Claudio Reyna: 'It all ties into style of play'

Interview by Mike Woitalla

As U.S. Soccer’s Youth Technical Director, Claudio Reyna believes a key to improving American player development is convincing more youth clubs to strive for a style of play conducive to nurturing talent. The 78-club U.S. Soccer Development Academy, which kicked off its fifth season this month, is a integral part of the national team program’s quest to improve American soccer. We spoke with Reyna about the process …

SOCCER AMERICA: I’d say that the USA produces many more good players than ever but doesn’t produce truly exceptional, creative players at a better rate than it did 20, even 30 years ago. Would you agree?

To a certain degree. There’s a bigger pool of players. I like some players who stand out at certain age groups – whose names I’d rather not mention to keep them level headed. But, absolutely, we could use some more exceptional players.

On the one side the average player has improved over the last 10 to 20 years, but if you look at the top-tier players -- we can definitely push ourselves to increase the number of those, and it’s the coaches who can make that happen.

SA: What can coaches do?

We have to make sure we nurture those players in the right way because sometimes they haven’t been given a chance -- maybe because of the style of play or because of a particular coach.

I believe a Wesley Sneijder would have never developed in an ugly style of play. He grew up in a country [Netherlands] where he was allowed to flourish and play, and that goes for all the Spanish players, all the great German players, all the great Argentine and Brazilian players.

It really all ties back to style of play -- if we don’t make sure it’s a good style of play, potentially great players are going to get lost in the helter-skelter, fast type of soccer.

If we encourage a much better style of play, then those players will enjoy playing in that environment and will be able to shine.

In my opinion, sometimes the soccer is quite ugly to watch -- you can’t even spot the talented player because he’s caught up in that type of game.

That’s one of the reasons a better style of play at the youth level will help the individuals coming up.

SA: Thanks to the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, the Federation has influence over 78 clubs who field teams at both the U-15/16 and U-17/18 level. Can you give me an example of what you and the Federation staff look for when evaluating an Academy club?

We look at how a team is trying to play. There are certain styles of play we’re trying to get away from.

For example, we’re trying to have the teams play quick but want to make sure there’s a thought process going on. Sometimes we have teams playing quick, but it’s very helter-skelter -- and we want to try and change that.

Sometimes we have teams that play really well with the right ideas in their head, but yet they do it too slow.

SA: Give us an example of a key thing you’re looking for when you go to a youth game that reveals the coaches are on the wrong track when it comes to style-of-play …

There are specific topics we talk about from the technical and tactical that we like to see. One, for example, is the emphasis of playing out of the back – from the goalie and the back four.

It takes about 10 or 15 minutes to notice a goalkeeper gets the ball and punts it every time he has the ball. The four defenders turn their back every time the goalkeeper gets the ball and run upfield because they know he’s punting.

That shows me right away there isn’t enough emphasis at the club to train playing out of the back.

The ones who lose out ultimately are the players, because a defender, at one point, especially at the national team level, is going to need the skills to play out of the back. It’s going to be difficult to develop central backs if all they’re doing their entire career is kicking the ball up as far as they can, heading it as far as they can.

Emphasizing that we’re looking for them to play out of the back, through the midfield, in turn will develop more midfield players who are used to receiving the ball from the defenders.

SA: Encouraging young players to play possession ball in their own half is risky because they’ll give up goals – and lose games. Is it the Federation’s belief that by evaluating clubs on style of play it will alleviate the pressure on coaches to resort to a results-driven approach?

Yes, and the idea is that the club should be focusing on training this at the young ages so by the time they get to U-14, U-15, U-16, they’re very comfortable playing out of the back.

There are many clubs that are doing a very good job, trying to promote playing the right way. We’re lucky to have good examples to follow and we reward and highlight them.

The easy way, absolutely, to play for wins at the younger ages is to tell the goalie to kick it up the field, and everytime there’s a throw-in or a free kick, to send it to the corner and everyone chases it, but I don’t think I’m unveiling any secrets when I say that’s not going to develop players.

You’re not going to get results all the time encouraging your young players to play out of the back, but you’re going to get better players. And I believe, in the long-term, you’re going to have better teams.

