Tom Howe: Coaching good soccer takes patience

Interview by Mike Woitalla

Tom Howe helped found St. Louis' Scott Gallagher SC in 1976 and coached future stars such as Tim Ream, Brad Davis and Pat Noonan. One of his alums, Cal coach Kevin Grimes, calls Howe "a legend, one of the best youth coaches ever." Last year, after Scott Gallagher merged with Busch SC and Metro United, Howe left and started a new club, Woodson City Rangers. Howe, a St. Louis product himself who starred at SIU-Edwardsville and played in the old NASL, spoke to us for the Youth Soccer Insider's ongoing interview series with leaders of U.S. youth clubs.

SOCCER AMERICA: If you had a magic wand, how would you use it to improve youth soccer in America?

I wish everybody would try and play like Barcelona. If all the clubs across the country did that you’d have some pretty smart players when they hit the ages of 18, 19, 20.

And there’d be more people wanting to watch soccer in this country. Barcelona’s the best team I’ve ever seen. They’re just fun to watch.

Another thing about Barcelona -- they don’t have a lot of these gigantic athletes who everybody wants to get these days.

SA: What’s the key to playing like Barcelona?

The ability to play in tight spaces. You spend tons of time playing in small, tight areas, and then when you get on the big field it’s not a big deal.

I think more teams need work on the possession game. All the best teams in the world over the years have been great technical teams – like Spain, Barcelona. Teams like that play the best soccer.

At the youth level, too many people play more to win. My point is, if you teach your kids to play like Barcelona you’re eventually going to win.

SA: But while you’re learning to play like that you might not win …

That’s exactly right. Learning to play like that takes a long time, but once you get it, you’re going to be good. The problem is a lot of people don’t have the patience.

You tell your young players don’t boot it no matter how much pressure you’re under. We want you to get good at this. And at a certain age, you know what, they learn how to deal with it.

Look at how many players we have in this country. At this stage we should be a lot better than we are.

SA: Over the years, have you seen American youth teams playing better soccer?

At the youth level, I still see a lot of long balls -- not from all teams. There are more and more better teams each year, but I wish more would try to play good soccer.

We play against teams that boot the ball a lot, and they might beat you. But they won’t beat you five years from now.

You’re going to lose until you get to a certain age. Then you get to a certain level you’re going to be really good. You’re going to play the game the right way – and it’s a beautiful game when it’s played right. I don’t think it’s such a beautiful game when it’s played in a different way.

I can hardly watch college soccer except for a couple teams. Akron -- I like watching them play. They play well and they won the national championship playing like that. Why do a couple of teams play like that and nobody else does?

SA: Tim Ream is a remarkably good young American defender in that he relies more on smarts than brawn and keeps possession for his team after he wins the ball. He said you were his biggest influence as a coach in his youth days …

He was on one of our last really good [Scott Gallagher] teams. He said that because he learned that at Gallagher, where we made our defenders pass it out of the back. We’d get criticized for passing too much.

I think when you play like that you get good at it. I think that’s the proper way to approach it. Timmy’s just a very good passer out of the back. I think that’s why Timmy’s so calm on the ball. He’s been doing that since he was little.

SA: Why did you leave Scott Gallagher to form a new club?

A few other guys and I were with Gallagher from the beginning and it was a real close-knit club. Everybody was really good friends. In the last seven or eight years it just became a business. To me, it’s just not Scott Gallagher anymore.

SA: The trend does seem to be creating big, “all-service” clubs that are clubs-slash-leagues – but you’re going with the small club model …

And we’re going to keep it small.

SA: What about the economies-of-scale rationale that by putting as many players under the same umbrella as possible you can cut costs?

I’ll tell you this, when you have the kids on the 10th and 11th team, and they’re all paying the same, something’s wrong because they’re not getting the same training.

I just don’t like it. All those guys running the big clubs, they can say what they want, but they’re all making a lot of money. And the more players they bring in, the more money they make.

SA: How is your new club, Woodson City Rangers, dealing with the challenge of youth soccer’s high costs?

