Interview by Mike Woitalla
Ian Barker became Director of Coaching of the 30,000-member National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) in February. A longtime ODP coach, he served as Minnesota Youth Soccer Association Director of Coaching (1997-2007) and spent more than two decades coaching college ball. In Part 2 of our interview we asked Barker about coaching education in America and for advice on navigating the youth soccer landscape.
SOCCER AMERICA: Is NSCAA coaching education designed to create an American style of soccer that is entertaining and successful?
IAN BARKER: Overall I would answer yes. The NSCAA, and other U.S. coaching programs, offer very solid practical ideas to teach both entertaining and attractive soccer. I also think they allow for different approaches and consider how to be effective in different environments where one’s advantages are greater or lesser.
I think the U.S. coaching education community is forward thinking and relevant. I think a good U.S. youth coach would stand out in many cases in another country.
When you consider the size of the U.S. and the diversity of our playing and coaching groups many of our challenges and successes are things many foreign associations try to learn from.
SA: Coaching education in the USA has historically been heavily northern-Eurocentric. Have you seen it evolve as significantly as should – considering the diversity of the U.S. population (eg: the huge pool of Latino players) and the fact that the most successful soccer has been coming from southern Europe and South America?
IAN BARKER: If the language skills of our leaders in coach education are/were primarily English then it is somewhat understandable the influences have been English, German and Dutch. That is not a situation that is good enough to rely on.
In the case of Spanish soccer the numbers of coaches taking education courses is the envy of much of Europe so not only do we need to understand the content of a Spanish UEFA award, but also how they were able to suggest value in education to coaches.
Confronting an ignorance of the practices of Latin America is something that improves all the time as exchanges of ideas and content take place. In the end the U.S. coaching education structure needs to be unique to the truly unique challenges facing the U.S. coaching population. Embracing our real positives, including facilities, sport science, growing media interest and developing a blended approach to education that is not exclusive in nature is something I think is happening.
SA: What advice would you give to parents navigating the youth soccer landscape for their children?
IAN BARKER: Sometimes less is best. Seek advice from a number of sources, but always make your decision based on what is right for you and your child. If your child has a passion for soccer that they are allowed to develop at an early age then the quality of the formal programming is not as important because enthusiasm and talent will likely get the player where they want to be. Of course stronger teammates and stronger opponents aid development, as well as better coaching etc., but if the child is not committed then I think parents can waste time and money where it could be better spent.
SA: How much of a problem is the cost of youth soccer in the USA and do you see it becoming less or more of a problem?
IAN BARKER: I believe the quality of youth soccer in the country would be greatly and positively impacted if more children had access to the programming available. There can be little doubt we need more effort in making grassroots-level programming accessible and managing the expense of time and money of the next developmental opportunity. We will be inevitably limited if we get more kids playing and then make it impossible for all but a few who can afford it or are sponsored to carry on.
Read Part 1 of the interview HERE. Look for Part 3 in Tuesday's YouthSoccerInsider in which Barker address tournament play and the U.S. Soccer Development Academy's impact on the youth game.