(Claudio Reyna was named the U.S. Soccer Federation's Youth Technical Director in April 2010. Reyna played nearly 13 years in the top-tier leagues of Germany (Bayer Leverkusen, VfL Wolfsburg), Scotland (Glasgow Rangers) and England (Sunderland, Manchester City). He represented the USA in four World Cups, and captained the Americans to a quarterfinal run at the 2002 World Cup, where he became the first American selected to the FIFA World Cup all-star team.)

(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

38 comments about "Claudio Reyna: 'It all ties into style of play'".
  1. Nut Meg, September 20, 2011 at 5:17 p.m.

    I like what Claudio is saying and doing. But, in saying that we can not forget about the epidemic (in my opinion) that is going on in this country and that is the tremendous lack of skill, technique and touch of the individual player. Playing out the back makes a lot of sense & lacks big time, but that can not be done without good touch. Too many players are hitting the 14/15 age bracket & can not even properly strike a ball, control a ball, pass a ball, etc. I will not even mention dribbling. Claudio mentions a style of play & I agree - Stop coaching speed soccer, 1 & 2 touch (yes at times is important), 1000 MPH soccer with no control - Encourage juggling, skill, dribbling, creativeness & beauty of skill - Most of our youth is built on athleticism/power and zero technique. The philosophy in the US has to be strict with skill at a young age otherwise we will continue to create more runners then players.

  2. Luis Arreola, September 20, 2011 at 5:39 p.m.

    Your correct Chris but to develop touch you also have to start playing out of the back like Reyna saids. You have to be willing to risk losses at U8-U13 playing this style. Too many coaches say that exactly " we can't play out of the back because our players don't possession a good first touch" and many times these kids are U11s or younger. League games should be looked at as practice as well where you will play out of the back even if you still have a few players that's first touch is not developed yet. This is the only way they will improve or get motivated to do so. Another thing I will add is encouraging top teams to play a year up in leagues and tournaments where they will be challenged. No trophies to lower cost. The. exception could be State Cup. Too many top teams play their age in tournaments and Premier divisions just to ridicule other clubs just to market. Meanwhile these top players do not get challenged on the ball and don't play to their potential. Many times these teams do possess the right style of play but do not get pressured in these

  3. Dave Kantor, September 20, 2011 at 5:52 p.m.

    High-level youth club soccer in the US is totally results oriented. Parents are paying huge money and want their kid on a winner. The kids want to play on a winner, and are also under some pressure to play in whatever style produces results. The coaches are paid by clubs to produce results, so the clubs can continue to recruit players and keep the financial pipeline flowing. Until that situation changes, the US will continue to produce great athletes but mediocre soccer players.

  4. Nut Meg, September 20, 2011 at 5:53 p.m.

    The problem is technique, not coming out the back. You can not possibly begin tactics & playing out the back when the player can not even pass or trap. Technique 1st and then & only then can you start playing correct soccer

  5. cony konstin, September 20, 2011 at 5:58 p.m.

    We need radical change. In Rio and Sao Paulo, Brasil street soccer is non existant. Why? No space to play street ball. So their solution is futsal starting at the age of 4 thru age 13. When a player reaches 13 then they can decide if they want to play futsal, soccer or both. This is the approach that we need to adapt to our environment. Why? Because our players are not comfortable with the ball. So when pressure comes their way they just boot the ball. In futsal you are forced to play under pressure because you can not hide. You're constantly handly the ball in tight spaces with little time. If US Soccer would mandate futsal for kids ages 4-13 our players will radically change and we would have much better skilled players and players would be completely comfortable with the ball w/wo pressure. US Soccer must be willing to think out of the box and create a REVOLUTION. FIFA's Mantra is Futsal is part of Football. I believe that is the mantra that US Soccer should embrace.

  6. beautiful game, September 20, 2011 at 6:15 p.m.

    Reyna's comments are nothing new and the style is irrelative...MLS is a typical example of what is wrong with our system....TOO MANY UNFORCED TURNOVERS, NO SIMPLICITY OF PLAY, TOO MUCH STATIC/NO ENOUGH MOVEMENT...too few options recognized, tunnel visioning and no confidence in the backline when most players boot the ball at the slightest pressure...coaching restrictions, lack of confidence in making something happen...biggest problem: KISS - keep it simple stupid.