We’re about $300, $400 a year – and that’s real low. We’re just trying to keep it as low as we can. That’s what we want to stay with.

SA: One of the reasons youth soccer costs so much is the tournament industry. What’s your opinion on that issue?

I’m not a tournament guy at all. To me it’s a waste of time. I’d rather stay home.

I couldn’t care less about going to tournaments. After the first day you’re watching your team and it’s no longer your team because they’re too tired to do anything.

We used to restrict the tournament play because some coaches wanted to go to tournaments all the time and hardly ever practice. They go to tournaments to improve their record and be able to say, “We’re 32 and 2.” That’s too many games.

By the time kids are in eighth grade they don’t even care about going to tournaments. They’re just burned out with them.

SA: What’s the right approach to tournament play?

You’ve got to practice, practice, practice – and maybe go to a couple tournaments.

We put a lot more emphasis on practice sessions and league games. Practice is when you learn to play. Games are like the test. And you don’t want to have three or four tests in two days.

If you go to a special tournament and play a couple of games, that’s OK. But they’re so expensive and if you’re playing three or four games in two days, especially at the older ages, physically I don’t know how that can be good.

(Tom Howe is the Executive Director of Player Development of the Woodson City Rangers. He was was a founding member of the Scott Gallagher SC, which won seven national championships and 14 regional titles under his direction. A collegiate All-American at SIU-Edwardsville, Howe played professionally for the St. Louis Stars, Denver Dynamos and Minnesota Kicks. He also coached at SIU-Edwardsville, Western Illinois, Florissant Valley Community College, Southwest Missouri State University and Saint Louis University.)

(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

20 comments about "Tom Howe: Coaching good soccer takes patience ".
  1. The Dude, March 25, 2011 at 2:26 p.m.

    Well Mr. Howe, if in truth you are like you speak, then my hat off to you. I wish we had many more folks in youth soccer like you. Opposed to it being a source of revenue.

  2. Kent James, March 25, 2011 at 2:37 p.m.

    Many words of wisdom from someone who clearly knows what he's doing, and has been doing it right for many years. Only two minor quibbles; although I love Barcelona (and want my teams to emulate them) I see nothing wrong with an accurate long pass (to switch the field, get a player behind the defense, etc.). Also, while mindlessly booting the ball up field is rightfully condemned, there are occasions when a simple clearance is appropriate (a loose ball in a crowded penalty area). But teaching kids to play the ball out of the back and helping them be composed under pressure and be able to play in small spaces is certainly the way to go. But accurate long passes are a skill too!

  3. Daniel Pelleck, March 25, 2011 at 3:25 p.m.

    Small note- He is right about college soccer in America. I had not watched college soccer for years, and the couple of NCAA tournament games I watched this year were laughable compared to any EPL or La Liga game, you expect to see a drop off in talent but I was shocked.

  4. Ian Plenderleith, March 25, 2011 at 4:13 p.m.

    Amen to all of this. Any chance Mr. Howe could run for the USSF Presidency next time around?

  5. tim francis, March 25, 2011 at 4:43 p.m.

    Agreed with his honor, Howe, and with Kent's addition. Too bad too many big time clubs sacrifice winning in the long run. One more biggie the US needs to learn--to hold individually possession under physical play-legal and illeagle charges, tugs, and intimidation.

  6. cony konstin, March 25, 2011 at 7:11 p.m.

    Soccer in the US is in the business of making money. Soccer in the US needs to be in the business of making magical players. How? By going into the inner-cities of America and creating soccer playgrounds for the poor kids who don't have a pot to piss in. There is gold in them mountains. The problem is that it is not immediate. That's why soccer in America will continue to be looked upon by the masses as a hobby. And a machine in creating jobs for coaches who over coach the kids. Howe is doing a good thing in trying to keep cost down and teach kids the game in a positive way but in the end most of those kids will not be the magical players of tomorrow. Why? Simply because those kids have not been playing soccer everyday, two to four hours a day, since they were 5 years old. Magical players like the ones who play on Barcelona came from an environment where soccer is LIFE. That is one of the main reasons that these guys can play beautiful and win at the same time. The US needs a revolution. And this revolution must start in the HOOD. The MLS is spending too much time and money in paying international overrated players, building stadiums, and getting new expansion teams. The MLS must get into the business of making players. They must go into HOODS of America and invest money and man power to create an environment that will develop magical players. Otherwise if they don't step up to do this then the MLS will continue to waste money on more international overrated players. Tom keep up the good fight. Meanwhile it is not youth soccer's job to make pros. It is the MLS's job to make US pros.

