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The man who's coached 4,000 coaches
by SA Editorial, December 18th, 2008 7PM



On a cold, blustery early December weekend, 34 coaches from the Washington, D.C., area braved the weather conditions to take Len Oliver's USSF E Course. The coaches in attendance hailed from 10 different countries, including Mali, Honduras, Cambodia, Vietnam, Bulgaria, Ethiopia, England, Afghanistan and France, bringing the total countries represented in the Oliver's training over the years to 77.

Since he started training coaches in 1989, Oliver, a player from the 1940s-1960s and a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame (1996), has trained 4,011 coaches. Coaches as young as 16 and as old as 70 have taken the courses, all conducted at the local Jelleff Boys & Girls Club in Washington, D.C.

Len has kept the names and addresses of every coach he has trained over the years, "so that when I am 95 I can send them a postcard to see if they are still in the game!"

And even though he tries to master all the names of coaches in each course, he also admits to forgetting names after the courses, especially when a coach comes to his seats at RFK during a D.C. United game and says, "Hi, Len, remember me? I took your course 10 years ago!"

In the Dec. 5-7 E course, Craig Jones, D.C. Stoddert Travel Coach and on the VYSA staff, assisted Len. The course, geared for the U-9 coaches and above, combined classroom lecture/discussions on Methods, Tactics, Team Management, Laws, and Care and Prevention of Injuries with active, high-participation field sessions on all technical aspects of the game, attacking and defending principles, goalkeeping, small-sided games, restarts, coaching practice, and use of different types of warm-ups.

COACHES WHO HAVE PLAYED THE GAME. As Oliver points out, "most of the coaches in this course will go on to obtain the USSF D License, some even going on to the USSF National C, B, and A License -- the highest license to be awarded by the US Soccer Federation."

Most gratifying to Oliver were the coaches who have played the game, ranging from high school to the professional ranks, and who are "essential to making these courses work."

In this course, for example, one could find a test pilot, a physician, a lawyer, economists, D.C. United staff, government employees, businessmen, an architect, an engineer, teachers, a professor, a banker, members of the U.S. armed forces, students, and full-time soccer coaches.

"That's been the mix over the years," says Oliver, "and the only thing most have in common is a love of the game. Soccer does that to you!"

LEARNING FROM THE GAME From his Philadelphia soccer background, Oliver recalls his English and Scottish coaches who "coached by indirection. They put you on the field and expected you to play your game. You learned from the game, learned from each soccer situation, almost without direct coaching. And we did learn the game."

Trying not to be critical of today's emphasis on coaching, at times "overcoaching," Len believes a balance can be struck, with coaches letting the players play and only coaching when absolutely necessary. And never coaching during a game!

"When I see coaching sessions having players dribbling through cones, creating 'target players' on the end line, setting up those hideous metal figures, or establishing restricted 'zones' where players cannot move, I ask -- is this our game?"

When pressed, Oliver says that his rule of thumb is never to do anything in practice that you don't find in the game: "We're still behind the rest of the world in player development. This simple rule would help us enormously to finally get there."

Len is already planning his 2009 USSF Coaching Course schedule, eager to move on to his 5,000 coach trained!

(This article originally appeared on the DC Stoddert Web site . Len Oliver is the Director of Coaching of the DC Stoddert Soccer League. Oliver was inducted into the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1996. As a youth player, he won two McGuire Cup U-19 national championships with Philadelphia's Lighthouse Boys Club (1948-49). He played college ball at Temple University and won national titles, in 1951 and 1953. He played in the American Soccer League and for the USA in the 1963 Pan American games)



  1. Georges Edeline
    commented on: December 18, 2008 at 11:47 p.m.
    Congratulations, Len! You obviously had a passion for the sport, and it showed. How does one get the message that it is time to slow down. Having lived for over a decade in the DC area, I thoroughly enjoyed this article, reliving my days as a player(college and club), coach(youth, club, college, special olympics), youth camp director(college, pro), tournament director(U10-Adult), referee and, even, coaching class instructor. At age 61, I am still at it, seven days a week; teaching boys and girls, ages 18 months - 18 years old, in the Atlanta(GA) area; coaching U16-19 boys; holding G, F, E and D coaching classes. I continue to attend the Men's College Cups, starting in 1971(Miami), Word Cup tourneys since 1974(Germany); Olympic Summer Games since 1976(Montreal). I even get to play at the GWU soccer alumni reunions, in DC, in mid-September and, with the Veterans Cup around the 50 States. I may be on my last stretch for the traveling side of it, possibly aiming at the College Cup(Cary, NC/2009); WC-2010(So. Africa); and WC-2014(Brazil), among other special events. I can't imagine a life without a passion, whatever it may be. If we could the parents to calm down on the sidelines, or even all adults, including coaches and administrators, to give the kids a chance to play, play, and play; this game would have a better future in the great U.S. of A. Again, congratulations on a wonderful life through soccer!/ge

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