How Reyna can really make a difference

By Mike Woitalla

When U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati announced the hiring of Claudio Reyna as Youth Technical Director, they spoke much of learning about player development from foreign clubs.

That’s the least crucial element of Reyna’s quest to improve the youth soccer environment in the USA.

Of course we look at what clubs do around the world in case there’s something to learn from them. American coaches have been doing that for ages. And goodness knows foreign clubs and coaches stream over here to tell us how to coach – regardless of how successful they’ve been in developing players of their own.

For sure, observing what Barcelona does, which I myself have, is worthwhile. Many aspects of the club’s approach are worth emulating, especially its style of soccer. But keep in mind, Barcelona employs a massive scouting corps that corrals boys from around the world who already display exceptional talent.

Gulati said Reyna will focus largely on the players in what the Federation calls Zone 1 (ages 6-12), that very crucial stage of development. Whatever Barcelona did for Lionel Messi, who was 13 when he left Argentina for Spain, is just a part of the Messi story.

Yes, Messi played organized soccer at a very young age. But he also spent endless time playing soccer without adults around. In the documentary, “Los orígenes de Messi,” the narrator says that in the Rosario barrio of Las Heras, “there is no street where Messi didn’t spend hours with the ball.” Messi’s Newell's Old Boys youth coach, Ernesto Vecchio, says, “He had superb technique that wasn’t trained by anyone.”

We cannot build a Las Heras in the USA and force children to play on their own. But we can revolutionize American youth soccer, in which overcoaching and over-drilling reign.

At the very ages when the likes of Messi and Marta were playing with the freedom to dribble and experiment, we’re lining children up to perform drills, shouting at them to pass, and assigning them positions.

In fact, the vast majority of American children are coached in way that would discourage them from growing passionate enough about the game to play on their own. Because their first experience with the sport is so similar to a day at school: being told by adults what to do, how do it and when to it.

Hiring Reyna as the Youth Technical Director is the latest step by the U.S. Soccer Federation in its attempt to change the American youth soccer culture, following its publication three years ago of the excellent, "Player Development Guidelines: Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States," and the creation of the Development Academy league.

In Reyna, the Federation has a spokesman with impeccable credibility to advocate a different approach to coaching the youngest players. And that approach should be to coach less.

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer in Oakland, Calif. He is co-author of Claudio Reyna's book, More Than Goals: The Journey from Backyard Games to World Cup Competition. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at

7 comments about "How Reyna can really make a difference".
  1. beautiful game, April 23, 2010 at 10:32 a.m.

    I remeber a Zone 1 player in Giuseppe Rossi when he played U-10 ball. Fortunately for him, he went to Parma to hone his, he would have never reached his potential. This article is on the money; from youth soccer, high school and college, for the most part, the coaching suffocates individual development, no matter how good the intentions are.

  2. David Newbery, April 23, 2010 at 10:57 a.m.

    There is no more crucial time in developing interest and competency for soccer than 4-8 years old. Unfortunately the governing bodies of US Youth Soccer are allowing the antiquated 'town' soccer model to perpetuate poorly conceived player development. Administrative change in the State Associations needs to be the first priority and offering town soccer guidance and support is the second. Good luck Claudio - we need you to be successful!

  3. Jorge Mamani, April 23, 2010 at 11:56 a.m.

    Debo reconocer que he descuidado muchisimo el leer Quiza no lo hice antes porque me conformaba con leer analisis y reportajes en la revista solamente. Pero desde ahora todo sera distinto. Aunque debo decirles que todavia estoy esperando la remodelacion de la pagina que ustedes prometieron en los anuncios de la revista.
    Creo que a la pagina le falta mas dinamismo ... ser mas grafico.

  4. Tom Harris, April 23, 2010 at 12:36 p.m.

    I was disappointed to read that Reyna's first plan was to put more money and time into coach education. Soccer, football, calcio whatever you want to call it is successful in places other than the US because the game is part of the culture. Every neighborhood in most European countries has a soccer club complete with a field, a clubhouse, stands and a group of old guys sitting around making comments on the play. Until the US has this kind of culture nothing Claudio Reyna will do will make any difference in how the US performs in the world. The USSA should put it money into developing local clubs and making it worth while for experienced players/coaches to be involved in local soccer. NO money or effort should be put into trying to teach middle aged parents who are not involved in the soccer community how to coach 8 year olds.

