Champion coach Albertin Montoya puts winning in perspective

By Mike Woitalla

On a sunny September Sunday, Coach Albertin Montoya watched his Gold Pride players, including the magnificent Brazilian Marta and U.S. world champion Tiffeny Milbrett, celebrate the WPS championship after a 4-0 win over Philadelphia.

The dominating final performance followed a regular season in which the Gold Pride averaged nearly two goals per game and played such entertaining and effective soccer that longtime reporter on the women’s game, Scott French, declared it the best women’s club team ever.

Thanks much to Marta, the Gold Pride played soccer worth paying to watch. So as Montoya, out of the corner of his eye, watched his players bask in the glory, I asked him why the USA isn't producing Martas. After all, this country has more girls playing and more resources dedicated to female soccer than any other nation. Shouldn't we be seeing many more highly skillful, exciting players?

“We’ll need to talk about youth soccer,” said Montoya.

Montoya is also a longtime Northern California youth coach for girls and boys. He and his wife, Erin, a former collegiate star and pro player, run the Montoya Soccer Academy and coach at Mountain View Los Altos SC, for which Albertin also serves as technical director for under-8 through under-14 boys teams.

“The biggest problem at the youth level is the emphasis on winning,” he says. “I don’t know if it’s in our genes or what, but there’s so much desire to win at the ages when player development should be the emphasis.

“The first thing I tell parents is, ‘You want to win at U-8, U-9, U-10, U-11, U-12 -- you’re at the wrong club.

“We’re here to develop players to where, hopefully, by the time they’re U-14, U-15s, they’re playing at a high level, where if we do our job, winning will be a byproduct and we’ll compete for state championships.”

At the U-14/15 level – when the college showcases begin – MVLA teams do get results and win championships. And it sent 14 players to the girls youth national team program in the last seven years.

“These players might not be winning at 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 – but that’s not what it’s about,” he says. “We’ve lost some good players in the past because their parents wanted to win at U10, U11.”

The challenge is to convince parents that at the early ages the focus should be on individual technical development – not scorelines. Montoya even advocates against playing league ball at the early ages.

“I don’t want our teams at U9, U10, U11 to play in the league,” he says. “I want to just have in-house 4v4s. It’s difficult because parents say, ‘We want to play different teams. We want to travel.’ I say, 'Believe me. You’ll have plenty of time to travel and drive when they’re 14, 15, 16. You don’t want to do it now when they’re U8, U9, U10.'

“We have enough players in our backyard. Let’s play 3v3, 4v4. But the parents want to play other teams. So I said, 'OK. We’ll do it in the fall.' But in the spring we’re not going to play anywhere. We are going to continue what I believe in. They’ll get more touches on the ball.”

Like most close observers of the women’s game, Montoya sees that the USA has depended too much on athleticism – being stronger, faster and quicker:

“When you watch the U-17 and U-20 World Cups you see the technical ability of the Japanese, the Koreans, the Germans, the Brazilians – you ask, ‘Why can’t our players do that?’ We have the athletes and I think it does go down to the early youth level where there’s so much emphasis on winning.”

When Montoya coaches his pros, he wants them to play like Barcelona or Spain. To rely on skill, creativity and possession.

“Once they realized they could play that kind of game … When you have the ball – they enjoy it that much more,” he says. “As soon as we lose it, we try to win it right back. And when we get it back, then identify, ‘Do we do a quick counter or do we keep it and let them chase for a while?’”

With his youngsters, it’s all about developing the individual skills that will enable them to play a possession game later. That, he says, is a bigger challenge for American youth coaches, whose players don’t watch as much soccer as, for example, Brazilian children. So coaches need to demonstrate more and do more skill work – and encourage dribbling during games even it if means the risk of losing the ball and giving up goals.

“My U-9 teams -- I haven’t even told them to pass it yet,” says Montoya. “I want my right back to dribble six players. I want my left back to dribble five, six players. I want my center back to do the same thing. My center-mid, my forward. Every single one of them.

“So we get 9-year-olds who are doing spin turns like Marta does. They’re doing step-overs. And I want that. I encourage that at every single position. And every game, they’ll start at a different position.”

Montoya doesn’t mind if a young player loses the ball because she keeps dribbling and the other team exploits the error for a goal. In fact, he “bribes” his players to try dribbling moves during a game. Giving them a small prize if they pull off a step-over move or a “Maradona” during a game.