  7. Nut Meg, September 20, 2011 at 6:19 p.m.

    Wow, finally somebody making sense. There is much truth to that Cony. I dont care where or how you get skill - We just need it! Its an epidemic. Live with the ball, not 2x/week at your so called Academy team. Play off a wall, off the curb, 1 v 1 with kids, etc.

  8. Nut Meg, September 20, 2011 at 6:22 p.m.

    I agree with the turnover, etc comment. But why does that happen? Becasue we lack confidence and you lack confidence becasue you are not comfortable with the ball becasue we have been brainwashed to play direct and not with our minds & skill. I thought soccer is called the beautiful game for a reason.

  9. R2 Dad, September 20, 2011 at 10:55 p.m.

    That is all fine and good, but how is this applied to our existing systems/leagues/tournaments? Yeah, 9 points for a win and another for a clean sheet, but -1 if you can't play out of the back, -1 if keeper punts bounce more than once, -1 if the attacking team only scores on counterattacks, -3 for a red card/excessive force tackle, -5 if your coach gets ejected--there have to be real consequences for playing kick and run while winning...

  10. Kathyrn Swatkowski, September 21, 2011 at 7:32 a.m.

    Chris and R2 Dad listen to does make a difference what they play and why fool around with some complicated scoring system. The reason these South American and now Spanish and Portuegeus get so good is that they play futsal as youngsters and lots of it. I started out as a rec coach because my son wanted to play soccer. Since I did not play growing up we watched you tube videos of Zidane, Ronaldinho, Pele and others. In the process we stumbled onto futsal and since many of these players played the game as youngsters it made since to try it out. After a season of scrimmaging I was hooked. It is not to hard to show the mechanics of doing deceptive dribbling but to get a 10 year old kid to use those skills at speed on a big field is very hard. With futsal it was so much easier. The game rewards quick clever feet. The skilled players will win over the big athletic team every time. As a coach wanting to skills above all else about all you have to do is put the ball on the floor and get out of the way.

  11. Kathyrn Swatkowski, September 21, 2011 at 7:33 a.m.

    By the way I am Kathy’s husband Wes. As for why US Soccer will not come out and fully endorse Futsal I am not sure what the reluctance is. I read Reyna’s report on how we should teach youth soccer and while he emphasized smaller sided games and more spontanous style play not once did he mention futsal. I grew up playing basketball with the brothers on the play ground. Let me tell you it was all about style and their was very little organization in terms of coaches and parents, yet these kids were the best players in the area. College scholarships, pro could dream perhaps but really it was for the love of the game that we were there. If we want style and individual brillance on the ball for our players in the U.S. then we have to find a game that rewards it. Futsal does this but I have found quite a bit of resistance from the soccer establishment in the area when I started my league. Their is a lot of ego in being a coach or the head of an academy. Who was I, a rec coach with no credentials or soccer background to say what the best winter training was. Nonetheless after 4 years my little futsal trained players are turning to be the best skilled and passionate soccer players in the area. The kind of game does matter

  12. Nut Meg, September 21, 2011 at 8:10 a.m.

    Kathyrn & Wes. Like I said above and maybe use missed it "I dont care where or how you get skill - We just need it! Its an epidemic. Live with the ball, not 2x/week at your so called Academy team. Play off a wall, off the curb, 1 v 1 with kids, etc". I dont even care if you juggle an orange like Pele did & most great players around the world. They played with whatever they could get their feet on. The point is play street soccer - Not just 2x's/week. Futsal is fine, but do not use that as an excuse thats why kids lack confidence/touch with the ball. Sure futsal is great, no doubt, but that is once again an organized event. Wes, you clarified my point with your basketball analogy. Enough said from me on this topic - We need skill, players with confidence to take players on, confidence to play out of the back, more composure in tight places, better 1st touch - I can go on. More players & less runners

  13. Luis Arreola, September 21, 2011 at 8:56 a.m.

    Dave, right on the money with your comment. You are right, until this changes there will be no true player development programs. The only way to Change this is to let every youth club sign their youth players to a contract where transfer fees have to be paid club to club to limit irresponsable recruiting. This will also permit these youth clubs to profit directly from a players pro contract. The right kids will play free and the right youth clubs will get the recognition for player development.