  7. Luis Arreola, March 25, 2011 at 8:11 p.m.

    Amen Tom. Cony I agree with most of what you said. It's no one's job really. MLS are going to do what is most profitable. It seems that most big youth clubs are in it do the same. Nobody will take responsability for making these players unless they are forced to do so. It is more Youth Soccer's responsability than any other organiztaion because that is what will be produced. What we need is new leaders running the youth programs like Tom to enforce these ideas. The revolution starts with parents being more informed and going to the small clubs where their kids will be more cared for and better developed. Very few people want to be the underdog anymore. They want to be at the "Top" club so they can tell their friends. I blame the majority of parents. This generation of parents still do not know where and how true soccer players are developed. They should start by asking their own pro coaches at these Big Clubs where and how much did they spend to get the training that made them successful. The answer from most will probably be "WHAT"!!!

  8. Rick Figueiredo, March 25, 2011 at 9:09 p.m.

    Thanks for the article. Some good thoughts. Yes Barcelona. Best team in the world RIGHT NOW. I am assuming you were not alive in the early 60's. Best team ever that I saw was 1962 Santos with Pele. Wiped Benfica off the map 2 times. Barcelona, however, uses tactical movements that Brasil has used starting back in 1982. What Barcelona I believe does not do as well as Pele's team is shoot the ball more often. The europeans are a little too delayed in their number of shots in recent UEFA Champion games. Very defensive teams. Low scores. BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT SHOOTING THE BALL. Too much horizontal rather than vertical overdelopment before the shooting. Let's break down how I approach coaching in order of importance. 1 - the most important thing in the game without question is SCORING GOALS. 2 - Crossing comes next. 3 - Passing/Dribbling 4. Individual possession - the abilty NOT TO LOSE THE BALL WHEN THE OTHER THREE OPTIONS ARE NOT AVAILABLE. If you have these 4 tactical and technical skills you can start to become like Barcelona and the Brasilian National Team.

    That's it.

  9. Jorge a Forero, March 25, 2011 at 9:15 p.m.

    Great article. We need more individuals like Mr. Tom Howe. Player development first, money and awards second.

  10. Gak Foodsource, March 25, 2011 at 10:41 p.m.

    The ONLY thing I can object to is naming your new club after a scottish long ball team! I know who I'd be trying to play with if I lived in your area. I just love how ambitious this approach is. Good luck Mr. Howe.

  11. Oz LatinAmerican, March 26, 2011 at 12:50 a.m.

    Very good points Mr Howe, yes Barcelona is one of the best teams right now and probably the only team that plays attractive soccer that is worthy to watch. However, Mr Howe you are ignorant about world soccer and soccer history, Brasil is the team that had created the style of playing that Barcelona is playing right now, in Brasil the game of soccer is called the Jogo bonito! that is The Beautiful Game! and more, Brasil 1970 was and still is the best soccer team ever to be matched and modeled to this day! Brasil is the team that introduced the attacking full backs since the early 60's. How about Carlos Alberto playing as right full back score a goal against Italy in the 70 world cup when he run from behind and Pele gave him the pass without even looking where he was going to pass just like having eyes in the back of his neck! according to one of the commentators of the match. On another note, Mr Howe, Barcelona has a Southamerican playing for them who is the best player in the world and that player is from Argentina and happens to be that he started playing soccer just the way we play soccer in Southamerica small numbers of players 5V5, 6v6 and so on and always in tight spaces. That's why the best soccer players of the world comes from Southamerica, yes mostly from Brasil and Argentina I know so I'm a southamerican and I have been in both countries. Do I need to mentioned the clubs around the world that have every Southamerican player? And last just for the laughs, the Americans in the past and some still do to this day; had always mentioned the Dutch as the model to follow, when was the last time the Dutch won a World Cup? and how many world class player they had produced 3 or 4 perhaps? and now all of the sudden is Barcelona and Spain to follow. Right so, yes I agree! Brasil suffers because they abandoned their principle and their philosophy, just because the coach in charge wanted to try something new, yap it all boils down to that one person: The coach. Even in Southamerica it happens! Always is down to the view of a coach! and believe it, they will ruin everything!! I see it every day here in America, especially the ones that comes from a country that only won the world cup once and never produced any world class player, except a good looking show biz celebrity.

