'Put best coaches at youngest ages' (Q&A with Mustang's Fred Wilson)

Interview by Mike Woitalla

The Youth Soccer Insider continues its interview series with youth club leaders by talking with Fred Wilson, the Boys Coaching Director of Northern California’s Mustang Soccer, a club-slash-league with nearly 5,000 players under its umbrella. Mustang also collaborates with the San Jose Earthquakes to field U.S. Development Academy teams.

SOCCER AMERICA: What do you look for in coaches?

I think the first rule, which we all believe in at the club, is -- good for kids first; good for soccer second. And when you can find both, you’ve hit a home run.

There are a lot of guys out there who have a great deal of experience in the soccer world, but being with 10- and 11-year-olds proves to be a big challenge for them.

We look for people who understand children, understand what helps kids enjoy learning.

If somebody has just some soccer experience, we can work with that piece of it more than we can with someone who has limited experience dealing with kids. The soccer part of it, we can educate, we can work with them, there’s courses out there.

But I think it takes a unique individual, an inspired individual … people who played soccer and they go into teaching … I think about a third of our staff are teachers in some capacity and I think they’re some of our best coaches because they had experience in the game and they know how to relate to the kids.

For those people who have that quality and have that ability – I think they recognize that it’s not difficult to help kids have fun and enjoy doing something. I think people who don’t understand that quality have difficulty.

We look at their soccer experience, we look at their soccer expertise, no question. But more importantly we look at their experience with kids and how that has translated over the years.

SA: We seem to all agree that the key to becoming an exceptional player – and the main ingredient of teams that play good soccer – is individual skill. Optimally, the skill would come from children playing lots of soccer on their own, but because that’s not the case in general, how do coaches balance skill training with ensuring the kids are having fun?

You have to find that balance – and that’s why you put your best coaches with the youngest ages. Those coaches know how to run a practice where the kids are learning but their minds are on how much fun they’re having.

There are a hundred fun exercise games you can play with littler kids. Tag games. Games with the ball at their feet. Coordination drills mixed with games.

You’re not trying to create super dribblers at age 7, but to inspire them to have a love affair with the ball. Everything is about a love affair with the ball, a love affair with the game.

Maybe it looks silly to some people watching, but when they’re playing freeze tag with the ball -- and part of the requirement is to keep the ball at your feet -- the comfort with the ball becomes something.

SA: There has been a lot of talk, action and investment from the U.S. Soccer Federation to improve player development. But what else is needed?

The Academy is a great step, the directions from the Federation are great steps. All those things are the right things.

The one thing I want to see more is that it’s not just about trying to change soccer at the older levels, it’s a culture we’re trying to change at the younger levels.

My job with our grass-roots programs, which I would love to see more of a mandate from the federation at all levels, is to get 5-, 6-, 7-, 8-year-old little boys to love soccer so much that at the end of the day, they say, mom, dad, this is all I want to do. I just want to play soccer. I don’t want to do anything else.

I don’t ever want to say to them, “You have to give up other sports.” I don’t want kids to not be able to kids.

But it’s a cultural change we’re going through in this country and I think anything we can do at the grassroots level – and a lot of youth clubs understand that -- to help promote the culture in that regard will pay off in the long run.

SA: Mustang Soccer is a club-slash-league with nearly 5,000 youth players under its umbrella. What are the benefits of the “full-service” club model?

The benefits are the number of good people who are involved and the club culture that develops -- people wanting to a part of it regardless of what level they’re in.

We have a place for every kid to play if they want to be a part of our club.

SA: And the challenges?

The sheer volume. The 2,200-plus home games during the regular season. The management of so many different people and personalities -- and getting them to buy into a single philosophy.

Where that makes us better as a club and makes us strong is we’re consistent in our message from our board of directors down to our coaching staff to our directors on the field about coaching education and player development.

(Fred Wilson, Mustang Soccer’s Boys Coaching Director, has coached at the Northern California club since 1990 and is also the Manager of the San Jose Earthquakes’ U.S. Soccer Development Academy program. Wilson, formerly a high school english teacher at Cal High, coached the Monte Vista High School boys soccer team in 1998-2005.)

Youth Soccer Insider Interviews 2011
Tim Schulz (Rush Soccer)
Charlie Slagle (CASL)
Cony Constin (Westside Metros)
Tab Ramos (NJSA 04)
Hassan Nazari (Dallas Texans)
Tom Howe (Woodson City Rangers)
Theresa Echtermeyer (Colorado United)
Miriam Hickey (Vardar East)
Wilmer Cabrera (U.S. U-17s)
George Kuntz (AYSO)
Brad Rothenberg (Alianza de Futbol)
Joe Cummings (NSCAA)
Claudio Reyna (U.S. Soccer)
Tad Bobak (So Cal Blues)
Manny Schellscheidt (U.S. U-14s)
Richie Williams (U.S. U-18s)
Derek Armstrong (Nomads) Part 2
Jurgen Klinsmann (U.S. Soccer) Part 2

4 comments about "'Put best coaches at youngest ages' (Q&A with Mustang's Fred Wilson)".
  1. R2 Dad, December 20, 2011 at 1:15 a.m.

    The Mustang club/league put on great tournaments. They have an awesome facility:,+Danville,+CA+94506&hl=en&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=37.188995,81.914062&vpsrc=0&hnear=4680+Camino+Tassajara,+Danville,+California+94506&t=h&z=16&iwloc=A

    But it's the pay-to-play model we all bemoan:

    ...and they're participating in this ridiculous Elite Clubs League:
    ...because more travel is obviously the best way to improve girls soccer.

    The real goal of Mustang soccer is college placement:

    However, I don't begrudge the club their success. Soccer is a business and, in lieu of national requirements otherwise, they have the right to maximize their revenue. For all their success, though, I expect to see their players more often at the top of lists.

  2. tim francis, December 20, 2011 at 11:36 a.m.

    Thanks Mike, Fred, and R2 Dad for great fundamental points, although Barca style teamwork and emphasis on good skill over winning might be added to this excellent checklist.

  3. john haley, December 20, 2011 at 3:22 p.m.

    When we only have families that can afford to "pay to play." We will continue to get less than the best athletes. I know a lot of kids from the poorer part of my town, who can play circles around the kids I coach. But they cannot play, because their parents cannot afford it, and we are the cheapest club to play for. It is sad that our country is focused on money and not development. Such a great game, and turning away the potential best. Good article.

  4. Rick Figueiredo, December 21, 2011 at 9:35 a.m.

    Very well said. The age of 10 in this sport is a crossroad. Yes and we get to be young again when we have fun with our players.

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