Bobby Howe: 'Drills are for the army' (Q&A Part 1)

Interview by Mike Woitalla

Bobby Howe, during his playing career, lined up with England greats Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Jimmy Greaves at West Ham United. Howe came to the USA in 1977 to play for and coach the NASL’s Seattle Sounders, and since the 1980s has been deeply involved in American youth soccer. He was U.S. U-17 boys national team assistant coach in 1986-89, U-20 boys national team coach in 1989-1993, and U.S. Soccer Director of Coaching Education in 1996-2000. He served 12 years as Washington State director of coaching and since 2005 has been a director and boys coach at Seattle’s Emerald City FC.

SOCCER AMERICA: In 1993, when you coached the U.S. U-20 national team, it reached the quarterfinals of the U-20 World Cup. What was your reaction when the USA failed to qualify for the 2011 U-20 World Cup?

I really can’t understand it. I was very disappointed. Now three teams from Concacaf qualify for the U-20 World Cup. Back then there were only two spots from our region. So, very disappointing. I can’t put my finger on that.

It seems to me more kids are playing the game. Are the levels of competition equal to the levels in the country then? They shouldn’t be equal, they should be better, right?

The U.S. Soccer Development Academy program that we have now really hasn’t had time to bear fruit, I don’t think.

SA: Since two decades ago, we have more players, more youth clubs, more experienced coaches …

We have more coaches than ever. But I’m not really sure some of these folks coaching are really great coaches, I don’t know. But in my travels I see people coaching and I’m thinking, they’ve got coach after their name, but I’m not sure if they’re coaching the right things.

SA: What are examples of what you see that makes you say that?

Several things. Behavior on the touchline is one. The types of activities in training is another.

I said to one of my assistants the other day, “Have a look around this field and give me a general observation of what you see on this field and tell me if there’s anything going on.”

And there were about half a dozen separate team groups on this field. What sort of movement? What sort of activity?

There are too many instances where the coach is the focal point of the session. The coach is in the middle and the players are standing around listening to the coach talk.

You see situations with the kids, with a ball each, waiting for their turn to kick it. That’s the type of thing I’m talking about.

SA: What should practice be like?

There should be activity. Practice should be a challenge. It should be a challenge to their skill. It should be a challenge to their decision-making and it should be a challenge to their imagination. Too many times I look around and see sessions where there’s not really a lot going on. You know, drills.

People call it drills in the United States. I remember Roy Rees* saying to me, “Why do they call this drills? Drills are what they do in the army.”

They’re games. They should be stimulating little games. Every technique activity should have a game involved, or an objective, or a competition to excite the imagination of the players.

But there’s too much wasting time in training, too much standing around.

(*Welshman Roy Rees was the head coach of the U.S. U-17 boys national team in 1986-1993, assisted by Howe at the U-17 World Cups 1987 and 1989, when the USA made history with a win over Brazil.)

8 comments about "Bobby Howe: 'Drills are for the army' (Q&A Part 1) ".
  1. Paul C, May 10, 2012 at 10:43 a.m.

    Here I thought watching a 'coach' call players in every five minutes to listen to himself talk was the correct way. Then at game time, the coach can sit down with his arms and legs crossed and wait for the completion of the game without saying a word. Then say, I do all my coaching at practice. Of course then complain about the coach who directs every single movement on the field at all times.

    Mr. Howe seems to suggest there may be a middle ground to these two extremes I used as examples. Use a ball in the 'drills' and keep the players moving and engaged. What a concept.

  2. Luis Arreola, May 10, 2012 at 10:52 a.m.

    I think there's a fine line in every aspect. To me games are part of training, especially in the younger ages because 2-3 practices a week is not enough. You don't want to Coach what the player should do with the ball at the moment the ball is at his feet. Givchim options after he made the decision. Talk about his movement and decision making at half time but yell at the ones that are not focused.

  3. Brian Something, May 10, 2012 at 11:18 a.m.

    A-freakin-men. Too much talking and standing around in practices. It's like as soon as the players get warmed up and into a ryhthm, the coach is always stopping them.

  4. cony konstin, May 10, 2012 at 12:19 p.m.

    It is real simple. Get rid of the environment of pay to play and create a free cost environment where kids starting a age 5 can play 7 days a weeks without any coaches or parents. That is the environment that Bobby, Pele, Cruyff, Best, Maradona and many other players grew up in. We must return to the roots of the game. But if we need some sort of adult interference we need teachers of the game and not coaches. US Soccer needs radical change. We need a soccer revolution. We need sandlot/playground environments for all of the kids. GOD SAVE OUR KIDS!!!!!!

  5. mark courtney, May 10, 2012 at 3:10 p.m.

    Anyone ... what does "Behavior on the touchline" mean/refer to ?

  6. Kent James, May 12, 2012 at 9:30 a.m.

    Mark: "Behavior on the touchline" means how coaches behave on the sideline ("touchline") during games. Do they scream and direct their players and the referees, or do they sit quietly and watch the game (the latter generally being considered the better, since theoretically the coaching was supposed to be done in the training sessions)? Since the behavior of coaches in traditional American sports (football & basketball particularly) generally involve the coach deciding what the players should do, many new coaches to the game transfer this sort of behavior to soccer, but in soccer, it is best if players learn to make their own decisions on the field (for many reasons), so coaches using the top down traditional model of coaching may be inhibiting the growth of the soccer players under their direction.

  7. mark courtney, May 13, 2012 at 8:30 p.m.

    Thanks Kent

  8. Ian Barker, May 22, 2012 at 5:25 p.m.

    What Coach Howe sees, and what I think a lot of us see as well, seems difficult to rectify. No doubt US coach education programs have for decades stressed "let the game be the teacher". Why has this simple lesson not sunk in? Perhaps it has more than we see and it is the sheer volume of training out there that means the better sessions get lost. Maybe the experienced folks are not finding the time to share the knowledge as they have their own teams. Maybe because players and coaches move around so much and new clubs sprout like weeds there is no need to try to improve and evolve, you can be lazy and still find a gig. Perhaps too parents want to "see" the coaching and the coach who creates and manages a good environment is not as appreciated as one who runs drills and directs.
    Youth soccer in the US has some out of this world opportunity and resources. When we do work it out it will be something to behold.

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