“When a U-9 player touches the ball once, passes, touches the ball once, passes. How much are they developing?” he asks. “Teams may look well organized when they keep their players in the same positions – the positions they’re strongest at. But what separates players at the highest level is doing magic with the ball. So dribbling needs to be encouraged early on. The organized tactical stuff should come later. I tell the parents don’t tell the kids to pass the ball.”

When strong athletes are encouraged to strike the ball into space and run after it – coaches may start winning. But these players suffer later because they’ve been encouraged to use their athleticism instead of their skill or their savvy. When they're older, says Montoya, they have a certain style – but’s a power, direct syle.

“When they’re 13, 14, 15 -- there’s even more emphasis on winning and a coach is even less likely to work on developing the player,” he says.

But Montoya sees that parents are starting to understand why the scorelines shouldn’t be considered so important.

“It’s all about educating the parents,” he says. “And fortunately there is a generation of coaches coming up now who have played the game at a high level. But we need to make sure those coaches are working at the younger age groups and that they have developing players as a priority and not winning games.”

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for Rockridge SC in Oakland, Calif. His youth soccer articles are archived at

11 comments about "Champion coach Albertin Montoya puts winning in perspective ".
  1. Arthur Blain, October 4, 2010 at 1:26 p.m.

    Great article -- this is going to change my coaching forever. Thanks for picking the brain of great coaches and sharing with us.

  2. Kent James, October 4, 2010 at 1:45 p.m.

    I could not agree more with Montoya's coaching ideology. I ran a program based on that philosophy for many years and it is definitely the way to go. And speaking as someone who was taught to pass at an early age (because we thought that was the unselfish, team oriented approach), it is a lot easier to teach someone who has good individual skills and enjoys taking people on to pass, than it is to teach someone who prefers to pass the ball to keep it and take people on. I'm technically capable of being a good dribbler, but because I didn't learn how to dribble well until I was older, I never do it unless I"m forced to do so, so I'll never be the player I might have been. Allowing kids to develop their individual skills when they are young, and it is more natural for them to develop individually anyway, works with nature rather than fighting it (by forcing them to pass). They'll pass when they're ready, because they'll see the benefits of it on their own.
    Additionally, another advantage of a skill oriented program is that players who have skill enjoy the game for the sake of playing it more, so they are capable of finding joy with a ball in almost any environment. This usually means they become players for life (even if it's just pick-up), in contrast to players who need to have the competitive environment in order to want to play.
    It is vital that people like Montoya, who have clearly succeeded in the competitive environment, support skill-oriented development at an early age so that we can resist the trend towards making soccer competitive at earlier and earlier ages.

  3. Nicholas Adams, October 4, 2010 at 2:27 p.m.

    Coach Montoya is spot on with everything he says.

    Parents and coaches of very young players need educating as much as the players.

    I have constantly come up against parents in my many years of coaching, who want to take their children away from a team because they aren't winning, yet they're improving and enjoying playing, or want to know why they can't put their 9 year old in a more competitive environment!

    This lack of trust in coaches and lack of knowledge about the game is almost as damaging as bad coaching.

  4. Rick Figueiredo, October 4, 2010 at 5 p.m.

    In part a good point. Yes technical in the USA needs to be developed at ages 8-10 because it was not developed from ages 5 through 8. When I get 10-14 year olds they have technical on a 1-10 basis at a 2-3 level. And these are the good players. By 10 the Brasilian player (I grew up in Brasil) is beyond academic technical and is nwt into tactical as we play teams - one street against the next and so on.

    So in part you have a good point but the USA is still left behind because the 5 year olds are playing against mostly other poorly techcnial five year olds with parent coaching. It is from the great players that we learn the most. I HAVE YET TO SEE A GREAT AMERICAN PLAYER AT ANY AGE AND FOREIGN PLAYERS WHO GROW UP IN THE USA MISS THE TECHNCIAL AND TACTICAL TRAINING OF GROWING UP IN THE GREAT COUNTRIES THEY ARE FROM.

    So what we lack in our youngsterS MOST OF ALL is "futebol intelligence." tHE ABILITY TO READ THE SOLUTIONS AT ANOTHER LEVEL. It is like the USA is still stuck in math while Brasil and Spain are doing Calculus 2. I believe that 90% of Brasilians at the age of 10 have this. 10% of americans have it at 10.

    The point of the game even in Brasil and even at the age of 7 is to score goals and win the game. I know this because I grew up playing in the streets doing this exact thing. Do not brush this concept aside.

