to determine when and how players would move up/down within the age group as well as up an age group. There are still some kinks to work out but we are on our way. Another area I have been working on for the past 6 years is the implementation of adult teams in our club. We started with one and now we have 3. By this Fall 2016 our top team will be in the top division of the SoCal Premier league and we plan to enter a team into the US Open Cup next year. For the past 3 years we have regularly been bringing up our teenage players to train and play with our men’s teams. We do not have a pro team yet, but that is in the long term plans. It is all about taking one step at a time, having a plan and a vision and being realistic with who and what you are. There may not be financial benefit right now to doing it this way but it sure is fun, it forces our coaches to work together and I believe it simply is the right way of doing things. Perhaps down the road when the US catches up my club will already be in a position to reap the benefits. Until then we are developing players, teams, coaches and the club. We are creating players who are committed to our club and will have a place to play well into their 50′s. What more could you want? Half of our coaching staff are players on our adult teams so the kids can come out and watch their coaches play on the weekends, when they get into high school the kids can play alongside their coach in the men’s games.

    • says

      You’re a builder, Matt.

      This is the beauty of having independent clubs, with each working to forge their own path based on their own objectives.

      My push is to help more people understand where the friction points and roadblocks are, and why they exist.

      It’s about time the myths we’ve long been told, and believed, be busted.

      For instance, irrespective of whether your club would like to join, the fact that your teams can’t earn their way to the Development Academy via competition puts a limit on what your club – and you – can accomplish.

      It’s wrong.

      Further, the fact your adult team can’t earn its way up the pyramid, puts a limit on what your club – and you – can accomplish.

      Good work and keep pushing! Mounting pressures at the grassroots level, and builders such as yourself, are integral to unlocking our currently capped potential.

  5. Lothar says

    I would invite comments from anyone who has experience with the younger age groups being rotated through coaches (e.g., 3-4 assigned academy coaches at U8-U12, and then the same older team coaches basically cherry picking off “only” the teams that have state championship/regional competition potential as they come up.

    To wit, I worked at a club where the team I had at U10 for one year won state at U11 (fall-to-spring-to fall), and then I was promptly relieved of coaching them the following spring by a higher-up, higher licensed coach. This happened all the time – there were several coaches there with literally close to 20 state titles each because all they did was wait for a lower level coach or coaches to put in the work developing players, then pick them up and cruise along for 3-4 years, repeating the process. So all the parents “think” these guys can coach due to the multiple successes, when in fact they never do anything at regionals after winning state.. Granted, it’s a terribly weak state overall but still, these parent-customers are mistaken in thinking that the coaches can actually coach.

    They can’t, quite simply. What they can do is use their positions within the club (and, let’s be honest – state and ODP) to make parents believe they know what they’re doing based on resumes that stop at the equivalent of a high school diploma, for lack of a better analogy. They get to playing against really good teams and coaches and they’re so far out of their depth it should be obvious to all watching, but all watching don’t know what it is they’re watching (or what they should be watching for) so they end up just believing that the talent/player pools in other states is so much richer there’s no way they could ever compete.

    Meanwhile, guys like me with neither the time nor inclination to go after a higher license (not worth it) get stuck being ID’d as “academy” coaches because we can get them playing properly even at such young ages. I never would have gotten a shot at moving up the ladder unless and until I got more coaching licenses, and even at that, probably a low probability based on the above, entrenched coaches doing what they do how they do it – living off of other people’s work.

    Anyhow, a long-winded explanation in search of fellow-travelers of this road. I’m now at a club where there is no particular curriculum and I can do what I want. The team has had modest success but yet again this year, I’ll probably get moved down to a younger age group. I’m not sure how much longer I want to keep coaching when all my work goes out the door every few years.

    • ERICK DE LA ROCHA says

      Hello Lothar, you point out a couple of points that are very much on point. I can say I have been on the same boat and are on the same boat. Unfortunate about having to build a team only for some phony come and destroy your work for his own personal glory.

      I am currently looking into getting a C license for the reason being that hopefully it will open up a position coaching at a higher level. But I look at the cost and it went up significantly. Time off from work is also a factor. I try to ask myself is it worth it? When 3four3 opened up my coaching world and it has by far developed my players more significantly than what any U.S. E or D licenses thought me.

      However, because of 3four3 and this possesion based philosophy I have been able to coach up a product which many parents have taken notice. So because of the lack of opportunities to coach up I feel like my only way is to coach the hell out of my teams by applying what I have learned from 3four3 and everything else it has lead me too. I firmly believe that’s the way to play and fortunately I have been able to sell it to the parents I coach. But that still keeps me in the developmental groups. I definitely would like to continue with this team/project and see how high we can go in terms of playing the right way until the next leach comes and takes them!

      You are not alone!

      Keep up the grind!


  6. Keith says

    “..what is the point of isolating coaches in age group silos if there’s no club cradle-to-grave philosophy/methodology?”

    I think this statement rings the truest in your post. The lack of club culture and vision among the majority of clubs is a key reason that makes siloing coaches impossible. Having a clear and articulated view of style of play is essential. Everyone aspired to play possession tiki taka after they saw Spain dominate the way that they did. However what people didn’t recognize was how carefully crafted and thought out the Spanish FA executed their vision. It wasn’t just Barca or Real. They had support and an ID process that enabled them to succeed. US Soccer pales in comparison to smaller countries FA’s in the sense that they do very little to “develop” players or clubs for that matter. Take a look at countries like Japan or the Netherlands. They do more than just issue licenses –

    Without true support from US Soccer or state organizations we are only able to have isolated success – such as Kleiban’s efforts or Caleb Porter or . Imagine if the reigns of US player development were given to the likes of Brian or Caleb Porter and they were allowed to set the philosophy and style of play for the country. Right/ Wrong/ or Indifferent it would at the very least set us on a path.

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