Claudio Reyna: 'Coaches should sit down'

By Mike Woitalla

For many reasons, Claudio Reyna was the perfect choice to be named U.S. Soccer’s Youth Technical Director one year ago.

The New Jersey product, who captained the USA at two of his four World Cups, played American youth club, high school and college ball before embarking on a career in Europe that saw him captain teams in Germany, Scotland and the English Premier League. After finishing his playing career with MLS’s New York Red Bulls, which he also captained, Reyna traveled the world to observe the most successful youth programs – including FC Barcelona.

Reyna’s research, and his own experiences, culminated in the Federation’s new curriculum for youth coaches (available for download at

Upon the unveiling of "U.S. Soccer Curriculum," Reyna spoke to us about what had impressed him about the youth programs that he found worth emulating.

“The coaches were guiding the training,” he said. “They were not controlling. They weren’t on top of the kids. They were not stopping the play for every mistake.

“None of them yelled. The only time they barked was when kids were screwing around. That’s when they said, ‘Hey, cut it out!’ And boom, the intensity went back up.”

It’s important, Reyna says, to avoid the temptation to focus on mistakes:

“When you first start coaching young players, you see so many things, because, yes, they make mistakes, and if you see a lot of mistakes you want to correct a lot of mistakes. But these coaches were really letting the kids learn the game.”

In the United States, youth soccer struggles to stifle the influence of traditional American sports.

“In our country, we feel we have to do things because of our other sports, which are very much dominated by calling a timeout, writing up a play, 'do this, do that,'” he says. “There is more of an influence from the coach in those sports to solve a situation for the players.”

Another trait of the youth coaches at clubs that succeed at producing top-level players was that they “were very organized, professional, very prepared.

“You could see that they knew what they were doing from one exercise to the next.”

Reyna was struck by the humility of the youth coaches at the pro clubs:

“Very humble. Devoted to their jobs. I got to speak to so many coaches and it was almost when I asked them things they were embarrassed to talk about it. They’d say things like, ‘We’re a part of something else. The kids are students. We’re their teachers. We have to do this job, then we pass them on to the next coach and he does his job, and I get the next group in.’

“And it was very, very powerful to see these guys who were working behind the scenes. They don’t get any credit, no one knows who they are, and for me they were fantastic coaches.”

During games, Reyna observed that “at the best places the youth coaches are sitting down. And if they get up to give instructions, they sit right back down again.

“When the game is going on, all the coaches should just sit down. I think if you ask any player at the youth level, if the coach is on the sidelines standing, it brings tension. You can sense it.”

Coaches at the foreign pro clubs Reyna observed are judged by how many players end up reaching the highest level. And that’s what Reyna says should be the measure for American youth coaches.

“For me, it’s irrelevant if coaches win state cups, regional cups, national cups,” he says. “We get a lot of resumes -- I don’t mean people shouldn’t put that in their resumes – but how many trophies they have in their cabinet isn’t important to me. It’s about the kids, it’s not about you.

“We care about how many players you develop rather than how many trophies you win.

“What is the plan you have? What is your style of play? What’s your philosophy? What do you teach them? What do you do with your staff? If you don’t address that, then what are you doing? Going from week-to-week trying to win games?”

(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

11 comments about "Claudio Reyna: 'Coaches should sit down'".
  1. Peter Noonan, April 21, 2011 at 2:08 p.m.

    Right on!!

    Particularly the last paragraph!

  2. Miguel Dedo, April 21, 2011 at 2:39 p.m.

    The training program makes sense, Claudio Reyna and Javier Perez are to be congratulated.
    The accompanying upper-middle-class sanctimony, “its about training, not about playing games – and particularly not about winning games,” is not in the document. The cover of the document, if you look, is a picture of a youth team celebrating a national championship.
    Implicit in this commentary-sanctimony is that the whole US soccer program is about providing players for the US National Teams. What would US basketball and US gridiron football be if all coaches and parents and communities who support the teams were told that winning city or state or NCAA championships was of no consequence, the whole thing was about providing players for the NBA and the NFL?
    Claudio Reyna: “We care about how many players you develop rather than how many trophies you win.”
    Implicit: so that we at US Soccer can win more trophies.
    Get real. Barça pays for everything in the Barça program, not for everything in Spain. Until US Soccer pays for all the soccer in the US, the reality of what is needed to arouse community support will have to be taken into account.
    Sell the program as a guide to success at ANY level, not as a farm system for the MNT or WNT.

  3. david caetano, April 21, 2011 at 3:38 p.m.

    I played pro 2 years in Portugal after Drafted with NY Cosmos in 1982. Two year contract with Bnefica and 2nd year played in the 2nd division team betting on promotion. Have had day camps in Connecyticut from 1982. The brief experience I had as a pro in Europe increased tremendously my philosofy of coaching. One coach in particular who was the English national team coach Sven Eriksson was tremendous. sorry for this resume but I want to stress the importance someone like Claudio is to the proper developement of the American player. He should and is listened to very carefully.
    good job in a great playing carreer where many lessons were learned to now help put the youth develeopement in a direction that will undoughtedly bring excellent results. This will include having the players enjoy playing more and coaches understanding things in different perspective. An example is to have coaches sitting down more. I did when coaching High school soccer in Connecticut. Now in Portugal and I can see coaches not constantly yelling at players. great job Claudio.