    Your idea of discounting wins and losses is unfortunately unfortunate. Sorry about that. Your intentions are good. It doesn't matter that they make the USA national Team. Because the USA national team does not compete at the same level as the A teams of the world! The USA is British founded in this game. Sadly. Even the English had to go get an Italian coach.

    I have worked for the Brasilian and Jamaican national teams so my knowledge base cannot be discounted lightly. You may or may not agree with me. But what I say is important thought for consideration.

    Yes I am abrasive and arrogant when it comes to this sport. It is what helps me win games. Correctly.

    I teach all 5-8 year olds technical skills. I also teach them how to pass and move the ball around. Technical skill is like knowing the letters. Tactical skill is like knowing the words.

    In order of importance:

    3 - PASSING
    4 - INDIVIDUAL POSSESSION (Not losing the ball under all circumstances)


    Unfortunately it is almost impossible to stop a great dribbler . . .

    Thankn for the moment to express my thoughts.

    You are partically right. Just need to think this a little further.

    Rick Figueiredo
    Newbury Park, CA 91320

  5. Glen Lewis, October 5, 2010 at 11:09 p.m.

    Rick Figueiredo, I appreciate your comments. What do you mean by achieving "academic technical" in Brazil by age 10? Does this include being two-footed (strong technically with both feet)? Does it include being good with headers? For young kids under 11, headers are not something to do too much because of the risk of concussions. Also, it is very difficult to get strong technically with two feet by age ten (although it has been known to happen). US Youth Soccer, Wenger (Arsenal Coach) etc.. all say that the child should be strong TECHNICALLY by age 14. After that the physical and tactical aspects come in. It is extremely important between age 7 and 14 to develop excellent ball control (includes two-footedness in dribbling, shooting, passing, feints, moves, and also excellence in using other parts of the body to control the ball- chest, head etc..)- Physical and Tactical is lower priority. So I would tend to agree more with Coach Montoya.

  6. Mike Firnstahl, October 7, 2010 at 8:09 p.m.

    great comments by Rick Figueiredo. The game in the US is heavily influenced by English coaches and styles. Very defensive football (4-5-1) is taught and going for the 1-0 win. Athleticism is the number 1 attribute. I have coached for 10 years mostly the younger ages and stress ball skills, moves and taking on players. winning has always been important but not at the expense of technical skills. If the players are technically strong for the age and learn the game the wins just happen. The one thing I really notice with the typical "professional clubs" is that the coaches want to win and will place technical and tactically astute players were it best meets the team needs (in the back usually) even if they are talented offensive players. the weaker players will be given chance after chance at the midfield and forward positions because they are less likely to hurt the team in the forward positions. The player is then trained in the defensive position and what made them special and dangerous in an offensive position is pruned from them because they are not appropriate in a defensive position.

    The other sad consequence of the American Club system is that the search for wins at an early age encourages the coaches to use fast players over the top to run onto a ball and shoot. This player does not develop the technical skills (dribbling, fakes and feints etc) like other players that must dribble through players. These players get left behind at the older age groups because they did not need the technical skills at the younger age and the club did not put the player in positions that required him/her to develop those skills to be successful. When I coach I require my quicker and faster kids to do a move at speed even if they had already beat a defender because that is what they needed to do to be prepared when the other kids caught up to them athletically.

    I have a reward system for my younger kids by recognizing them with soccer patches. I give away a "Brazilian" patch for performing moves in a game successfully (as well as other patches for things we are working on). The kids love the rewards and the games I remember are the ones with the moves. I also give away a WOW patch for a play of the game - usually the kids name the play before I have the chance to give it out becuase they remember it too! That is what it is all about. No one will remember players dropping back and delaying a play and kicking the ball out of bounds. I say go forward and score because that is what the game is all about.

    Last comment - a game without a move to remember is a game that is better to not have been played!

