It was 35 years ago when Manfred "Manny" Schellscheidt became the first coach granted an "A" license by the U.S. Soccer Federation. He has since coached at every level of the U.S. men's national team program and is now enjoying his role as technical director of U.S. Soccer's U-14 boys development program.
Coach Schellscheidt is widely regarded as the Dean of American soccer coaches, and has served as a mentor to coaches such as Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley.
Each fall, Coach Schellscheidt welcomes about 120 boys from around the country into the national training camp, and from that group chooses 36 to form two teams for a trip to Mexico to give them their first taste of international competition. The most recent camp took place in Guadalajara during the third week in January, and I had a chance to spend the week directly observing his coaching style, and get a feel for his personality. Like others before me, I came away with profound respect and admiration for Coach Schellscheidt.
Throughout the camp, Coach Schellscheidt stressed themes to his players that could work in any endeavor in the workplace or in life: responsibility, loyalty, honesty, friendship, persistence, hard work, self-discipline, a pursuit of excellence.
From a soccer standpoint, what I saw was that he really wants to "bring the game to life," to find players with "soccer brains" and "good feet."
The environment of the camp is focused completely on soccer and free of distractions common in any young American 13-year-old's life.
"Most of the boys are only 13," says Schellscheidt. "They are so enthusiastic and excited. Our goal is to create a stress-free, comfortable soccer environment. It's all about playing, not about results or suffocating them with tactics and systems. It's just one step away from the playground."
Even though the players are young, there is an expectation of excellence.
The atmosphere in the camp, which is orchestrated by Coach Schellscheidt and firmly adhered to by his outstanding coaching staff, emphasizes opportunities for the players to grow as soccer players.
Outside observers are not allowed to interact with players, and this includes parents. During one of the friendlies against a Chivas Academy side, a U.S. player's father spoke to his son at halftime, in a brief sideline conversation. The father was told firmly by Coach Schellscheidt that no contact would be allowed between the father and son during games or practices, and if the father attended practice that he would need to be far enough away so as not to be seen by the player.
I am guessing that no one who has coached youth soccer in the United States has ever seen a gathering of quiet parents on the sidelines of a big match, but we had that in Guadalajara.
The relationship between player and coach "should look like an apprenticeship, where the pupil can spend time with the teacher -- sometimes this can be a scary proposition!"
Coach Schellscheidt believes that the best players have the ability to process multiple bits of information that are flowing from the game.
He used a German phrase to describe this as "den Ball verarbeiten," which translates in English roughly to "processing." The player's ability to listen to the game is compromised if there is too much outside information, such as yelling from coaches or parents.
Another fundamental concept is one he refers to as "mitspielen," which we would translate as "with the play." This amounts to focus, reading the game especially when you are not directly influencing the play.
"The great players lead with their minds," Schellscheidt. "How do I make space and time? How do I take it away?"
Players are allowed to make mistakes, but at the same time there is an expectation of rapid recovery. During practice sessions or games, Coach Schellscheidt emphasized mental preparation and focus as much as he emphasized individual technique. Tactics came third.
But underneath the friendly, gentlemanly exterior lies the competitive heart of a lion. A special highlight of the Guadalajara camp are the friendly matches that take place between the U.S. staff and the veteran players from our Mexican hosts, such as Chivas.
To underestimate Coach Schellscheidt's competitiveness would entail great risk and possible peril. Our staff (comprised of coaches, trainers, equipment managers, administrative staff, and doctor) is a few years removed from our best competitive matches, but Manny made sure that the desire for excellence and pride in representing our country showed through in each training session and game.
U.S. soccer legend Harry Keough, who lives in Guadalajara part of the year, played in the matches until recently and was present this time to lend moral support. We prevailed in spite of the fact that few of us had seen warm, sunny weather for months.
Going in to the trip, I brushed up on medical topics an orthopedic surgeon typically does not see, such as heat illness, altitude illness, and Montezuma's revenge. For next year's trip my preparation will be a bit more extensive -- juggling, small-sided games, and fitness. For the players as well as the staff, Coach Schellscheidt will expect nothing less. It's time to bring the game to life.
Dev K. Mishra is an orthopedic surgeon in private practice, Burlingame, California. He is a team physician with the U.S. Soccer Federation. Dr. Mishra's Web site is http://www.thesoccerdoc.com/.