Interview by Mike Woitalla
For insight into coaching boys* when they hit puberty and how to challenge early-bloomers, we spoke to U.S. Hall of Fame coach Manfred "Manny" Schellscheidt, who had been the technical director of U.S. Soccer's U-14 boys National Identification Program since 1998 and is one of the nation's most experienced youth coaches. Schellscheidt has coached at all levels of American soccer, including the U.S. U-17 and U-20 national teams, and is currently head coach at Seton Hall University, where he arrived in 1988 after winning two U-19 national titles (McGuire Cup) with the Union (N.J.) Lancers.
SOCCER AMERICA: What should coaches be aware of when coaching boys who are transitioning into adulthood?
MANFRED SCHELLSCHEIDT: The body does change and there are mood swings. Maybe they get aggravated easier. They get clumsy. They feel awkward. The rhythm isn’t there. The balance gets lost.
They get the Osgood-Schlatter thing going on where their bones grow so fast that the other apparatus doesn’t follow suit.
It’s not only a physical thing to deal with, it can also confuse them. Things that had come easy become difficult.
That’s a period during which one needs to be careful and not think that all of a sudden they don’t know what they’re doing anymore, or they became bad guys.
SA: How can coaches help players during those stages?
SCHELLSCHEIDT: It’s patience, No. 1. And you can always engage them in conversation and say, “Look, we understand. Everybody has to go through it.”
Not only does the coach need to be patient, he can tell the player, “You need to be patient with yourself.”
Rather than thinking something is going haywire or there’s something seriously going wrong with you, this is actually something you need to go through and it’s normal.
SA: Are the players at the U-14 level experiencing these challenges?
SCHELLSCHEIDT: Some, but it usually comes a little later. And for some kids it comes much later – as late as 17 sometimes, 18 in some cases. I’ve seen guys who are small little fellas at 17 and all of a sudden they became 18 they grew a foot.
SA: A boy who matures early can have a big advantage at the youth level …
SCHELLSCHEIDT: … He’s a man playing with kids the same age. …
In some cases, the best players come out of the group of late-bloomers, because they had to put up with the struggle of being a little bit behind. Since they physically weren’t always the best, they had to use their head a little more, being smarter.
SA: The early bloomer may be the fastest kid around, can succeed simply by blazing past opponents, and might neglect developing other parts of his game. What can a coach do to assure an early-bloomer doesn’t become too dependent on athleticism?
SCHELLSCHEIDT: You have to challenge him differently. You can ask more of him.
One thing you could do at times is say play two-touch, so now he has to think how fast he can move the ball rather than just running with the ball at his feet.
Or pair him up with another and play two against three. … Stack the numbers against them so they rely more on combining. Sometimes it can be a numbers game. Sometimes it’s putting a condition on the exercise.
SA: Like forcing him to play in small spaces?
SCHELLSCHEIDT: Right, that’s a challenge for a guy who just wants to use his speed, because when it’s a tight area, then speed in itself, long sprints, don’t help. No one gets it out of first or second gear in a tight area. By that time they’re off the field.
It shouldn’t take a scientist to figure out little ways to tweak things and make things up that create a different need for that guy to respond to.
It’s what players are challenged with that brings out qualities. If you’re looking for things to get good you need to create a need for things to happen.
When you’re putting your training session together, create conditions that challenge them play in a certain way, because there are so many different items you want to address at one time or another that round out the package of being a good player.
It’s usually what a player does best naturally that gets his foot in the door -- and then you need to round out the package to be successful.
SA: Obviously, a strong skill base will help players when they face the challenge of growth spurts and body changes …
SCHELLSCHEIDT: Besides what you’re trying to address, there are issues that are long-term. I’ve always used the phrase from day one, “When they run they can’t think, and when they think, they can’t run.” How do you get the two together -- anytime during their development?
The more they can get to the point where it’s about ideas -- it starts in the mind -- then eventually the body and the ball become instruments of your great ideas.
Most guys, all they do is get a workout. They slug it out with the mechanics, even at high levels. Special ones, with them, the body and the ball have become an instrument that expresses their brilliant ideas, and that’s when soccer gets truly interesting and fun to watch.
People would argue and ask what makes a great pass? You ask that question and you get a lot of good technical answers. How it should be struck. On the ground. Firm enough. Chipped. Dipped and curled -- whatever it may be. So you get all these things that spell out the skill portion of how the ball got delivered.
I say, look, if I have the ball and I want to give it to you, if I already know what you want to do with the ball when you get it, that puts you on your way to do just that and I give you a great pass. Whatever that pass may be like. But that’s executing ideas.
The highest level of skill cannot be accomplished unless it begins with ideas.
Skill is executing great ideas. The rest is just technique. You can have technically very, very astute guys who are dumb as hell and can’t play.
SA: What can a coach do to create intelligent players?
SCHELLSCHEIDT: That’s where coaching has its limits. As I've often said, coaches took care of defending and God took care of the attack when there were no coaches around. That’s when they try their darndest and try the impossible, until it works.
* Click HERE to read the Youth Soccer Insider on growing pains on the girls side.
(Manfred “Manny” Schellscheidt was the first coach to receive a USSF A license, in 1971. He was the Technical Director of the U.S. U-14 boys identification program from 1998 through September of 2011. Schellscheidt has coached at every level of U.S. men’s national team program and was a Region I ODP coach for 25 years, including a decade as head coach. He’s won national titles at the pro, amateur and youth levels; his the Union Lancers won McGuire Cup (U-19) titles in 1987 and 1988. He has been head coach of Seton Hall University since 1988.)
(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 YouthSoccerFun.com.)