In Part 2 of our interview on the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, Director of Scouting Tony Lepore addresses the quest to improve the coaching of elite players in the USA. (Read Part 1 HERE.)
SOCCER AMERICA: How does U.S. Soccer’s announcement last month that it would be providing “increased education for coaching and guidance for its elite-level players?” relate to the Development Academy?
TONY LEPORE: We know improving and supporting our coaches is the single most important improvement target for the Academy right now.
The first part is we need everyone to be on board with the vision and the philosophy and being part of a streamlined pathway.
We also need coaches who have a strong conviction, who have the quality, the knowledge, the understanding -- but we also need them to apply more sophisticated age-appropriate coaching methodology.
We’re requiring all of our coaches to have minimum license and certification. From our assessment, we know that we have simply too many unqualified coaches when it comes to licenses. Whether head coach, assistant coach or goalkeeper coach, or a director, 40 percent of the Academy coaches don’t meet our current requirements.
SA: Why is the figure so low?
TONY LEPORE: It’s the time away and also the cost. We’re going to help with that, but we need the clubs to make this a priority.
U.S. Soccer is going to provide the courses. Academy clubs are now hosting. We are subsidizing the cost and giving priority access to [Academy coaches] because our courses fill out very quickly, they’re very popular. We’re giving them the runway to get up to speed.
When we compare ourselves to the international standard, we look at not just the financial resources but also the human resources and the level of expertise. We feel we’re way behind in the number of experts.
SA: How would coaches who get up to speed with licensing and courses coach differently?
TONY LEPORE: It all comes back to training environment. Right now, what’s important is we’re looking at the progress we’re making. The conversation has really changed from building a team to get results to the process of individual player development.
With that comes planning. Highly sophisticated planning. We’re shifting the focus more and more on the individual, really understanding the individual’s needs.
It’s also about the focus on style of play, which is really improving. We are developing an identity and a style of play, where we want to be more proactive, more dominant, more creative.
And really, style of play is at the core of developing players. And everything in the playing environment should translate to this identity and style of play.
Our goal is to develop a player who is world-class. In order to develop that, style of play is important. It’s players who have the character, insight and technical qualities.
SA: The USA has a quite a long history of coaching schools, coach licensing and coach education. Why are we behind?
TONY LEPORE: It’s a good question. I think part of it is mindset. What makes a good coach is always being hungry and looking to learn with an open mindset. Just like a teacher, learning along with the student, coaches should learn along with the player and aim to get better all the time.
One thing we’re looking for, and we see it more and more, is when players come into a youth national team they’re speaking a common language, which is the connection between our national teams and the Academy clubs, and that’s a key. …
We also have coaches at clubs who are stretched too thin. … Part of that is defining what a good club structure looks like, the model, the staffing level. We’re working closely with the clubs.
We have added a top-tier course that’s very focused on leadership, all the key criteria to developing a successful academy program, and are doing a new Technical Director course.
Dave Chesler [U.S. Soccer Director of Coaching Development] is a real key person. He's an important part of our management team and will be a crucial part of the single most important improvement target -- supporting coaching development.