Another coaches' convention has come and gone -- and whatever criticism I have of these meetings, there is one positive aspect that must not be ignored.
The NSCAA convention is the biggest and the best of our national soccer gatherings. It is a huge get-together in a huge country where getting-together is not that easy. For me, the most enjoyable and most rewarding activity of the convention is the constant networking.
I'm aware that there is a contradiction involved here -- or if not a contradiction, certainly a perversity. We are living in an age with unprecedented means of communication. Many of which I frankly, do not understand. But the most recent advances in this area seem to be trying to come as close to personal contact as they can -- without the bothersome business of having to travel anywhere to actually meet anyone.
I'd rather do the actual, than the virtual, meeting -- and that is where the convention is so enriching. My three days in Philadelphia were full of sudden surprise encounters with guys I hadn't seen in years -- with all the accompanying whoops of delight and the occasional awkwardness of not recognizing someone, or finding the face familiar but being unable to put a name to it.
There is, too, a nice mingling of experience and youth, with the presence of so many young players at the All-America lunch. The usefulness of the convention as a meeting place was further enhanced by MLS's decision to stage the SuperDraft there -- something that has meant the mingling of the pros with the grassroots, or at least opens up that possibility.
I should also report that there were inevitably one or two occasions where encounters were avoided -- usually to escape boredom (but I've no reason to suppose that I was not being avoided by others for the same reason).
Anyway -- there's fun to be had there. Deciding to suddenly veer off course into the nearest open door to dodge an unwanted acquaintance might even be useful -- one might find oneself taking in an interesting clinic or lecture.
Then again, maybe not. Those events -- for me at any rate -- represent the least attractive part of the convention. To the point where -- apart from passing quickly through while taking evasive action -- I don't attend them.
But plenty of people do, obviously. I have complained before that I find the topics discussed at these sessions repetitive. A relative term, I suppose -- it seems quite possible that each convention brings in enough first-time attendees to whom a lot of this stuff will be new. There was an advance to be spotted there though -- because the range of featured speakers, clinicians etc., this year did seem to be more varied than in the past, when British accents have been far too heavily featured.
The hint of new thinking represented by that change in emphasis is to be welcomed. It is likely to continue, because of the arrival of Joe Cummings as the NSCAA's CEO. Joe is a forward-looking personality who is unlikely to be satisfied with a status quo mentality. The convention's future as a significant and serious (and I do not mean somber) feature of the soccer calendar is to be hoped for. I do not feel that it occupies that position at the moment because I find too much attention being devoted to dubious clinics (the "use my system and you'll never lose another game" type of thing -- many of which are now commercially slanted, and really mean "buy my system").
In projecting a rosy future for the convention, I'm assuming that the NSCAA has its finances in order -- something one can never be quite certain of with soccer groups. The sad fate of the Hall of Fame is there to remind us of that.
As I have written critically of the Hall in the past, I cannot pretend to have been its greatest supporter. But to see it disappear, after so much effort has been put into trying to make it a success, is regrettable.
My original complaints about the Hall were that I did not think American soccer was ready for it, and that anyway, the remote location of Oneonta, N.Y., was a mistake. Possibly I was right on both reasons -- but a third reason may be the most important, that museums, especially for a dynamic activity such as sports, are not a major attraction for the modern generation.
But I suppose the virtual concept can work here. A virtual Hall of Fame -- without a location -- could presumably allow the recognition of soccer worthies to continue through virtual induction ceremonies.