Interview by Mike Woitalla
In Part 2 of our interview with the Bob Montgomery we asked the New York Red Bulls' Director of Youth Programs about the clubs' coaching philosophy, its structure and the challenges of producing pros for the first team. The Red Bulls, which last year had more than 20 players called up to a U.S. youth national team, were rated Soccer America’s top 2012 boys youth club – the first time an MLS club claimed No. 1 since the rankings’ inception 10 years ago.
SA: What do you look for in coaches at different age groups?
BOB MONTGOMERY: One of our coaches is a pretty interesting guy -- Manny Schellscheidt [who four decades ago became the USSF’s first A licensed coach, has coached at all levels of the U.S. national team program and has won national titles at the youth, pro and amateur levels].
I’ve worked with Manny for years and one of the things we’ve always said is:
You’ve got to have people who are good with kids, who have patience. One of the points he always makes is, if you treat each child as if he was your own, then you probably won’t make mistakes.
You don’t need these coaches who are concerned with winning and losing and their record. They have to be patient and they have to be teachers. It’s not about winning championships.
Kids growing up, they’re supposed to develop. There has to be a fun part of it. It’s not work. If you make it work, you’re going to turn them off. ...
You’ve got to find the age-appropriate coaches. A U-16 coach … maybe he would be a good U-12 coach, but maybe he wouldn’t.
When you’ve raised kids you know you have to be patient and continue to teach them. Some young coaches come in and they’ll explain something once and they’re frustrated that’s it’s not picked up. Well, if you’ve had kids then you know you’ve probably told them 700 times they have to put their shoes back in their room, and don’t leave them in the living room, before it finally clicks in. That’s parenting and teaching and coaching.
SA: Do you have a policy about sideline coaching during games?
BOB MONTGOMERY: Coaching during the game happens at every level -- it’s just a matter of doing it at the right time and the right place, and not over-coach.
The philosophy is that you’re teaching and training during the week, and the weekend, the game, is the exam. Like school, you study all week, and then you have an exam.
Our goal is to create players who can make their own decisions. So we don’t have our coaches yelling directions all the time.
There are some things, like a coach talking to a central defender, or a holding midfielder, because something needs to be changed. But we don’t want non-stop chatter. That’s completely ineffective. By the time you finish telling a kid something, the play’s over. They need to make that decision on their own. They need to read the game.
Instead of yelling at the left back, the better way is maybe let him get burned. Let the other team take advantage. Then later on ask him what happened. ... “My position wasn’t good.” ...
SA: Do you urge your coaches to sit down during games?
BOB MONTGOMERY: They should be at the bench, whether they’re sitting or standing there. But patrolling the sidelines and constantly yelling is something we don’t want.
Sometimes it’s nervous energy. I had one of my coaches like that the other day, and I spoke to him afterward, “You know you’re commenting a lot on plays. What you’re trying to do is put a band-aid on something. At times we need to let the guys fail, because they’ll learn from that.”
He kind of disagreed, and then he reviewed the videotape of the game -- the camera was right by the bench -- and sent me a text, “I watched the video and I was talking too much, too many play-by-plays.”
When you’re involved in a game, almost like a player, sometimes you don’t realize it. It’s nervous energy. I’ve seen coaches who cuss too much. And if you say something -- “Watch your language.” They say, “What do you mean? I didn’t curse.” If you have video, it helps.
SA: What age do players come under your umbrella?
BOB MONTGOMERY: The Academy we start at U-13. But we have the training programs for the local community -- 7 to 14, boys and girls -- then we have we have what’s called an RDS Program, which is select programs. Those programs we do charge for. That’s a division of Red Bulls Training Programs, and that is a profit center. Our Academy teams are fully funded.
The RDS will bring in the best kids from the area, almost like a state or regional team, and the best kids train one night a week together. An additional training and they do technical training and small-sided. And they work with the better players. Many of them enter our Academy teams.
At the Academy level, we have U-13, U-14, U-15, U-16, U-18, and the college players can come back if they’re invited and play in the NPSL U-23.
SA: You’ve said that one of the challenges of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy programs is doing a better job at getting involved in the grassroots, at the 8- to 12-year-old level ...
BOB MONTGOMERY: When we get 13-year-olds, we’re starting with players who have a number of bad habits because they haven’t learned to work in small units, the building blocks. How do you play 3-v-2? They don’t understand a whole lot of that.
The fact is they still come out of youth soccer that still is so many games, so many tournaments, so much winning-at-all costs mentality – those are the players coming in to our Academy.
We find that at U-13, U-14, U-15 level, there’s a lot of retraining, trying to break bad habits, it’s much easier to establish good habits and teach good decision-making than to try and reverse them.
(Read Part 1 of our interview with Bob Montgomery HERE)
(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, is the co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)