  14. Luis Arreola, September 21, 2011 at 9:02 a.m.

    Chris, you are thinking about winning first and the ultimate goal. In this case you are correct, they should first learn techniques and then to play out of the back. But if you think player development first then you play out of the back as much as possible including league and tournament games so your players can assimilate the techniques faster. You will not win as much but you will develop better players faster with this option. Problem is everybody in USA wants results in wins first. Chris is a great example.

  15. William Vetri, September 21, 2011 at 10:01 a.m.

    We all have ask ourselves what is our mission? is it to develop or to win? regarding Claud's thoughts, i only hope enough coaches/clubs who truely want to develop will follow his advice.

  16. Nut Meg, September 21, 2011 at 10:25 a.m.

    I must be speaking a diffent language. I never once mentioned the word win.... Scroll up and get you facts right. You see that is part of the problem, too many uneducated people.

  17. Kathyrn Swatkowski, September 21, 2011 at 10:39 a.m.

    Chris I think you and I are in agreement for the most part. Sure if you are only playing futsal two nights a week that will not do the trick. I just found futsal to be the easiest way to get the kids so excited that they will become obsessed with a soccer ball like I was obsessed with a basket ball when I was their age. Wouldn’t it be nice if they could meet each other down at the local court and play pick up futsal with out a parent or coach doing a thing. Cones are nice but nothing beats a couple of nets to get the kids in playing frame of mind. Instead you have these enormous fields with full size nets...not very inviting to a small group of 10 year olds looking for a place to play a pick up game. However, without a local league, without some kind of official endorsement, without a lot of kids already playing it in school or wherever it is hard to convince a township or city to spend the money for some futsal nets for a sport they no nothing about. That is where US Soccer could help at least by endorsing such a thing and bringing it more to the forefront. I think that this is the revolution that Cony keeps talking about.

  18. Luis Arreola, September 21, 2011 at 11 a.m.

    Chris, you said that to play out of the back you first have to learn technique to do it effectively. That led me to believe you would not risk playing out of the back otherwise. From reading your other comments I can see that might not be the case. I am only disagreeing with you in that its ok for me to have them play out of the back while they are still learning techniques to do so. Not necessarily in strict steps. If you read again what you initially said it is easy to get this conclusion. Sorry if you got offended.

  19. R2 Dad, September 21, 2011 at 11:12 a.m.

    We've seen futsal players develop into better soccer players than their non-futsal peers, but there are several challenges. Futsal is during the winter here, and lots of kids either play another sport OR take a break from all the club requirements for fall and spring. I would rather our club play futsal in spring or fall. Even small-sided games on the pitch can't compare to futsal for foot skills and decision-making, but getting gym time in the winter is more rare than hen's teeth around here.
    Oh, and did I mention that the principal at my kids public school in San Fran says that playing soccer in the playground is not allowed before school or at recess. And the Superintendent is...wait for it.....Carlos Garcia, an hispanic who is handicapping our kids and preventing them from enjoying the game. Greaaaaaaat...

  20. Robert Williams, September 21, 2011 at 1:33 p.m.

    The problem in this country is not that we don't have great talent, or very good coaches at the youth level.
    The biggest problem in this country is the ability of recognize good talent, move those kids thru the ranks and develop them. I had been trying to get a U13 player to get invited to one of those ID2 camps for the past 7 months, his coaches at his club highly recommended him and guess what happened??? A person involved with talent scouting at the Boca Juniors club of Argentina happen to see this kid play and invited him to a 9 day try out with the 98 academy team... I guess the Argentinians thought that may be worth it to take a look at this kid but US youth think is a waste of time... I can see another case of "Funes Mori" another kid that US did not gave any attention and now he is a U20 National team player for Argentina and he also play for a club like River Plate... go figure....

  21. cony konstin, September 21, 2011 at 2:05 p.m.