  5. Robert Waffle, April 23, 2010 at 1:05 p.m.

    Agree very much with Mr. Harris. We do not have enough of a culture to let the kids alone. We don't have multi generation families that watch matches together, either live, or on TV. Enough kids don't practice/try things they've seen the pros do. Not enough kids aren't guided by older brothers/sisters or parents who know what they're doing. Not enough governments/schools turn over heavily-scheduled fields for "drop-in" sessions (too many liability concerns ?). Too much traffic and speeding cars take most streets out of conideration. We also do not have enough good coaches who know how to "gently guide" instead of over-coach. So much pressure to win. And our kids are under so much pressure to succeed (at something/anything!) and are so over-scheduled that they don't have the luxury anymore to just go out and play and practice on their own and, above all, have fun playing soccer. The "old guys" Mr. Harris refers to are the young guys now. How do you create a culture? Get the pros out into the community. Get the older kids involved with the younger kids. Give good training to volunteer coaches and take some of the pressure off club coaches. Take kids to High School, college, lower-division pro and MLS matches and don't just feed them cotton candy, watch the match with them. We'll get there, eventually (maybe), but it's going to take a while.

  6. Brian Herbert, April 24, 2010 at 3:35 a.m.

    Excellent points Msrs. Harris and Waffle. I have beaten on a dead horse before that if you want to improve youth development in the U.S., improve the pro game. That is where soccer culture begins. We need clubs like Santos, Chivas, River Plate, Real, Inter Milan (the list goes on) where parent and child feel that intense emotional bond such as many feel about their favorite NFL team. To get there, we need to know that we have internationally competitive clubs, MLS as it stands today doesn't pass this test. With global TV coverage of the world's best clubs, the only reason I see to watch MLS is a.)to see Donovan play and b.)out of charity and a hope that it will get better if we subsidize it. The only way I see it getting better is more ownership/joint ventures between MLS teams and International clubs. And to stand on my soapbox about the youth game here, still WAY too many coaches that think winning a game is the objective. At U12 and below, for example, playing a "kick and fetch" strategy can win games, but does NOTHING for player development. Likewise, players often feel "frozen" by coaches who try to rigidly enforce positions, rather than allowing players to coordinate themselves in a more fluid approach to the game.

  7. PEDRO DEmanuel, September 26, 2010 at 10:23 p.m.

    im a new member to this group and Im late on the thread of this post but I had to add a few words late or not. Bottom problem US youth is stuck in this mindset that dribbling is bad and selfish and greedy and yada yada. Dribbling is coached out as I like to say it. US youth players are encouraged to not dribble. US kids are potential the world's best soccer players until a youth coach and Club coach and HS coach and a college coach coach-out to not dribble. Hey kid dont dribble you selfish or what? whats the matter with you kid you not a team player? US basketball is great because most USA basketball players come out of the inner city- an outdated term-- where dribbling and breaking an ankle and crossing and one on one is HUGE. Soccer is too politically correct from adults down to the kids. pass the ball as a few posters have already stated here is youth soccer. hey kid pass to that other kid where he's gonna pass and its like a 1 touch frenzy to the goal fantasy. Second issue is there is too much youth grass soccer on nice fields and not enough 5 on 5 soccer on outdoor basketball courts or sandy patchy fields. and not using using small balls that dont bounce. 5 on 5 is where you learn to dribble and fake and ball control under pressure and where you learn foot on top of ball control. Grass soccer teaches and encourages you to try to outrun your opponent because you got loads of field to breakaway from the opponent. which makes ball control that much difficult. I mean when was the last time you saw an MLS player trap a high ball with his chest and bring the ball down to his feet like the ball is glued to his feet and with no panic?

    The best thing happening to USA soccer is the era of Youtube because you have endless mix tapes of Ronaldo and messi and this guy and that guy and the kids are imitating this stuff. They are practicing this stuff out of sight of the coaches and Im 100 percent sure parents and coaches are doing the same.or starting to watch. Message to you coaches is let the kids dribble and especially if they mess up. Encourage them to copy a move from a Pro. We need Kobes in soccer not Luke Walton's -- sorry Luke. US soccer needs selfish Egos in soccer not running machine's

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