  12. Curtis Sippenbrews, March 26, 2011 at 1:02 a.m.

    I played for Tom Howe a long time ago and he is the best youth coach this country has ever seen and he built the Scott Gallager soccer club and made it what it was before the merger. The new club turned his back on him and made a huge mistake in doing so. They got rid of the best youth coach in the history of the game in this country. The man knows how the game should be played and knows how to teach it to players. I took my son to Woodon City Rangers from the St. Louis Scott Gallagher nightmare and I can tell you that Rangers will be taking it to the St. Louis Scott Gallagher boys. He is a great man and treats his players with respect and as professionals. If this soccer federation was smart they would give him an instrumental role in the development of youth soccer! Once we have actual soccer players in this country instead of athletes, maybe one day we'll see a U.S. team in the World Cup Final!!!!

  13. Bill Anderson, March 26, 2011 at 8:15 a.m.

    Thank You Coach Howe. After reading the article about Dallas Texans last week, I am happy to see an alternative view of what youth soccer should be. Good Luck with Woodon City Rangers. It is imperative that youth players learn to know the ball, and love the game.

  14. Mary Ahearn, March 26, 2011 at 2:19 p.m.

    Seeing Tom Howe's training sessions in action supports everything he says here. It will be great to see the impact that this club may have on the rest of St. Louis soccer. In particularly, I enjoyed reading the story of how the club got started on their website

  15. ilia toumadjanov, March 26, 2011 at 10:50 p.m.

    It's laudable to aspire to play like Barcelona. However, their style of football like Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Italy, France is based on a century long tradition in a nurturing and passionate environment. Football is veritably a part of their spiritual culture. Most great players in the history of the game have come from street football; it's a proven fact that skills acquired in spontaneous ways cannot be taught by instruction in the so-called academies. That's exactly what the English FA Technical Director Trevor Brooking is saying. All of EPL cub academies are a pathetic failure, they haven't developed one single player of quality comparable to Nasri, Modric, to say nothing of Brazilian, Argentinian, and Spanish players that have turned the English football into an international showcase. MLS since its inception in 1994 has remained a travesty and an insult to the game, a veritable graveyard for superannuated expats and domestic potatos loyally mistaken for roses. Youth football under the present system - parents are paying customers, has no future since it's superfluous to even use the word player selection when you pay to play. It's the biggest scam that ever controlled by the Boards consisting of people who know nothing about the game and run the show like Tammany hall. College football - an incubator of talent? Give me a break, with a 2 months season and 12 days of pre-season? And yet, all we hear is "we'll do it our own way"; those benighted "experts" should understand thet there's only one way - the right way. Also, the clubs must have courage to close their accounts with Nike and Adidas and go local - all of the apparel is from a museum of petrochemical fashion anyway; so buy locally made shorts, jerseys, jackets, and basic footwear. That will save huge costs and will give an American worker to sell their own. All benefits you get from a sweatshop based industry are a few free water bottles anyway. It's a pity that with fantastic resources available this country is so far behind the most beutiful game in the world.

  16. Kent James, March 28, 2011 at 10:13 a.m.

    Rick F., you hit the nail on the head. I love watching Barcelona, but sometimes you have to wonder if they forgot what the point of the game is. That possession needs to lead somewhere, and you can't score if you don't shoot. Lesser teams are able to beat them because they do not turn their possession into attempts on goal as often as they should. So play like Barcelona, but finish the fluid ball movement with strikes at goal!

