Interview by Mike Woitalla
Ian Barker became Director of Coaching of the 30,000-member National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) in February 2012. A longtime ODP coach, he served as Minnesota Youth Soccer Association Director of Coaching (1997-2007) and spent more than two decades coaching college soccer. In Part 3 of our interview we asked Barker to address tournament play and the U.S. Soccer Development Academy's impact on the youth game.
SOCCER AMERICA: Tournaments, no doubt, are a big contributor to the high cost of youth soccer. What are the pros and cons of tournament play?
IAN BARKER: Some cons: They can be really unkind to young players in terms of the physical and psychological demands of so much competition in such a short period of time. As in a tournament setting the stakes ramp up the longer it goes the perspective of tired parents, coaches and referees is also compromised. As such the end of a tournament is often more a relief than a celebration of weekend of soccer well played.
Some pros: Tournaments create revenue that allows clubs to program for the player. They also create different and potentially valuable challenges to the players in terms of seeing different playing styles and managing demands of game frequency. A tournament can be a positive stimulation for the player, different from league play that mixes up the playing season.
I am a huge fan of the weekend/long weekend event that is not played out to elimination. Such events are more common today than even a few years ago. They feature teams knowing that they will have a set number of games and often the opponents. The easily identifiable physical demand on the players is something the coach can more adequately manage and the overall management of the team does not have to be exclusively targeted to winning the event. Such an event can be a great developmental opportunity for a team. It also captures the suggested pros above.
Tournament play over an extended period of perhaps several weeks is very reasonable and elimination competition is not to be exclusively demonized.
SA: How should a coach at various age groups and levels decide how many tournaments his or her team should play in?
IAN BARKER: No one size fits all. The factors to consider would be the length of the season and the frequency of league play. My experience is that most coaches regret, in hindsight, having done too many tournaments rather than too few in a cycle. What seems like a good idea in preseason planning can often be a drudge come the time to compete. It can be very effective to consider the peaks and troughs of the physical demands on the players and to clearly project which events are your competitive emphasis.
SA: What so far have been the pros and cons of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, which launched in 2007?
IAN BARKER: Anytime you can put better talent together and then have it compete with like talent that has to be good for development. Also managing in a formal way the ratio of training and preparation to competition is a long overdue positive to the USSDA initiative.
No doubt the USSDA has conflicted with programming that preceded its existence, including high school soccer, ODP, club competition in most other youth soccer associations. Such conflict distracts us all from the healthy growth of the game.
The USSDA is an ambitious program that has the development of the U.S. player at heart. That it is universally not seen as collaborating with organizations is something it would be good to see the USSDA and its detractors address.
No doubt where the cost to the selected players has been addressed in their participation in USSDA this is a massive plus.
IAN BARKER: If you were in charge of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, how would you have handled the high school participation issue?
SA: It is pretty easy to be the critic in hindsight. Perhaps I am glad not to be in charge of the USSDA! My thought is that the importance of high school and indeed college sports in the U.S. sport culture is so powerful. That importance is not expressed exclusively in the development of athletic skill and finds expression in community, and other less tangible skill acquisition.
That all said progress that might be possible and would be good to see is that USSDA players can still participate in high school soccer with real collaboration on scheduling on the part of USSDA members and high school associations.
IAN BARKER: If you had a magic wand, how would you use it to improve youth soccer in America?
SA: Collaboration and consolidation. The leaders in all the constituent groups need to come together and work in the best interest of not only their constituents, but also the development of the game. There needs to be common ground and healthy respect for where there is agreement to disagree. The game could also be empowered and invigorated at a youth level if some of the acronyms partnered or merged.
You did say it was a “magic wand.”
Read Part 1 of the interview HERE. Read Part 2 of the interview HERE.
The Great Academy Fiction: "We have set up the academy program to limit the number of games, make them more quality, and with bigger breaks in between matches to focus on training." The Ugly Academy Truth: "Because of the extreme distances between different academy teams we are going to play 4 games in one weekend at a neutral site so that the travel is reduced."
In other words: "New and Improved Tide".
My son plays academy soccer. 3 practices a week (sometimes 4). One game per weekend.