By Mike Woitalla
Perhaps no man has had as great an influence on as many American coaches as Manfred “Manny” Schellscheidt, who retired in 2011 at age 70.
Back in 1970, he became the first person to earn a U.S. Soccer Federation “A” coaching license. He coached at every level of the U.S. men’s national team program -- but last year his 13-year tenure as head of the U-14 boys National Identification Program came to an end. He also retired, after 24 seasons, as Seton Hall University head coach.
A few years ago, Bruce Arena said, ''I think everybody who runs across Manfred learns something. He provokes a lot of thought on how players think and the role coaches play. He is very good at trying to keep things simple and not making a meal of things. He doesn't make a big deal about the influence coaches have on players. He believes in making sure players are in a good soccer environment and that they learn from the game.''
I had first “encountered” Schellscheidt in 1973 -- I realized a couple decades later -- when I was a 9-year-old soccer fan in Texas Stadium and Schellscheidt played for the Philadelphia Atoms, who upset me greatly as they beat the Dallas Tornado, led by “superstar” Kyle Rote Jr., 2-0.
When many years later I mentioned that NASL championship to Schellscheidt, he related an anecdote that demonstrates the kind of youth coach he was. Schellscheidt had planned a Europe trip with the youth team he was coaching before becoming a player/assistant coach of the expansion Philly team that, with an uncommon number of American players, made a surprising run to the playoffs.
It turned out the youth trip would conflict with the NASL semifinal – and Atoms head coach Al Miller couldn’t believe his ears when Schellscheidt said he would keep his promise to the boys and miss the game against Toronto. The Atoms beat Toronto, 3-0, so Schellscheidt still celebrated one of the many triumphs of a career in American soccer that began when he emigrated from Germany at age 23.
Schellscheidt was visiting his aunt in New Jersey in 1964 and was recruited to play for Elizabeth SC of the German-American League. Elizabeth SC provided him with a tool-maker’s job and sponsorship for immigration.
''I arrived in the country on a Monday, went to practice at Farcher's Grove on a Wednesday, and they gave me a player's pass in time for the Saturday game,'' says Schellscheidt, 64. ''Only in America!''
He continued working the tool-and-die factory until in 1988 taking the Seton Hall helm -- his first full-time coaching job. But he had already coached the U.S. national team, was an assistant of the U-20 U.S. team, and he was the Olympic coach until the eve of the 1984 Games when the Federation disbanded his team of amateurs and replaced them with pros. Schellscheidt coached the U.S. team at two Pan American Games. He coached the U-17s in the early 1990s.
As a player, besides the NASL title, he won two U.S. Open Cups with Elizabeth SC. He was player/coach of the 1974 ASL champion Rhode Island Oceaneers and coached the 1977 ASL-winning New Jersey Americans.
Throughout his career, Schellscheidt served the U.S. youth game. He was a Region I ODP coach for 25 years and its head coach in 1997-2007. He coached the Union Lancers of New Jersey to two straight McGuire Cup U-19 national championship titles in 1987-88. His Lancers' assistant coach was Bob Bradley.
A refrain from the coaches Schellscheidt influenced is that he showed them that soccer’s an art, not a science. He never let one forget that it’s a players’ game – and that the key to youth coaching is respecting the players’ right to enjoy the sport and explore it on their own terms:
“Kids like to explore – learn and discover on their own terms. … To explore, to toy around with, to experiment.”
For me, every conversation with Schellscheidt ended with my affection for the sport rejuvenated. Thanks for that, Manny! … I’m looking forward to our first chat of the new year.
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Manny Schellscheidt on Soccer:
"The game is the best teacher. The coach is really a substitute voice. We want the players to hear the silent voice, the game. The game is actually talking to you."
“Judge players by their talents, not their faults.”
“Soccer without ideas is boring. Players with skill and imagination are fun to watch.”
“We don’t lose by making a few mistakes, we lose for the things we never did.”
“No kid ever steps on the field and says, 'Today I'm going to lose.' They're naturally competitive. We should be concerned about the players' performance, not the final score.''
“There are always shortcuts that you can find to win the next game. That doesn't necessarily mean you'll be winning five, six years from now.”
"The great players lead with their minds. How do I make space and time? How do I take it away?"
On coaching youth with small-sided games: "It needs to be small enough so positions don't matter. That's the best solution. If coaches would have the patience to graduate their kids from really small numbers, one step at a time, that would be the most natural and the most potent education the players could possibly get. They would learn to deal with time and space, and how to move around and have some shape. The problem is we go to the bigger numbers too early."
On screaming orders from the sidelines and shackling players to areas of the field: "It destroys the children's natural instinct of being part of the game.”
On the difference between team development and player development: “There's such a difference. … You can divvy up the field, make players rehearse what they're supposed to do in their small areas, and as far as team development it works fine because they can find a quick way to get results. It's a short cut to success, but the kids don't become good players."
“The language of the game is body language. It's universal.”
On technique … "I don't believe skill was, or ever will be, the result of coaches. It is a result of a love affair between the child and the ball."
“All the questions will come from the game and so will the answers.”
(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for East Bay United SC in Oakland, Calif. He is the co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper, and More Than Goals with Claudio Reyna. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)