  4. Steve Parnass, April 21, 2011 at 3:43 p.m.

    Always good advice, but something that needs to be reinforced throughout a young coaches career. I am a coach administrator in AYSO and though it's a hard concept at first for new coaches, it's all about changing the culture and incorporating coach and player development together.

  5. Chris Morris, April 21, 2011 at 11:06 p.m.

    Claudio Reyna makes a good first step by pointing out that our current youth system emphasizes short-term results over long-term development. The next step would be to examine why this is true, and the really significant step would be a plan for change. In leading soccer nations, the promising youth players are all at a small number of pro clubs. Their coach focuses on player development because that is what he is paid to do by his employer, the parent club. The U.S. has thousands of youth club teams, each of which is a private business run by individuals. The coach is not paid by USSF or a pro team (MLS academies aside). His pay comes from the players' parents. They want him (her) to have the team succeed in an elite league and/or tournaments. Look at a Website or brochure that is designed to promote a given club. There may be an “Alumni” link listing players who have gone on to a higher level, but that is a side note to the main focus on competitions and results. Like it or not, the club is a business, and they know that the way to stay in business (i.e., maintain the cash flow from parents) is to win games. The day that USSF pays a club a $1,000 bonus each time one of their alumni gets a senior cap, that’s when they will have an incentive to stress player development over immediate results.

  6. Daniel Clifton, April 22, 2011 at 9:08 a.m.

    I was one of those parents years ago who ended up basically drafted into coaching and then I went on to learn about the sport, including playing for a while. The point about not being able to call time outs during a game is an excellent point. It was one thing I noticed fairly early on. You have to teach the kids to learn to make adjustments during the games on their own. They have to learn to think on the field. One problem I ran into on a level higher than recreational soccer was a certain percentage of parents concerned more about winning than development. With development a team will begin winning in the future. Many parents don't have that long term outlook. I believe there also needs to be more of an emphasis of kids learning to play at home and in their neighborhoods. I learned to play football and basketball in my neighborhood. I rarely see children playing pick up sports anymore.

  7. Edwin Canizalez, April 22, 2011 at 11:42 p.m.

    I hope coaches adopt some of these ideas. We did our own research several years ago and have implemented most, if not all of these ideas that are now being introduce. For example, we see our players as students of the game. Our programs concentrate on developing the individual. We even offer opportunities for our advanced students to go to Barcelona, Spain to train and compete with other kids in their age group -many of which are already playing for the "minors" in FC Barcelona, RCD Espanyol, FC Porto, etc.- We will be happy to share any information to coaches and parents interested in youth development:

  8. David Debreceni, April 25, 2011 at 7:55 a.m.

    I have to say I was the coach that paced originally and that is because that is what my coach gowing up did. In the last couple of years I learned to be quiet and that helped, but in the last year I sat down. What a difference it made for both me and the players. I learned to watch the game instead of focusing on one player or play. It helped me design traininig sessions and my players love it. My only question to all is how to get the coaches that are not the Pro's, like myself, who are parents that are volunteering their time to learn this. That is where the gap is, not at the top. Just my opinion.

  9. David Delk, April 25, 2011 at 8:12 a.m.

    I am a completely amateur coach at the U11 girls level. When I took the E License course, one of the best things the instructor talked about was how he handles matches. He just sits in his chair and takes notes and lets the players play, and I know he was not blowing smoke because I have since watched one of his teams play. I have tried it several times, and the girls do play better overall as a team. I now shut up for most of the game except to "guide" certain players who clearly do not have their own voice in their head urging them to action. Joysticking players is clearly useless, but some players need that one or two word encouragement/instruction to focus their play.

  10. Walt Pericciuoli, May 1, 2011 at 9:05 a.m.

    Claudio is right on. I wish him the best of luck. However, I think Chris Morris here makes some good points.Too many of our "youth clubs" today are run as a business. In years long ago, coaches trained players for the love of the game. Until US Soccer makes a larger investment to support the clubs or until all the professional league teams make that investment, I don't think much will change. But I really hope so.

  11. andrew yaletsko, October 21, 2013 at 9:54 p.m.

    Great article, especially like the very last paragraph. However I disagree with the coaches always sitting down. I have kids playing the game at various levels and age groups. Their coaches have different styles, which leads me to my point. My oldest son plays u14. The team is a decent team have good talent and generally play well together. At leadt that was leadt year. Then club fired the trainer/coach who helped develop the team over 3 years. Now, new trainer who has this attitude of sitting down and letting kids play and figure it out on their own. Flash back to last year, team was 9-1, not that it matters but this year so far this season they are 0-7. The only thing that changed was the trainer/coach. When they kids are playing they do not adjust to the other teams style and don't adjust their own offensive play when it's obvious that the style they are using isn't working. By the way the only thing new trainers teaches is punch the ball thru the middle. So my point is although I do like the "let them play" mentality. Kids need instruction during the game when they are clearly not recognizing the adjustments that are needed.

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