    I am a FIFA Futsal Coaching Instructor. I have been to many countries throughout the world. While conducting these courses I will always tell the coaches and their FA that Futsal is the way to go if you want to improve your football. Just recently I was in Canada conducting a Course and I told the coaches and CSA that futsal is the way to go. Why? Because the kids deserve an opportunity to discover a wonderful sandlot experience. Sandlot is what makes kids fall in love with any type of sport or activity. Organized and compartamental environments are not cutting it. I have been labeled over the years as a unorthodox, over the top, out there, radical type of person. But I am not talking about making a spaceship to mars. What I am talking about is changing from our a money driven, super organized, super compartamental, overrated coaching, parent driven environment that does not allow freedom and creativity for a child's natural growth, into a sandlot playing enviroment without adults involvement. Build them and they will come. Just look at skate parks. There isn't an A license coach or other adult telling the kids how to ride. The kids are learning and discovering on their own. Until US Soccer sets a mandate to change this mess that adults have created to stifle the love of the game we will never really set the tone for our kids to discover the passion and beauty of soccer the king of sports and futsal the queen of sports. Let The Children Play then you will see style, skill, passion and every other component that makes our kids special. Meanwhile we need to keep pushing the status quo to either change or move out of the way. REVOLUTION!!!!!!! I marched with Cesar Chavez when I was 10 years old. Maybe that is why I am little out there.

  22. cony konstin, September 21, 2011 at 2:11 p.m.

    Gonzalo Jouan

    Yes the system needs to be revamped and it will be one day. Don't give up. Keep the fighting spirit. There is no Atomic more powerful than the Human Spirit. For the U13 boy he is experiencing something so unique. That in itself is more awesome than trying out for the ID2 Camp. There is always a positive even when there is a negative thrown into your face. Keep the faith. Keep the hope. Fight like hell for what is right.

  23. Robert Williams, September 21, 2011 at 2:21 p.m.

    I agree with a lot of stuff that you saying Cony. Growing up in Argentina, we were always playing soccer, at least 5 hours per day in a dirt soccer field, only pick up soccer, no drills, not coaches or parents involved.
    This is probably the only country in the world that if you do not have money, kids can not play premier soccer.
    Club fees=$2000.00, ODP Maryland=$1600.00, Uniform=$400.00, technical trainer in off days= $300.00 per month, personal fitness trainer=$300.00 per month, gas, meals and so on....
    Tevez, Mascherano, Ronaldinho, Aguero and so on...=$0 money spent...
    Youth soccer in US=JOKE!!!!

  24. Robert Williams, September 21, 2011 at 2:31 p.m.

    Coni, in countries like mine and Brasil until kids are 11 they don't even play anything but Futsal. Yes, thank you for your words of advise. This kid will be much better off visiting and training for 9 days in a total professional environment like Boca Juniors, the cost other than the plane ticket is 0 and finally he will have his chance to get notice since I guess here in America the fact that he is the starting center mid of a Region I champion team and plays for a very successful coach and program and the fact that he is more committed than most kids his age to soccer did not opened a possibility to showcase his skills to the US national team selectors....

  25. Robert Williams, September 21, 2011 at 2:35 p.m.

    Also, Claudio Reyna who I believe happens to be Argentinean unfortunately won't be able to change much at the youth level.
    I hope that I'm wrong!!!!

  26. Robert Williams, September 21, 2011 at 2:39 p.m.

    Coni, do you happen to know Lee Tschantret?? former captain of US futsal national team?

  27. cony konstin, September 21, 2011 at 2:52 p.m.

    If we are to continue the environment that the status quo want to keep then so be it. But then I must say to the Soccer Powers of America that currently and for years our recreational kids from ages 5 - 10 have gotten horrible disservice. We give these kids volunteer parents who mean well but can't even tie their own shoes and expect them to have the ability to transmit technical skills to these kids. It is a joke and abomination what we do with our rec kids. It is like sending kids to school for 5 years, don't teach them how to read, write and count and instead just have teachers throw pencils off the kid's heads all day long. That would be a travisty. Well it is happening to our kids in soccer throughout the US. What I propose to Claudio is that he must develop master teachers of technique who have the ability not to teach volunteer coaches how to coach but instead these master teachers use their ability to teach 5-10 year olds. But here is the problem. Who is going to pay for these coaches service? Rec soccer is inexpensive. I don't think the rec mentallity is interested in creating a pay to play format that US Academy or the rest of Competitive soccer have. US Soccer must make it a mandate that all rec programs that are affiliated with the federation must have professional training for all kids starting at the age of 5. This is going to be a tough sell. That is why it would easier to build them and they will come. US Soccer need to build 30,000 futsal courts throughout the US. Then and only then will you change the game. Remember keep the adults away from the kids. That is # 1. Let The Children Play.

