Interview by Mike Woitalla
Cony Konstin is the Director of Coaching of Westside Metros SC, a small club based in Beaverton, Ore., that has gotten national attention with the success of its U-19 Internationals boys team and has sent players to the U-15 national team pool. Previously, Konstin served as the Director of Houstonians FC, which became a model for inner-city youth soccer. Konstin spoke to us for the Youth Soccer Insider's ongoing series in which leaders of U.S. youth clubs address key issues on the state of American youth soccer.
SOCCER AMERICA: If you had a magic wand, how would you use it to improve youth soccer in America?
CONY KONSTIN: I’d create “soccer courts” all over the place, where children can play soccer, or futsal, anytime. You don’t need a giant soccer field for that. There are so many abandoned tennis courts they could convert to multi-purpose futsal courts and let the kids just play.
Coaching is totally overrated. Players win championships, not coaches. Talent wins championships, not coaches. For the USA to create great talent we need to create an environment for kids, in the inner city and the suburbs, to play everyday.
In American youth soccer, you don’t step on the grass if it rains a little bit. They throw you off the field. How are kids going to become passionate about playing if you punish them for going on the field because you want to keep the grass green? Who cares if the grass is not green? As long as they’re playing and staying out of trouble, we should be happy about that.
SA: What do you at Westside Metros to encourage players to play on their own?
CONY KONSTIN: We try and create other environments so they don’t think they have to go to a grass field to play. We take them to play futsal on the basketball court, on concrete. We play soccer tennis on tennis courts. We take them to play on the beach.
We try and show the kids, “You can play anywhere.”
SA: What’s your criteria for coaches?
CONY KONSTIN: At our club I don’t give a damn if they have no licenses or a million licenses. Here’s my criteria: Do you care about those kids? That’s No. 1. Period.
Whatever knowledge and experience, we’ll throw it on the pile. But the first thing is, does this person truly care about the kids and are they willing to go the extra mile for them.
To justify all this pay-for-play they have to have all this criteria crap. In the end, the coaches are not going to make the players better. They don’t work with the kids seven days a week.
I used to tell people in Houston, “I have the best coaching staff in all of Texas.” They’d say, “Oh yeah, who are the coaches?” I’d say, “The players. Those are my coaches, because I have the best players. They teach each other how to play with their talent.”
Coaches are there in case someone gets hurt, to make a sub, manage the team.
In the end, the only way you’re going to have magical players is when kids start at 5 years old, playing everyday because they’re passionate about the game.
SA: Perhaps the most common complaint about the American youth game is its high cost. What does your club do to reduce or minimize costs?
CONY KONSTIN: We create profit centers to raise money to help offset costs. We have soccer schools, camps, 3-v-3 tournaments, raffles, auctions -- so we don’t put the burden on parents.
One of the club’s founding fathers is Denny Doyle, who’s now the Mayor of Beaverton. He and the other founders are frugal and visionary, with the aim to keep costs down and creating a diverse club that is a reflection of what America is. And that’s one of the reasons we’re successful, because the club is multicultural.
We bring kids in who maybe didn’t have the money to play and they help the team be successful.
The suburban kids and the inner-city kids go out there and make magic. It’s great to see – there’s no division when they’re on the field. They bust their tails for each other. And the beautiful thing is, off the field these guys become friends. They do things together and it’s very positive.
SA: Before joining the Westside Metros in 2002, you helped create Houstonians FC, which turned into a rec soccer program for 4,000 while its competitive teams excelled. What was the key to its success?
CONY KONSTIN: Houston Mayor Bob Lanier had a vision to start an inner-city sports program with the Parks and Recreation Department as a solution to gang and youth drug problems.
It started 100 percent Latino. And then as time went by we started to get an influx of Caribbean and African players. And then all of a sudden even the suburban kids wanted to join, because they liked the way we played.
By the time I left, we were multicultural -- a reflection of what the United States is. … Today several of my former players are coaches of the Houstonians.
SA: You have a long history of working in the Latino community and with inner-city kids. What prompted that?
CONY KONSTIN: It has a lot to do with the way I want to see the game played and people coming together – because I grew up that way.
I was a city kid myself. I grew up in San Francisco’s Mission District [a largely Hispanic, working-class neighborhood]. I learned my soccer across the street in an alley and hanging out at Dolores Park.
My mother’s Mexican, my father’s Greek. I’m all messed up [laughs].
SA: The Super Y-league, U.S. Club Soccer and the U.S. Development Academy have joined U.S. Youth Soccer in the youth arena over the last decade. Has the increase in options for youth clubs benefited America's young players?
CONY KONSTIN: I think everybody should be under the Federation, period. I’m not a big supporter of having a whole alphabet of youth organizations out there. There shouldn’t be all these little fiefdoms.
That’s one of problems of soccer in this country. It’s so helter skelter, nobody knows what’s up or down.
And it’s so damn expensive. First you gotta pay to play, and if you’re really good you have to pay extra. That doesn’t make any sense.
There are a few individual people who have worked their butts off to do things for inner city kids, but as organizations with all this money -- I've seen very little of them rising to the challenge.
(Westside Metros Director of Coaching Cony Konstin is also a FIFA Futsal instructor, USASA national men’s select team coach, ODP coach, and International Director of Coaching for Tahuichi Academy in the USA.)
(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for East Bay United in Oakland, Calif. His youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)