  7. Daniel Pelleck, October 11, 2010 at 5:09 p.m.

    Montoya is right, but why can't you have both. I coach both a U9 and U11 girls travel, and I have an extensive coaching background in soccer, football, basketball and softball. Soccer is not my natural sport, so I have to educate myself twice as much as the "foreign" coaches in our local area who think they have the only key to success. You want creative dynamic young soccer players, follow the path of the inner-city basketball player in America. You have to re-create the playgrounds in your training sessions. I combine the technical, tactical, physical and mental all at once in our small-sided games and activities. We will warm-up and do an occasional activity without pressure, but the bulk of our time is spent playing various games in confined spaces with pressure with the added element of competition, leading up to the last 20-30 minutes of training which is a 6 v 6 to 8 v 8 game depending on the number of kids at practice. I think my teams start out weaker technically in the sense that they do not look as good in your typical rote drill, but put the pressure of a game and defenders around them and they far surpass the skills and creativity of the other girls teams in our club that are coached by the so-called experts with an accent. Maybe it's just the area I live in, but I find far too much emphasis is put on the technical aspects of the game, to the exclusion of all other aspects of the game. This does not make sense to me; I believe the technical aspect of soccer is extremely important and maybe most important but not to the exclusion of all the other aspects of the game. I see too many accomplished soccer kids, who have little or no soccer IQ in games.

  8. derek McNamara, October 25, 2010 at 2:15 p.m.

    This is in response to the article written by Mike Woitalla on Albertin Montoya putting winning in perspective...

    This weekend, my 8 year old daughter who plays for the Fremon Mission Valley United U9 girls team got a chance to play against Mr. Montoya and his MVLA U9 girls. Rarely do you get a chance in life to get a real life example of what a coach or author is professing on paper. I have to say the man puts his money where his mouth is and walks his talk in every way. End of a hard fought game and the score is tied 2-2. One of his girls gets a breakaway and our defender catches up, but she still has a step on our player. Right as his player is going to shoot, the ref blows the whistle. The ball goes in the net and in all actuality, MVLA should have won the game. Coach Montoya didn't argue, his parents didn't say a word and the girls just came over and he congratulated them on a great game. Wow! I have seen coaches and parents digress to pretty ugly levels for far less. I learned a great deal simply by seeing him being true to his words. Kudos to him and to the work he is doing with MVLA and the FC Pride. He truly is a coach we can all be proud of.

  9. Byron Rausenberger, October 28, 2010 at 11:29 a.m.

    I wish this guy was my coach growing up:) I just wrote a blog on this exact topic. Why parents need to win every game.

    Wish I read this one first.

  10. . Lev, November 8, 2010 at 8:29 a.m.

    Great article.
    The basis for this is that Americans
    1. see soccer through their 'staple sports' such as football and basketball, and
    2. need instant and visible signs of winning from Day One.

  11. Brian Herbert, November 14, 2010 at 4:44 a.m.

    This is an e-mail that I sent to our academy teams here in Georgia:

    The news is that Chelsea paid $16,000 for a U-11 "striker" from a small academy program in Northern England. The news raised some questions for me:
    * What are the limits on the "business" of sport?
    * Does growing soccer in the USA require us to imitate the way things are done in Europe or South America?
    * What are our "goals" for our kids?
    * What do our kids want?

    Club to club transfers will be good for soccer in the USA, but if we are headed toward a model more like European transfers, and it starts to involve youth players, how would that impact us? First, although it's our job as parents to be our kids' number one fan, we also have to acknowledge statistics. The chance of any of our kids going pro is slim, so we better be in it for more than that.

    The issue I see is how our culture can get warped in the process of searching for that next star. Just like getting too wrapped around the axle about our U-11's winning a game makes us do things we are not proud of, if we started getting wrapped around the axle on which one of our kids might get a transfer fee, will we be able to enjoy a game? Will we enjoy the company of other families at the field, or will we see them as competition?

    When I read the news, I had to chuckle that they are designating a 10 year old as a "striker." There is an interesting "triangulation" at this age between what a coach sees in our kid, what our bias as a parent might be for a particular position, and then what our kid actually enjoys playing. The last of those three, our kid's outlook, is the most flexible - put 'em somewhere and most of the time they're like, "OK, here I am, I'll do my best."

    The Coach, the parent, and the player - there will always be that triangle, and certainly we parents do better when we let the relationship grow between our kid and the coach. But when a fourth party enters the mix: the hype of others, things get really foobar. Remember Freddy Adu? America's child prodigy in soccer? What happened?

    Well, a few years ago, he went to play in Europe for Monaco. The president of that club said this, "Everybody had the same analysis about Freddy. He had incredible talent, yet he was lacking standard tactical knowledge that most players his age had. It was tied to the fact that he became professional at 14 and in some ways stopped learning at 15.”

    Well, that says it all, here's to lifelong learning, because I hope the best for this Chelsea U-11 phenom, but simply due to the hype, the deck is stacked against him. I watch our boys at U-11, and they are doing stuff I know I never did. But all of us and our kids are works in progress, the more we remember that the better.

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