  28. cony konstin, September 21, 2011 at 2:55 p.m.

    Gonzalo Jouan
    No. I don't know him. Where does this kid live? Maybe I can help him.

  29. Daniel Clifton, September 21, 2011 at 3:09 p.m.

    I agree with all of the comments about let the children play. Kids need to be playing in the streets, in their back yards, or like I did as a kid at the local school yard. Soccer is way too adult oriented. I agree with Chris about the fact that skill development must come really before ideas like playing it out of the back. Years ago I coached two boys who were born in El Salvador and came to the US at a young age. They were constantly playing against eachother in their back yard and against their uncles in their back yard and elsewhere. They had good foot skills. I constantly used small sided games to help the kids learn foot skills by playing in small spaces. The real deal is getting kids to play in their neighborhoods for fun. That will happen if it is encouraged. As a number of people have said above these Youth Soccer Clubs are all about the bottom line - winning, so it is going to be difficult to make changes in some of those environments. As a coach of a competitive team I got into trouble with some parents for favoring long term development over short term goals such as winning.

  30. Robert Williams, September 21, 2011 at 3:17 p.m.

    Coni, Maryland.

  31. cony konstin, September 21, 2011 at 3:29 p.m.

    I don't know anyone in Maryland. But I will ask a friend of mine who might know a US Scout in your area. Send me your email so I can let you know.

  32. Robert Williams, September 21, 2011 at 3:37 p.m.

  33. Ken Sweda, September 21, 2011 at 5:59 p.m.

    Finally we seem to be getting somewhere with the process of at least outlining what needs to change in US youth soccer. The biggest hurdles as I see them are: 1. getting kids to truly love the game. Love doesn't come from coaches drills, it comes from watching remarkable players--older siblings or professionals, and from playing on your own. A team coach is most useful at simply tailoring your abilities and integrate them into a team setting. It's up to the kids to work on their own 2. Getting parents educated enough to know bad soccer from good soccer, good coaching from bad coaching, and the difference between "winning now" and "winning forever". 3. Relieving the pressure on coaches to "win now". If EVERYONE in the Federation is made to adopt development over winning, then the playing field will be equal, and everyone can feel like they have the time and support for a longer-term outlook. Unless this can be made to happen, there will always be enough remaining "rogue" coaches who cling to the old ways to keep winning while everyone else stays with the plan. This will be a huge barrier, which frankly I would like to see the Fed enforce. How? Monitored practices and games (video, observation, etc..) How to pay for that? Every club hosts one additional tourney solely to send a payment into an enforcement coffer with the Fed. That will help pay for the monitoring. If the clubs don't get with the program, dump 'em and pull their accrediation. Just my $0.02.

  34. Luis Arreola, September 21, 2011 at 9:46 p.m.

    Ken, good idea or what's easier is to rank clubs according to top players produced by them by monitoring how many years these players were actually developing under each club. Many times players that get scholarships or go pro develop their talent in small clubs or in Hispanic leagues and go to an "Academy" for 1-2 years before accomplishing themselves and these Academies like give themselves full credit. If this was monitered and the right clubs or organization was credited correctly then maybe people would open their eyes to reality. I think many would be surprised to see how many top academies and top coaches would get beat out by small clubs and unknown coaches.

  35. Wesley Hunt, September 22, 2011 at 7:58 a.m.

    Look fellows with all due respect. Intelligent creativive play can’t be mandated. “Johnny your going to play that ball out of the back and you better use 3 sicossors and a Maradona before you do so or you are going to be running suicides till you die.” Now there is some creativity. It is hard have to have coaches that are willing to let go and wait for it to come. Coaches that remember what it feels like to be a kid. In fact the coaches themselves need to have the freedom to fail as well. To try to get at that through outside rules on the coaches sort of defeats the purpose. Those type A coaches and parents that have to win today will find a way game the system. To dodge the video eye in the sky that you set up. That is their creativity in just comes at the expense of the kids who just want to play ball. No it would take a cultural mind shift for these people to change and I am not sure Claudio’s recomendations are going to be enough to do this. I like Cony’s solution is better... build the futsal courts and let the poor and working class kids have a chance at play the game with out a bunch of adults getting in the way and over time you will see creativity come off of those courts that will take your breath away.