  17. Jamie Posnanski, March 28, 2011 at 8:51 p.m.

    Fantastic to see at least this small recognition of a man who has been training and nurturing passion for our sport in so many youth players for so many years. Some good dialogue above as well. Having grown up in the Gallagher program starting as a nine-year-old through collegiate soccer and brief stints with the youth national team and a few professional clubs, I benefitted greatly from "T-Howe's" coaching philosophy and the foundation it provided me as a wingback who was skillful with the ball and liked to come forward in an era when that was not very common or encouraged. I continue to rely on him heavily now as a youth coach (and with a decade of experience under my belt) - striving to teach the sport the proper way and in a manner that I believe will make him proud. And just as a point of clarification regarding his mention of Barcelona versus some of the other programs or sides mentioned in the comments above (Brazil, etc). I'm quite sure he brought up Barcelona because it is without question the most recent example of a team that plays in the spirit that embodies his complete philosophy - attractive football played with exceptional individual skill along with the most creative application of passing combinations and possession. That has always been at the heart of his teaching at Gallagher and continues to this day. The players who are now the focus of emulation: Messi, Iniesta and Xavi were once Brazilian heroes like Garrincha, Jairzinho, and Rivellino (who incidentally was a youth in Barcelona's futsal club and known for his long passes among other skills). In fact, we were first taught to idolize these Brazilian talents under T-Howe's leadership and he still teaches moves and techniques that are named after those heroes of the 60's and 70's. We even wore the Brazilian colors in the Gallagher club for a time. It can be argued that Brazil has gotten away from that formerly beautiful style in recent years. But regardless of whether it is Barcelona, Brazil, Arsenal or even heroes of old from the golden age of Dutch "total" football (a group we were also taught to admire), the fact remains that T-Howe's approach instills in youth players the passion for the most skillful and attractive elements of football and an appreciation for the game played in the way it should be. And not co-incidentally in a way that makes people want to watch.

  18. Rob Smith, March 29, 2011 at 6:39 p.m.

    I had the GREAT opportunity to play collegiately alongside some of Tom Howe's disciples from the St Louis area. A common theme (of the players)was they had a passion for the game (real joy with the ball, passing with purpose, and always FUN in training and during games). I'd love to hear more about coaches that are instilling passion in their players - passion that leads to a lifelong joy for the game (and not early burnout). GREAT interview and best wishes for Tom's new club.

  19. Sam McFarland replied, February 18, 2016 at 3:33 p.m.

    I agree with Tommy Howe. Soccer is a beautiful game, when played skillfully. Unfortunately, SLSG is all about profit and making money. A child should have a talent and passion about the sport and show potential. By letting every tom, dick, Harry, enter their club. You are not going to produce outstanding players. It might have a name of SELECT, but lets be honest. It's not. What happens, to the telented kids, they have to play with the kids, who niether can pass, or dribble, keep possesion. SO, you end up with a lousy game of soccer. Also, SLSG, hires cheap coaches, who do not have a clue what they are doing. So my advice, it's very important for your child to have a good coach. SLSG, definitely does not provide quality coaching.

  20. James Visser, March 30, 2011 at 3:53 p.m.

    Its reassuring to know that folks like Tome Howe are influencing youth American Youth soccer. I hope his wisdom and voice is not being marginalized now that he's not at a "big club" like Scott Gallagher.

    Osvaldo, your South American pride is oozing through the screen and you have much history and present to be proud of.
    However, the 70 Brazilian team was brilliant, the 74 club was beaten by the Dutch 2-0 in 1974. As you knew (but ahve now forgotten), Pele spoke with great admiration aboutt Cruyuff and the Dutch style. Their influence continued on as Michels and Cruyuff went on to lay down the foundation of today's Barcelona.
    So indeed, there are no WC titles to the Netherlands but certainly anyone who looks at football objectively can see that this country of 13 million has made a significant mark on the game at the highest level. Look at the number of managers with Dutch roots. And Pele, in his top 100 players of all time..he lists 10 Dutchman from this little country. ..thats pretty world class, don't you think :)

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