  36. Maureen O'Neill, September 27, 2011 at 11:18 a.m.

    Playing it out of the back is a good start and I think Claudio was only using it as an example. It is not just important for creating center backs who can do more than boot the ball, it is important because it gets more players involved in the play all the way up the field and requires movement, forethought, and patience. That being said, the ability to take the ball down out of the air and control it is a must skill for any player hoping to get anywhere so there is nothing wrong with some degree of goalie ball booting, especially at U13 and up. Which brings me to the first touch.

    It is all about the first touch and that is no secret so it surprises me that I hear so much talk about "booting the ball", "playing ugly athletic soccer", and "playing to win" as what ails US soccer. Those things can be and are problems in any of the great soccer nations. It is just human nature. But by US soccer emphasizing a certain style of play they are pretty much requiring academy clubs to get and/or create players with a good first touch because you cant successfully play that style without a good first touch. Coaches can help develop the first touch of their players through the training they employ, but like others have said over and over again kids need to be playing and practicing on their own for the US to improve as a soccer nation. It surprizes me that no one ever mentions TV coverage as an issue in this regard. When kids across America see great players, not just in Europe but in MLS, day in and day out being featured on TV that is when any significant number will start practicing on their own. That is when they will go out on the street or in their yards and start imitating Ronaldinho. They will dream of being Lionel Messi instead of Michael Jordan. To illustrate, my son is an 11 year old at a club that is a US Developmental Academy. There are some fantastic players at this club but when they stand around waiting for the start of practice, I see many of them playing basketball and pretending to be Kobe Bryant. Unless kids are fortunate enough to have a relative who is great at soccer or have season tickets to an MLS team, how does a kid even see what great soccer looks like without TV coverage? AS soccer coverage on TV increases in the US, I think we will see a corresponding improvement in the talent we produce.

  37. Maureen O'Neill, September 27, 2011 at 11:28 a.m.

    One final comment I have is on coaches "playing to win". I think a lot of people misunderstand and arent sufficientlly clear when they speak about this concept. You absolutely have to play to win. If we ever stop doing that as a soccer nation we will go backwards. The kids want to win. Winning is what makes it fun for them and what will insure it continues to be fun. Conversely, losing or not starting for your team is what motivates players to practice (on their own) and get better. Players learn as individuals and as teams through losing. Winning and losing is part of the process in sports., and the former is a frame of mind that isnt always easy to attain. The most impressive qualities of the US national teams to date have been their never-say-die, winning attitudes and their team-first mentalities. Such mentalities are fostered over years by playing to win. The day those qualities leave the US soccer landscape and we win simply because we have the 11 best individual players on the field is the day I no longer follow US soccer or care about our national teams.

    Can you imagine a tennis player in a tennis tournament only caring about proper strokes and strategy in a match and not caring about whether they won? Absolutely not, such a player would never get anywhere.

    What I think is important and what is usually meant in terms of "playing to win" is that you dont do it at all costs. You have the kids play a style that fosters their development, you play kids in different positions, and you play all your players in the game. You do all those things, but then you absolutely play to win.

  38. Luis Arreola, September 27, 2011 at 11:43 p.m.

    Maureen, development over winning. You play to win but you have to risk maybe losing because of playing a developmental style. When winning becomes more important then you get away from development by booting it and playing your bigger' faster, more physical players over your tecbical players. The latter is what has happened more and is the mirror in national teams for USA. The tennis player you see on TV is the product of first learning the proper tecnjque to get there. At U13 or younger you never see a kid depressed because he lost a game. You do see the parents dwelling on it much longer. That should tell you that kids bounce back very easily because it is more about fun for them than winning. If it's more fun than results they will indeed practice more on their own. If parents learn to highlight their creativity in passing, dribbling and shots instead of the reasons behind wins and losses these kids will want to play on their own.,

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